Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001

Feng shui master Clarence Lau demonstrates the use of the lo-pun
(compass). The view outside and orientation of the interior
are important aspects of feng shui.

Harness energy potential
of home by using feng shui

A nudge from feng shui
puts things in balance

By Pat Gee

MY OLD CHINESE GRANDMOTHER, slightly stooped in her 80-something years, always gave out sage bits of advice with the shake of a finger, like, "No sleep under the window; you going catch cold and die."

Among her other admonitions: Don't sleep with your feet pointing toward the door -- another portent of death.

But other cultures have their own beliefs. One of the Old West's basic rules of survival was to never sit with your back to the door, because you couldn't see your enemies approaching.

Furniture arrangement in times past obviously could be a life-or-death matter. So was the location of your house or place of business. With the certainty that your venue could make or break you, the modern real estate agent's battle cry of success -- "Location! Location! Location!" -- has evolved, but the Hawaiians have known it for ages; their respect for the spiritual powers that be has finally been acknowledged with the practice of calling in kupuna to bless project sites, businesses and nearly everything else as a matter of course.

Without being aware of it, people for years have been practicing feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy of directing energy where it will do the most good, long before it became the latest yuppie thing. Feng shui, pronounced "fung shway," literally means "wind water." Wind, or "feng," represents "the energy around us," and water, or "shui," is indicative of location, says Hong Kong master teacher Clarence Lau.

His classes on the traditional compass school of feng shui at the Kaimuki Community School for Adults are filled from the first day of registration, and he has analyzed hundreds of homes and offices in Hawaii since coming here in 1995. At 25 cents a square foot, Lau charges an average of $250 to analyze a typical 1,000-square-foot house.

To increase the accuracy of an analysis, Lau says the traditional school uses an intricately detailed compass that pinpoints minute differences in directions; it also takes into account the birth date of the client (using the lunar, not the Western, calendar), the outside environment and location of the building.

"It's all done by calculation," he says. "There is no 'I think, I feel, I believe.'"

Sharissa Chun, the only real estate agent in Hawaii who advertises herself as a feng shui agent, says most of her clients take her up on her offer to use the "ancient Chinese secret" of feng shui to help them choose a home, business or a piece of property on which to build. She charges $75 for a site review and $175-plus for an on-site residential or commercial consultation.

The Prudential Locations agent is a teacher of the relatively newfangled, Westernized form or "black hat" school of feng shui, which has been around for the last 20 years, she says. It involves the use of a "bagua" map denoting nine areas within a building that represent major aspects of life, such as health, love, wealth and fame, to guide the placement of furniture and objects.

The popularity of feng shui followed on the heels of the holistic healing movement probably begun by Norman Vincent Peale's bestseller "The Power of Positive Thinking," she says. It acknowledges the power of mental and spiritual factors affecting the physical, and vice versa, Chun adds.

"The bottom line is, Don't be obsessive. Don't let feng shui control you," she says. "Everything is balance. ... Go with your gut instinct. If you feel it's affecting you (negatively), alter it. It's not superstitious; it's not even spiritual. It's shifting the energy of the immediate living space in the continuous pursuit of prosperity."

As the chi flies

The basic rules of the traditional and form schools of feng shui are too complicated and diverse to cover here in detail but can be found in the dozens of books available.

Someone unfamiliar with feng shui may think the practice is just superstition, psychic phenomena or even religious ritualism, master teacher Lau acknowledges. But he says there are scientific explanations behind many feng shui rules. And Chun says feng shui is plain "common sense," positive thinking and doing "what works for you -- go with your gut."

For instance, sleeping under a window is a no-no because there is too much "chi" or energy flying around for anyone to have a peaceful night's sleep, Lau says. Think of it as being in the middle of a wind tunnel when your body temperature has dropped once you've fallen asleep, he adds.

"On the top of your head is an acupuncture point that's like a baby's soft spot. You have to protect it while you sleep. If your head gets cold, you'll catch cold easy," he says.

The same thing applies to having the foot of your bed aligned with the door. Lau says the Chinese avoided it because it was reminiscent of the way the dead were carried out of a room -- feet first -- but the more scientific reason is, sleeping in a wind tunnel is not conducive to peaceful rest.

If too much chi is bad, too little is just as negative, Lau says. Everything should work together to achieve a balance. That's why wind chimes over doorways are used to keep the chi from flying out of the house too fast; you want the chi to linger and bring good fortune, he says.

And even if the Wild West no longer exists, everyone should still watch their backs, particularly at the office, where the placement of a desk can leave you vulnerable to approach from behind -- and to someone reading your personal e-mail.

While sitting with your back to the door where there is a high amount of traffic, it's easy to lose focus if you're constantly looking over your shoulder to see what's going on, and on top of that, your sense of privacy is constantly being violated, Lau says.

Chun says if you must sit with your back to the door, place a mirror in front of you so you can see what's going on. Mirrors or crystals also attract good energy, she adds.

The main entry of a home is of utmost importance because it's the "mouth of chi, the mouth of the home" where "you're formally welcoming people into your home," she says. One of the more common feng shui practices is to put a water element like a fountain, birdbath or fishpond by the front door to attract good energy to your home.

