I'm regularly in contact with my good friend in China, Matthew Hu Xinyu, who works with the Beiing Cultural Heritage Protection Center. His excellent "CHP" site can be seen at en.bjchp.org/english/indexen.asp. Matthew and his colleagues are working to see that the cultural relics of his country are properly preserved and valued, particularly in the old architectural areas, with their unique character and charm. The recent expansion and conversion of some areas of Beijing to accommodate the very successful Olympic Games, caused his people some apprehension, but things appear to be reasonably settled now, much to his relief.
Recently, Matthew sent me a note about a talk on feng shui that was to be given at his organization by an authority on that subject. I expressed some alarm at this, and Matthew informed me of something of which I was unaware, but might have discovered - that the traditional art of feng shui has been badly contorted by the myriad of "authorities" worldwide who've chosen to make it mystical and woo-woo - though that flavor persists, probably due to the cultural origins of the art. He assured me that the talk would be rational, and I responded to him:
Matthew: That is very satisfying, to know that the basic principle of feng shui - balance and proportion - will be emphasized by the professor. I hope you will congratulate him on presenting a practical, real, view of artistic and culturally-consistent theory and practice, regarding feng shui - which has become distorted and mysterious here in the USA, rather than being a cultural reflection of genuine Chinese taste and preference. I am happy to hear this, and I hope that you might communicate my delight to the professor for me, please.
Now, as if to prove that woo-woo still triumphs, faithful reader Bob Pagani, who often harvests interesting items for us, found a notice of the availability of an "Electronic Feng Shui Compass" - surely a huge leap forward in pseudo-technology. In typical fashion, relatively sane readers of the posting responded. The first four:
I've invented a new gadget that finds all the hidden coastal property in Arizona. For a limited time, I'll let you pay me $19.95 for it.
I wonder who owns the rights to feng shui. I smell lawsuit if they find out.
Fantastic. Now instead of wasting thousands of dollars on quack Feng Shui "experts," we can waste a mere $19.95 on quack Feng Shui "compasses." What fantastic progress.
Will this still work after the Feng Shui poles flip?
And then a cogent explanation (?) was offered:
It's basically an electronic magnetic compass that is marked with the symbols and ideas that are associated with the directions of north, south, east, and west. This may not be perfect, but for example have the couch face north for success in the endeavors you take on in the room, put the chair east to enhance the feeling of love in the room.
This was followed by:
Actually, according to the compass, south west is the direction for success.
I would buy one of these, and it would inform me that I wasn't even Asian. Bummer.
And one commenter apparently quoted from "Pirates of the Caribbean," an exchange between a detractor and Captain Jack Sparrow:
"A pistol with one shot, no additional powder, a compass that doesn't point north...hmmm...and I half expected it to be made of wood. You're absolutely the worst pirate I've ever heard of."
"Ahh, but you have heard of me."
A friend of mine's mother worked for quite a well-known fashion house here in the UK. Things weren't going so well, so they called in a Feng Shui expert, who pointed out that their wastepaper basket was on their money-making wall. Move it, and all will be well, he said.
Four weeks later, they were bankrupt.
I rest my case...