Tag Archives: life

Ghosts, spirits and demons of Thailand

(This was an old article I wrote for a magazine but I thought it was interesting, so here you go.) Although over 95% of the Thai population are Buddhists, there is also a strong belief in Animism or spirit worship. Ghosts and spirits (known as Pii) abound and are found everywhere from offices and homes to haunted trees and fruit groves. While some spirits are more general presences, there are a lot of specific ones, and some are so well known they have been filmed on numerous occasions.

The Legend of Nang Nak

The Legend of Nang Nak

Probably the most famous ghost is that of Mae Naak (also known as Nang Naak). It is a story of a young woman who falls in love with a man called Maak who lives in her village. Shortly after their marriage, he is conscripted and has to leave his now-pregnant wife. Sadly, she dies during childbirth before he can return. Her spirit, however, is too strong to rest and when her husband returns both Nang Naak and the ghost of her child pretend to be human. The deception was an understandably difficult one to maintain and Maak soon discovers the truth and flees in terror. She then proceeds to terrify the village in her pursuit of Maak, often killing those who get in her way. Maak eventually seeks refuge in the Mahabute temple. Even there, the monks cannot quell her spirit until a gifted young monk from a distant province manages to defeat her. Her spirit is imprisoned in a ceramic pot which is then cast into the river. This gory tale has been the subject of several books and films.

Like the ghost of Pii Phum Phuang, Mae Naak is now one of the numerous spirits that give out lottery numbers. Pii Phum Phuang was a popular country and western singer who died in 1992. A shrine has been dedicated to her in Supanburi where hopefuls can visit in order to get winning lottery numbers.

An exceptionally gory looking ghost that, like Nang Naak, has been thePii Krasue subject of movies, is called Pii Krasue. This is another female ghost that consists of a floating head with entrails dangling below. It is a particularly nasty entity that is fond of fresh meat and has even been credited with sucking out the unborn foetuses from pregnant women.

The town of Puthamonton is famous for a haunted bamboo grove that is actually located in the Buddha park. There are, therefore, a lot of monks praying and meditating in its grounds and there have been stories of novice monks getting possessed and requiring exorcism.

Even the new airport Suvarnabhumi was reputedly haunted by an old blue-faced man known as Poo Ming. Before its opening, the airport was plagued with tales of not just the old ghost but also the sounds of footsteps and traditional music – all without a readily explainable source. Poo Ming reputedly possessed a young luggage operator and had to be exorcised by a monk. The airport was finally cleared of ghosts and blessed by 99 monks after a nine week period of rites.

If you are bad you may end up as a ghost known as a Pii Praet. This usually happens to you if you are disrespectful to your parents or are involved in corruption of some kind (especially in relation to a temple). A Pii Praet ghost is taller than a palm tree with hands as large as the paddles of a rowing boat. It has such a tiny mouth that it is permanently hungry and it wanders, wailing, hoping for food. It can only receive sustenance when someone gives food to a monk and asks for it to be sent to the permanently ravenous ghost. The Pii Praet is in a kind of perjury, waiting to be reincarnated.

Naga fireballs

Naga Fireballs

In addition to the numerous ghosts wandering the land there are spirits and demons to be found everywhere. To describe them all would require a novel and in fact, some such works exist. Some are debated and some are just taken as a part of everyday life. For example, the Naga fireballs of Nong Khai – a phenomenon where a series of fireballs rise from the Mekhong river on the evening of the full moon in October, soundless and silent, and then disappear after seven or eight seconds. The fireballs have split the beliefs of those who believe that they were created by mythical serpents and those who trust a more mundane scientific explanation.

In more rural areas it is believed that a spirit known as the Pii Gong Goy can suck a man’s feet dry, and that Hopea trees and certain types of banana plants are haunted by beautiful female ghosts that often appear on a full moon.

There are, of course, ways to combat some of the ghosts and spirits that seem to pervade Thailand. ‘Yan’ is the drawing of religious and mystical symbols on houses, cars, and public transport. Some amulets are understood to have tremendous protective powers, as are certain tattoos. Most places are blessed by monks and offers of food and drink are to be seen everywhere outside places of business and also residences.

While some of the local beliefs and superstitions might be hard for a Westerner to swallow, it should always be remembered that the belief in ghosts and spirits is a pervasive one in Thailand. To a greater or lesser extent, nearly all Thais believe that there are ghosts out there, so beware and pay respect.

Pin It

Politicians: their shocking yet hilarious expenses

I suppose I should talk about the whole politicians’ expense scandal purely for its hilarity value.

