Wearing low-cut jeans, a tube top and a funky
hair style, Au Tak Lam projects as cool an image as any of
her trendy Singaporean peers. Her hip dress sense, however,
is visibly influenced by an ancient Chinese trade.
Instead of basking solely in the bling-bling
of modern fashion accessories, Au, a computer engineer student,
matches her swanky outfits with jade amulets, while colorful
crystals adorn her nimble fingers.
"Crystals emit positive energy, while wearing jade
produces a calming effect and enhances wisdom," said
the 24-year-old, who works on the weekends at a shop selling
feng shui ornaments in one of Singapore's bustling malls.
"It never ever hurts to have auspicious symbols by
The knowledge of feng shui, or geomancy, had, until the
early 20th century, been closely guarded by scholars and
the Chinese Imperial court, with its practice limited to
only the wealthiest families in feudal China.
With the "Middle Kingdom" now firmly positioned
at the economic and cultural crossroads of an increasingly
globalized world, this ancient practice has found its way
into the lives of many overseas ethnic Chinese youngsters
such as Au.
"There is no doubt that feng shui is becoming more
and more popular amongst the young and trendy," Philip
Lim, the editor-in-chief of Malaysian-based Feng Shui
World, one of Asia's most widely read feng shui magazines,
According to a survey conducted by the magazine last year,
58 percent of readers were aged 35 and below. Close to a
quarter were between 20 to 25 years old.
"These days, it's increasingly being approached as
a metaphysical science, rather than a religious practice,
making it much friendlier to modern crowds," Lim said.
Helping to dispel the myths behind this practice, which
dates back thousands of years, is the Singapore Fengshui
Center, a local feng shui research institute that conducts
three-month feng shui courses at Singapore Polytechnic.
According to its founder, Vincent Koh, 20 percent of the
center's students over the past year were aged 30 and below,
a far cry from the course's first intake in 1997, which
comprised almost exclusively middle-aged men and retirees.
"We have examples of 17-year-old students coming in
simply to learn more about the trade, and end up practising
professionally," said Koh.
"The benefits are there for all to see," added
the former real estate agent. "Feng shui, like traditional
Chinese medicine, has gained credibility even among Singaporean
youths, who don't usually care about such things."
Indeed, institutionalizing what is now often termed "the
science of feng shui" has injected fresh impetus into
an industry many previously had associated with age-old
superstitions and dogmatic rituals.
It seems that in a practice propagating the positioning
of objects based on the flow of "chi" (energy),
it is this new generation of feng shui enthusiasts who are
most well-placed to fan the winds of positive change.
Roy Sung, a 26-year-old freelance geomancer, for instance,
sometimes earns up to 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$6,060)
a month offering his services to singles and couples in
their 20s and 30s.
Sung said he sees an average of 10 clients a week, with
his clientele coming mainly from an online feng shui forum
"Young people generally know that feng shui is beneficial,
but can't really communicate with the older feng shui masters,
whom they see as old-fashioned and superstitious,"
"I don't force my customers to change their homes'
interior designs to suit the advice I give them, but instead
provide suggestions catering to their own home concepts."
Feng Shui World editor Lim estimates that there
are at least 100,000 people in Singapore who consult feng
shui practitioners each year.
Charges can swing wildly from 38 to 3,888 Singapore dollars
per session, depending on the consultant's reputation and
scale of work, according to Lim.
With such a lucrative market up for grabs, traditional feng
shui consultants are, unsurprisingly, fiercely critical
of the radical approaches of their younger, more modern
Brandon Chua, 37, said he came up against opposition from
traditionalists when he abandoned a six-figure annual salary
as a regional sales director to become a full-time feng
shui consultant three years ago.
He said he was once told by an established colleague to
"toil the trade for 10 more years before you ever say
anything", advice he promptly ignored.
"There is a big debate between classical feng shui,
which adheres strictly to what's written in the books, and
modern feng shui, which is more application-based,"
Chua remains unfazed. The self-proclaimed "non-conformist"
plans to offer his services from a small home office, abandoning
a city shop to move away from the cut and thrust of his
prolific traditional counterparts.
"Feng shui, having long been part of Chinese culture,
has superstitions intertwined with scientific belief,"
"Most people take it as a magic trick, but really,
it's all about the simple philosophy of living in harmony
with your environment."
(China Daily March 15, 2005)