HALLOWELL — Experts on the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui say there’s a good reason for its role in stopping a downtown sidewalk.

During this summer’s reconstruction of Water Street, owners of the Lucky Garden, Tony and Annie Huang, asked that work on the eastern sidewalk be halted before it reached the decorative boulders between their restaurant’s parking lot and the road. Not only would moving the rocks back from the road reduce the available parking at the restaurant, city officials said the boulders had “religious and cultural” significance to the owners.

In December 2018, Annie Huang told the city’s Highway Committee the boulders were placed according to feng shui, a Chinese belief pertaining to design that promotes balance and the flow of positive energy.

Since then, the term has been used in multiple Kennebec Journal and Associated Press reports about the sidewalk. Experts say the practice originated in ancient China, and an abbreviated version became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s.

“It started with emperors who were concerned where they would be buried,” said Sara Nelson, a Falmouth-based feng shui consultant at the Dreamy Dragonfly. “They would use direction and lay of land to determine where they would be buried.”

Nelson said that practice eventually moved indoors and influenced interior design, spawning a Westernized version based on where the front door of a home faces. She said feng shui is similar to reiki, yoga and meditation because all four practices put focus on cultivating good energy.

Kwok Yeung, the former president of the Portland-based Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, said the two words in feng shui translate to “wind” and “water.”

“If someone were to come into the house and see a lot of clutter, they would say you have to clean this up because the energy doesn’t flow,” he said, adding the indoor practice pertains to where furniture should face, where the door should be or the colors used in rooms.

Yeung  said some Chinese people take feng shui more seriously than others, and some cities are even planned with it in mind.

“Some people really believe in it, and some people think it’s superstitious,” he said Wednesday. “A lot of people that own businesses, they really believe in it, to the point, in a place like Hong Kong, (business owners) wouldn’t go forward without talking to someone about the feng shui.”

Yeung likened it to popular superstitions, like sports fans who always wear the same clothing on the day of a game. He added that it has some aspects of other faiths, in the sense that people who practice feng shui attribute success to it.

“When the (Boston) Red Sox were in the World Series, some of the players refused to shave,” he added. “It’s the same thing. If they feel that it makes sense, then that’s the way to go.”

Nelson said the placement of the boulders could impact the flow of good energy into the restaurant, which the owners may believe could impact the restaurant’s success.

“Without ever having seen what you are talking about, there could be an impact on their abundance and fortune if they moved those boulders,” she said. “Those boulders are creating protection from a rush of energy.”

Nelson said her customers are usually not as invested in feng shui as a cultural element as some Chinese people.

“I can tell you that for them this is truly part of (Chinese) culture; their ancestors probably practiced feng shui,” she said. “A lot of people who hire me, it’s more trying to align energy rather than where the family is coming from.”

When asked if feng shui could be a valid reason to halt a sidewalk, Yeung said he could not comment on that specific situation but advocated for being understanding of different cultures.

“If these people believe it is important, somewhere along the line, we have to be culturally sensitive,” he said. “We’re having more immigrants coming in here, and we have to be sensitive to their culture.

“People come from different parts of the world. We just have to respect that,” Yeung added. “In whatever we do, we should be sensitive to something that other cultures believe in and try to learn from each other.”

Nelson said her consultations generally start in a customer’s home with a problem, such as finding a new job or working through relationship issues. She said the home represents aspects of a person’s life, and making energy flow through the home — by physical placement, addition or removal of belongings — can positively impact areas of their life.

“We move things around, and we talk about editing things away,” Nelson said. “What often happens is that we work on (feng shui) and your relationship improves.”

Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy told the Kennebec Journal on Wednesday that the Huangs have discussed media coverage with city officials and expressed their distaste with the public nature of the sidewalk proceedings.

“They would prefer to not have this conversation happening so publicly, particularly the comments around the feng shui,” he said. “They feel like their opinion on the (sidewalk) has not been given its due rate.”

Rudy said the city “will do everything we can” to respect the wishes of all parties concerned about the sidewalk.

The Huangs did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666
[email protected]
Twitter: @SamShepME

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