Chinese can’t say neigh to feng shui in year of the horse
Asia may have modernized over the years, but Chinese around the region still turn to local geomancers for advice as the year of the wooden horse gallops in.
Seeking advice on feng shui, an ancient science aimed at creating balance, may be a case of "I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm still afraid of them."
While feng shui is usually used to position objects and in architecture, the more superstitious believe it can divine the future, and many seek out feng shui masters and geomancers to choose auspicious dates for life events, such as marriages.
(Read more: Singapore's horse racing scene set to whinny in 2014)
"The usual attitude is most clients believe it's better to be prepared, just in case. You may never know the proof of (whether) it works, but it's better to be prepared," Brandon Chua, a feng shui master at Pure Feng Shui, told CNBC. "People treat it like a service."
The younger ethnic Chinese sometimes aren't terribly convinced of the power of divination.
"My fiancee and I didn't have the initial intention to get a geomancer to set an auspicious wedding date," Sharon Chang, a 28-year-old manager at a Singapore government agency, said via email. "We knew our parents and relatives would prefer us to do so and since we weren't completely against it, we went ahead."
She believes most couples now only use a geomancer to choose wedding dates because it's traditional, adding she thinks the 168 Singapore dollars, or around $130, cost was reasonable, as celebrity geomancers could easily charge much more.
The services may seem costly, but not seeking them out pre-emptively might be more so.
In 2008, the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel, had to change its direction after feng shui masters said it revolved the wrong way, taking fortune away from the city-state. Media reports put the cost at "a six-figure sum." The company entered receivership last year.
(Read more: HSBC PMI tips weak start to 2014 for China's economy)
It's difficult to get a handle on the size of the business, as there are few industry associations, and that still wouldn't capture sales of books and lucky objects used to draw off opposing zodiac symbols. The International Feng Shui Association said it doesn't track its members' fees or earnings.
In China, some expect a pickup in births in the year of the horse, especially as the one-child policy was eased.
"Chinese usually associate the horse, with very strong energy, very high spirit," Raymond Lo, a feng shui master, told CNBC. "Chinese say when the horse arrives, it will be successful," he said, noting that being born in July and January of the coming year will be considered extra lucky.
Some aren't thrilled with the embrace of feng shui. Singapore's SPCA typically issues warnings about adopting pets based on the year's zodiac animal. In past years, it has seen spikes in the adoption and abandonment of rabbits, cats and dogs.
"It's to do with spring cleaning the house. And usually out goes the animal when that happens," Corinne Fong, executive director at SPCA, said.
Luckily, last year was the year of the water snake, she said, noting snakes aren't popular pets and the group doesn't work with them.
They'll get another break this year: while it's possible to purchase partial stakes in race horses, the whole horse isn't on the approved-pet list for Singapore's public housing, where around 80 percent of citizens live.
However, she noted interest in horse-riding has picked up at various clubs and cited concerns over the animals' welfare after some incidents at local stables.
For those who believe feng shui can divine the outlook for the stock market, Chua cautions against believing the wooden horse will bring strong gains.
"In theory, wood produces fire. Fire produces illumination. Everything looks good for the stock market," Chua said. "But I did a little divination and a very simple and answer came to me and it says: disasters," he added.
"Too much fire will cause an imbalance," Chua said, citing concerns more "freaky weather" could be ahead. But he expects the entertainment and energy sectors will perform well, while the property will likely be volatile.
On the upside, all that fire may mean the year of the horse is likely to be a romantic one, he noted.
—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter