The ancient Chinese system of fung shui was devised as a way to help people live in harmony with their surroundings. It combines astrological and geographical principles. In English, fung shui translates into wind and water. Balancing opposing elements of positive and negative energy is at the core of the practice. One of the most important places to attain equilibrium is in your home, where fung shui master Raymond Lo says there are nine kinds of energy. Active energy will be good in a kitchen or living room, but not in the bedroom, while calm energies are best in the room where you sleep. Lo believes that if the energy is poorly aligned, the occupants may suffer ill health, cash crises and a life of thwarted ambition. 'Many people put a lot of money into buying property, yet they don't find out about the energy inside before they buy it,' he says. 'In every house, there are locations with good energy and those with bad. The most important application of fung shui is how to allocate the energies.' Lo says that fung shui is a scientific process and it is a common misconception that masters act on intuition. He uses the luo pan, or Chinese compass, to make calculations to determine the best locations for each room and important objects such as beds. He also takes account of individual differences by charting the effects a client's birthday. 'If I walk into a house, I can't tell you anything without the process of detailed calculations,' Lo says. 'If the calculations are not accurate, it will not work, in the same way that engineers have to be accurate in their jobs. You have to learn the formulas and then carry out the assessment in a step-by-step way.' Derek Leung, a sales manager in the finance industry, says he was drawn to fung shui because of its mathematical approach. 'I found fung shui interesting and that it can be explained somewhat scientifically,' he says. Leung consults a fung shui master once a year at about the time of the Lunar New Year. Masters charge per square foot at a range of several dollars to several hundred plus. 'The fung shui master gives me instructions on how I should rearrange the setting of my home according to the fung shui needs of that year, but I find that good masters don't suggest big alterations in terms of furniture or decoration,' he says. As we have just entered the Year of the Tiger, Lo advises people to pay attention to the southwest position of their homes and individual rooms. 'The southwest is the energy of misfortune,' he says. 'You could put a metal wind chime in your window or six metal coins [the kind with holes in the centre from the Ching dynasty] to dissolve the sick energy.' For many people, the small size of apartments and the expense and difficulty of undertaking major reconstruction mean that rearranging the position of their front door or changing their master bedroom may not be an option. Fortunately, masters can recommend what they call cure objects to lessen the effects of poor fung shui. 'Cure objects are a last resort,' Lo says. 'They don't convert the house from bad energy to good energy, but they can reduce the bad luck.' Popular cure items are plants, water circulation objects, fish tanks and caged birds. Plants are the symbol of growth and are said to activate good energy. However, the plant should not be too large or have very broad leaves as plants that block out the light are also blamed for generating bad energy. Active objects stimulate money energy and, in fung shui terms, these are water or water-based objects or caged birds. Lo says the number and colour of fish in a fish tank can also help boost one's luck. For example, six black fish will help to dissolve bad energy. Although fung shui originated in China, it is popular across the world. Lo travels throughout the year teaching students overseas. 'I have students from places you might not think of such as Iran and South America,' he says. 'I go to Moscow two times a year.' Lo believes one of the reasons for the system's continued popularity may be because it offers answers to people seeking direction and understanding in their life. 'The knowledge that fung shui offers is useful for all kinds of people because if you understand why events are happening to you, you will have a more peaceful life.'