NAIL-ing Fengshui

I wish you could be here to see the light as it sparkles off of my newly manicured nails. Before the debut they had surfaces like corduroy, jagged tips, and a pile of overgrown cuticles— a result of years of mistreatment. Now they lay delicately on my nail beds, smoothed by heavy buffing and a clear lacquer finish. But my nails’ ∗fabulous sparkle∗ has made me digress:

A few hours ago, I found myself in a nail salon not far from my apartment complex with Shuyu and Marin. The store is wedged between a string of locally owned businesses. We sat with fingers spread as our masked nail technicians worked quickly. They all looked to be in their twenties. Shuyu, who is fluent in Mandarin, babbled with her technician as I— a Mandarin virgin— struggled to keep up and pick out key words.

Trying to figure out what to write for this blog post, I decided to jump into the conversation. “Sooo, have you all fengshuied your business?” It was quiet until Shuyu translated for me. (Bless her.) All three technicians nodded yes.

“The owner of the business practices fengshui and she hired a fengshui master to look over her business and make some recommendations,” said one.
“Has it helped?” I asked.
“Well, we have had great success the past four years.”


Her response did not come as a surprise. As we have discussed in class a lot recently, many Chinese practice fengshui, an age-old tradition that places the flow of energy or “Qi” as central to the successes– or failures– in one’s life. A lot of the rules governing fengshui have practicality: don’t have a desk that faces away from a door, don’t live in an oddly designed house, offices designed poorly can affect your performance at work, etc. Other practices, including auspicious compass directions, reading of one’s birth day and year, and magic words make the practice more spiritual. Many Chinese believe that if a business is doing poorly,  it may be the fault of bad fengshui and the pooling of negative energy in an area. To have good business and prevent life misfortune, many Chinese have traditionally paid close attention to the fengshui in their homes and workplaces.

The woman buffing Marin’s nails jumped into our conversation. She wore a cross necklace.
Shuyu translated, “I don’t believe in fengshui.”
“Why not?”
“I am Christian.”
“How long have you been practicing Christianity?”
“Ten years, now.”
“Did you believe in fengshui before you converted?”

Although the woman—who I believe is like many young Chinese in Shanghai who belong to a more globalized and outward-thinking generation— did not practice fengshui, she remained impartial as she spoke about a practice deeply engrained in her culture. I was interested to know more. She was talkative and patient with me, but soon two new technicians arrived and they took over for the woman with the cross around her neck.

Marin and Shuyu picked nail colors. The man who worked on my nails sat quietly trimming my overgrown cuticles. “What color do you want?” he asked.  “Um, no color. I just want a clear finish”


Shuyu (looking pleasant as usual) and the woman with the cross necklace.


Stuck at the counter I looked around and noticed a plant placed in the corner and a glass chandelier that scattered light throughout the room. Strategically placed plants and chandeliers (a modern adaptation of the small glass orbs once hung from ceilings) are among many objects that help to dispel negative Qi.

Soon after, Shuyu, Marin, and I all sat with our hands spread flat on the tables as we let our nails dry. Our technicians went outside to get some tea from a drink stand nearby and the woman with the cross came back into the room. She sat down. Again, (the ever-social Shuyu) struck up conversation, talking about cultural differences, then the best place to get pearl milk tea, and then– admittedly with a little prodding on my end– back to fengshui.

“Can you tell me a little more about how this area was fengshuied?”
“Before the current owner bought this business, she spent some time consulting with a fengshui master. The master analyzed her energy and matched its compatibility with the business. The consultant also helped the owner decided whether or not the location of the business would allow it to harness the energy it needed to be successful.”
“Did the fengshui master think that the business would flourish?”
“Well, she did buy it!”

p.s. sorry about the blurry photos; my camera needs an exorcism.