Robert Mugabe slept in my bed.
1. I’ve got a gong and I’m not afraid to use it.
My friend Dawn is a self-made not-so secret millionaire. She made her fortune in the flooring business. At pretty much every modern international airport you’ll find yourself stepping on her floors. And she’s been a pioneer in introducing non-toxic solvents and in fair treatment of the workforce too. Altogether she’s a remarkable woman. And she’s bonkers about feng shui though I’m sometimes not sure she’s quite sure what she means by that.
Last time I visited her big homestead high on the Cheshire ridge, she had just placed a pond. My compass said it was in the North East.
“Why now, why there?” I ask her. I know she expects me to scold her when she does these things. Why buy a dog and do your own barking?
“I just sort of thought it would be nice,” she says innocently.
She has of course placed the pond intuitively. Intuitively. What do we mean by this? Most Chinese Masters are dismissive of students who claim to be intuitive because it’s so often an excuse for not doing the homework. As it happens, all the great ones are deeply intuitive but don’t try getting them to own up.
I do some calculation. Dawn plays new age music that keeps hinting at tunes and then stopping short. It’s poignant and atmospheric. Once or twice I zone out and listen to Bon Iver’s achingly beautiful version of Bonnie Rae’s I can’t make you love me. If she wants my attention Dawn has a big Balinese gong she can hit from time to time.
Technically I’m identifying what palaces Dawn has put the doors into by placing water. The palaces are like a clock face. There are twelve of them, ranging from birth to death via maturity. Each occupies a position on the compass depending on the source the energy is coming from. And a massive external body of water will usually be that source. In other words the pond has altered the nature of the energy entering the house.
“Well?” she asks, bringing me a cup of tea just the way I like it; English Breakfast, strong, too much milk, builder’s tea, this is the North of England, after all.
“You’ve put your front door into mo yuk.”
“What does that actually mean? You know I can’t tell a ying tong from a ping pong.”
“Mo yuk means hanky panky. You’ll have been unusually frisky.”
She colours and tells me just how right I am. And her secrets are of course safe with me. Suffice it to say that she’s a recently divorced woman who has every right to a bit of fun.
She tells me she’s concerned that money is flowing only one way right now: out.
“Will that have anything to do with the pond?”
I look out across the vales of Cheshire where the disc of Jodrell Bank is shining in the distance. Her house is high up the slope and the long drive falls away to the West.
“The West is where money is this year.”
“OMG. Did I do that?”
“You’ll have made it more extreme. Next time I’ll balance it up.”
“Height and weight. The West is best kept high and heavy long term. This year, if it’s not, it’s likely to mean money going out. You’ll need something very heavy.”
“I’ve been thinking of a stone circle,” she says and stares into the middle distance. I have seen that look before.
2. The ground beneath my feet.
On my way back from Singapore at Changi Airport, a month later I notice the particularly springy flooring and text Dawn.
“This one of yours?”
In Singapore and Malaysia I have noticed so much building, so much busyness, so much commerce that Blighty seems very tame by comparison. It’s twenty degrees cooler back home in every sense I can think of. Singapore and Malaysia. are feng shui central of course. Nothing is built without involving the legions of feng shui men. You have only to raise your eyes to the skyline. At the junction of North Bridge Street and Pickering Street I see skyscrapers with missing corners, skyscrapers with holes cut out of them and skyscrapers in a sort of static Mexican stand-off where a very tall one is topped by another slightly taller one and this by another in a constant game of architectural top-handie.
Because Singapore is eight hours ahead, I’ve found myself working almost round the clock. By day I’m looking at buildings and researching, by evening handling emails and calls from England. I do a lot of my work in Starbucks because they’re the same wherever you go and I like to work surrounded by energy without having to get too deeply involved. For those studying ba zi btw, this gives away that I was born in the Monkey month.