She once advised a client not to buy a home that had two staircases because people approaching the house would be confused about which one leads to the front door. The home with two staircases, interestingly enough, was foreclosed upon by the previous owner, indicating there was "most likely chaos in the household," Chun says.

Both schools of feng shui agree there is no good place for a bathroom, especially near the kitchen where the bad bacteria of the toilet can be detrimental to the food. Lau explains that the exhaust fan over the stove can pull air from the bathroom into the kitchen if it's nearby. The best you can do is keep the toilet cover down and the door to the bathroom closed, both say. Chun also suggests decorating with something red to attract good chi.

Chi beyond repair

Lau says, "Feng shui has a remedy for most problems." Chun agrees, describing several "cures" for bad chi that comes from the placement of things that cannot be moved without major expense and effort.

But sometimes the negative chi is so strong, it's best to avoid the area altogether. Chun has advised a client not to buy a home in a certain district where the electrical power lines "cut into the energy of the land," and another not to buy a home that had "a huge 15- to 20-foot-high wall blocking the wealth corner." Lau has also recommended that clients just move out when negative chi cannot be overcome.

But he says people are willing to pay for a consultation even if they are not having problems. Many of his clients include doctors, lawyers, bankers and established companies like Merrill Lynch.

"Luck is really abstract. You can't touch or sense it, but you can affect it by your living conditions," Lau says. "My clients follow my suggestions like I'm a doctor. If they take my advice, they will benefit. We read not your body for physical symptoms, but read your house. But (that in turn) will affect your physical body."

Sharissa Chun, left, helped chef Russell Siu arrange his Kakaako
Kitchen according to feng shui principles. The flowers and
water fountain are items she suggested he add to the decor.

A nudge from feng shui
puts things in balance

By Pat Gee

CHEF RUSSELL SIU used feng shui at his Kakaako Kitchen restaurant at Ward Centre and says business more than doubled.

At first he only "halfway believed" in it, Siu said, but when his wife recommended it, he decided to try after moving his restaurant from Waimanu Street, about two blocks away.

"When you open a business, you try to do everything you can to make your business successful," he said. "I think it helped. You can feel the harmony and energy flow; it helps with the tension. It keeps balance in the working place."

Feng shui consultant and real estate agent Sharissa Chun helped him find the location, which provided more traffic flow and parking. "She told us what to do to get things right," including the installation of a fountain inside, using red to trim the doorway, and putting up a mirror behind the cooks' station because their backs were to the customers," he said.

Frances Goo, president of Guardian Escrow, says she has felt at peace in her new office since feng shui teacher Clarence Lau turned everything around from north to south.

Located for 21 years in the Grosvenor Center downtown, Goo recently built a new salmon-colored building at the corner of Isenberg and Beretania streets. It was designed so that everything faced south, including the electrical outlets.

She recalled that Lau came to review her office and said, "Uh-oh, you have to redo the whole thing." She went along with him because she believes in feng shui, even though everything looked strange at first and everyone hated the changes.

Goo had to move her desk from a credenza designed for it behind the door, and "now I'm exposed to everyone.

"But after a week, the strangest thing happened -- I'm not joking. ... I felt really, really good and peaceful, like I belonged there. After that, people I've never known would come in and say, 'This office is so peaceful.'" And she has noticed business picking up.

Marc Lizama, a Honolulu architect, uses feng shui principles in designing houses because they just make sense.

For example, he cites the rule, "Never build at the top or the bottom of a hill." The top of a hill gets buffeted by strong winds and storms, he said, while the bottom is prone to flooding. The best location is in the middle of the hill.

A year ago, the company he works for, Next Design Architect, had Lau analyze its offices. After things were rearranged, Lizama said, "we've had to expand the office, we've been so busy, and the company is only 2 years old. Can we really say it's the result of feng shui? I can't say it made a difference, but it certainly did not hurt it."

Bryan Wong, a consultant at the Waikiki feng shui shop Bagua, said practicing the philosophy has made a difference in her life.

"I advanced quite rapidly in whatever job I had, even if other people had the same level of expertise," Wong said. "Family unity is very strong. My mom, dad, brothers and sisters are close-knit. I have no major health problems."

She grew up with feng shui without realizing it. Her Chinese grandmother always used to say, "Oh, don't put this there," Wong recalled. When feng shui gained popularity, she realized, "Oh, that's what grandma was talking about."

Bagua opened in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center last June and doubled in size in January. That's how popular it has become, Wong said.

"Feng shui is boiled down to restoring the balance to the environment so there is not too much yang or too much yin," she said. "It is the ancient Chinese art of placement and design that promotes health, prosperity and happiness."

Lau once had clients who had moved into a house that seemed haunted. Doors would open and shut by themselves, and a washer/dryer would run automatically, they told him.

Sometimes the energy of a dead person remains attached to a home or location because the soul "has no peaceful place to go," he said. But feng shui consultants "are not exorcists," Lau said. "I can only make the spirit feel uncomfortable ... make the energy more yang, and the spirit eventually might leave."

He said he changed the house's magnetic field by having the dark interior walls painted white, keeping lights on in the narrow hallway 24 hours a day, and introducing metal objects to absorb yin energy. He rearranged the furniture and removed mirrors ("spirits like to hide behind mirrors"). The spirit must have left the building, because Lau hasn't heard anything from them since.

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