So, what is Feng Shui?? Literally, it translates as 'Wind Water', and it is the art and science of living in harmony with your surroundings. Although it is said to have been in practice for over 5000 years ago, it was about 1500 years ago that the principles and elements of Feng Shui were polished and then recorded. The very basic concept is that we are all all surrounded by Qi - Feng Shui provides the tools to analyze and then correct the flow of Qi around us. As with every ancient tradition, Feng Shui too, has many different schools of thought - the most traditional being the Form School, other popular ones are the Compass school and the BTB schools.
Our first week lesson was an introduction to the Form School, and the definition of a perfectly located house - facing south, with a mountain at the back, a river in the front, two trees on either side, with the left one taller than the right. Who wouldn't want to live in such an idyllic spot - except in today's world, are sites like these even available? No fears though - all these 'forms' translate easily into the modern world! In today's concrete jungles, buildings replace mountains and trees, and roads are of course our rivers, flowing incessantly with people and traffic! Form school assigns 4 different animals to the 4 cardinal directions - North is the Turtle, South is the Phoenix, and East and West are the Dragon and Tiger, respectively. So of course, you want the Turtle (a symbol of longevity) to your back, an open space in front of you for the Phoenix to fly freely - and since the Dragon is the Emperor of Heaven, the left ie the East has to be higher than the West's Tiger, who is the King of Earth. Not as scientific as I would have expected - but still keeping an open mind at this point!
The next session explained a lot about Qi - the vital force, the invisible energy that fills everything. Of course, not all Qi is good - and an important part of Feng Shui is recognizing and eliminating sources of stagnant or uncontrolled Qi. Opening windows and clearing clutter are simple ways of restoring the flow of good energy - although that seems to be more good sense than anything else! Intricately linked with the Qi is Yin and Yang - a very popular symbol. Yin and Yang represents the balance of masculine and feminine forces - the moon and the sun, the earth and the heaven. Added to the mix are the 5 elements - Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal - everything can be classified into one of these. Each of these have their unique properties, and also interactions with the other elements - either positive or negative. Again, balance is the key word here!
The Bagua maps are a logical progression from the Yin/Yang and the 5 Element theory. This is basically a square divided into 9 smaller squares - each of the 8 peripheral squares is assigned an element, and a life characteristic. For example, the top middle square is Fire, with the color Red - and it is associated with Fame and Reputation, or the bottom left square is Earth, with the color Blue, associated with the Skills and Knowledge. Using this map is simple - any room can be divided into the 9 squares, the assumption being that the entrance is always on the bottom edge - and then use the Bagua to enhance any particular aspect that might be lacking. To use the previous example, a red lamp or trophies could be placed in the Fame and Reputation corner, or a bookcase with a blue globe could enhance the Skills and Knowledge corner. What is most surprising to me is that there is no reference to the compass here - the cardinal directions play absolutely no role!
Moving on to site selection - this refers a lot to the Form School - and also the shape and size of the lot and the house. This is probably more relevant to someone looking at building a house from scratch, but for those of us who already own a house or rent - pay close attention to the section on remedies for bad Feng Shui! The Outdoor Fengshui - gardens, pools, outdoor plants, trees - led to a very lively discussion! The teacher talked a lot about things being 'ugly' - this included any asymmetry, any straight lines (by the way, straight lines are an absolute no-no), and even manicured lawns! Ideas of beauty obviously vary from person to person - so it was very hard to make sense of this! Not everyone thinks that Chinese classical gardens - like the ones here in Suzhou - are the absolute epitome of beauty! There's a lot to be said for well-laid out, symmetrical beds of flowers, and wide expanses of green grass!!
The Indoor Fengshui was something we had all been waiting for - and here finally, were the compasses! Similar to the Bagua, the entire house can be divided into 9 sectors - 8 directions and the center. Of course, no house layout is an exact square - which leads to the interesting concept of Missing Corners. Each directional corner belongs to a person in the family - for example, the SW corner is Mother, the NW corner is the Father, and the other 6 belong to children - so if the house is L-shaped, and the SW or NW corner is missing, watch out! The person with the Missing Corner is sure to have some deep, dark problems! Also, children's bedrooms in the parents' corner, a daughter in a boy corner or vice versa, children missing their relevant corners - could all lead to the harmony of the family being disturbed! Gloom and doom all around - because, really, the perfect house is almost impossible!
There are rules and complicated calculations for everything - the number of stairs, the width of doorways and dimensions of furniture, shape of rugs, type of pictures and curtains, placement of sofas, coffee tables, desks and plants - just endless! A lot of emphasis on beams - don't sleep under one, don't sit under one, cover up exposed beams with false ceilings, avoid 4 poster beds - now I'm looking for beams wherever I go! Of course, to understand the full scope, it would be necessary to take the Advanced Feng Shui class! The simplest solution to any seemingly unsolvable problem - let it go, ignore it, if it hasn't bothered you so far, it's ok! The last part of the class was Personal Fengshui - a small detour to Chinese Astrology, face reading and palmistry. A Fengshui master would combine all these elements to help straighten out the overall Qi - of course, mastery can take years and years of intense study.
So what did I think of the course? Well, there wasn't enough science for me - a lot of it seemed to be very intuitive and subjective. Granted that this was a very basic introduction - but I didn't get enough to make me a true believer. Our Indian system of Vaastu Shastra relies heavily on the cardinal directions, and the Earth's magnetic field - and the rules seem to be grounded in reason. Not that I know too much about Vaastu, but what little I know and believe, has made sense to me. Of course, if I can change the location of a plant or two, or hang up a new picture because of the Fengshui I've learnt - I'll do it! What's the harm - and in case it does work, well, I've got my bases covered - if only getting a promotion or pay raise was as easy as adding bamboo to your study!
All said and done, this was an interesting piece of Chinese culture to be introduced to! Although I doubt I'll go for the Advanced class, I would definitely like to learn a bit more about Chinese Astrology, or maybe Tai-chi - now that would be so much fun! Couple more years here in China - so much to do, so little time!!