It started, as far as I can tell, with Jacqui Smith’s husband buying porn at taxpayer’s expense. Speaking as a taxpayer (albeit a reluctant one), this was bloody funny. No one really begrudged him for it. Except for Jacqui Smith, obviously. Then it turned out that absolutely tons of politicians were using expense accounts to buy all sorts of crap.

I feel it only fair to point out that the percentage of politicians who fiddle these accounts are very likely to be an exact replica of the percentage of humanity that also fiddle theirs. You have to love journalists – legendary for their expenses – getting so morally outraged about the ‘evil’ political types with their snouts in the trough. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that can charge something to someone else in the corporate world who hasn’t done this.

I guess the difference is that this time it is with taxpayer money. Whatever. What I have been enjoying is what this money has been spent on.

Some amusement comes from the sheer penny-pinching claims (these are real): Lembit Opik spent £19.99 on ‘the mother of all wigs’ for a charity gig, other MPs have claimed for face cream, a stamp, and £4 for a toilet brush. One MP claimed 1p for a phone call. 1p.

A happy duck

A happy duck

Funnier ones are: the MP getting his moat cleaned and another who spent £600 having the hedges trimmed around his helipad. This shows a certain level of class I feel. The MP who got his £1,645 claim for a floating duck house (modelled on an 18th century building in Stockholm) rejected must have been gutted. These three were Tories and a damn sight more creative than the tedious labour lot with their roof repairs and house flipping.

My favourite has to be: (from Metro) ‘George Osborne charged the taxpayer £47 for two DVDs of his own speech on Value For Taxpayers’ Money.’

That’s just genius.

I mean despicable.

Pin It

I GOT MARRIED

First off, just in case anyone is reading this, apologies for the huge gap in blog entries. And reviews. And anything new at all being added to the site. I have been busy and I even got married.

Here are some excuses:

1) I am doing an open university literature degree and last week I had a three hour literature exam. I had to study a lot for it as everyone else was doing the same. Except they seemed to study for weeks and weeks more. I think it went ok though.

2) My other half’s family came to stay (for reasons I will explain) and stayed in our flat. Fortunately she has a spectularly nice family but it wasn’t exactly conducive to doing any writing. We spent a lot of time doing touristy things in London, which was actually quite cool.

3) We all went to Paris. Why not? It’s near.

4) You may have seen this coming given the title but I GOT MARRIED!!! This wasn’t quite as stressful as some people claim but it still required a certain amount of effort. Plus the subsequent hangover was a bitch.

5) I work freelance and have been toiling my ass off to pay for points 1-4.

So there. Cut me some slack. From now on it will be a literary onslaught of fascinating ramblings. I was originally going to write as if nothing had happened but I may have been accused of slacking off.

My plan is to write something every few days. Never again will a week go by uncommented upon. Stay tuned for more!

A nightshift draws to a close

It’s now 6am and I am at work at the end of a nightshift. There is something wrong with the way my life is going. Working in TV as a freelancer is a bizarre way to make a living. Over the past 12 hours I have watched a lot of kids’ programmes and the vast majority have been a bit odd.

Take Pokemon for example. I think they are in a parallel dimension as there are strange creatures everywhere and no one is freaking out. The premise is that people can catch these bizarre creatures in magic balls and they then make these animals fight each other until they are unconscious – like surreal dogfighting without all the blood and tattoed men.

Another example of unquestioned oddness is called ‘Crazytown’. This seems to exist in a strange town in the middle of nowhere that is populated by a few rubbery puppets, a sport-obsessed voyeur who lives in an airship, a man with a unique face who lives underground, and a young girl who has apparently turned up from nowhere and has no family or people concerned with her whereabouts. Maybe it’s supposed to be an unrealistic purgatory or something. Each week the underground man puts on a cunning disguise, like a moustache or elaborate hat, and he places the town in peril. The sports fellow then saves the day using tennis balls or a golf club or ping pong balls or something stupid. Then they all burst into synchronised dancing to Euro-techno. Who thinks this shit up and how do they manage to get paid doing it?

Later we have: ‘Handy Manny’ – a man who lives in a semi-Mexican town who has tools that talk and move and do all the work while he gets all the credit. ‘My friends Tigger and Pooh’ – the Pooh bear tales essentially but with 3d graphics and a girl instead of Christopher Robin (who may or may not have been eaten by Tigger, it remains unclear).

