A Hanoi shop selling paintings and ornamental stones used in feng shui
When my brother told his friends about plans to build a house two years ago, most of them advised him to go to a fortune-teller for advice about what would be best for someone with his birthday.
A fortune-teller ended up giving detailed instructions about the positions of the rooms and even furniture.
"Building a house is considered an important task in a man's life," he said.
"I had to be careful because, according to feng shui theory, if, for instance, I put my bed in a wrong corner of the bedroom, my health will be seriously affected."
Feng shui has long played an important role in Vietnam, especially in construction, and is also popular in other Asian countries like China and Japan. India too has an ancient system of construction called vastu shastra.
Tran Van Hien, a Hanoi architect, said feng shui is a scientific theory based on the influence of wind (feng) and water (shui) on people's lives. It guides people in choosing the right aspects for their construction and arranging their living and working places in harmony with the surroundings to ensure a good life, he explained.
"However, [it] has never been so popular as it is now when people have more time and conditions to practice it," he said.
Around 95 percent of his clients mention feng shui when they come to him to design a house.
"Ten years ago not many customers asked us about it. But today, as many as 90 percent of customers are asking me to pay attention to feng shui when designing their houses."
The young architect had to attend a feng shui training course, which is now among the most popular ones for people working in the construction industry.
There are dozens of places offering training in Hanoi, and their students are mostly construction engineers, architects, and real estate dealers. Of course many others including housewives, retirees, and small traders also come for these classes because they want to arrange and decorate their houses or shops.
After taking a one-month course, my brother spent lots of time and money looking for bonsai, rock crystals, paintings, and other ornamental items to decorate his house based on feng shui.
"I painted my bedroom green and place my bed to the southeast of the room because that is best for my age," my brother says. "My working table faced west and the working room was also painted the same color as the bedroom."
On the table, he arranged things like this: a lamp to the south, computer to the west, a vase of flower to the east, a telephone to the northwest, and a statue to the southeast, which he also says are most suitable for his age.
The decorations have made his house more beautiful and lively. But more importantly, he said, they have been carefully chosen and arranged in a way that would bring more health, wealth, and happiness for his family.
When feng shui becomes superstition
Where there is demand for something, of course, charlatans rush in to take advantage. Feng shui seems to have been suffering from the same fate of late.
Hien said: "One of my customers changed her kitchen to face south because a fortune-teller told her that would bring harmony to her home. But since there was a drafty window on that side, it was very difficult for her to cook. And the change did not make her feel happy at all.
"Another victim of this superstition were my latest customers, a young couple. They asked me to pay special attention to their bedroom and decorated it in a way that would help them have a son.
"They put their bed to the southeast, placed a large wooden elephant next to it, and covered the walls with pictures of baby boys. Yet the wife has just given birth to a daughter.
"Many of my customers would consult some fortune-tellers or others for feng shui principles before coming to us for a design. And they would ask us to follow these principles, even if some of them are quite ridiculous."
The young couple also asked him to design a small goldfish pond inside the house based on the advice of a feng shui consultant. But for the last two years it has not brought any wealth or harmony to their home as the consultant had said. On the contrary, they have been quarreling often because the pond attracts mosquitoes.
Truong An Khanh, a shop owner selling ornamental gemstones on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hanoi, said many people are decorating their houses with stones without paying proper attention to their origin and shape.
"Shapes and patterns should be the first criterion for choosing ornamental stones. We should also place them in appropriate places. Some people even place large stones on the altar or bedroom, which is taboo."
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