Posted by: patenttranslator | September 13, 2017

Good Feng Shui Rotates Every 20 Years

“When we say, ‘Good fengshui rotates every 20 years,’ the sentence is still incomplete. It should be ‘二十年輪流轉,十年河東,十年河西’’ (Good fengshui rotates every 20 years – 10 years in favor of the East Riverside, 10 years in favor of the West Riverside)”.

(From a comment left on my blog by a Chinese translator several years ago.)

For some reason I was thinking this morning about how everything in my life has changed. Events have suddenly shifted and moved in a completely different direction approximately every 10 years. Then in the afternoon I was Googling something and an old blog post I wrote came up in which the Chinese proverb above was left in the comments section about how Feng Shui works, or is supposed to work for us, or for somebody else, every 10 years and and how the good and bad part of it reverses itself every 20 years.

I do believe in strange quotations and proverbs. Proverbs are among the few things I still find for the most part believable, despite the fact that there is usually at least one proverb in every language that says the exact opposite.

The starting age for how Feng Shui has impacted my life began at the age of eight, with a very different 風水(Feng Shui, or Wind and Water) impacting my life differently every 10 years or so.

The things I remember vividly from the young age of eight have to do mostly with celebrations of communism in the little town in what used to be called Sudetenland where I was growing up in the 1960s.

As a kid, I thought of official communist celebrations as important dates to be celebrated with Chinese lantern parades in the evening, fireworks and free black-and-white movies shown on a huge screen in the main town square after dark, which were the coolest things ever because even though little kids like me were supposed to be in bed, we were allowed to stay up late for the movies and fireworks.

I especially loved fireworks with the tiny rockets that were slowly being parachuted down with little silk parachutes attached to them to make the effect last longer. A bunch of kids always ran after them and sometimes, when I got lucky and found the rocket with a little parachute on the ground or stuck in a tree, I found a perfect toy for the next few days.

Every May, a big podium was erected from wooden boards in the main square for important comrades to give speeches on May 1st and May 9th (May 9th was the date when Czechoslovakia was officially liberated from Nazi occupation by the glorious Red Army.) The podium was perfect for us little kids, to play tag and hide and seek on, under and behind the wooden planks that smelled pleasantly of resin and sawdust.

My hometown was actually liberated by the US Army, not by the Red Army, but comrades simply pretended that it never happened like that. We did get liberated by the glorious Red Army about 20 years later in 1968, not from Nazis, but from our own government, such as it was.

The first YouTube video, above, shows the enthusiastic welcome of der Führer by Sudeten Germans, who as it happened were citizens of a small, multinational country called Czechoslovakia, in 1938 in the town of Karlovy Vary.

The second YouTube video below, shows the much less enthusiastic welcome for Russian tanks when they rolled into Prague in 1968.

Both of these events meant a rotation of the Feng Shui with the bad kind on top for me, I suppose, even though I was not even born at the time of the first event. But I think both of them also eventually resulted in the good Feng Shui for West Riverside and bad Feng Shui for the East Riverside, because some 20 years after the second occupation of my country, this time by the Soviet Union instead of Germany, people finally got tired of listening to the speeches of important comrades in East Germany and, just like that, the Berlin Wall and East Germany were no more.

But when I was 28, it looked like the same comrades would be giving the same wooden speeches from the same wooden platforms for at least another 20, possibly 50 years. So I decided to find a way around the Berlin Wall and get to the other side, or die trying.

I planned my escape for a about a year, without being able to tell anyone about it, including my family, with the exception of a few friends, most of whom were pretty sure that I did not really mean it. Most people who said they were considering leaving and were talking about it in the end never actually did it.

But I did mean it, although I was so surprised when my plan worked in the end! I shouldn’t have been surprised – the good Feng Shui was on top and in my favor that year and that was why the plan worked. But back then I did not even know what Feng Shui was and how it worked, all I knew were the characters.

The good Feng Shui must have been the deciding factor that also determined that I would be moving to San Francisco rather than to New York, which was where I thought I would be moving to when I was waiting for my visa in Germany.

Because San Francisco in the early 1980s was inundated with many Japanese tourists who spoke no English, it took me less than a month to find a job there in the tourist industry because in addition to English, I could also speak German and French as well as Japanese. As my boss Nancy put it to me, “We thought we had to hire two people, a European guy for European languages and a Japanese guy for Japanese. So instead we hired you to save money.”

The story of America in the 20th century can be basically summed up by what Nancy said to me all those years ago: one new immigrant who does the work of two.

A few years later when I started my translation business, being based in San Francisco was again a major advantage for me because in the late 1980s, the internet did not exist yet in the form in which it exists today, and physical presence near my major customers – patent law firms in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, which is about an hour south of the City, was very important.

Sometimes I would be asked to go a patent law office in downtown to sort out Japanese patents and translate selected passages right there. I remember how hard it was sometimes for me to concentrate on the translation because from my corner of the office next to the “war room”, I could see young and stunningly beautiful Asian secretaries through the glass door walking in high heels and tightly fitting skirts in the hallway, smiling at me encouragingly.

The good Feng Shui was on top for me and working in my favor in the 1990s too. I remember the first time I was asked to name my price for a day’s work on site for sorting out documents in a triage and translating them at the office downtown, I told a legal secretary that my price was going to be 800 dollars a day.

She looked at me quizzically, and said, “Come on, everybody else is charging 1,000 dollars a day.”

So I charged 1,000 dollars a day too. That was an easy decision for me. But because the other translator who was working there with me was sent by an agency, he probably made only half of that, or maybe even less.

But things started to change for the worse in my business about five years ago. A few years ago, it looked like the really bad Feng Shui was for a change working against me, big time.

Old customers who had kept me busy for 10, 15 or 20 years started disappearing one by one. I was still able to replace some of them with new ones, but not all of them. Some kind of really bad Feng Shui was happening in the so-called translation industry and I did not quite understand what exactly it was and how to fight it.

I still don’t quite understand exactly what happened. After translating mostly Japanese patents to English for more than two decades, I had many clients who kept me busy. But then, within about three or four years, most of them disappeared.

How could the Japanese patent translation market suddenly disappear? I could not believe what was happening to me.

When bad Feng Shui hits you, there is only one way to fight it: change the way you do things, because otherwise you might have to wait another 20 years for the good Feng Shui to come your way again.

And you may not even be able to live that long.

So instead of translating patents for prior art (information about existing technology), I now translate patents for filing (publication of a patent in another language).

And instead of translating mostly Japanese patents, I now translate mostly German patents, and sometimes manage translation projects as a translation agency for about a dozen translators who occasionally work for me, mostly projects that also involve patent translation.

As long as we are able to figure out what is going on and how to deal with new problems, we don’t need to wait 20 years for the next rotation of Feng Shui that will change it from a bad one to a good one, and that will be working for us again, instead of working against us.

It usually does take about 20 years before the good Feng Shui rotates from East Riverside to West Riverside (and vice versa), and 20 years is a very long time to do nothing about it.


  1. Velmi zajímavé Vlasto!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting and inspiring, too, thank you!

    Best regards from Spain

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] or passively accepting a drop in income, he changed course and found a different niche. In another post he described escaping from communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s and making his way to […]


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