For even younger kids there is of course, ‘Teletubbies’. Unless you have kids, you will likely know of its existence but won’t have seen it. I suggest you watch it just once. On drugs. They live in a hill with rabbits and a disembodied baby’s head in the sun. It’s not right. ‘In the night garden’ is similarly mind-altering but I have never actually watched it. As far as I can tell there are weird woodland creatures, a tiny kingdom for some reason, and the occasional UFO.

Now imagine all the above for 12 hours throughout the night will you are suffering from sleep deprivation and that is the nightshift. Of course, people who are parents have seen all these shows a thousand times and are immune to it. Maybe I’m just not sleep-deprived enough.

To cap it all off, the guy in the next room is watching a soft porn channel. ‘Emmanuele in space’ is the current offering. It’s as good as it sounds.

I can’t wait to get home and watch something normal, which makes sense, and has a coherent plot. I think I’ll watch ‘Lost’.

Swine Flu is coming and we are doomed!

In my last entry I claimed that I was bored with everything being related to the credit crunch and the economy. I hoped something more interesting would happen. I then caught a cold and while flopping pathetically on the couch and lamenting my illness, my girlfriend (reading the paper) said that maybe I had swine flu. I had vaguely heard something about this upcoming epidemic but only in a mentioned-somewhere-by-someone kind of way.

Now, apparently we are all doomed. In Watchmen they have a clock that counts to doomsday and now, frighteningly similarly, WHO has raised its threat level from four to five. This is out of six! That’s the same as one minute to midnight on the doomsday clock. The papers are making out like swine flu is The Plague II. It’s hardly been 28 days later so far. According to the papers there have only been 2 deaths outside of Mexico and while any death is sad and a tragedy for those involved, more people die each month in humorous bathroom related accidents.

Obviously, I hope more don’t die and the flu doesn’t sweep across the globe like veangeful deity that’s had enough, but I am starting to suspect that this may have been slightly hyped by the press. Hard though that may be to believe. I’m not alone in this. People can’t help remembering how SARS and the bird flu was going to decimate us a few years ago. Then there was the whole foot and mouth thing, which sucked if you were livestock but didn’t actually affect as many people as warranted by the panic instigated by the press. The only way I was affected was that, bizarrely, I was forbidden to bring Dutch cheese from Holland into Britain. Never quite worked out why.

Speaking of the Dutch, (brilliant segway there,) I read that the Dutch police have ordered a load of flying cars. They are rotor-based apparently but it is still pretty cool. Obviously hover cars would be better and jet-packs the ideal but I mustn’t grumble. It will help them catch people doing suspicious things in coffee shops. Like evil people who put tobacco in their spliffs. This is mental but true – you can still sit in an Amsterdam cafe and smoke a joint but you aren’t allowed to put tobacco in it. Imagine relaxing there happily stoned out of your mind, when a police car drops from the sky and a couple of coppers rush over and check that you are smoking pure weed. What if you were rebellious and had secretly put in a tiny bit of tobacco to help it burn better? It would freak you out. Still, at least you could smoke a ton more weed, drink a shitload of beer and then go and sleep with a hooker until you calmed down. As long as you don’t have any evil nicotine. It would keep your mind off the swine flu as well.

Stupid Credit Crunch is making me read pointless things

According to every publication in Britain published in the last few months, we are in a credit crunch. Every single one. It’s starting to get annoying. I think most of us are aware of this by now. It feels like everything that has has ever been published is being re-released with a credit crunch angle. Journalists are salivating with the prospect of rewriting travel articles, handy tips, and where to shop, all with this exciting new slant that the world is broke.  It now seems to be all about beating the credit crunch with 3 for 2 deals on microwave currys in the supermarket or going on holiday to Croatia. Even my local pub has a Tuesday night ‘beat the credit crunch with our £10-for-a-bottle-of-wine deal’. It always had this deal. Is this really the way to fix the economy?

Thankfully our leaders are calming us with speeches saying: “We will do what needs to be done. For, er, as long as it needs to be done.” Thank god for that. They really seem to be on top of it. Not being vague at all. One solution has been to print more money and whack that back into the economy. Like Zimbabwe. It’s all very depressing and repetitve and tedious.

The result has been that I have tried to avoid the popular press for a couple of days and I’ve been scouring all the piles of magazines that have littered my flat. I have discovered a few things of minor interest that I would not have otherwise known. For example, Hitler really did only have one ball. Apparently the evil moustachioed dictator received abdominal wounds in the battle of the Somme and had to have testicle cut off. The doctor who did it confessed it to a priest in the 60s as he felt guilty about saving Hitler’s life. The fact was finally revealed years after the doctor’s death.

