Saturday, July 19, 2008

A True Thai Ghost Story

Sometime in November or December of 1999 some Thai friends dragged me off to Ayutthaya for a nighttime "sound and light" show. The show was nice enough. On the drive back to Bangkok, talk turned to ghosts. It often does with Thais.

In brief, there's an old temple back in Ayutthaya, "Wat Tagrai" (ตะไกร), where masses of Thais were executed during one of the Burmese invasions in the 1700's. The Burmese would bind a Thai to a pole, slit the neck, and methodically repeat the process with the next victim. It's this sort of history that, of course, makes for a haunted temple.

For quite a while I'd had an ambition for New Year's 2000. It was this: toss my watch, and go alone to a place on the globe where nobody celebrates New Year's. The Himalayas were high on the list, but that wouldn't have been practical. When told of Wat Tagrai, it was clear where I'd spend the last night of the old millenium, and the first morning of the new. Being shit-scared of ghosts, Thais would steer far from the temple as midnight approached.

I arrived sometime on the afternoon of the 31st, located a cheap hotel near the temple, and then sauntered off to Wat Tagrai. As you can see in the background of the pic above, it was more of an archeological project than a well-preserved relic of old Ayutthaya, once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There were three large statues in front of the temple. The one you see is "Pra ReuSee", the archetypal forest hermit.

Around 10 pm, I situated myself on the pedestal of one of those three statues (I forget which one) and occupied myself with simple meditation. Feral dogs wandered around. With my eyes half-open, I swear one of those dogs stared at me, head a-tilt, doggy brain thrown for a loop by the new statue on the scene. The great forest monks of Thailand were known for their ability to sit sublimely even as tigers sniffed their robes, but that's not me. I considered making a move to scare the critter off, but imagined that this might set off a very undesirable howling spree. Eventually, the dog hopped off, uninterested.

When I tell the story to Thai friends, it's at this point I ask them, "do you know what happened next?"

Absolutely nothing. No ghosts.

Unfortunately, of all people on the globe, Thais are most likely to find any excuse for a party. They celebrate Chinese New Year's, Thai New Year's, and Western New Year's with full intensity. I could hear the sound of fireworks at some point, and it's likely that point was precisely midnight. Around 2 AM I dragged myself off the pedestal and walked back to the hotel.

No comments: