I recently moved into a new apartment. This time I was upgrading from a studio to a one bedroom. Aaah, more space! Finally I have a real apartment with living areas divided by walls, not diminutive Ikea furniture. Naturally, I wanted to do this right, and after reading a bit about Feng Shui in Elle Decor, I bought a few books about Feng Shui: step by step guides for the Feng Shui idiot.

After a few weeks of self-education in this ancient Chinese practice, I put red flowers in my marriage corner, replaced the garbage-can in my money corner with a three-legged toad, got rid of my dried flowers (they were from an-ex boyfriend anyway), and cleaned out my closets.

When I was presented with the opportunity to interview Zaihong Shen, I thought "Wow, this Feng Shui really works!" My new, auspicious energy has opened the door to new things, and my Feng Shui education was about to continue…and with a Master this time, to boot.


Zaihong Shen has been practicing Feng Shui for over 12 years. She currently lives in Chinatown, New York City, where she runs the Feng Shui Gallery, a non-profit gallery devoted to the preservation of Chinese art and culture. She has studied and practiced Architecture in Beijing, has embarked on several educational expeditions to three Taoist mountain retreats in China, where she focused on the regional architecture and its relationship to the sub-culture, geography, and history of the area. She then studied ancient Chinese literature, including the I Ching.

What makes Zaihong unique in her approach to Fen Shui? She is Interested in the pure essence of Feng Shui. Her approach is, first, as a cultural anthropologist but also as a professional and as an artist as she combines her knowledge of the ancient Chinese texts, her accomplishments as an architect, and her unquestionable talent as a classical Chinese painter.

Upon meeting her, something settles in me instantly. I can actually feel the peaceful energy of a person who is deeply committed to helping us attain a balance in my life and living space.


IMNYC (IM): Is it Feng Shui or Fung Shui?
Zaihong Shen (ZS)
: In Chinese it's Fung Shui (spelled Feng) Here people speak with different accents, and most of the Feng Shui practitioners who are mostly American, just call it Feng Shui.

IM: Why do you think there's a huge Feng Shui fad right now?
ZS: One is the New Age. People opened up. They opened up their minds and accepted more from other perspectives. Second, people opened up to more cultures recently, especially to the Asian culture in the past 10 years. The Asian culture has very much influenced us, especially in New York. Feng Shui is a big part of the Asian culture. Third, Feng Shui was developed almost at the same time as Taoism and the Chinese mathematical system. They're talking in the same language. They're talking 5 elements, Yin and Yang. They're talking about how people, Yin and Yang, and the 5 elements are related. And people accept acupuncture Chi gong here and in the same way, automatically, people accept Feng Shui because they developed from the same root. (continues)

ZS: (cont) Fourth, Feng Shui is more of a Chinese architecture. They combined Chinese common sense with the mathematical theories, and philosophies. It's very easy for people to accept it. Plus Chinese architecture has been using this for centuries and so there is a practical example here, to convince people that it's working.

IM: So Feng Shui plays a part in both our spiritual and daily physical lives?
ZS: People have started to find it more and more fascinating. Of course, people are focusing in a different direction now. I have friends who studied acupuncture and they found that Feng Shui was very helpful in giving medical advice because they can tell people that they probably have other problems, and they can help them beyond acupuncture. If you sleep under the window, the acupuncturist would say that if you keep sleeping there, then she''ll have to keep giving you acupuncture. And there's one way you can stop: move your bed to face another direction! Doctors are already using this in China as common sense to find out what the problems are. Feng Shui is not just one occupation in China, everybody uses Feng Shui in a different direction.

IM: Sometimes it seems that Feng Shui has derived out of a need for protection during wartime?
ZS: It is. We build the house, the shelter, to try to protect ourselves from nature. Not just the animals, but also the nature of the weather. If you move into any place, it's because you need shelter, first of all. You need to protect yourself against the rain, and the wind. That part you understand because it's really bothering you. When we talk about protecting yourself on a more delicate level, from a small wind, a little coldness, a little darkness, a little humidity, that part you don't feel so much because the human body is not sensitive enough to feel it. That's when the Feng Shui consultant comes in. They would tell you what is occurring on a more delicate level, and how to protect your self. It's a war between humans and nature.

