Conversations With A Geomancer

16 June 2016

Yeap Siew Kay, otherwise known as Yeap Sifu is a geomancy consultant and wood carver based in Air Itam, Penang. He talks to Adeline Chua about why he does what he does, getting quizzed by gravekeepers and the benefits of eating your greens.

Yeap Sifu compares getting your feng shui right to adjusting a TV aerial so that it points in the direction that gives you the clearest picture on the screen. He says it is not based on any religion, just a formulaic way of calculations that allows one to be in harmony with the universe’s magnetic energies.

This manages to sound both mystical and logical at the same time. And indeed, feng shui is both the practicality of arranging your bed to optimise restful sleep, to the more talismanic act of placing a fountain inside your house to increase the flow of prosperity.

When I first met Yeap Sifu, he was at an artisan’s booth as a wood carver. Eyeing a neighbouring booth that I had just come from, Yeap Sifu asked me doubtfully how my time with the palm-reader went. He wasn’t so much scoffing at the palm reader’s ability so much as being infallibly sure of his own. “I can tell you your past. If I can do that, then you can listen to my advice for your future,” he told me in Mandarin.

A month later, I find myself at his booth on Occupy Beach Street, a cheery Sunday market fitting for families with kids. He has his wooden carvings out on display, his wife is with him, at all times. She swings a toy to attract customers; wooden chickens peck up and down at painted-on rice kernels, their necks pulled and released by strings controlled by her swinging motion.

Yeap Sifu invites me to sit with him, he is accustomed to having many people around him. I am immediately at ease in his presence every time I meet him, he has vigour and patience in the right amounts, probably measured and balanced out with age and experience.

He tells me that when he was 12, he had to uproot from China and move to Malaya permanently; his father and grandfather had already been living on and off in Malaya before that. That’s why today he speaks little Malay or English but is still most comfortable using his mother tongue.

Fascinated by the stories people told him regarding feng shui, he always held an interest in one day being able to understand and practise it. That wish came true when he was on a job fixing furniture at Phor Tay Primary School. He was introduced by his boss to the principal of the school who eventually taught Yeap Sifu the basics of geomancy.

The very first thing he changed for himself was the position of his bed. From this early attempt, it progressed to shifting the grave of his ancestor to change the luck of his family. Today, Yeap Sifu claims to be able to tell the past fate of a deceased merely from the position of his burial.  He tells me a story of how a gravekeeper had doubts about his abilities, as the keeper had tested more than 50 feng shui masters before him and had been disappointed. Yeap Sifu passed every test by accurately recounting the history of each deceased he had been quizzed about.

According to Yeap Sifu, the tradition of feng shui he practises comes from the Tang Dynasty; originating from the teachings of Xin Bui – the first person to practise geomancy exclusively in service to the emperor. There is an altar in Yeap Sifu’s house with Xin Bui’s image on it. Yeap Sifu would light joss sticks to him to ask for enlightenment and guidance.

Some feng shui masters take a vow not to help unscrupulous individuals improve their fortune. Yeap Sifu himself often prays that he would not unwittingly help anyone that does not have good intentions. He tells me of a time he had a client cancel an appointment six or seven times because things just did not line up for them to meet. He took it as a sign that he shouldn’t be helping this person with his advice.

Today, he has three apprentices coming to him on Mondays to learn the art (or logic) of geomancy. Two of them are university students who are more seekers than people looking to make a profession out of it. Another is his younger brother.

His greatest satisfaction hasn’t really been making life better for those who already are blessed with good fortune. He once provided feng shui consultation to the Sultan of Brunei’s father-in-law and received a letter of thanks from him. Yeap Sifu ended up putting the letter away without really reading it because he did not look to that for gratification and besides, he wasn’t fluent in Malay. “It is when someone is so out of luck and the four walls close in on them and my advice turns things around, that’s when I feel the most satisfaction,” he shares.

When asked what advice he would leave with someone whose living space he can’t assess, he offers: “Show love to those who raised you, respect your elders and go vegetarian for 10 days a month.”

Yeap Sifu was discovered via Artisan Market’s monthly workshops/events.
He also runs classes on wood carving and provides geomancy consultation at his home studio in Air Itam. Call 04-828 7996 or 012 504 6691 for more information.

By Adeline Chua

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