Thursday, February 12, 2015
In Thailand, the Ghost Business Thrives
The New York Times has a recent article by Thomas Fuller on the industry that's grown up around ghosts, or phi. The central figure of the article is Kapol Thongplub, who hosts a radio show called "The Shock" that's dedicated to discussions of the supernatural.
There's definitely a significant amount of crossover between the types of spirits they discuss in Thailand and those of Laos. I discussed a number of them in DEMONSTRA but there are always new types being recognized and/or rediscovered each year by various scholars and community members. So I would certainly classify it as an ongoing interest. Unfortunately, formal research in Laos is often discouraged for a number of reasons, such as a fear of stoking a belief in superstitions, etc.
Horror director Mattie Do and I often get into discussions about whether or not its possible to trace any ghosts exclusively to Laos or Thailand, or any other parts of Southeast Asia. I find there are a few that seem to be known mostly in Laos, but there's so much cross-pollination between the 160 different ethnic groups, tourists, and others in the region that it's difficult to get a fully-fleshed out inventory of spectral entities out there.
To me, the tendency to shapeshift also presents a consistent problem in phi research, as does "improper" folk nomenclature, where locals describing it just call it something like a Phi Kongkoi when it's really more likely to be a Phi Pob, for example.
Fuller's article highlights some very interesting incidents that can make you hair stand up on end, but also discusses some of the more well-known spirits such as the Phi Lung Kluang (A ghost with a hole in its back through which you can see the skeleton), vengeful Preta (although my notes suggest in Laos the Preta or Phi Phaed are just hungry and more to be pitied than feared), and some form of man-stealing widow ghosts. I'll have to see if we have a formal term for those in Laos.
Interestingly, Io9 just ran an article about the haunted mall, Mansion 7, where it is "...supposedly haunted by the owner's daughter and all the black-magic beasties he unleashed trying to raise her from the dead..." and naturally you're invited to the raves they hold there.