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Feng Shui Fever

The ancient Chinese art of placement has people all worked up

By Traci Hukill

WITHIN HOURS OF my first feng shui workshop, I'd broken a sweat re-arranging the bedroom furniture. It wasn't that I actually held any hope for our overpriced little rental with its insouciant stairs facing the doorway or its ill-mannered toilet that squatted exactly one floor above the front door.

I couldn't hope to deter unbridled ch'i from galloping through our rowhouse-style corridor, launching out the bathroom window like Pegasus and taking all our life force with it. Nothing in my power could change our location to the south side of a hill with a gently running stream at the base, the pinnacle of good placement for a Chinese house.

But it couldn't hurt to move the furniture around a bit. As I assessed the bedroom I kept in mind what Nancy Bennett, a feng shui practitioner speaking at the West Coast Dowsers Convention, advised her eager audience: We needed to dowse for bad ch'i, called sha, or forever function below par. So I did what any investigative journalist would have done. I closed the blinds, got down on all fours so the neighbors couldn't make out my silhouette, and dowsed using my shiny new L-rods.

It's a wonder I'm alive to tell about the terrible shape of my boudoir, sha-wise. One malevolent arrow knifed across the nuptial bed, piercing my beloved's bad knee and angling up to impale the noggin of Yours Truly before disappearing into the wall. Since Ms. Bennett warned us about the deleterious effects of sha on specific body parts, I knew that in order to save his knee and my sanity, I had to act now.

But where to move the bed? Another vicious sha current stalked a line about a foot from one wall, so that was out. Barriers like that spell trouble in a small room. In the end, I wedged the bed between the two currents, rearranged the scant furniture and admired my work--until further research revealed that the foot of the bed should never face the door, since the Chinese lay out their dead that way to let the departed's spirit escape. Our ceiling sloped, too--a definite minus in terms of positive ch'i flow.

And the final insult? My prized white down comforter made us symbolically even deader than the door-facing bed did.

The Black Hat Monk

It's complicated business, feng shui (pronounced "fung shway"). The words literally mean "wind" and "water," which helps explain the prevailing idea that ch'i, or life force, and its evil stepsister sha flow in currents that can be induced, guided or blocked. As the fine art of placement, it governs endeavors from arranging a vaseful of flowers to deciding the locale of a new city. Many practitioners use it in tandem with astrology to determine auspicious dates for weddings, business deals or other important events.

Until recently, American familiarity with this ancient art has suggested membership in a particular tax bracket. Enter one Donald J. Trump, whose latest multimillion-dollar real estate venture incorporates elements of feng shui. Are Mr. Trump's refined sensibilities at work here? Nah. "It's just another element in which you can have the advantage over your competitors," the mogul says bluntly, referring to the habit Hong Kong and Taiwanese investors have of dropping bad feng shui risks like hot potstickers.

Or consider that the esteemed feng shui master Professor Lin Yun, a monk of the Black Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism and the moving force behind the art in the United States, beamed happily upon Ronald Reagan's inauguration from his front-row seat while Chinese dignitaries glared at the back of his head from less advantageous positions.

And don't forget that the bedeviled Denver International Airport, whose errant baggage delivery system alone totaled over $228 million, was diagnosed as disastrous by three feng shui experts who proceeded to recommend cures--or compensatory measures--for the airport.

But the times, they are a-changing, and since feng shui's arrival on American shores nearly 20 years ago, ensuring healthy ch'i flow has become pretty darned economical. Used to be you had to live in Marin County to experience harmony with the earth. Now you can schlep on down to Gateways Bookstore and get everything you need--books that explain feng shui and the importance of color, mirrors to deflect ch'i flow, crystals to disseminate energy, chimes and bells to energize areas, and the indispensable desk fountain, which burbles merrily atop your desk while improving ch'i and soothing you and your colleagues with the natural sound of running water.

The nice thing is that most of these gadgets are fairly inexpensive. True, you might be moved to call in an expert like Ms. Bennett or Santa Cruz's own Pamela Ticoulat, who--naturally--makes house calls. And you can always buy designer crystals like the ones Bennett delicately hawks throughout her workshop. But a good book can send you well on your way to a home or work environment that's at the very least more esthetically pleasing.

And it looks like Professor Lin Yun has another memoir to lay next to his invitation to the White House. Mayor Rotkin himself has invited the master to Santa Cruz, where he'll perform a blessing ceremony for the city on Sunday.

"How do you bless the blessed?" queried one friend, and I directed the question to Ms. Ticoulat. "There are some good things about the feng shui here," she says. "We face the ocean and have the mountains at our back. But we built the city on a riverbed."

Santa Cruz's disaster energy needs dispersing, and that's where Professor Lin Yun comes in. By working with the principles of yin and yang and conducting a ceremony, his blessing will readjust the level of the city's energy.

That's fine, I think later as I crawl between the sheets. Let's earthquake-proof the city. But where should I put my bed?

Professor Lin Yun will bless Santa Cruz in a ceremony at the corner of Pacific and Front streets at 11am on Sunday. Luncheon and auction follow at noon ($99).The professor will give a 7:30pm lecture on "The Feng Shui of Santa Cruz" at Palookaville ($18/$16.50).

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From the August 22-28, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.

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