IM: Do you find it difficult to practice Feng Shui in New York because of the random placement of the buildings?
ZS: Actually I found it more fascinating, more of a challenge. All the theories we use in China apply more to the traditional house. Feng Shui theory is developing. And after 1950's, most of the Feng Shui theory was not developed that much. Feng Shui started from "Shelter", and then the village and then how to set up a city. Feng Shui was not the same during the different periods of history. Right now, people have to catch up with what is going on in the world--like apartment buildings, the subways under the apartment buildings, the roads and avenues. And if you have a huge apartment building, what about the small apartment building? What are they gonna do? All these relationships. Especially in Manhattan, the buildings were built very close to each other, the energy was very strong, and the relationships are very close. And for the people living there, it's going to be an issue especially because the space is very small. And how will you arrange this through Feng Shui? That was the biggest topic for Feng Shui consultants, especially in Manhattan.

IM: Does Manhattan have good Feng Shui?
ZS: Definitely, definitely. Very good Feng Shui. First of all you have rivers along the sides and they have access to the ocean. And there's a little bit of mountain or hill in the north that will protect a little bit, but not that much. In terms of the water, Manhattan has very good Feng Shui. And there are bridges and tunnels. The bridges are called the Heaven Dragons and the tunnels are called the Earth Dragons. So those Dragons will bring you a lot of energy. Five million people come in and out of Manhattan everyday, I don't know who calculated this but I got the number. I hope it's accurate. But those people are basically energy that comes from different sources. They stimulate the energy.

IM: Do certain areas of Manhattan have problems?

ZS: I think there is a different relationship between the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers. At the beginning, without the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building was the "Main Mountain" as we say in Feng Shui terms. So around the Empire State Building, Feng Shui was quite good. And when the Twin Towers were built, there were two and they had stronger energy. The Twin Tower area got more energy, and Feng Shui was more involved there. And Central Park is good, because of the natural filtering of air, and the providing of oxygen for the whole city. So along Central Park, all the buildings will benefit from it. Along the rivers it's quite difficult to say right now because of the pollution. So I think the East Side is better than the West Side.

IM: Why?
ZS: Because on the East Side, the major summer wind comes from the southeast and that will bring more fresh air, and auspicious energy. But on the West Side, there's pollution. They benefit a little bit from the North wind, but the North wind is too cold. That's the comparison between East and West, but it's still not bad because you have the water around it.

IM: Water keeps us balanced?

ZS: Yes definitely. Feng Shui--Shui means water. So when we talk about Feng Shui, just think about the wind and the water. As long as you have wind you are balanced, and as long as you have water you are balanced. We have a water supply in Manhattan but most of the people don't think about it. If you go deep in the woods, the water supply is sometimes quite critical and you probably have to dig a well. That happens in most countries, but not in America. But when we talk about Feng Shui in other countries, water is more critical.

IM: How long have you been living in New York?
ZS: About 3 years. Before, I lived in New Jersey and other states. After the publishing of my book I'm thinking about changing locations, but I'm also thinking about staying here. Right now, I haven't got enough reasons to change locations. Manhattan is a good Feng Shui place for business, but residentially it's a little bit different. When you talk about Feng Shui you talk about Residential and Commercial. Commercially, it's almost perfect. Residentially, it's difficult to say. Because of the pollution-- the air pollution, the water supply, and the noise pollution is quite much for residential Feng Shui. When you ask me if I want to stay here to practice Feng Shui, I don't have a problem, living here forever as a resident that's different.

IM: How can we improve Residential Feng Shui?
ZS: In general, as long as your house is clean, that's the first step. It doesn't matter where you live, or how big or small your apartment is, just keep it clean and that's it.

