There’s a gorgeous nature center in Fort Myers called the Happehatchee center. I used to go to yoga classes at Happehatchee every Saturday and sometimes Sundays. Once you step in to Happehatchee, you see nothing but green. Vines, trees, flowers, all the plants you can imagine fill your senses.
In the back of Happehatchee, close to the Estero River, there is a serene spot with bamboo trees that whisper with the wind. Shy sunlight peaks through. Sitting there is a small house, intricate in design. It appears to be constructed of wood, though it is made of metal or concrete and is weather resistant – it remains in this spot untouched. Jenn and I always wondered – What is that house? Why is it there? What does it mean?
Flash forward. We’re in Thailand. Every where we go, we see these little houses. Decorated as intricately as Happehatchee’s. Endless color, incense sticks, garland, jewels, ornamented with gold and hand painted designs – all stand on concrete pillars high off the ground outside another building, whether it be a storefront, a school or a home.
After many weeks of broken Tinglish (Thai/English) back and forth with different people, I finally know some things about these mysterious decorations.
In addition to their many Buddhist beliefs, Thai people are very superstitious. They tell tales of ghosts, both good and bad, of mystical creatures, of good luck and bad luck. Luck is nothing to joke about in Thailand – which is unfortunate for first-time Thai language learners, considering the word “Suwaii” means beautiful, while the word “Suwaii” means unlucky. Did those two words look the same to you? The only difference is in the accent, and, to my American ears, it’s more subtle than you can imagine.
These spirit houses are said to provide a place for the spirit of the land to reside. “Phi” means ghost, so these houses are commonly referred to as Phi houses or “san pra prom”. To ensure the spirit’s happiness, offerings are presented to the spirit in the form of decorations and additions to the beautiful spirit house.
Often, wealth is directly reflected in a home owner’s spirit house – the more grandiose the spirit house, the more comfortable that home owner lives. As the image of wealth is something of high importance, Thai people pay a lot of attention to their spirit houses. (You might equate this to suburban dads and their lawn care).
One day, Jenn and I noticed that the spirit house at Lomkaophittyakhom School was surrounded by some peculiar offerings – water bottles filled with a red liquid. We later discovered that this strawberry Fanta offering is meant to symbolize blood. In Thailand, blood has always been a strong cultural symbol for life – because of blood, we live and die, so it is believed that blood can bring good fortune and fertile land.
For any of you who thought my last post was a little out there – consider this: In this new world I’ve been dropped into, people offer strawberry fanta to miniature houses. When you consider this out of context, it makes absolutely no sense. With the symbolism, the meaning that people add to it, you understand that this is part of a deeply cultural spiritual practice. It’s admirable. But, there it is: the idea that things matter is a human construct.
Some people give strawberry fanta to miniature houses so that their land’s spirits will be happy and protect them. Some people hold hands and thank an invisible person named God before eating their food. Is there any difference? There’s no room for judgment. Choose love.