Chi & Cheerful
Even in Modern New York, Ancient Chinese Feng Shui Practices are invoked by a surprising number of people who hope they can bring the forces of luck, prosperity and happiness to a building.
By Chris M. Junior
Generally the mark of a good businessman is being able to keep an open mind and to embrace concepts others overlook. And maybe that’s why Donald Trump called in feng shui masters Tin Sun and his daughter Pun Yin during the development of his Trump International Hotel & Tower at Columbus Circle in the mid-1990s.
Tin Sun and Pun Yin revisit the Trump Tower in New York (Photograph JS Shin)
Trump wanted to incorporate the principles of feng shui into the design of the tower. Feng shui approaches and disciplines can vary depending on the practitioners, but the basic goal is the same: to balance and maximize the energy in a given environment. After interviewing several feng shui practitioners, Trump went with Tin Sun Metaphysics, run by Yin and his father.
Presented with one of the biggest opportunities of their lifetime – a chance to gain respect and massive exposure for feng shui in the Western world – Yin and Sun felt the need to be totally upfront with the real estate mogul.
“My father had me translate to Mr. Trump, ‘You either do it our way – not half way – or else we’re not doing it,’” the 45-year-old Yin recently recalled from her Chinatown office. “Because it wasn’t just a project of ours, it was the dignity of the Chinese culture, and we take that so seriously. I had to translate that; my father forced me to because many generations were on his shoulders.”
Given the success of his hotel and tower, Trump has taken into consideration the role played by feng shui.
“I would guess that it might have made a difference,” Trump says. “It certainly didn’t hurt us in any way. Feng shui creates a balance that I believe adds to the comfort zone of rooms and space, and that is felt by guests and residents.”
Feng shui has continued to be accepted and embraced by the American mainstream, both commercially and residentially, with the New York metropolitan area among the receptive regions. But what exactly is feng shui, and what does it do?
Considered to be an art and a science, feng shui (the proper Mandarin pronunciation is fung shway, meaning wind and water) is a philosophical system with Chinese roots that dates back some 5,000 years.
Feng shui is about the interpretation of the universe’s energy ( also known as chi and pronounced chee) in a particular space and balancing that energy through specific placement of items in the given area.
Pun Yin and her father practice what she refers to as “traditional feng shui,” and that’s what was applied to Trump’s New York tower project. Taking into account the five elements recognized by the Chinese (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) and then balancing them, as well as using a luo pan (also known as a compass) to determine the energy from each direction, Yin arrived at some important design decisions.
Tools including the Luo Pan are essential for accurate feng shui readings (Photograph Newscom/RGP Photos)
Tools including the Luo Pan are essential for accurate feng shui readings (Photograph Newscom/RGP Photos)
One was to move the building’s entrance so it faced Central Park instead of Columbus Circle. Yin’s reason? To capitalize on the park’s positive energy and bring prosperity into the building. She also suggested what is commonly acknowledged as one of the tower’s defining elements: the exterior global sculpture.
In terms of feng shui, Yin explains, Central Park is the green dragon with a pearl in its claw, and the dragon is associated with New York’s wealth, power and the positive energy. Geographically, the globe’s location in relationship to the park, along with the two feng shui blessing ceremonies Yin performed, created a theme she calls “releasing of the pearl by the dragon.” In doing so, Yin says, “We attracted the good fortune from the green dragon onto the immediate site to benefit not only Trump International Hotel & Tower but the meridian along the path going downtown.
‘The real feng shui that I practice is individualized and customized – it’s not something you can get from books and classes,” adds Yin, who trained for 15 years and has been practicing for 20. “Each of the cases has different structural characteristics that affect what type of energy it receives and how the energy flows through the environment.”
In applying feng shui to a commercial or residential interior, having a lot of space generally is a good idea, according to Yin. But there is such thing as too much space in feng shui, and the excess can contribute to “hollow energy on the inside.”
“What we recommend a lot of the times are very minor things – inexpensive, easy things that have nothing to do with structural [design], and yet they have such great effect,” Pun Yin says.
She cites the placement of artwork as an example.
“ Many of my clients have all the means to buy the most exquisite artwork, but sometimes this artwork has negative connotations – a lot of points and arrows,” Yin explains. “ Those contribute to negative energy … but if people really want it, there are directions that they could be placed.”
As a feng shui architect, R.D. Chin also deals with direction and placement in his work. Unlike Yin, though, Chin did not begin feng shui training as a child. A third-generation Chinese American born and raised in Massachusetts, Chin was in his late 30s when he was introduced to the practice in the early 1990s through a book from a co-worker. He later studied feng shui with master Thomas Lin Yun, who Chin says draws from traditional Chinese philosophies while also incorporating some Western touches, such as the use of crystals and mirrors. In 1993, Chin founded Space Alignment, a New York City feng shui architectural/design practice.
