Field of dreams

September 1996
by Andrew Wood

If someone told you to install an aquarium or build a new wall in the interest of boosting your back balance, you’d probably just laugh. If that someone was Lillian Too, however, there may be a queue at the pet shop and a run on cement.

For Lillian Too’s curriculum vitae is the sort that makes headhunters swoon. As an executive, she blazed a trail by becoming the first woman in Malaysia to head a Publicly listed company. As an entrepreneur she earned enough money in 18 months to retire in her mid-40s. Bow she devotes most of her time to showing the ancient Chinese art of geomancy, can help maximize anyone’s potential for wealth and happiness. Given her credentials, people listen. It is extremely unlikely that Too, a lively and down-o-earth woman of 50, would have achieved what she has if she had not been highly intelligent, ambitious and hard-working, no matter how many fish she placed strategically throughout her home. However, considering the magnitude of her success and her beguilingly childlike delight in it, it is hard not to be persuaded that perhaps the favorable manipulation of the external environment played some part in her good fortune.

Nearly three decades ago, Too was newly graduated, newly married and looking forward to start a family. The trouble was, she couldn’t become pregnant. So she and her husband cultivated other interest - breeding dogs, studying Chinese martial arts - and it was through their kung fu teacher that she first heard about feng shui. In a spirit of fun, she invited the feng shui master to look at her home. But he was deadly serious when he told her that there was no way the couple was going to have a baby in that house. Moreover, he said, if they remained there the marriage was quite likely to collapse. The culprit? A magnificent casurina tree directly in line with their front door.

“I only half believed it,” says Too, but a few months later she was fed up with her marriage and on her way to Harvard to get a MBA. She returned two years later, bent on divorce, but agreed to move into the feng shui-approved house that she and her husband had started building before she left. Then something magical happened,” Too says. “Four months after I moved into that house I became pregnant. And the marriage became good, The feng shui of that house had been done for having a nice family.”

With the family sorted out, Too decided it was time to focus on career and wealth-building. The feng shui master told her that the reason she couldn’t find a suitable job despite her excellent qualifications was that water was flowing past the house in an unfavorable direction, symbolizing loss. When a wall was finally built between the water and the house, “my career took off,” she says. She found phenomenal success as a top executive at Hong Leong Credit Berhad, Grindlays Dao Heng Bank and Dickson Concepts before striking out on own as an entrepreneur. Already a devoted student of the geomancer’s art, she went in search of a Hong Kong Apartment with good feng shui and made sure all it’s wealth corners were activated. She subsequently bought and sold Hong Kong’s Dragon Seed Department Store, earning enough money to never work again.

But Too is far to energetic to spend her rest of her life shopping. She has just switched tracks. Her mission now is to bring feng shui to the masses. “I consider myself very, very lucky,” she says, perched on the sofa of her daughters girlish flat in London, where she is supervising the publication of her latest book. “I could have just carried on with a corporate career. But what do I find myself doing with the later years of my life? I’m spreading the word about this really wonderful science.”

Too’s friends and colleagues, most of them high-flyers in the Asian business world, were aghast at her decision to abandon a traditional career path. “Lillian you’re a Harvard MBA,” they reminded her. “You should be writing about management.” But Too, who has, in fact, written a book called Making Your First Million, stuck to her guns.

During her corporate years, her position gave her access to some of the most revered feng shui practitioners in Asia. She has studied with many feng shui masters, comparing and synthesizing their approaches. “I don’t just accept anything that comes my way. I ask why. I’m not afraid to learn from anybody,” she declares. It is only with the masters’ permission that she has published their formulas in her five books on various aspects of feng shui. Her latest, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui (Element $51.40), is now available in Singapore. In it Too distills the essence of the practice and explains in simple terms how feng shui can improve anyone’s life. Part of the book’s task is demystification, about which Too feels very strongly.

“I tell people there’s nothing spiritual about [feng shui], that it’s not religious at all. You don’t have to believe in it for it to work. It’s not a faith, it’s not magic, it’s scientific. It’s merely about living in harmony with the environment”.

Unless I stand up with my credentials to say this, there will continue to be people who portray it as something very hazily spiritual. Someone in Australia told me that he had been told that you have to fast for three weeks before you can start to learn feng shui, that you have to go to China to pay your respects to this monk. Quite honestly, that is so much BS.”

Feng shui is merely a logical extension of other Chinese sciences, she says. Like acupuncture, Chinese medicine and tai chi, it’s concerned with clearing blockages and the “dragon’s cosmic breath” or chi, to flow smoothly. It is most potent when applied with an individuals desires and birth date in mind.

“Chi is mainly energy lines,” Too says. “The whole earth is swirling with energy lines; we can tap into them.” Following on from this, feng shui tells us not to live in the shadow if electrical transmission towers, or to have a front door facing an imposing object. “This creates too strong an energy hitting at you, Too’s says. “Far better to tap that energy to support you. As you learn about feng shui, you begin to live in a state of consciousness, to sense it.”

Straight lines and sharp angles coming at you like daggers are also bad, Too advises. “All these huge collapses, like Barings for example - I’m sure if you went to the chairman’s office you would see lots of open shelves. It looks really nice but it’s really bad feng shui.” Conversely, meandering lines are good, as in feng shui-inspired curves of the walkways in Joyce Ma’s boutiques. By the same token , revolving doors are excellent. Flowing water and fish brings wealth - Too was offered about $20,000 for the fish she kept in her flat during the dragon seed deal, but she set them free instead. A mirror facing a marital bed makes it “crowded”. However a mirror placed in the dining room doubles the amount of food on the table, and one near a cash register symbolizes revenues. Flowers created good energy. Artificial flowers are acceptable, but dried or dead flowers creates negative energies. Toilets can flush you luck away, especially if they are situated in your marriage and money corner. Keep your toilet are as inconspicuous as possible and keep the door shut. The same goes for kitchens.

At best, this could spark much fervent furniture rearrangement; at worst , it sounds like superstitions. “It became superstition,” says Too. “Because feng shui is thousands of years old. It was passed down from father to son by word of mouth and spread around the world. You must understand that many of the people emigrated out of China were very poor; they were not educated. Things passed on this way soon take on the form of superstition because they cannot tell you why.”

She adds that no one can achieve absolutely perfect feng shui, but an awareness of it can lead to small but significant improvements. Feng shui has brought Too more friends than enemies, perhaps because she is one few exponents of the practice who doesn’t make a living from it. Her approach is one of delight and discovery. “I’ve made thousand of friends because of feng shui. I’m welcome in every home in Malaysia,” Too says. “Make life better for people and they’re your friends for life".
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