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Feng Shui

Let the wind and water in your home bring fun and fortune to your life

Hey Ayi,

I just moved into a new apartment. After I bought some furniture and arranged everything, I invited my Chinese friends over for a housewarming. The moment they entered they began clucking their tongues and saying, "Wrong, all wrong." When I asked them why they said my qi was out of whack, and that my good luck was flying out the window. Then they started saying feng shui this and feng shui that. My Chinese isn't that good, so please tell me what wind and water have to do with my flat?

Charlie Chee

Dear Charlie,

First of all, your Chinese is dead on. Feng shui does indeed literally mean "wind and water," but its true meaning is more than the sum of its parts. Simply described, it is a form of divination based on an environment, or in fancier terms, geomancy.

Some will argue that feng shui is just another hokey practice full of superstition. But trust your old Ayi, there is both a science and an art to feng shui. It starts with qi, or life force, an invisible phenomenon that pervades everything and affects how we interact with our environment.

But before you laugh, or pull out your light saber, remember that both radon and carbon monoxide are invisible and research shows proper feng shui has avoided both of their ill effects for centuries.

Through a series of set calculations and time-proven methodology, the current state of qi is determined. One of the most important tools is the luopan, a compass-like device made of a series of concentric, independently manipulated circles. From there, the geomancer "sees" an array of solutions. Final selection is based on a number of factors, including yin and yang, the eight trigrams (ba gua) and the five elements (wu xing).

The key is to achieve balanced qi, whether it is within the materials used, the surrounding landscape or where objects are placed. To do this, the forces of yang, which represent light, heat, or the daytime, must accord with its opposing factor, yin, which embodies all things dark, cold or of the night.

You've probably seen the yin-yang symbol, which looks like a black tadpole and a white tadpole curled together. However, potential permutations are infinitely more complex than black and white.

According to legend, Emperor Fu Hsi, who reigned some 5,000 years ago, arranged the so-called ba gua and documented the results in the famous Book of Changes, or I-Ching. Each arrangement has its own meaning and can be used for a variety of purposes, including fortune-telling. However, for feng shui purposes each gua refines for the geomancer the nature of a given object in its particular location.

There are five major aspects that affect the balance of qi. They include architecture, environment, the five elements, time and people. Modern renditions of feng shui tend to omit the latter two, ignoring the very things that can most easily nullify any given arrangement. As qi is a force that can't be pinned down, ignoring how it changes from person to person and moment to moment can lead to flawed decisions.

The five basic Chinese elements - wood, fire, earth, metal and water - also play a crucial role. The individual balance of each element and the way they interact must be taken into account when arranging any structure, from a house to an office building.

We Chinese have closely guarded the secrets to feng shui for centuries. A long time ago, before even your Ayi was born, feng shui played the role of maintaining and continuing the good fortune of the Imperial dynasties. As a result, its secrets were entrusted to only a select few, a legacy of so-called feng shui masters, who both passed them on to their children and protected them from outside influences.

The result of all this secrecy was a lot of misconceptions. But, despite new age culture and a few charlatans trying to make a quick buck, the truth is that it's not at all about burning incense, mirrors on the ceiling and swallowing goldfish. At its heart it's a system for making the place you live in feel more comfortable.

Your Ayi consulted a few feng shui masters of her acquaintance to compile the following tips:

* Go for rounded edges. They are more attractive and less severe than sharp angles, and accord with feng shui environmental principles

* Balance light and heat. A room that is too bright or too hot will not only be uncomfortable for your body but also bad for your qi.

* Surround yourself with plants. Not only do they help retain qi by recycling the air we breathe but they also have a life force all their own. Plants also solve the problem of staircases leading to doorways or doors facing windows. By putting the plant near an opening, qi that might otherwise be lost will be retained.

* Keep your plants alive. A dead plant is not only unsightly, but also a source of bad qi.

* Balance yin and yang. If there is too much yin in your room (ie. dark colors, low light) then make use of yang materials that embody the fire element. A candle or the color of red works, but combining both red and light, such as a table lamp with a red shade is even better.

* Balance metal and earth. For example, a room with a clay plant pot should also include something metal, a bronze plate hanging on the wall for instance.

* Doors facing each other should be kept closed. This prevent qi from rushing straight through the house. The front door should be near an outside source of positive qi.

* Natural colors are best. Just say no to plastic flowers.

* Do unto others Avoid creating environments that may be unpleasant for those around you. A toilet with the lid up or leaving the bathroom door open certainly falls under this category. As does blowing your nose using only your hands. (Men should take note of this).


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