风水真的管用 / Feng Shui is Alive and Well

风水真的管用

在美国学中文的时候,我了解过一点有关风水的知识,知道它在中国文化中有着悠久的传统。风水又称土占,是一种根植于自然界和地理学、包罗了各种古老理论的学说。风水师借助风水学说,向普通百姓提供各种指点,从大吉或大凶的(住宅和办公室)位置,到“感应”最佳的室内设计,再到园林建筑,等等。通常,风水还与占数学的原理结合起来使用。

风水本身的特性使它与算命一样,招来了不少骗子和不懂装懂的人。但也有很多懂行和受人尊重的风水师,人们纷纷寻求他们的建议及指导。

和许多我在课堂上学到的中国传统文化知识一样,初到香港之时,我不知道在香港或大陆的中国文化中,风水是否仍占有一席之地。

没过多久,我就得出了答案。在20世纪70年代中期,尽管风水在中国大陆受到官方排斥,被认为是封建迷信残余,但在香港却大行其道,直到现在也是如此。而且自那时起,风水也开始在整个中国境内卷土重来,过去10年间尤其如此。

在第一次接触风水的过程中,我学到了一个教训:要尊重他人的信仰,无论你自己相信与否。

在上一篇博客中我曾提到过,自从半山区公寓楼的马桶坏了之后,我就搬了出来。为了找到一处租金低廉、又能接触到中国文化的住处,我去了外岛长洲,从香港中环到那里,乘渡轮大约需要一个小时的时间。

我对长洲了解甚少,但我所听到的与之有关的介绍相当吸引人:南中国海上风景如画的小岛,古老的渔村,没有一辆机动车,到市区只需一个小时,房租却只有港岛的零头儿,外国居民寥寥无几,等等。

那时,我一句粤语都不会讲,也估计自己很难碰见会说普通话的人。为防不时之需,我把一连串说明和问题用中文写在了一张3吋宽、5吋长的索引卡片上,诸如:

“我想租一套一居室的房子。”

“房租多少钱?”

在九月初某个周六的炎热上午,我乘渡轮前往长洲。一下船,就闻到岸边藤架上晒着的虾酱正散发出刺鼻气味。港口内挤满了渔船,村舍和店铺大都是两三层高的房子,码头熙熙攘攘,色彩缤纷。

我顿时对这个小岛产生了一股亲切感。现在,当务之急是要知道从哪儿开始寻找房子。我顺着码头区望去,发现了一块牌子,上面写着“长洲商会”。我心想,从这里开始找房子再好不过了。

我走上狭窄摇晃的木楼梯,来到商会办公室。在那儿,我看到一群样子像古代人的中国男子正在围着两张方桌玩麻将。大部分人都穿着一种宽大的白色T恤衫,似乎是这些老人的工作服。之所以说他们是老人,是因为他们都留着白色山羊胡子,脸上长着带毛的痣。

我站在楼梯顶端的房门口,感觉自己可能误解了这家商会的职能和业务范围。我就像一座肉眼不可见的外星人雕像,先在那里站了一会儿,然后,我挥了挥索引卡片,终于引起了一个老头的注意。他凑过身来,毫无表情地看了看我的卡片。

他向其他牌友宣布了我的打算,结果招来一段由讪笑、沉吟和耸肩组成14和弦。这通合奏的寓意十分明显,那就是“到哪儿找都别到这里。”我退了出去。

最后,我寻到码头区的一座古建筑,饶有兴趣地想进去探查一番。因为口渴,我在古建一层的商店停下来买冷饮,恰好听到老板在跟别人(后来知道是他的亲戚)讲普通话。

我提高嗓门,打听租房的事儿,凑巧的是,这栋建筑的顶层恰好空着。经过一番讨价还价,我们以每月租金550港币成交(按当时实行的汇率折算,大约相当于110美金)。房间的面积有500平方英尺,上面还有同样大小的一个露台,两边都可以看到海景,楼下两层就是商店,离渡轮码头只有5分钟的路程。实在太好了!

Feng Shui is Alive and Well

While studying Chinese in the U.S., I learned a bit about feng shui, and its long tradition in Chinese culture. Rooted in nature and geography, feng shui, or geomancy, is a traditional collection of theories which experts interpret when offering advice to ordinary folk on everything from which locations offer maximum potential for good or bad luck (for homes as well as offices), to interior design which maximizes “good vibes”, landscape architecture, etc. It is often combined with elements of numerology.

The nature of the subject matter, like fortune-telling, invites charlatans and scam-artists, but there are also many serious and respected feng shui masters whose advice and guidance are much sought after.

Like so many things about traditional Chinese culture which I studied in the classroom, I had no idea when I first arrived in Hong Kong whether or not feng shui was still an integral part of Chinese culture in Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland.

