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Understanding Feng Shui

Feng shui (pronounced foong soy in Cantonese, fung shway in Mandarin, and literally translated as "wind" and "water") is the art of placing objects in such a way as to bring about yin-yang balance. In the West, feng shui seems like just another interior-design fad; in Hong Kong it's taken very seriously and is believed to affect everything from health to financial prospects.

One school of thought looks at buildings in relation to mountains or bodies of water. It's ideal, for example, for a building to face out to sea with a mountain behind it. (Is it coincidence that this allows for the best views and breezes?) Another school focuses on shapes in the immediate environment; triangles, for instance, give off bad feng shui. Both schools are concerned with the flow of energy. Entrances are placed to allow positive energy to flow in, and objects such as mirrors are used to deflect negative energy. Cities are often short of such natural feng shui improvers as babbling brooks, but not to worry: a fish tank is a fine alternative.

Feng Shui Structures

Feng shui has a huge influence on Hong Kong's architecture. Rumor has it that during construction of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (HSBC) Main Building, the escalators were reset so that they would be at an angle to the entrance. Because evil spirits can only travel in a straight line, this realignment was thought to prevent waterborne spirits from flowing in off Victoria Harbour. The escalators are also believed to resemble two whiskers of a powerful dragon, sucking money into the bank. Atop the building and pointing toward the Bank of China Tower are two metal rods that look like a window-washing apparatus: the rods are a classic feng shui technique designed to deflect the negative energy—in this case, from the Bank of China—away and back to its source.

On the other side of the harbor, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), which usurped the IFC's title as Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper, is governed by similar feng shui principals. A small terrace garden and fountain at the foot of the building provide a sense of harmony between the natural elements while the main entrances are located in auspicious positions that supposedly attract luck and fortune. But in a place like Hong Kong, where the cityscape is always evolving, it's important to remember that a building's feng shui can change constantly with its surroundings.

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