IM: What about colors?
ZS: Colors sometimes go with the person or the space. If you have a small apartment or you don't have light coming in, it doesn't matter what your birth date is, make it light. Make it bright and then you can bring more energy into it.

IM: Everybody has different Feng Shui needs based on their date of birth?
ZS: Right. One is based on the date of birth, one is based on the place where they live. If you don't have a place to live and you are looking for a house, then it's based on your birth date, because you have more choice. But if you have a place already, then you have to compromise. If I go into a place and say this place is a disaster, you have to move out, that's not the advice you want to hear. If people have more money they can get a better place, but they know that. How can people get the best out of what they have right now? And that's how the Feng Shui consultant can help.

IM: What are the common mistakes people make in their homes?
ZS: If we talk about apartments, because we're here in New York, most of the mistakes made in New York are clutter. And the living sections are not separated clearly enough, the energy is mixed up.

IM: Even people who live in studios should separate different areas of living, with furniture if not walls?
ZS: Yes. Because your energy is different every time you're doing a different thing. When you're eating, or studying or working, and when you're sleeping especially, your energy is different. So your sleeping area has to be very quiet and private to make sure you have good sleep.

IM: A lot of people have in New York have beams and pipes along their ceilings. Is that negative?
ZS: As long as you don't sleep under it. You have to cover this. You can drop the ceiling or use fabric.

IM: Is eating in front of the TV bad Feng Shui?
ZS: If you talk to the Chinese they will tell you that when you are eating, you are not supposed to do anything else. You are not supposed to type, or watch TV. But if you are watching TV, and you watch the Natural History channel, maybe it's OK. But not the tiger killing part! Usually watching TV will make you more emotionally or physically nervous about something. Because when you are eating your blood is going to the stomach. But when you are watching TV, if you're not thinking that's fine, if you are thinking, you have blood up to your head, and then your stomach will eventually have problems. Light music, or video with an ocean or flowers; that's not a problem.

IM: What is the Ba Gua?
ZS: Originally, someone five thousand years ago found a pattern on the back of a turtle, which had numbers in dots. He developed a theory of nine palaces. Another person saw this pattern and developed the Ba Gua theory. He developed that theory in the same way that we give people names. Everything in the world is split in eight perspectives for seasons, directions, characters, and family members. (continues)


ZS: (cont) A lot of Feng Shui practitioners here are using the theory from a Master from California, who developed the theory to use the Ba Gua for everything: color, fame, family, relationships. In the beginning, the Ba Gua was basically a way to explain the world. Ba Gua is figuring out the 8 perspectives and then analyzing the relationship among them. They call you Nathalie, they call you sister, or mother, and when they mention your name they immediately know who's sister you are. And then the name is just not the name anymore because there were different identifications that went along with it. And so, Ba Gua is the same. They put the name first. And later the name becomes a character itself, and when you mention the name they would know your height, your occupation, and everything about you. Ba Gua is set up the same way . So right now, it's been thousand's of years and so when we use the Ba Gua, we call it the compass, and there are basically almost 40 layers, 40 different kinds of characters.

IM: Do you take the compass into people's homes?
(She takes out her compass, which has about 20 layers of symbols)
ZS: In Manhattan I usually don't use it because I know this place already. If I go to other states, then I have to bring this with me. Because, the house they built may not be facing North and South, and there's geographical energy I'm not familiar with. So I would use this for that kind of situation. Usually we check people's birthday in terms of the Chinese calendar, and then I would use the symbols from the calendar and locate this place. Then I will see if it's right or not. People are nervous about the Ba Gua because the books mentioned family corners, relationship corners, and focus on that. And I tell people if they are very nervous about that, make sure every corner is OK. So they don't have to worry about it.

IM: How could they make each corner OK?


