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The unbelievable architectural conception
For decades, because many Chinese have migrated to Thailand (Siam), they have brought with them their ideas and culture. One of these is their housing construction concepts, in Thailand pronounced as ‘Wuang Juie’—‘Wuang’ means wind and ‘Juie’ means water. It is the same as what American people are familiar with as Feng Shui. Superstition plays a significant part in both Feng Shui and Wuanf Juie.
The Chinese population was traditionally divided into multiple groups, their customs language differed by geographic location. The architectural and interior design ideas of Wuang Juie and Feng Shui are very similar; adjusted slightly for their beliefs which differ by Chinese province. However, they are based upon the same basic concepts that the flow of wind and water to your living area, the environment and the compass sitting of your house can help improve or determine your fate in life.
For generations, Thais believed in these ideas as did the Chinese. One of the most popular and recognized concepts, is the rule of selection for land to build a house. A perfect piece of land, based upon the Wuang Juie concept, is that the land should sit between a body of water and a mountain range—it demonstrates to everyone that ‘the owner of the house will be wealthy—if in front of his house is a body of water, and the backyard faces a mountain.’
Based on my analysis, as in ancient time when piped water was not available, and because water is vital for life, having a fresh water resource in front of your house saved time and energy carrying/transporting it from a distance. Moreover, in the eras before autos were available, the river was used for transporting people and goods. The rear of the house facing the mountains can be explained because survival was based upon hunting. Because most China’s geography are plateaus, mountains provided sources for food, animals and vegetables; and any surplus could be exchanged in the market or with neighbors for other necessary items. Moreover, before modern medicines and hospitals were available, most Chinese medicines were herbal-based which could be harvested from the mountainous regions. Therefore, land that sits between a body of water and a mountain range proved to be prosperous in providing people enough substance for living.
Now people have running water, they buy food from a supermarket rather than hunting, drive cars on the highway, rather than sailing along rivers, having modern medicines and hospitals, all these improvements have changed people’s methods of living. Therefore, today, houses are unnecessary to sit between a body of water and a mountain range. Without understanding the reasons behind the Wuang Juie concept ‘why in the front of his house should be water, and in the backyard should be a mountain’; when a perfect plot of land, with water frontage and mountain views in the rear, are impossible to find, young Thai generations understand that it is be fine to be substitute for rivers and mountains with a small pool of water/ditch and a small hill (as the middle part of Thailand’s geography is flat land meaning it is hard to find a hill/mountain), just to maintain the conceptual elements while they find futile. Moreover, being wealthy in ancient times can’t be compared to the monetary values achieved in our generation. Now people no longer require land that can provide substance living – hunting/foraging for food and collecting water, but rather they need money to buy things and live a luxurious life.
Another Wuang Juie concept for house plans is that the floor plan must be rectangular, not triangular, or circular and forbids zigzag walls. These rules can be explained by understanding that prior to the periods that engineering/construction were more fully developed, rectangular homes were the easiest form to construct, and also maximized space utilization at affordable cost, compared to other geometric shapes. Now with improvements in engineering and architecture, and with new types of building materials, a rectangle home is no longer an engineer’s/architect’s challenge. Today, all kinds of geometric shapes and magnificent mansions are not beyond their talents.
Standard of measurement were determined by the length of a person’s step, meaning every measurement was an approximation of the individuals distance per step. (Compare this method to the Romans, who standardized one thousand military steps as equal to a mile). A person in Thailand who believed in Chinese version of Feng Shui, counted her paces with a Feng Shui book in her hand, and then used her foot imprints in the ground to determine the length of her bedroom wall. Then she would continue counting her paces to determine the measurements of the other rooms. Construction workers would scratched their heads in bewilderment—a Feng Shui home was the hardest one for them to build; when the length of her paces, measured against the metric scale weren’t even numbers like 4 x 4 meters, but the length of the walls might measure 4.321 x 3.432 meters, some were 6.76 meters x 8.29 meters... Prior to the first yardsticks/rulers/measuring tapes, measurements were based upon a human’s body, because living places and furniture served human, for example the height of a door was related to the height of a human, the height of a chair was related to the height of a human’s legs. Like the ancient Chinese, ancient Thais also used the length of elbows and arms for measuring things. However, each body has a different height and can’t be used as a standard; some people have long legs which results in long paces, some who are short will have short paces. Now with better education and technology for measurements, rulers and scales can provide perfect/standard numbers for building dimensions, no matter you are short or tall.
Moreover, her house was unusually small. Based on the dimensions from her Wuang Juie book, her queen size bed and closet wouldn’t fit in her bedroom; they needed to be custom built. I believed that China, because the country is under communist rule, forced people to live economically, so houses were small. Now modern Chinese/Thai bedrooms are more luxurious, as people want/need more than just a bed and a closet.
Next, Feng Shui stipulates that a home cannot have the front and back doors exactly opposite of each other, as this would restrict air circulation/ventilation and create pockets of warm/humid air; Feng Shui superstitions predicted that the same thing would happen to the occupants’ income—‘in one door and out the other’. Therefore, Feng Shui stipulates that front and rear doors must be placed diagonally across from each other to improve circulation/ventilation while slowing direct air flow from front-to-back and of course it means that you would also slow down the flow of your income, creating more savings. This design concept is a generally accepted architectural principal today.
Although, modern architects agree that the position of the front and back doors are better not to be placed in a direct path, they don’t have evidence/reason to support that the position of the front and back doors are related to the home owners’ savings. However, it is reasonably explained that wind/air should flow thoroughly every room in the house to prevent humidity/ mugginess. The direct positions of the front and back doors allow wind/air to flow in and out quickly, without circulating through all the rooms in the house. Shifting the position of the back door out of the direct path of the front door can be a method to circulate air throughout the house more and to have it flow through every room; it shouldn’t relate to personal savings.
