Too good to be true

The Peak Magazine, Peak Woman,
October 1998
interview by Helen Oon

Rapidly gaining ground as a credible means for ascertaining good luck, feng shui is the topic of Lillian Too’s books. Ramani Rathir meets up with lady luck herself. The year was 1990 and Lillian Too, the renowned writer in feng shui, was leaving Hong Kong. Her position as Managing Director of Grindlays Dao Heng Bank was a first for a woman in Asia, which she left to the deputy chairman of retail giant, Dickson Concepts. But after nine years as a high corporate flyer, the urge to go home was strong.

The glitzy pace of the British colony has lost it’s glitter and being a good housewife, taking care of her husband and daughter, seemed preferable, and resulted in the sale of her company, Dragon Seed Department Store. She settled well enough into the role of a suburban housewife. But Too was soon chaffing at the bit. “after you have decorated the house, done the garden, what else is there to do?” She chose painting. But after six months, she concluded no one would really buy her work. So she took up writing, candidly admitting the first few attempts were not very good. Too had a though time deciding what to write. In the end, her working experience provided the base for her budding talents. Feng shui for which she is best known today, still had not come into the picture. But she had encountered it long before she go around to writing about it. The couple had been married for almost ten years but was still childless and the marriage was on the rocks. Around this time, Too was taking kung fu lessons from a master, Yap Cheng Hai.

He used to talk to her about feng shui, but she did not take him seriously. Then he checked Too’s house and told her she was in the midst of bad feng shui. A huge casurina tree growing right smack outside the front door was identified as the culprit. Yap advised her and the family to move out, which they did. Within four months, she was pregnant. After a check of her office, Too’s career graph shot up too.

After this, Too could not but admire and respect the feng shui expert. From Master Yap, Too learnt more about this ancient science. However, it was only when Too began working in Hong Kong that her interest in feng shui took a quantum leap. She realized, “With regard to home or office, nobody made any major moves without consulting the feng shui man.”

Marks & Spencer, Cartier and the Hong Kong Bank were just some of the big names which had used feng shui, looking upon it as very important a management tool. Wishing to expand her knowledge, she set out to meet the experts in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Her contacts also arranged rare tours of the forbidden city. This was with curators, scholars of the classics, architects and various officials; all of whom had in depth knowledge of feng shui. Applications in the ancient capital. The summer palace, the homes Mandarins and various other buildings were thrown open to her. She visited other cities all over china, increasing her awareness by meeting yet more experts. Too’s one regret is that she did not catalogue the numerous people who had helped in her understanding of feng shui. She was merely jotting down notes for her personal use and, of course, never dreamt she would one day be writing a book on it. When she finally got down to it she was surprised to find she had accumulated boxes of notes “enough for ten more books.”

The start of her career as a feng shui writer began when she met the managing director of Pelanduk Publications. He had discovered that during Too’s stay in Hong Kong she had written a book on feng shui called Chinese Dragon. He felt there was a huge market here for a book on the subject, and felt she was the right person for it. The result was The Introductory Book on Feng Shui which was sold out in the first three months. Certainly ironic since Too had to beg the distributor to take the book on consignment. It is now in it’s 13th reprint with a total production run of 68,000 copies. She recently released her books onto the internet and soon after was put on two websites. “It was a tremendous burst of interest and the sites will have to be revamped.”

To date , Too has written five more books on feng shui, all of which have become best sellers. However, there is a sudden surge of excitement n her voice as she goes on to describe her latest feng shui book now in production in Britain. Called The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui, already over £100,00 has been spent on the design, turning it into a work of art. The book was simultaneously released in October 1996 in UK, Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand. This I s to cater to the tremendous Western interest in feng shui. Too cites the opening of China as one of the reasons. “There is such an interest in all things Chinese, I guess I was lucky to come in at the right time,” Too enthused, going on to add, “You could say I was discovered by the West!” for someone who only recently set out to write, this has certainly been quite an achievement. Too’s success can be attributed to her chatty style.

“At the end of it all, I want them to feel they had good value for money.” Daily she receives numerous letters and frankly admits 90 percent are romantic queries. She does call up some desperate souls to offer advice. But the rest form grist for the mill of her next book. Thus she sees herself as imparting the benefits of feng shui worldwide. “Merely a writer and not a master.” Which is why, though she had numerous request to head feng shui societies in various countries, Too has no such ambitions. Instead the one she harbors is to produce a worldwide, all-time hard-cover bestseller. Too states firmly that the practice of feng shui in Kuala Lumpur in no way loses out to Hong Kong or Tai Pei. She informs that many business tycoons began using feng shui as early as 20 years ago, and today are reaping the benefits. “It’s just that everyone is quiet about it, preferring to be closet believers. They are scared that they will be ridiculed for depending on it.” She feels the Asian mentality of freely accepting anything Western but not the ethnic, is the main reason why feng shui in Malaysia is not accorded the recognition it deserves, especially from those with a foreign education or business training. “As a business graduate form Harvard, I am more qualified than most people, not only on paper, but in experience too; I have also been there, running billion dollar deals. So what’s wrong with learning feng shui?” Too is emphatic that many top CEOs and billionaires are at the summit today not merely because of their brains, but also due to fair doses of luck.
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