One afternoon, for some variety I walk to the colonial Raffles Hotel, now dwarfed by its surroundings. Nearby there’s an extreme example of feng shui one-upmanship: a restaurant complex mirrors St Andrews’ Cathedral opposite with its tall spires. The surrounding high rises echo both but they’re so much bigger. Their towers dwarf the colonial markers that once established the supremacy of the British way of life. Not any more.
And there is no recession here. Everyone’s in business. The Metro teems and there are cranes all over. Everywhere there is building, everywhere competition. A generation ago Singapore had fishing villages and open space. It’s only about the size of the Isle of Wight and yet it competes on equal terms with vast nations like China, Germany and the USA. But it’s just about run out of space.
It’s monsoon season, very hot and uncomfortably humid which makes it a relief after Raffles to enter the air conditioned malls again. Monsoon season means storms every afternoon, some of them spectacular electrical spectacles. It also means that the pavements are slick from about 4pm. In Singapore much of the pavement is shiny terracotta and I’m wearing rather natty red Converse All Stars which have virtually no grip. Cue feng shui man in the frozen lake scene from “Bambi”.
3. Strait Story
I take the bus North into Malaysia. It’s a high tech double decker which gives me a wonderful view across the Straits of Malacca. Any ship sailing East-West whether Royal Navy aircraft carrier on the way back via the Red Sea to the Mediterranean or Fuchuan warship of the fleet of Admiral Zheng He en route to Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa, has had to pass through here since navigation began. The coach eats the miles and I eat a cold curry served by the young Muslim steward.
Although Singapore and Malaysia are very different, they share this constant hum of building. Only Malaysia has more real estate. There’s no hardwood any more but there are at least real mountains to the North and open space.
Jim and Tessa’s condo in Kuala Lumpur is typical. It’s so new that the load bearing columns are too full of wires and technology to afford me an accurate take on my compass. The needle goes haywire and I have to stand back yards. I conclude it’s East-West though.
Tessa is a sweet lady with roots in half-a-dozen cultures. Malaysian is one, Welsh is another. Their last home was in the valleys outside Cardiff. This is a bit different.
Tessa is also a big fan of feng shui. For her though it is a Chinese thing with strict rules and traditions. She loves to pore over the almanacs produced by every Master in South East Asia with a following and her shelves are stacked with technical books on feng shui, ba zi and other aspects of Chinese metaphysics. She plies me with tea and sandwiches and tasty Malaysian delicacies. My being a vegetarian doesn’t faze her at all. Her ba zi suggests next year she takes her cooking skills seriously.
I show them both on the development plan how the guard house is appropriately to the North West and the external water of which there is a great deal – fountains, swimming and infinity pools – North and that there’s an alternative exit South West and a substantial shrine to the East. When Jim takes me out past the armed guards to measure up, I see that the shrine is loaded with recent offerings: fruit, joss sticks, tealights. The Buddha is as golden as a koi carp.
I explain that these positions spell a dwelling deliberately positioned in Wood chi formation. Furthermore there’s a chunk left out of the floor plan, making for a classic “hatchet” shape which is I imagine to stimulate trading of the apartments.
Tessa’s mostly concerned that the condo is safe for 2012.
“Where can I put my candles this year?” she asks, house proud and concerned about cooking smells.
I generally treat a condo as a room in a bigger building. Theirs is in the West of the development which means they are sitting both on the wealthy Water star and the healthy Mountain star. So that’s alright then.
Jim good-naturedly shows me round. They banter. Tessa pretends he’s totally useless and he pretends not to be a man who commands silly fees for repairing the IT systems of big corporations. He’s on the cusp of a decision: is the future of his business East or West? In 2012, the Year of Sudden Change, both East and West are prosperous. The long term is East though.
The kitchen is in the South East which is ideal in 2012 when the nasty wu huang 5 star will arrive. A kitchen activates so much contradictory energy – Wood in the form of food, the Fire of cooking, the Metal of cutlery, the Earth of simply eating and of course a great deal of Water – that it is the perfect place to hide poor flying stars.
