Please just stay away from the tea leaves

Please just stay away from the tea leaves

Leading Thai astrologers are reportedly forecasting that the government could be in for bit of a rough time in coming weeks. Apparently the stars aren't in a very auspicious place, although it might simply be that October is fast approaching, a traditionally tricky month for Thai governments.

Faced with that cheerful news, it will come as no surprise that some of those in authority are said to have been consulting soothsayers, fortune tellers and even the Ministry of Ghosts, in an attempt to ward off the evil spirits.

It's not only the government. After the recent mishaps involving trains and planes, amid sightings of ''ghost hostesses'', senior officials have suggested that some of these misfortunes could be the work of malevolent spirits, and a number of ceremonies have been held to appease them.

It all makes sense really _ in Thailand, you won't get anywhere until you've got the ghosts on your side.

It is no secret that people in authority are a superstitious lot and frequently turn to fortune tellers for advice.

However, it is bit of a worry to think that key decisions could depend on the juxtaposition of the planets, the queen of spades popping up where she shouldn't, or whether the palms of someone's hand look a bit dodgy.

It's probably just as well that the art of reading tea leaves isn't such a popular pursuit in Thailand, or we could really be in trouble.

Ghoulies and ghosties

The UK claims to have the most haunted houses in the world, but I wouldn't mind betting Thailand leads the way when it comes to ''things that go bump in the night''.

Khon Kaen might not have a paranormal facility, but that doesn't stop local villagers knowing a ghost when they see one. A few years ago, there had been several sightings of the dreaded phi-pob, a particularly unpleasant spirit, or ''entrail-eating bogie'' as the Post headline tastefully put it.

The gruesome ghouls apparently live off raw meat, preferably human.

In a special ghost-hunting expedition, the intrepid villagers claimed to have knocked off 39 ghosts, including nine phi-pob, worthy almost of mention in the Guinness Book of Records.

Hitting below the belt

The most worrying ghost-related scare occurred some years ago when a severe case of ''shrinking willies'' swept the Northeast of Thailand. Isan people are a tough bunch. They can put up with drought, floods, poverty, politicians and even journalists. But when it came to shrinking willies they were in a state of panic. Depending on who you listened to, this unfortunate development was prompted by a bad diet (quite likely), the stars being wrongly juxtaposed (even more likely), or particularly evil ghosts (almost definitely).

The most entertaining explanation came for a government official who claimed that it was all a communist plot. Those commies really knew how to hit where it hurt.

As in Khon Kaen, ghost hunters were duly dispatched and reports of shrinking appendages miraculously ceased.

Not one to mess with

The ghost which gives me the creeps is the phi-grasue, which is closely related to the phi-pob.

It's the type which only has a head with lots of entrails, tubes and unpleasant things dangling from it _ a real nasty piece of work. But it makes for great movie posters. The ghost entertains itself in traditional fashion by drinking human blood. It's definitely not something you would want to run into down a dark soi, especially after a few glasses of the amber liquid.

The third hand

Ghosts have been the mainstay of the Thai film industry since the days of silent movies. It was a rare film that didn't have a ghost make at least a brief cameo role. Even this year, the comedy-horror ghost film Phi Mak Phra Khanong was a massive hit _ well, the wife liked it.

Some years ago I was observing a ghost sequence for a film being shot in Chiang Mai. It was night-time at an old temple and the place was swarming with villagers. Word had spread that the ghost in the movie was not any old phi, but a farang starlet from the US _ a ghost with make-up.

The young actress finally appeared, dressed in flowing white robes, looking scared out of her wits from all the people gawking at her.

The highlight of the special effects was ''the hand'', a horror prop made of what resembled five giant condoms which were lodged onto the end of a long stick to provide the ghost with a ''super arm'' with which it did unspeakable things.

The creepy sequences would have been a little more convincing had the American ghost not experienced fits of giggles every time she deployed the ''hand''. The embarrassed ghost said afterwards, ''I felt kinda stupid.''

Home, but not alone

Ghosts show up everywhere. Some years ago a European businessman in Bangkok returned home to find that his maid had fled the scene. There had been no hint of her being unhappy and he wondered what had upset her. His neighbours explained that the girl had told them there were ghosts in the house. It turned out he had just installed an answer-phone and she kept hearing voices coming from his bedroom, but when she opened the door there was nobody there. That was enough for her to scarper.


Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com.

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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