In my neighborhood in Thailand, a wealthy family had lived for decades without any financial problems. Recently during weak economic times, they built a wall to divert their driveway, and create a new entrance. They explained that the previous driveway went directly to their front entrance and that it brought ill economic fate into their life.
When I was a little kid, in my small town had a road which forked into a Y-shape. At the apex of the angle, there was a Chinese lion-stone statue, with a small ball in its mouth and another ball under its foot. My parents explained to me that this Y-shaped piece of land, the acute angle that was formed by the fork in the road was arrow-shaped, bringing bad omens, it also could bring ill-fate to the homes owners. The lion acted as guard warding off the bad spirits.
Similarly, today in Harvard Square, there is a tall object situated at the fork of a peninsular, it is column-like, not a Chinese lion. It makes sense when you think about people who drive at cars, the statute is placed as strategically to warn drivers that the road forks into two different directions; otherwise people who have poor visions, and especially impaired drivers would drive over the peninsular—if they did that, ill-fate must result to the land’s owner. The statute can be any form; it is not imbued with any magical powers. The One Times Square building in New York City is another example. Land with an acute angle isn’t always bad, in some cases it can become an icon. Architectural design is used to solve the imperfections and maximize the function of the land, better than magical superstitions/beliefs.
At one time I lived in the Brighton area, there was a Thai restaurant where I sometimes ordered dinner for take-out. For the first three years after it opened, the restaurant was very busy; then after that the food changed badly so I stopped ordering take-out meals. Soon afterwards the restaurant’s business decreased slowly, but constantly. One night as I passed the restaurant, I saw that a new gold fish tank was placed by the front door. First thing that came to my mind was that the restaurant’s owner was utilizing a Feng Shui concept to reverse his decreasing business: gold fish signify the wealth of gold and their movement are used to hopefully break through the silent business atmosphere, creating a lively, thriving business. In fact people like to patronize busy restaurants, as the bustle implies that the restaurant is performing well, on the other hand a quiet restaurant normally mean that the food is poor. However, the movement of customers busy walking in/out of a restaurant doesn’t project the same meaning as the movements gold fish, swimming in a small tank. How can those gold fish possibly help their owner? Even if the restaurant owner built a gold fish pond or a large aquarium in front of his restaurant, it wouldn’t solve anything because the key point of his business strategy must be the improvement of their food quality.
When I studied architecture in Thailand, once a professor invited a Feng Shui expert to give a lecture, he told a story of one of his experiences when a wealthy business man erected a large business building. The building was completed, then a Feng Shui expert warned the business man about possible dangers to his life. His building had been built in opposition to Feng Shui rules—if it was not razed and rebuilt, the owner must die! The Feng Shui expert told him that whether the business man believed it or not, he shouldn’t want to take the risk. It didn’t matter how long it had taken the business man to erect the building, or how much money he spent on project—it was destroyed just because of Feng Shui superstitions. (It is ironic—if the business man survives by rebuilding, he may die from the depression of having a big debt to pay off.) Can this be the way that Feng Shui experts make money?—They predict that people will have bad luck, so people will believe in their thousand-year-old knowledge. People fear all things invisible, such as spirits, ghosts, fate, magic, heaven and hell. Modern architectural knowledge is forgotten even though it never damns people.
Have you ever thought as I thought—when you have a happy life, you forget to look at the things surrounding you; but when you experience bad luck, especially when you can’t find a way to get out of a bad situation, you begin to look around yourself. Then with anger, you bully, blaming things which you believe cause you bad luck. The statues at the Thai airport are another example; they have nothing to do with the country’s fate, it is just an art form, in actuality, the country’s political system controls the country’s fate. Even though the statue has now been moved as per Feng Shui rules, the country suffers now (March 15, 2010) even more than previously.
Why does Asian living rely so much on mythological ideas and superstitions?
Asian education teaches students to remember facts by memorization, rather than teaching students to be creative. If you studied in the same class with foreign students from South East Asian, you would notice that they are unusually quiet. Because they are taught to be good listeners, memorize all their teacher’s words, and every page in their books to earn an A grade. What teachers say is to them the gospel truth. Youngsters are taught to believe and follow in the foot steps of their elders. Arguing, questioning decisions by superiors, or expressing ideas contrary to their elders is considered disrespectful and is punished unfairly by Thai society. That’s why Thailand has developed slowly; it’s hard for new things to be created, when the younger generations are taught to follow their elders’ ideas in every subsequent generation. Like Feng Shui’s rules, it was unnecessary for ancients to give a reason why a body of water should be in the front of the house and mountain should be on the rear. The true reason can be skipped-because it is believed that the older generations are all-controlling and young people are taught never to question why things are this way. Younger generations are taught to follow what older people teach them, rather than learning to think logically. The result of the Thai education system is, some people are happy to see a swamp in front of their house and a small hill in their backyard.
Moreover, in many Asian countries, spanking is used to control young people’s behavior. As in the Thai maxim: ‘if you don’t want to lose a cow, you must tether it, if you don’t want to lose your children, parents must beat them.’ Pain from physical punishment helps them to remember their mistakes and not to repeat them. The logical reasons behind Feng Shui rules alone can’t help this ancient knowledge survive for many more generations, as people’s lifestyles, technology and education are always changing; Feng Shui can’t be fit into people’s lives in a modern world. However, the curse of being healthy or sick, rich or poor, succeeding or failing in your career, going to heaven or hell are human fear factors; like being spanked, they are used as punishment against young generations who refuse to follow them.
Don’t let anyone or any superstition spank you or use curses to force you to believe in any conceptual ideas. Don’t rush to believe in any ancient rules before you understand why.
© 2011, by ½ Lady Lisa. All Rights Reserved.