Jim and Tessa have put me up in the very smart East Inn Hotel. They buy me dinner there the first night. Tessa flirts outrageously with the very French head chef who I take at first to be gay. He’s not and he’s a rather interesting man whose cv includes a two month spell as a human shield hostage in Iraq. He also makes a world class Thai red curry.
In the bar a pretty Muslim girl is fronting a covers band; voices, guitar, backing tracks. She of course knows and loves Tessa. She sings “Light Up” with great sensitivity and afterwards I congratulate her on “that Snow Patrol song”.
“Snow Patrol?” she questions. We settle for Leona Lewis.
Tessa buys an ornate water feature from the feng shui shop. I think it’s mostly to terrorise the nervous Chinese guy who owns it. She haggles without mercy. Jim and I hang back, neither of us brought up for this.
I set their condo up for 2012. There are fresh places to stimulate for wealth and safety in the Water Dragon year. And I get a first hand look at the new condo they’re buying across town. I’ve only seen it on paper before. Once again I can see that there is feng shui intelligence at work in the orientation, the way the blocks are positioned relative to the river and the two promontories have been kept West and North East relative to the buildings. It’s so clear, it’s as if I know the thinking of the Masters responsible. Which may actually be the case.
Jim takes my picture: feng shui man sweltering in front of apartment block.
Before they found their temporary accommodation, Jim and Tessa stayed at the number one hotel in KL for several months.
“Wonderful hotel, the best suite,” Tessa says with a twinkle. “You’ll never guess who had slept in my bed.”
“Robert Mugabe slept in your bed,” I repeat back to her.
“Robert Mugabe slept in my bed.”
Jim is falling about laughing.
“I’m not a bit surprised,” I say.
3. Hanky, no panky.
Back in Cheshire, Dawn has ordered two trucks of huge stones.
“You’d better tell me where to put them,” she texts me.
Indeed I had.
From my Chinese calendar I choose a very special day. She meets me at the railway station in her coupe with a purple Dragon stencilled on the bonnet. It has state-of-the-art mp3 hi fi that only plays U2.
Next morning I’m up early. I’ve calculated positions for the stones that will balance the house. When you calculate where to put Mountain (that is height and weight) and Water (that is er… water) in a Xuan Kong pattern there are two main considerations: what suits the house and what suits the person. Often these contradict and usually they require compromise. Remarkably the locations are pretty much precisely those that I would have chosen if I were calculating something specially to suit her which isn’t how I arrived at them. There are huge odds against this fortunate occurrence. No such thing as coincidence.
In my faux Paul Smith coat I venture warily into the freezing morning to locate the sites in the landscape. Dawn’s excitable about the ley lines her dowsing rods have unearthed running across her garden. She’s always excitable actually. Paul Smith doesn’t keep the chill out and she lends me something more Arctic, a fetching little blue number. But still my thumbs are so cold it’s hard even to rotate the rings of my luopan.
Affable Northern workmen are already outside with anglegrinders and mallets and drills. My meticulously calculated Xuang Kong positions fall almost precisely into her ley lines. This is pretty interesting too. This woman is certainly a Master of something.
The stones arrive, huge irregular shapes of local sandstone. The guy who delivers the first consignment explains to me that the hoist on his truck can take precise volumes of weight out a certain distance from the flatbed. The hoist lifts first one stone then another into position. The low winter sun emerges dazzlingly from behind the trees above Dawn’s home. He manoeuvres the last stone into precisely the correct location. It’s bloody cold. Dawn makes tea. One of those moments of perfect poignance.
It’s been a very special day. Dawn tells me that today she has been able to dowse without her rods.
“Dowsing rods are just an excuse not to take responsibility,” I say.
“I know, I know,” she says. “Those stones look bloody good though, don’t they?”
Richard’s website is: www.imperialfengshui.info