We all dreaded the Butterfly Haven, a greenhouse whose thermostat was set to an oppressive eighty degrees. We were tasked with ensuring the museum’s collection of exotic butterflies did not escape into other exhibits—Mysteries of the Marsh, Birds of Chicago, Wild Music—or suffer at the hands of visitors. The Butterfly Haven was a new addition, a garden under glass, the wild and fruit-bearing world reassembled. It was nature trimmed and mail-ordered, the gestation of life contained in a laboratory and maintained through ongoing shipments from Australia, Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Butterflies died and were replaced in equal number.
What I notice immediately—after the stifling heat, the humidity that fogs glass, the stray dogs—are the temples. They are part of the Thai landscape, like the rubber trees, the wild green jungles, the red mountains of the north. Each temple is unlike the other, constructed by the community’s money and faith and devotion. According to a count done in 2004, there are well over 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, 40,000 temples in a country that can fit into Texas.