Hong Kong is a feast for the eyes when it comes to architecture. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and the city-scape is magnificent. It is one of the things that first attracted me to Hong Kong, a giant city of skyscrapers set against mountains, and a beautiful harbor. Little did I know, there was so much thought and beliefs that went into this urban landscape?

Victoria Harbor, with mountains behind the city.

Feng Shui and other ancient beliefs are taken very seriously in Hong Kong and the Chinese world. Feng Shui is a Chinese practice of placing graves, temples, buildings, or objects in a room in a harmonious way, mainly in harmony with nature, and the flow of energy (qi or chi).  Hong Kong naturally has good Feng Shui and flow of energy because of its position on the bay.  Hong Kong has water to the front where you can find good energy (often associated with good financial energy) and mountains to protect it from the back, so those mountains and harbor weren’t just a pretty backdrop.

To dive deeper into why mountains are lucky and the sea can bring prosperity, there are dragons that live in the mountains, and they bathe in the sea and drink from the sea. Likewise, they have to move back and forth freely between the mountains and the sea. When they move, they also bring energy and prosperity. To keep the dragons moving through Hong Kong from the mountains to the sea and back, and bringing prosperity, many buildings are designed with large sections missing, giant holes. These holes allow for the dragon to pass.

The story continues with a building feud.  Two very prominent buildings in Hong Kong are at a sort of Feng Shui war with each other. The Bank of China building and the HSBS building in Admiralty were both very well designed, depending on who you ask. The Bank of China building was designed with many hard angles, lines, and triangles. All very bad luck, negative energy follows strait lines. In fact, so much negative energy flows from these lines that one development next to the Bank of China went bankrupt, and rumor has it Margaret Thatcher suffered a terrible fall while in Hong Kong because of these lines. The HSBC building was designed with perfect Feng Shui. No hard lines, two lions sitting in front (Stanley and Stitt), escalators that look like dragon whiskers to draw money into the bank, and two pretend cannons on top deflecting all of the bad energy from the Bank of China building back at it and away from HSBC.

Bank of China Building on left, HSBC 2nd from the right.

It isn’t just the banks that take good luck seriously when designing buildings. When Disney set out to create Disneyland Hong Kong they took Feng Shui designing practices into account when positioning the entrance of the park, what day they opened the park, water features, square footage of certain rooms, and even how many lights are in certain rooms. Disney maximized the design of the park and rides so energy and guests can easily flow, and placed large boulders throughout the park so energy would stay in the park after it has flowed in from the outside.

These design elements have even played a role in some US buildings. The MGM in Las Vegas changed the entrance of its resort/casino because it was considered unlucky by the Chinese to walk through a lion’s mouth, preventing many of them from entering the casino.

After you’ve mastered Feng Shui, expelled all of the negative energy from your neighboring building, and left room for the dragon to pass, move on to tetraphopia. Tetraphobia is the fear of the number four, which is a terribly unlucky number. In Chinese, and many Asian languages, there are many homophones, words that sound like other words. Flu and flew would be two English words that are homophones. In Chinese, the number four sounds a lot like the word for death! In many buildings, the 4th floor isn’t named; much like the 13th floor would be skipped in the Western world. Not just the 4th floor, but the 14, 24, 34, etc. In the ICC building which is now Hong Kong’s tallest there are 118 marked floors, but really only 108 exist. They’ve left out all floors ending in four. You would also want to avoid the number four in your address and many streets/neighborhoods have removed the number four from existing addresses.  Should I be worried that I worked at 444 S. River Rd for over ten years?  Phone numbers rarely contain four, or any other number assigned to you the number four will be avoided (employee number, ID number, etc.) Giving someone a number four could also be seen as a death threat, and you could be legally punished. The opposite of the number four is the number eight, which sounds like wealth and you will find eights used as much as possible.

The ICC, 118 floors at the top, but really only 108.

I’ve started to notice that most flights to/from China never contain the number four, and usually contain eights. Prices will usually end in the number eight, much like the prices in the US that usually end in 9’s, 1.99.

I’ve started to notice many more of these numbers and design features, and how they come into play in life in Asia. These types of cultural differences intrigue me and are one of my favorite reasons for traveling. I love to learn how different cultures go about life, and love to learn about the things they hold important and sacred. I can’t wait to learn more about Hong Kong and China, and anywhere else my travels take me.