R.D. Chin stops by Tai Ping, one of his feng shui clients. (Photograph JS Shin)
With his feng shui consultations, Chin begins and ends his sessions with a personal touch by ringing Tibetan bells and conducting brief meditations in order to “open and close the energies.” The process he follows includes using a bagua (ba-gwah), an eight-sided guiding tool that indicates the yin and yang energies of the five elements, and determining the energies of the space with relation to the chi of the client.
“I like to talk to people about how they truly feel in their space,” says the 56-year-old Chin, the author of Feng Shui Revealed. “It’s really about the energy. Rather than saying North, South, East, West, I would ask, ‘Are you an early morning person, or are you a late afternoon nightbird?’ So if you are an early morning person, let’s make sure that the best room for you to work in is in the East because that’s when you want to have your best energy. If you’re a night person, let’s put all of your rooms on the West side, in the afternoon, because that’s where you like to work best.”
Chin also takes a building’s history into consideration when applying feng shui. Seated in the conference room of his Manhattan office, he recalled a recent client who purchased a townhouse in Weehawken, New Jersey. The property had been foreclosed – not a good thing from a feng shui perspective, Chin says.
So he did a blessing to change the building’s chi. Chin opened all the doors and windows, created an altar with fabric and candles and conducted a meditation imagining that the energy of the Hudson River was coming through the basement, through each floor and up to the roof – what the calls “breathing new life into the building.” The process also included throwing blessed orange slices and rice around the entire house.
When the new owner, engineer John Chen, returned the next day to clean things up, he felt there was a difference to the townhouse’s chi.
“I’m very analytical and very scientific, so this feng shui stuff is a stretch for me to try and think about it,” Chen says, “but the energy was definitely a lot lighter.”
A definite concern among feng shui practitioners is the impact underground railways have on an environment. But despite miles and miles of subway and train tracks running underneath Manhattan, there are feng shui ways in which to ground a city office or home. To stabilize the vibration and energy at a bank on Park Avenue, Yin used stones and plants. Chin says his approach to grounding a Manhattan apartment might include placing an earth-produced item such as a crystal in a corner.
When feng shui was recommended to Manhattan-based strategic business development consultant Billie Sutter for her Hamptons home, she deemed it “too esoteric” at first. Feeling as though there was nothing to lose by looking into it – she tried unsuccessfully for years to sell the charming home in Water Mill, New York – Sutter met with Chin and liked him right off the bat. A week later, she followed through on everything he suggested in his consultation.
Sutter says the house’s energy changed as a result, and shortly thereafter, she received two bids on the house, one of which she accepted.
In her mind, the Hamptons property sold because of feng shui.
Looking back at the house, Sutter says, “The people relationship corners of the house were not in harmony, and by adding color and shifting furniture around, it changed the flow. And in changing the flow, it created another energy.
“You’ll sense it,” adds Sutter, who also had Chin apply feng shui to five of her offices and two of her New York apartments. “You’re dealing with invisible as well as visible energy.”
Feng Shui and The City
Tall. Unique. Beautiful.
New York City’s buildings can described in myriad ways, but which structures have sheng chi (good or lucky energy), and which ones are saddled with sha (bad or unlucky) chi? Manhattan-based feng shui practitioners Pun Yin and R.D. Chin provide their perspective on Big Apple buildings new and iconic.
For feng shui tips and information, visit Pun Yin’s Feng Shui Matters blog (https://punyin88.wordpress.com/), her official site (www.punyin.com) or Chin’s official site (www.rdchin.com).
Flatrion Building - The unusual shape of the landmark originally known as the Fuller Building isn't exactly good chi. "Triangles in feng shui usually mean unexpected events, and here's this building that's at an angle," Chin says. "The streets attract too much chi energy toward building." (Photograph JS Shin)
Empire State Building – This icon provides further proof that location is everything. “I’d say it’s a lucky building from a feng shui perspective,” Chin says. “It’s actually protected by the land mass that surrounds it.” (Photograph JS Shin)
The Plaza Hotel - The way Yin sees it, this is an example of a blown opportunity. "It has potential, but when the owners didn't tap into the dragon chi that passes by, then they missed the boat," she says. (Photograph Courtesy of Fairmont & Resorts)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - Pun Yin gives the Frank Lloyd Wright creation a passing grade, despite its configuration. "In most cases, it's not good feng shui," she says. "But because it's dealing with art and (the circular shape) guides the traffic and energy to rotate into the base, it's been able to sustain. If it was a banking business, it would have gone under a long time ago." (Photograph David Heald)
Yankee Stadium - The new billion-dollar ballpark in the Bronx is a home run, according to Chin. "It's great feng shui," he says. "It's really open to nature; wherever you sit, you have a great view. And, of course, they have their new food stands, so that draws the chi from people." (Photograph Chris M. Junior)