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Sunday, March 20, 2005
When Richard Thai was 11, he escaped Vietnam in a wooden boat. As the waves came hard and fast, Thai imagined a prosperous new life in America. For Thai, now 30, the life he coveted has become reality.
He credits American opportunities, hard work -- and feng shui, the Chinese art of positioning objects and arranging space to improve the flow of vital energy, for his success. Each interior decoration in Thai's Diva Nails salon in Aiea, from the greenery at the door to the aquarium in the back, has been chosen using the principles of feng shui to make himself and customers feel at home, he said.
"I feel comfortable when I step in the shop," said Thai. "The customers do, too. And that's good for my business -- it's grown more than 60 percent since I started."
While feng shui has been practiced for thousands of years throughout Asia, it is still beginning to become part of mainstream Hawaii culture. From banks to developers, businesses are crediting use of feng shui with attracting and keeping customers happy, improving workplace harmony, increasing efficiency and boosting profits.
It's hard to tell how widespread the practice is, but it's a larger movement than many would believe, said Sharissa Chun, an Oahu-based feng shui consultant who uses the practice in her real estate business. She's also an agent at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties where she offers free feng shui advice to clients.
"A lot of people are practicing feng shui -- they just don't know it by that name," Chun said.
While some use feng shui as a decorating model, others swear by its practical effectiveness, said Diane Alba-Means, the owner of Hawaii Feng Shui & Redecorating on Maui.
Businesses like the Queen's Medical Center and Zippy's have begun offering feng shui classes to their employees and classes have been scheduled by the Building Industry Association of Hawaii and the Hawaii Executive Conference, an annual event for the top executives in the state.
Florida-based Developer Crescent Heights recently hired Chun to tweak landscaping at the Koolani, a new luxury high-rise condominium in Honolulu.
"They wanted to make sure that the placement of their fountain and trees would be in harmony," she said.
Real estate sellers have also consulted Chun to determine how to better position their properties and buyers have sought her advice in making their new homes environmentally friendly, she said.
"Some people seek me out just because of the feng shui," she said.
Chun has also worked with the Palolo Chinese Home and the Filipino Community Center as well as attorneys, doctors, bankers, dentists and other professional people, she said.
The growing popularity of feng shui in Hawaii's business community has doubled business for Alice Inoue, who opened the Feng Shui Way about three years ago.
"In the old days, feng shui might have been seen as a little out there -- now it's more commonplace," Inoue said. "I think businesses are opening up to the fact that there might be other things that they can tap into for guidance besides the traditional methods that they've always used."
Brian Shimamura hired Inoue to help him launch his first business effort, the Private Gym, in December. He sought her assistance in moving walls, choosing paint colors, the placement of exercise equipment and positioning of signs.
Shimamura doesn't advertise, yet his business has taken off -- a feat he believes was influenced by feng shui.
"Many gyms are intimidating to people, but no one has come into this gym that doesn't want to stay," Shimamura said, adding that membership will be on target by the end of the month.
Feng shui also helped Thai overcome the challenge of launching his business in the crowded Waimalu strip mall, where a previous nail salon had failed in less than a year, he said.
"I was worried about the location, but I used feng shui to make it more suitable," Thai said. "The space was in the south so it was more suited to a restaurant; I cooled the energy by adding water elements."
Posting a red and yellow business sign above the door suited the natural energy of the place and also attracted customers, Thai said.
"They come because they see the sign from the road," he said, adding business has been so good that he's been able to hire five people since opening his shop three years ago.
Despite his belief that feng shui works, Thai is quick to point out that it doesn't guarantee practitioners a good life.
"It's just a belief that helps people cope," Thai said. "Religion can work that way too."
Many people are mystified by feng shui, but there's really nothing magical about the practice, Inoue said. Most of the primary principles in feng shui: such as energy must flow, cleanliness is a must, have only what you love around you, protect your back and pay attention to your entry -- make good common sense, she said.
"When you get positive feedback from your environment, thoughts of abundance manifest themselves and that leads to success," Inoue said.
While feng shui might once have been viewed as a bit left-field outside its culture, Hawaii's fascination with feng shui, which literally means "wind water," fits, Chun said.
The Hawaiian principles of working with the energy of the land are very similar to feng shui, which in Chinese culture is based on the belief that gentle winds and clear water will bring good harvest and health, she said.
"Hawaii people are naturally more intuitive -- living on an island makes them more in tune with nature, the sun and the moon," Chun said.
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