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A building in Hong Kong's Repulse Bay has a hole through the middle. According to the principles of feng shui, it allows the mountain dragons to drink from the bay on the other side  

On the trail of feng shui in Hong Kong

January 5, 2000
Web posted at: 2:38 p.m. EST (1938 GMT)

By David Groves
Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In this story:

Attracting good fortune

Feng shui in architecture

If you go ...


HONG KONG (Los Angeles Times Syndicate) -- The feng shui lecturer at the Barnes & Noble bookstore here was talking about "clearing your clutter." But to me, shopping for Hong Kong guidebooks, it sounded suspiciously New Age.

"Clutter is fear," she said, flashing a broad smile at the book buyers who had gathered to listen. "Shed your clutter and you'll lose weight, attract romance and make more money."

For most Americans, she explained, the ancient Chinese art of feng shui (pronounced "fung shway") is too absolute, too all-encompassing. But no matter. We could take the principles we liked and discard those we didn't. In California, feng shui is like a Chinese menu: Choose some from column A and some from column B.

But in Hong Kong, where feng shui's ancient roots go deep, you'll find a deep and unwavering belief that guides nearly every aspect of daily life. Feng shui, at its simplest, is the 4,000-year-old Chinese art of placing objects correctly in a room, a house or even in a neighborhood or a country. If done correctly, say those who believe, you will attract happiness, good health, even riches. Done wrong, or ignored, and the results are catastrophic.

Fifty years ago, mainland China's communist government outlawed feng shui as pure superstition, driving most of the great geomancers (masters of the art) out. In Hong Kong, in exile, they flourished. Today, there are 10,000 feng shui teachers, and an estimated 90 percent of the island's residents are believers. For Westerners wanting to learn more about this ancient art, Hong Kong is the place.

Fortune teller
Fortune teller Hau Yat Keung uses a computer to help read a fortune in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency  

Attracting good fortune

The first stop on my feng shui quest was a visit to Joseph Chau, official geomancer for the Mandarin Oriental. Local Chinese rarely come to the Mandarin Oriental, one of Hong Kong's most exclusive tourist hotels. But that doesn't matter. What's important to the hotel's employees, and to people who live nearby, is that the hotel adheres closely to feng shui principles.

As we cross the lobby we see a small unicorn statue, apparently a decorative object. What the Western guests hurrying past with shopping bags don't know is that the unicorn is chasing away bad ch'i, or life forces. Single-horn lion statues, designed to "catch money," stand in the offices of hotel executives, and the placement of office furniture is closely supervised, even down to the direction of in- and out-boxes on desks.

Chau consults on these and other matters from a small office in Wan Chai, near the hotel. We found him sitting at his desk, reading papers, but ready to stop and talk. For example, he related the story of a family that neglected feng shui principles when they buried their patriarch, pointing the old man in the wrong direction.

"Immediately, all males in family have terrible headaches that never stop. Three even develop brain cancer," he said solemnly. Once the grave was moved the right way, the ailments vanished.

Feng shui is also a healing art. Looking me over, Chau asked me questions about my birth date, the floor design of my apartment in Los Angeles and my orientation to true north. Then he told me I suffered from back pain, a "bad temper" and allergies. "Sometimes, you wake up startled in middle of night," he concluded, sending chills down my spine.

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In fact, I often experience such unnerving sleep disturbances. Could he really cure them? Yes, if I place two jade statuettes and a brass icon in the corners of my room. I must also place a standing light fixture with nine bulbs in the center of my living room. And the kitchen faucet must point away from the stove, for when fire and water meet, my temper flares.

If a single consultation isn't enough, Chau teaches private courses to Westerners for $5,000. He also offers group rates, amount to be determined. That it should cost so much is no surprise, for feng shui is as focused on achieving financial success as on assuring health and happiness. Every savings bank places a pair of lion statues out front, to protect the money within. Without these feline security guards on duty, residents won't risk deposits.

Feng shui in architecture

Upon our departure from Chau, Pat, who is a photographer, left to visit a client and I took one of Gray Line Tour's new narrated feng shui tours, a sort of spiritual look at Hong Kong as seen through the eyes of a geomancer. As the bus approached the summit of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's most famous vista point, we slowed down and the guide pointed out a distant skyscraper called The Hopewell Center.

"When building originally built," he began, "the Chinese alarmed because tall, white office building look like white candle, which mean death." A solution had to be found. When a geomancer was consulted, he recommended building a pool on the roof. As water snuffs out fire, the pool counteracted the building's bad ch'i.

Later, on the far side of the island, we stopped at Repulse Bay in front of a large turquoise building with a huge square hole in the middle.

"This hole is because building built so close to mountain, which is where dragons reside," said the guide. "On other side of building is ocean," he pointed toward the bay, "and if dragons not allow to drink, that not good."

In fact, feng shui, though mostly unseen, is everywhere. It affects corporate investments and individual savings accounts. It controls grand architecture and kitchen remodeling, the choice of skyscraper facades and the direction of beds. It delineates dates for merging two firms, buying a car, getting married or burying relatives.

Every number in your life has significance: your address, driver's license, social security number. Businesses with auspicious addresses, especially with the number eight, display them proudly in shining bronze numbers. My credit card number, I noted with pleasure, included two eights.

Pat, meanwhile, had been advised to wear a pig necklace because she was born in the year of the tiger. "Tigers and pigs get along," said the geomancer, with a straight face.

"I thought tigers ate pigs," said Pat, with a shade of a giggle. No, he told us with a frown. Tigers are not drawn to pork and pork-like products. We looked at each other and stifled a belly-laugh.

Despite snickering, I reorganized my apartment after I got home, pointing the sofa to the north. And although I'm not superstitious, I usually remember to swing the kitchen faucet away from the stove before I go to bed. It does look a little more orderly, I think.

If you go ...

Accommodations: The Mandarin Oriental in Central Hong Kong (800) 526-6566 is a luxury hotel, which is also top-rated for service. Rates for two in a double room vary widely, from a winter promotion at $245, to a $290 corporate rate, or $345 for the lowest rack rate.

Budget accommodations in rooms at the Salisbury YMCA, on Salisbury Road in Kowloon, start at $130; a dormitory bed is $25; tel. 011-852-2369-2211, fax 011-852-2739-9315.

In Kowloon: The Hyatt Regency's (800-228-9000) "Great Deal" special starts at $139 for two in a double room.

Feng shui consultations: Contact Joseph Chau at the following locations. Office: Flat K, 16th Floor, Hong Kong Mansion, No. 1, Yee Wo St., Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; tel.: 011-852-9026-9781, fax 011-852-2402-8917; or email:

Tour information: The Hong Kong Tourist Association (800-282-HKTA), 115 E. 54th St., Second Floor, New York, N.Y., 10022, distributes brochures titled, "Feng Shui Tours," and "Wong Tai Sin Temple."

Copyright © 2000, David Groves
Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate


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