It didn’t take long to find out. In the mid-70s, although feng shui was officially frowned about as a superstitious holdover from feudal society in mainland China, it was (and is) in full swing in Hong Kong. It has made quite a comeback in China since that time as well, especially in the past ten years.

In my first personal encounter with feng shui I learned a lesson about respecting other peoples’ beliefs whether you share them or not.

As mentioned in my last post, after my loo went potty in the mid-levels, I moved out. Seeking a combination of a low-rent district with exposure to Chinese culture, I went out to visit the outlying island of Cheung Chau, about one hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong’s Central district.

I knew little about the place, but what I’d heard sounded charming: small picturesque island nestled in the South China Sea, traditional fishing village, no motorized vehicles, only an hour from downtown, rents only a fraction of Hong Kong Island, only a handful of foreign residents, etc.

I didn’t speak a word of Cantonese then, and expected to find few if any speakers of Mandarin, so I wrote down a series of statements and questions in Chinese characters on 3″ x 5″ index cards, just in case:

“I am looking for a one-bedroom apartment to rent.”

“How much is the rent?”

As I got off the ferry boat on Cheung Chau that Saturday morning in the early September heat, I was greeted by the wafting, pungent aroma of shrimp paste drying on rattan frames along the waterfront. The harbor was full of fishing junks, and village houses and shopfronts were mostly two or three-story affairs. The waterfront was a bustling and colorful place.

I felt an instant affinity for the island. Now the practical question was where to begin the search for housing. I gazed along the waterfront and saw a sign for the “Cheung Chau Chamber of Commerce.” What better place to start my search, I thought.

I walked up a narrow, rickety set of wooden stairs to the Chamber office and came upon two square tables of ancient-looking Chinese gentlemen in the midst of playing mahjong. Most were wearing baggy white T-shirts, which seemed to be the official uniform. of old men. Seniority was indicated by whispy white beards or hairy facial moles.

I stood there at the edge of the room, at the top of the stairs, realizing I may have misjudged the mission and scope of the Chamber. After standing there like an invisible alien statue for awhile, I brandished my index card and finally caught the attention of one of the old fellows, who leaned over and looked nonchalantly at my card.

He announced my intentions to the rest of the players, which elicited a rousing 14-part harmony of chuckles, grunts and shrugs. The nuance of the chorus was clear: “Anywhere but here!”. Off I went.

Eventually my search lead me to a very old temple on the waterfront, which I investigated with interest. Thirsty, I stopped in a ground floor shop to get a cold drink and happened to overhear the shopkeeper speaking to someone (who turned out to be a relative) in Mandarin.

I piped up and inquired about finding a flat to rent, and serendipitously, the top floor flat of the building was available. After some discussion, we settled on HK$550 per month in rent (roughly US$110 at the prevailing exchange rate), for a 500-square foot room and the full rooftop above it, with a seaview on both sides, two flights up from the shop, five minutes from the ferry pier. Eureka!

熙熙攘攘的长洲码头 / Cheung Chau’s bustling waterfront

后来,每当我向中国朋友宣布自己捡了个大便宜,他们就说我当了冤大头。这已经成为一种定势了。

当时,我很高兴,第二天就把仅有的几样家当搬了过去。刚开始的时候因为没有家具,我就像住在水泥管道里。我的第一件家具是一张铝制军用折叠床,刚好配我的睡袋。

我开始考察这个小岛,感觉这个小农村虽然离香港中环只有一箭之遥,但在环境和生活节奏上却相差十万八千里。

房东太太一家对我都非常和善,有时听到我咳嗽或打喷嚏,他们会送来味道奇特的药茶。

通常,商店老板待人都很友善,生活非常悠闲。天气热的时候,很多人就在街上搭起折叠床睡觉,因为那里比较凉快。一觉醒来,大家就去露天餐厅吃早茶,穿着睡衣聊天看报。那儿的海鲜丰富而便宜。

长洲人和很多大城市周边的农村人一样,有种自豪感,认为自己比普通的香港人直率、诚实和脚踏实地。

Beginning a pattern which has continued ever since, I announced to Chinese friends what a great deal I had struck, only to be told that I had grossly overpaid.

I was delighted and moved my few possessions in the next day. It was glorified camping at first given the lack of furniture. My first piece of furniture was a folding aluminum camp bed, which worked just fine in combination with my sleeping bag.

I set about exploring the island and getting a sense of this small rural community just a stone’s throw from Hong Kong’s Central District, yet a million miles away in terms of environment and the pace of life.

The landlady’s family were very kind to me, occasionally bringing me strange-tasting Chinese medicinal teas when they heard me coughing or sneezing.

Shopkeepers were generally very friendly, and people very laid back. In the warmer months, many people slept on folding cots in the lanes, where it was cool. In the morning, people had dimsum in outdoor cafes, chatting and reading the newspaper in their pajamas. Seafood was abundant and cheap.

