Measuring wind and waterFor centuries, Koreans have relied on the principles of feng shui, or geomancy, to help them build houses and find suitable burial sites. The practice is called pungsu jiri in Korean, and its principles are largely derived from ancient China.
Geomancers use the interplay of feng, the Chinese word for "wind," and shui, the word for "water," to choose locations for homes and graves, believing that proper selection will guarantee good fortune for future generations of a family.
As Korea runs out of cemeteries, people are increasingly turning to cremation, meaning that they no longer can rely on their ancestors to bless them from their graves.
Looking for ways to boost their fortunes, a growing number of people are consulting geomancers to make their dwellings more propitious, hoping that their houses will bring them health, wealth and fame.
"A spot with good gi will bring health and peace of mind," says Park Si-ik, an architect who incorporates feng shui principles in his building designs.
Gi (qi in Chinese) is the invisible life force or energy within all things. It is determined by a combination of variables, including the quality of soil, sunlight and air circulation, in addition to wind and water, according to Mr. Park, who did his doctoral dissertation on the background and origins of feng shui theory.
"Feng shui, in essence, is a study of how to use the gi found on earth," he says, adding that feng shui principles can ?and should ?be incorporated in architecture.
For skeptics who don't understand how feng shui works, Mr. Park offers this simple explanation: "Think of gi as atmospheric pressure [within the body]. If the air current is contained, it creates higher pressure. This increased atmospheric pressure within the body results in increased gi."
Mr. Park says feng shui is all about going with the flow. "When you are sailing on a ship, you can sail easily if you follow the wind. Similarly, if you use the invisible force of the earth, you can achieve good health," he says.
Finding a favorable spot to build a house is fundamental to influencing luck, according to feng shui theory.
Although land can't be modified to improve the interplay of hills, streams, wind and other elements, buildings can be remodeled to boost fortune, Mr. Park says.
He recommends building a dome or pyramid-shaped roof because they enhance and concentrate gi. Natural elements such as wood and earth should be used as building materials. "Glass and steel frames are the worst," he says, adding that soft materials will help bring good luck.
The direction a house faces is also very important. Ideally, there will be a mountain to the rear of the dwelling and water flowing in front of the house. "The idea is to have the mountain cradling the house, much like a mother cradling her baby," Mr. Park says. "The wind, coming from the water, should be allowed to float into the house."
Solar energy is beneficial, although it isn't imperative to have a house facing south. "In fact, too much solar energy can be counterproductive," Mr. Park says. He notes that the birthplace of Kim Sung-soo, the country's second vice-president and the founder of the Dong-A Ilbo, faces north. The house, in Gochang, North Jeolla Province, is considered by many Korean feng shui experts to be the most auspiciously situated and built home in the country.
Today's towering apartment buildings are not built with feng shui in mind. "Apartment buildings often are [long and] rectangular. This leads to dissipation of gi to the left and the right," Mr. Park says. The most ideal shape is a perfect square, he says.
The height of apartment buildings also is problematic. Atmospheric pressure is highest at the earth's surface and is weaker at higher altitudes. "This is why people living and working in upper floors complain of frequent headaches," Mr. Park says. "Low atmospheric pressure causes headaches and a host of other maladies."
The fifth floor is Mr. Park's limit. "That is about the maximum height of trees, where birds build their nests," he says. "That is where life thrives."
What should you do if your house isn't feng shui friendly? Geomancers recommend a little remodeling. They say fortunes can be made or broken, literally, by how a home is decorated.
"The most important thing is that the gi flows without interruption," says Lee Seong-jun, author of "What is Different About a Flourishing Home?," a guide to interior decorating using feng shui principles.
Many people assume that the larger the house, the better the flow of the gi. Not true, says Mr. Lee. "A house that is too large for a family can give the occupants' gi to the empty space," he says. It is much better to live in a house that seems a little small since gi is enhanced by people living closely together.
There are specific pointers for arranging a room, and they depend on where the room lies on the compass and what function the room serves.
The following are some broad guidelines when wandering around the house looking for the right spot to set a new plant:
-- Plants placed in corners will ward off bad gi.
-- Bedroom doors all facing the same hallway may disturb energy and cause frequent family feuds. Placing a small plant in the hallway will help smooth out conflicts.
-- Desks and dressing tables should be against the wall near the door. The bed's head should be placed toward the window.
-- Round tables are preferred over square ones. Sharp corners emit bad gi.
-- Dark, abstract paintings and religious paintings should be hung on the northeast wall.
-- Clocks should be round or octagonal.
-- Keeping the house tidy is the best means of ensuring a good flow of gi. Leave the space as empty as possible, and frequently air out the house so it can receive gi.
-- Rooms should be brightly lit, with the exception of bedrooms. The entrance hall, in particular, should be bright.
-- Remove large, ornate mirrors. Large mirrors dissipate gi
or reflect gi, blocking its flow.
by Kim Hoo-ran