"I have heard that Government House is crowded, and the feng shui is not good," said the shipping tycoon, Tung Chee-hwa, who will almost certainly be appointed in a couple of weeks as Chief Executive, or head of Hong Kong's first post-colonial government after the Chinese take over next July.
Feng shui cannot be described as a precise science, but no right-thinking person in Hong Kong would build anything, or substantially redesign a building, without consulting a geomancer, or feng shui master. The words literally mean "wind and water", representing the traditional Chinese concept of harmonising man with his environment.
Official doubt has been cast on Mr Tung's claim that there is something wrong with the natural forces affecting Government House. "The feng shui can't be all that bad," said Mr Patten's spokesman, Kerry McGlynn. "When the Governor moved in, the Hang Seng stock exchange index was a bit over 6,000 points. It's now a bit over 13,000." This is a telling point in Hong Kong, where the movements of the stock market tend to be a reliable bellwether of public sentiment.
But the development of Hong Kong has clearly affected Government House. Once it occupied a supremely good feng shui location, with Victoria Peak behind and the harbour below, but it is now dwarfed as well as crowded by skyscrapers which block most views of the water. The worst blight was the construction of the Bank of China building, designed by the celebrated American-Chinese architect, IM Pei. His love of sharp angles has wrought havoc in surrounding buildings, which are said to be suffering from daggers pointed at their heart.
Chinese staff at the nearby American Consulate were in turmoil when the new Bank of China started rising before their eyes. There was an outbreak of unexplained illness, and remedial measures, such as the installation of mirrors and fish tanks, were demanded to mitigate the bad feng shui. But the Consul General of the time dismissed this as stuff and nonsense, and bad feeling persisted until he was replaced. The newcomer, married to a Chinese, quickly agreed to the staff's demands, and peace, harmony and good health were restored.
Over at Government House a geomancer advised on the need to plant three willow trees after the Bank of China went up. They are now flourishing. When the Pattens moved in a geomancer was called in again, because each occupant of a building has different feng shui requirements. Basically the residence was given a clean bill of health, although some furniture had to be repositioned, but the Tungs clearly believe that their feng shui requirements differ greatly from those of the Pattens. They may, therefore, opt to stay awhile at their luxury flat in Mid-Levels, or they could move to an even bigger holiday home they own near the sea.
Mr Tung says he is backing a plan to turn Government House into a museum of colonial history. A senior government official quipped: "They'll probably turn it into a museum of colonial atrocities in which, no doubt, the Chinese would see Chris Patten playing a considerable part."