长洲村屋 / Cheung Chau village house

几个月以后,我添了一位新室友。他是我在美国的同学,原本打算来过个周末,结果却找了份工作,在这里住了一年多。

有一天,他向我报告,发现了一座特别棒的乡村古屋正准备出租,那里有三间小卧室,还有一片郁郁葱葱的花园,位置正对着岛屿另一侧宁静的海湾。他带我去看,我也觉得那里很棒。我们去见了房东,并敲定了租房的事情。

在约定搬家日期临近之时,室友帕特(Pat)非常遗憾地告诉我,在我们看过房子以后,花园已经被夷为平地。这让我们觉得窝火,于是就跑去找房东杨先生。

杨先生对由此给我们造成的不便深表歉意,但他坚称花园必须铲掉。我们想问个究竟,可他总是兜圈子。最后,他说植物的根会危及房屋地基。这明显是个借口,但却是我们认为自己得到的最好的、也是唯一的答案。

我们告诉他花园是最初吸引我们的原因之一,请求他能让我们自己再种一个。这下他更是支吾其词,欲言又止。看得出来,这个主意让他很不自在,但他也不便直接拒绝。

入住以后,我们购买了工具、种子、肥料等等,以极大的热情重建花园。当时正是香港初春时节,亚热带的气候让花草如燎原之火茁壮成长,我们也乐在其中。有时候,我们会顶着周日下午的艳阳侍弄花园,或是到下面的海湾里游泳。杨先生和他的太太经常会在周日散步的时候路过,并总是热情友好地向我们致意,但却坚决回避观看花园里的植物。

后来,我从岛上的朋友那里得知,杨先生是在家人接连遭受厄运后才遵从风水先生的建议拆掉了花园。风水先生说房子和花园的方位不佳,凶灵和阴气会“附身”在花园的植物上。风水师建议除掉花草树木,杨氏夫妇认真照办。

我们知道这件事时,花园已经生长得十分茂盛,但杨先生夫妇仍不认可它的存在。

就在那个春天,我们的花园枝繁叶茂,老天却突然下起了大雨,而且一连几周不停,我们的花园被浇得好像一大盘煮烂的菠菜。

等到天终于放晴,我们赶在第一个周日出去整理被浸泡的宝贝花园。

杨先生和杨太太又从这里路过,两人还是一如既往地友好,但这回他们却仔细看了看花园的惨状。寒喧过后,杨先生脸上带着会心的微笑问道:

“花园怎么样了?”

从那一刻起,我对风水肃然起敬。后来,这种态度一直令我受益。

Some months later I was joined by a roommate, an American schoolmate of mine who intended to stay a weekend and ended up finding a job and staying for more than a year.

One day he reported finding a fantastic traditional village house for rent, with three small bedrooms and a lush garden, atop a quiet bay on the other side of the island. He took me to see it and I agreed it was a great place. We went to see the landlord and struck a deal to move in.

As the agreed moving-in date approached, my roommate Pat reported with great disappointment that the lush garden had been decimated since we’d last seen the place, and reduced to bare earth. Upset, we went to see the landlord, Mr. Yeung.

While acknowledging his regret of any inconvenience to us, he insisted the garden had to be removed. We asked why and received various circular non-answers. Finally he said the roots of the plants were endangering the foundation of the house. This was clearly an excuse, but it was the best and only answer we were going to get.

We explained that the garden had been one of the house’s appealing points to us, and sought his agreement that we could plant a new one. Much hemming and hawing followed. While clearly not very comfortable with the idea, he could not very well say no.

We moved in, and set about replanting the garden with great gusto, buying tools, seeds, fertilizer, etc. It was a warm early spring in Hong Kong’s subtropical climate, and the plants grew like wildfire. We derived great enjoyment from this. We would sometimes spend Sunday afternoons in the sun, gardening or swimming in the bay below. Mr. Yeung and his wife would often pass by on their regular Sunday walks. Always warm and friendly, they would greet us, but steadfastly avoid looking at the plants in the garden.

Eventually I found out from friends on the island that they had removed the plants in the garden on the advice of a feng shui master whom they had consulted after a spate of very bad luck in the family. His advice was that the location of the house and garden were such that bad spirits and negative influences were “roosting” in the plants in the garden. Removing the plants was the recommended course of action, which they carefully followed.

By the time we knew this, our garden was flourishing, but its existence was still not acknowledged by Mr. and Mrs. Yeung.

Then one day that Spring, with the garden in full swing, it began to rain torrentially, and continued day after day without interruption for weeks on end. As a result, our whole garden ended up resembling a large plate of boiled spinach.

The sun finally returned, and on the first available Sunday we were out cleaning up the soggy remains of our prized garden.

Along came Mr. and Mrs. Yeung. Friendly as always, this time they made a point of looking long and hard at what was left of our garden. After the usual greeting, Mr. Yeung asked with a knowing smile:

“How’s your garden?”

From then on, I have taken a deferential view of feng shui, an attitude which has served me well since.


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