Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feng Shui in the Modern World

From all the years of pursuing my interest in feng shui, it never ceased to amaze me with the growing of its acceptance and popularity to so many people and big corporations in different parts of the world. Some example of famous believers often mentioned are Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, Madonna and Boy George etc., and also the Bank of England and major UK real estate agents/developers like Hamptons and Wimpey homes. Recently, the Los Angeles Zoo paid $4,500 to a non-Asian feng shui expert to ensure three endangered gold monkeys on loan from China can have a strong life force (ch’i) in the enclosure. As in the most Asian of mainland American regions, California State Assemblyman, Leland Y. Lee has introduced a resolution that urges the Californian Building Standards Commission to adopt standards and the use of feng shui principles by the planning agencies, building departments and design review boards. Last but not least, in 2005, Disney acknowledged feng shui as an important part of Chinese culture by shifting the main gate to Hong Kong Disneyland by twelve degrees in their building plan, among many other actions suggested by the master planner or architecture and design at Walt Disney Imagineering, Wing Chao.
With my background in Architecture, together with lifelong research and personal interest, I approached feng shui with an open and questioned mind. Indeed, I can see most of the essential points of feng shui can be transformed into the Western planning and design of physical environments without any difficulties. In fact, most of its practices have a basic in common sense. Professionals like town planners, architects, interior designers and landscape gardeners can all use this ancient technique as the guide lines to design their projects. An extreme example is an architect in Australia who designed a house without any corners as per his client's feng shui master to make sure that it had perfect ch’i or "positive energy" which is the most important component of feng shui, to flow freely in the house. Also, in Indonesia, an university lecturer had written an article in Indonesia’s biggest newspaper, advocating feng shui as a guiding principle to Indonesia’s future architecture. There are also other institutions like Singapore Polytechnic and the New York College of Health Professions, where many students (including engineers and interior designers) take courses on feng shui every year and go to become feng shui consultants.
Feng shui has also widely adopted in interior design profession in the Western world. An interesting example is a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Hacienda Heights, California, which was redesigned using the feng shui principles and ideas, in which customers are responding positively with comments like “relaxing”, “open” and “don’t feel any pressure”. Therefore, it is not surprising that Alex Stark, who is a graduate at Yale in architecture, has used mainly feng shui concepts and ideas to design all his commercial shops and offices and with great success.
However, in recent years, we have witnessed the development of feng shui in the Western world is in the stage of an explosion of different theories and practices of feng shui especially among non-Asians, who has created a chaos of conflicting interpretation of ideas and techniques. One can easily find many feng shui books and numerous Web sites offering consultation service and  "quick" trainings by the so-called masters.
A ludicrous example of which I believe did not have much ground on traditional feng shui principles is a new version of feng shui called “feng che” (literally means “wind” and “vehicle”) had emerged and gain ground in LA. They deal primarily with the ch’i of the vehicle by telling people how to “dress-up” the vehicle (like putting a tiny fish tank attached to the rear windows etc.) to tap the positive ch’i. Interestingly, it also advising people to avoid the number of four-way intersections (which generate negative ch’i), in driving from one’s home to the office. Meanwhile, the desire of the believers to drive to and from the office via winding roads with a minimum of sharp angles has contributed to the massive traffic jams reported on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Mulholland Drive and the Bel Air portion of Sunset Boulevard! I suspect there were some people all smiling as the consultant fee is a whopping US$500-$700 per hour!
Besides the bizarre form of feng shui used in vehicles, some “experts” think it also works for pets! There is another variation of feng shui called “fur shui” which claims will create harmony between pets, and some owners are willing to rearrange their lives so the lives of their pets are in balance! If this is not enough, how about a feng shui “make over”? Yamaguchi, in his new book “Feng Shui Beauty”, believes you can feng shui yourself. According to him, feng shui beauty is reading people’s energy by accessing which of the feng shui “elements” best described his or her characters and reflecting that on the outside by beauty make-up.
Understandably, it is with this kind of “intuitive” approach to feng shui by some that prompted numerous negative comments and accusations from the “critics” and non-believers. Terms like “failures of feng shui”, “architecture acupuncture”, “new age scam”, “corrupted art” and "McFengshui" etc. appeared in a lot of blog sites and even in some television shows like the “Bullshit” documentary. In view of this, recently there is a move by some feng shui schools toward certification programs to ensure quality among their practitioners. Consequently, feng shui associations are springing up all over the world; continuous education is being stressed to recent graduates, and advanced certification requirements at some institutions are regularly “raising the ceiling” on quality.
However there is far to go, because feng shui is an ancient art which is complicated even to the Chinese practicing professionals. It requires many years of dedicated study of Taoism, a profound knowledge of the classical Chinese texts like I-Ching,( 易經)“Book of Changes”, Kaogong ji (考工記)“Manual of Crafts”, and Rules for builders codified in the carpenter’s manual Lu ban jing (魯班經), before one can set out as feng shui practitioner.
To conclude, I like to quote what Douglas Adams presented in his speech at Digital Biota 2 Cambridge U.K., 1998 about feng shui:
“…So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together…”

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