The minute you walk into Ching and Ron Louie's ranch-style house in San Marino, it's clear that this is no ordinary day. Everywhere you look, there are the festive red and gold colors of the Asian Lunar New Year -- from the fresh red gladioluses on the coffee table to the ornate hanging scrolls on the fireplace mantel.
A cabinet is arrayed with traditional Chinese sweets, chocolate candy in gold foil and symbols of prosperity -- ceramic fish, for overabundance, and red envelopes filled with lai si, or lucky money.
Decorations and slight changes to the furniture placement have been done in consultation with a feng shui master, who helps the Louies "clean house" each year to enhance good fortune as the calendar page turns to a day of significance for many in Asian cultures.
Today marks what many call the Chinese New Year but which, in fact, will be celebrated in many lands as the Asian Lunar New Year 4702, or the year of the monkey. Whether it is Chuen Jie in Chinese, Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnamese or Sol in Korean, the event is a time to share with family and wish others prosperity and good luck.
For those who believe in feng shui, it's also the time to assess furniture placement in the home, to blunt any forces of negative energy that may be forecast for the coming year.
"Whether it's a psychological thing or not, I think feng shui can affect our luck," says Ching, a broker-associate for Remax Premier Properties in San Marino. "I have a feng shui master analyze our house every year, and he tells me what to do to avoid bad luck. If it works, it works. If not, I figure that's the way it's supposed to be."
For the last 10 years, the Louies have worked with master Khai Chi Mak, a geomancer from Vietnam who learned feng shui from his father as a teenager. Mak and his student, William Yue, sit at the Louies' dining table with a sheaf of papers, charts and reference books. Yue, a financial controller for an import company in Arcadia, studies feng shui as a hobby and acts as an interpreter for Mak, who speaks limited English.
Mak uses the birth dates of everyone who lives in the house -- Ching, Ron and their daughter, Ronni, 15 -- and the "birth year" of the house, when construction was completed, to determine where items should be placed in each room for the coming year.
"The direction of a person's path in life is determined by the birth date," says Mak, a dapper, smiling fellow who lives in Monterey Park. "And everyone is categorized as either a west person or an east person. Homes have their own destiny too, depending on when the house was built."
The Louie house was built in 1949 and this year, Mak says, the most advantageous furniture placement will be facing east or west.
Anything facing south could indicate arguments or trouble for anyone who sits, stands or faces in that direction. Fortunately, no major changes have to be made this year.
When the family moved in, Mak suggested that the parents switch bedrooms with their daughter because the energy flow in the house would be better for her on the east side. Another year, the bed in the master bedroom had to be moved from one corner to another to create a more harmonious flow.
"He told us the stove was supposed to face west one year because hot energy in the east could mean more fighting in the home," explains Ron, an architectural designer with Marshall Lewis A.I.A. in Marina del Rey. "We couldn't move the stove ... in the kitchen, so we put a mirror in the bottom half of the window over the sink opposite it so that you could see the entire stove in it when you faced west."
Did it work?
"Ever since we've been doing feng shui in the house, everything's been fine," Ron says, laughing. "You can't prove that what happens is or isn't related to the feng shui, but I know this: I used to have regular headaches every day, and after doing the feng shui, the headaches stopped. I haven't had them in 10 years now."
Using a lopin -- a Chinese compass -- Mak goes through every room, telling the Louies what to look out for in 2004. Looking at the stove burner's on-off switches, he identifies which burners would be best for each member of the house to cook on.
Before the New Year, they are to sweep the house clean, using broom strokes that sweep inward, toward the center of the house. Dust should be picked up with a dustpan, rather than swept out the door, to keep good luck in the home.
Each Lunar New Year, the family puts out red flowers that grow on long stems, like gladioluses -- a tradition to enhance the possibility that the children of the house will grow tall and that love will last a long time.
"We're very happy in this house," Ching says, "and whether it's psychological or not, I believe the feng shui works."