ZS: Make it clean. If you have anything in the corners, make sure it is clean and clear. I told them, it's very complicated. What they teach you in the books covers only 20-40 % of the cases. For other cases, the Ba Gua will rotate, and then the nine palaces will rotate, and so the relationships will rotate. And in China we say that every 20 years there's a huge rotation. So right now from 1984 - 2003, the big picture is the same but the small picture will still rotate a little.

IM: How does it rotate?
ZS: Because the universe is rotating, our position in the solar system is different and Feng Shui also involves astrology, and astronomy. And because the Chinese saw the stars and planets rotating every year, then the magnetic fields and energy relationships are rotating too. So if you say this is going to be my relationship corner for the rest of my life, that's impossible because the energy is rotating. Human energy is different too. If you go to a Chinese fortuneteller they will see if you'll have a good month, or if next year you will have a difficult time. So our lives are rotating because of the universe. That's part of the astrology study too.

IM: I never thought about how this could apply to the whole universe, then all the way down to why I have a backache.
ZS: That's why when I give workshops, and I talk to people, I tell them about women's periods. We have periods every month. And how many people think about the fact that it's because of the moon? You know that; you probably learned that in Biology. But you don't think about that every month. So it's the same thing. If you get energy in a different way, maybe you are a little nervous this week, and more relaxed next week. Probably it's because of the universe. Some energy was affecting us. I don't have all the equipment to test that. If I had NASA I would tell them to test that. But they don't publish the record. Even the sun has the black dot, which will affect the magnetic field in our earth and also the energy. And that's very difficult to test. Eventually, hopefully, some day people will be testing those energies for health purposes. Warning people that this week probably all people will get nervous, or almost all the couples will probably fight.

IM: After the weather they could give you the magnetic field report.

ZS: Exactly. And I tell people that there are so many ideas that Feng Shui can give people, even for the scientists. It can give them topics for research. I'm just one person and I'm just not strong enough to do everything, otherwise I would probably get the Nobel Prize.

IM: Do people come to you with a general desire to improve their Feng Shui, or with a specific problem?
Most of the people are trying to improve things. And actually, that's the best we can do. Some people they have bad business, they're going to go bankrupt and they come to me. I tell them the things they can do. We can't promise. The Chinese, we believe that in one person's life there are three factors: one is the timing, which depends on your birthday. If your birthday is saying this year is good and next year isn't, then it's out of my control. We can also call this fate.
The second is location. Which is what Feng Shui can do something about. (continues)

ZS: The third is the people around you. Because we believe in human energy. If you have family and friends around you all the time, usually you don't have that many problems. You can get advice before it's too late, if you listen. People's energy is one third of whatever determines to your direction. Feng Shui can only do one thing, that's with location. Only 30 % of it. Maybe a fortuneteller can say to avoid something, but the other third you have to do by yourself: the kind of friends you pick, if your family is supportive enough, if you support your family, it's a two-way street. If you help your friends, your friends will help you.


Isn't it so New York: just when you think you've got your relationship and money corners all set up, you find out the universe is rotating, and your corners may not be where you left them 10 years ago. But isn't that why we love New York? Things change, things shift, and our common challenge is our adaptation to these changes. But also, these changes bring new things, new energy, and we ourselves are in a constant flux. And through Feng Shui, we have the ability to balance our individual spheres to an even greater extent. It's amazing how you can immediately shift your energy by moving a chair, cleaning a closet or adding a plant. Try it.

If you don't know where to start, call Zaihong or drop by her gallery for a weekend workshop, or to pick up her recently published book Feng Shui For The Home, a very simple guide to Feng Shui for beginners. She's currently working on a second book, which will go into the practice with more detail. And then walk south, and experiment in a Chinese grocery store. It's all about balance and opening ourselves up. And one meeting with Zaihong will change your life, your energy and your perspective.

Feng Shui Gallery
111 Eldridge Street South
New York, NY 10002

Feng Shui Introduction Workshops- Every Saturday 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Book of Feng Shui For The Home- $12.95 (Available at the gallery, or call the gallery for additional locations)




Nathalie Wechsler