I don't know when the lapis elephant broke his leg. Not a fine piece of stone, and the fracture seemed to be along an exisiting fault line. I pointed this out to a companion. "Maybe he broke his leg so you won't," she said. Well, anything is possible, although my constant reliance on a nice collapsible walking stick probably had more protective value than the elephant.
"It only works if you believe it does," the feng shui woman told me when I bought the charms(thus limiting her liability). I'm not sure what that really means; I have lots of jade charms and carvings that give me a certain pleasure, dangling from my purse, rear view mirror, and bookmarks. Some are sentimental gifts. When I look at them they remind me of what power they're supposed to have. (I also constantly wear a very old antique Egyptian faience protective wadjet eye pendant; the only time in the past two decades I wasn't wearing it I wrecked my car.) Do I believe these things work? What does "work" mean?
Feng shui (wind/water) is ancient shamanic Chinese geomancy, and is readily evident in the placement of tombs. On the train ride to Wudang, I pointed out the tombs in a certain hilly area placed on slopes that clearly pre-dated the rail right-of-way.* Although in Hong Kong even modern buildings have odd adjustments to their architectural placement and design, and in the countryside, you come across tombs in the oddest places, until you notice the wind/water influences.
There are lots of books that will explain this (I particularly recommend this novel) and also tell you where to hang crystals in your living room, what charms to put on your desk to bring prosperity to your office, and which direction your head should point while sleeping. (If you're lucky, it's the same one your partner's should point. If your partner snores, put your head near his feet...but that just seems like common sense, like, don't place yourself with your back to the door in your office.** Consider Mafia bosses who have the common sense to know where to sit in restaurants.) Generally, I regard this charm and crystal stuff as superstitious (if entertaining) bunk, but, still, I always wear my wadjet eye. I also always wore my taiji ear studs, but I lost the yang one somewhere in Wudang, which seems okay. Now I'm just wearing one, but I am reluctant to remove it. It connects me to its counterpart in the mountains. I have recently littered China with all kinds of personal objects...an earring, my Leatherman, a broken camera, a bulky pair of jeans sacrificed to make room in my luggage for take-home tea.
Yesterday, I was to meet a colleague for lunch. We'd picked a little Chinese restaurant, and when he didn't show up I went ahead and ordered anyway. Channeling Brigitte Lin, I wished I'd had a sword with me to lay across the table. A perfectly decent local Chinese meal, but it made me long for the auto workers' restaurant in Shiyan where the peppery food was energizing and comforting on a cold rainy day. The Hawaii restaurant's menu did list "Zechuan" specialities and the "ma pao tofu" was guaranteed to be "splicy." Still, I ordered a bland chicken and black mushrooms and some shrimp and vegetables with noodles. When I left with a substantial doggie bag, I noticed a little shop around the corner: The Joy of Feng Shui. How could I not go in? But after China, everything on offer seemed sort of hip new agey and commercial, to say nothing of terribly expensive. There was nothing I wanted or needed, although I did ask the proprietor if he knew where I could get a good authentic Chinese foot massage. He didn't.
Next week, we try again, at an Italian restaurant. I will sit facing the door (so I can see my friend arrive). But I think I will take along my little lapis elephant with the broken leg. He makes for a good story.
*The Wizard just related a story to me, which may be apocryphal, but has a ring of veracity to it. In 1901, the Chinese rerouted an entire rail line around a mountain to assure that the dead noble the funeral train was transporting was always laid out in an auspicious direction.
** Last time I did this, I turned to answer a knock on the door and it was the Governor of Hawaii stopping in to admire the dry-erase bamboo sketches on my whiteboard.