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Seriously, it's big business in HK

Sunday, May 7, 2006
By: Joey Yap

When Hong Kong Disneyland opened in late 2005, there was a great deal of buzz in Hong Kong about the theme park. Yes, there were debates on the over-consumption of sharks-fin and a few other issues too, but one of the oft-discussed subjects about Hong Kong Disneyland was about its Feng Shui. The whose and the what's particularly were of interest to Hong Kongers - they were curious as to which master had been given the task of overseeing the Feng Shui of the theme park and what had been done to ensure the theme park would have an auspicious start. Even Hong Kong's main English daily, the South China Morning Post, ran a feature piece on the Feng Shui of Disneyland, and even speculated on which Master had the enviable (or unenviable, depending on how you look at it) task of doing the Feng Shui for Mickey's home.

The avid interest in the Feng Shui of the Mouse House provides an insight into how Feng Shui is perceived very differently in Hong Kong, and even in Taiwan, compared to Malaysia. In Hong Kong, Feng Shui is a given. Most of the major buildings along the Hong Kong city line have been Feng Shui'ed. Most of the Feng Shui of the prominent buildings, such as the HSBC building and the infamous IM Pei 'joss-stick' Bank of China building, have also been tirelessly dissected and discussed in many a Feng Shui night-class in Hong Kong. Talk to anyone in Hong Kong and they have something to say about the Feng Shui of these two buildings. No tour of Hong Kong's famous Peak is complete without a running commentary from your Hong Kong tour guides on the 'Feng Shui of Hong Kong'.

In Hong Kong, people are not secretive or wary of being associated with Feng Shui. It is openly discussed in newspaper columns and magazines, and television programs featuring Feng Shui masters are very popular fare. Feng Shui masters make the breakfast shows on a daily basis, alongside the financial analyst and celebrity of the week.

Over the years, I've continued to touch base with various masters in Hong Kong in my research into specific areas of Classical Feng Shui. So in this part of the column, I thought it apt to share with you some of my observations over the years of what the Feng Shui scene is like in Hong Kong - the place many people consider to be the heartland of Feng Shui today.

Throwing open the doors of knowledge

Up until some 50 years ago, Feng Shui was very much a closely-guarded profession. The master-disciple system was very much entrenched and trade secrets were handed down from master to disciple. All this changed in the 1980s when one Feng Shui Master started to teach Feng Shui openly to the public, classroom-style. Anyone could come and learn Feng Shui, as long as they paid the tuition fee. This radically altered the landscape of the profession because it paved the way for anyone, as long as they had an interest, to learn Feng Shui and if they were prepared to supplement their own learning with personal study of the classics (available at most Chinese bookstores), they had the opportunity to rise to become a consultant too. The profession became democratised and the practice of Feng Shui became less the purview of only the noble, rich and very wealthy. You didn't have to be the son of a famous Feng Shui master or endure many years as a disciple, in order to learn the trade.

Of course, initially there was uproar amongst the profession - change, after all, is always uncomfortable at first. But then eventually, many other masters also began opening up classes and teaching. It also helps that in Hong Kong, there is a strong interest in self-cultivation and continuing education amongst the public. There is an appreciation of the value of knowledge and the perspective that learning something new all the time and constantly updating oneself is important to retain a competitive advantage.

During the height of the Feng Shui education boom, some masters even had to rent school halls, in order to accommodate the number of students who had signed up for their classes. Perhaps it is because Hong Kong is such an unabashedly competitive society so people see education and knowledge as a means to improve not just their minds, but opportunities on the job or for a little side-income.

Malaysians of course are slowly but surely catching up. We are slowly seeing an increase in the number of individuals who are not just interested in learning about Chinese Metaphysical subjects like Feng Shui, BaZi and Face Reading or Mian Xiang, but more and more people heeding the call for continuing education and 'lifelong learning'.

The business of Feng Shui

Hong Kong, being well-known as a business hub and where the capitalist-entrepreneurial spirit is strong and vibrant, is very open in accepting Feng Shui as a business. In this respect, we Malaysians are slightly conservative, - we do not like to think of professions like law, medicine, dentistry and to some degree Feng Shui, as being part of 'commercial' businesses. The idea that these professions are about 'making money' is thought to be an uncomfortable fit with the altruistic side of the profession - namely, helping people and even saving lives unselfishly. Now, this is not to equate Feng Shui with saving lives. But Feng Shui consultants do occasionally get cases of people who believe that their job is to 'help people' and thus because of this altruistic component, they should offer free advice or charge only a token for their services - in a way that medical practitioners are bound by the Hippocratic Oath to preserve lives.

In Hong Kong, the public understands that Feng Shui masters open their doors for business and that Feng Shui or any other form of consultation is a business transaction. And they are prepared to expend the requisite fees for the professional services and expert advice offered by a good Feng Shui master - 'quid pro quo' as the legal profession will say.

In Hong Kong, Feng Shui masters are quite prolific when it comes to education, consulting and book-writing. Yes, there is some jostling and open marketing for more students and more consultations but it is all in the spirit of a business-driven approach to Feng Shui. After all, if everyone can compete for business in Hong Kong, why not Feng Shui masters surely? I believe healthy competition in the industry is a good thing if this means Feng Shui is made more accessible to the public, and encourages the propagation of knowledge about Classical Feng Shui. If competition is what prompts Feng Shui masters to share their knowledge and enable Feng Shui to be something more people can use in their daily lives, it's a positive development for everyone!

Of course, wherever you have commercialism thriving, there are bound to be a few who stray onto, what I metaphorically like to call, 'the Dark Side'. In Hong Kong, one sees the two opposite extremes of commercialised Feng Shui. At one end are highly experienced masters who can command considerable fees for their consulting work, or who are 'in-house consultants' for tycoons and conglomerates, handling all the Feng Shui aspects for their various offices and properties, doing date selection for the signing of contracts or commencing business and of course, using BaZi or Purple Star Astrology for human resource planning.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have chosen the easy route of establishing a name for themselves, having acquired some knowledge, and then putting their weight behind trinkets, figurines or pendants that can cure purportedly any problem under the sun: The Dark Side of Feng Shui so to speak!

Hong Kong: A model to aspire to?

I think Hong Kong offers some ideas or takeaways that we can consider when it comes to Feng Shui. Certainly, it is important to strive towards increasing the accessibility of Feng Shui knowledge. In Hong Kong, it's so easy to find a book on any metaphysical subject, written by a variety of masters. Right now, there aren't enough books in English on the subject of Chinese Metaphysics. Greater openness on the subject of Feng Shui, and less superstition surrounding the subject of Feng Shui, is something we would all like to see happening. But most importantly, we would like to see Feng Shui having the same level of respect and authority that it enjoys in Hong Kong, here in Malaysia. By this, I do not mean that Feng Shui should be accepted as some form of blind faith or of master worshipping, but simply to be appreciated for benefits this classical practice has to offer, be it for the individuals or businesses.

Indeed and in all fairness, for most professions, commercialism is only a bad thing if it is crass commercialism. And by crass commercialism, I mean claiming to be able to perform miracles or promoting cures as the be-all-and-end-all of Feng Shui, in the name of making a quick or extra buck. Ultimately, a more business-driven approach to Feng Shui is not a bad thing if it means more Feng Shui consultants becoming more professional in the way they serve clients; thereby resulting in more people being presented with the opportunity to benefit from what Feng Shui has to offer!

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