One for the – err, windowsill?

Can facing three cans of beer due north really bring you luck? Does the alignment of your plants really influence the happiness you’ll have in a marriage? If you change the position of a painting, will you become wealthier or healthier? There’s a thriving industry in Hong Kong that suggests all of this, and more, is possible.

In my last post I explored the idea that there will be an Asia baby boom in 2012 as couples race to bestow the characteristics of the dragon upon their children. Once my eyes were opened to this trend, I couldn’t help but reflect on just how ingrained ancient cultural traditions such as Feng Shui are within the culture of Hong Kong locals.

At the beginning of winter last year, when everyone in the office was coming down with colds and flu, our team had begun to feel (rightly) that none of us had been untouched by illness. Rather than wearing masks like the Japanese, or doing weekly desk cleans as we had done in Sydney, the team decided to invest in the services of a Feng Shui expert.

According to Wikipedia, Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (Chinese astronomy) and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi.

I knew we’d agreed to have the expert come in, but then a few weeks later I was surprised to find a portly Chinese man in bright orange overalls, pacing around the open plan office. I had no idea what he was doing, and I certainly didn’t think he was ‘the’ expert. He didn’t have a long wiry beard, he wasn’t wearing spectacles, and he didn’t even have greying hair or a look of perfect serenity about him. The only give-away was his weight, which perfectly exemplified the phrase “He was worth his weight in gold” which we duly found out when the bill for his services arrived.

According to his plans, we each had to make small changes to our space, placing a gold item here, a plant there, a coloured scarf on the chair. I thought it was quite fun, and I’m always happy to participate in a cultural activity, so I made all the suggested changes with care.

Around the same time of the year, we had a routine rental inspection conducted by the landlady. I was expecting the usual cut and dried form with a check list of all the things we were ruining by living in the apartment (and therefore a jolly good reason for her to raise the rent). Instead, what we got was a checklist of Feng Shui recommendations.

“I noticed you have the upside down good luck picture on your door,” she started. “That was good for last year, but this year you have to move it so that it is facing the other wall. Keep it upside down, that brings luck.”

“The position of the plants is good, but put something red in the corner. And go and buy three cans of beer and put them on the windowsill facing North,” she said. Each time she spoke to me for months afterwards she inquired about the beer.

For some reason this was a sticking point for me. I didn’t want to put cans of beer on my windowsill. It reminded me of university days, when my friends would collect all the empty bottles of alcohol they’d consumed and place them around their rooms like trophies, and aim to out do each other with variety or quantity or both. Three cans wouldn’t cut it by any of these measures, now would it? And the beer would just go warm, so that visitors who decided they’d like to crack open the well placed morsel would be rewarded by flat, warm beer. Besides which, I’m not all that fond of beer.

It took many more months to realise that it wasn’t actually the beer that was important. Rather, it was the BRAND. Kirin beer, from Japan, insisted my landlady. More weeks passed, and then it came to light that it wasn’t beer at all. In actual fact, the cans depict a kind of dragon. By placing three cans of beer on the windowsill, I would actually be placing three dragons.

A Kirin Dragon

Once I finally understood that, I’ve been on the lookout for suitable dragons. The year is almost over, and I’ve not found three that I’d like to place on the ledge and look at every day. I’m almost certain that my next rental inspection will yield a new set of rules, so I’m not too upset that I missed out this year.

Still, I can’t help but wonder – how might my life have changed if I’d purchased and displayed three Kirin beers on my windowsill?

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