Plus:

According to Fortean Times (FT246 March 2009):

“Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, killed in Mumbai by Islamic militants who stormed the prayer centre he ran, was reading a book called How to Protect Yourself If Terrorists Come To Your House. After the seige, it was found beside his bed.  Gold Coast (Queensland) Bulletin, 10 Dec 2008.” Surely this can’t be true? I wouldn’t want to question Australian publication’s veracity but the title sounds suspiciously specific.

I have also been reading a lot about Shakespeare and how we know bugger all about him. Just the odd fact like he was born and died on the same day (years apart obviously)  on the 23rd of April – St George’s Day. No wonder he was so patriotic.

Mostly though, I have been playing Fallout 3 on the Playstation 3. You wander around a post-apocalyptic world shooting mutants and eating rabid dogs and giant irradiated cockroaches. I find it surprisingly soothing. Nothing like a bit of perspective. Even if it is fictional.

A word about JG Ballard

JG Ballard

JG Ballard

I would feel remiss if I let the death of one of my favourite authors pass by without comment. JG Ballard died of cancer aged 78 on the 19th of April 2009. It is sad to think he will never release another book.

He was usually labelled a Sci Fi writer but he frequently strayed from this label to write unique, often dystopian, scenarios that sort of/kind of/might just happen. Tired of trying to label his writing techniques and topics, he is actually in the dictionary (some of them) as ‘Ballardian’ so you can just use that. Ballard described his work as ‘speculative fiction’.

I might write full reviews later but just in case you haven’t read any of his work, I will provide a brief synopsis of some of my favourites:

Concrete Island

Concrete Island

Concrete Island (1974) tells the story of Richard Maitland in a twisted modern version of Robinson Crusoe. The protagonist crashes his car into an island formed by the junction of three major motorways and gets stranded. Due to his leg being knackered he can’t cross the road and his attempts at flagging down speeding cars proves futile. So he’s stuck. He then struggles to survive and even discovers that he is not alone. As always, a great novel with a brilliant idea, but I found Maitland a hard guy to like all that much. Not that it really matters.
Buy Concrete Island here

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (1984) is probably his most famous book. This is mostly due to the fact that it was filmed by Spielberg. It is almost autobiographical in that it tells the story of a boy called Jim Graham (JG stands for James Graham) who grows up in Singapore and is interned in a camp by the Japanese when they take over in World War II. This all happened to Ballard except that in real life he was with his parents. He undoubtably used a certain amount of artistic licence but his experiences were genuine. The book is debatably his finest, and most award-worthy. I say ‘debatably’ as lots would disagree. The characters are well defined and believable with a strong narrative. Which isn’t always the case with Ballard. Highly recommended. Don’t just see the film. Buy Empire of the Sun here

High Rise

High Rise

High Rise (1975) is possibly my favourite idea of all his work. It tells the story of a luxury self-contained high rise apartment block that comes complete with its own swimming pools and supermarkets. There is no real need to leave if the residents don’t want to. This book returns to his favourite dystopian theme and the ideas of how modern life and psyche can be affected by the artificial surroundings we have created for ourselves. The apartment block has rich penthouse owners at the top, middle-class luxury apartments in the middle, and cheaper smaller flats for the working class at the bottom. A class war effectively breaks out as the block looks inwards and the residents return to a primal state. There are raids on different floors and battles for control of the pool. A very effective, if slightly extreme, study of humanity and what we can be capable of. Buy High-rise here It is now also a great movie!

Millenium People

Millenium People

Millenium People (2003). I read this a few months ago and enjoyed it immensely. It tells the tale of a middle-class revolution in the UK. Barrsiters, art gallery owners, and media types get fed up with their lot in society and say bollocks to it all. It centres around the revolution ring-leaders in a gated community in Chelsea. While the book is witty and very readable it becomes hard to identify with many of the well defined characters. Not one of his best, Millenium People is fun – especially if you happen to be middle-class, live in London and frequent some of the novel’s locales such as Tate Modern, the NFT, and the South Bank generally. I would recommend this only once you have enjoyed some of his other works. Buy Millenium People here

The Drowned World

The Drowned World

The Drowned World (1962) is Ballard’s second book and a difficult one to summarize. It is set in a world were the ice caps have melted, the temperatures are rising and London is transformed into a strange, overgrown, lush tropical dreamworld. While most people have migrated north, a few feel drawn to the primeval landscape. These characters also start to regress to a more primitive state. Like High Rise and Concrete Island and others – it is a typical Ballardian exploration of a dystopian society and the way our surroundings affect our mental states. It has hardly any narrative or story but is more a a dreamlike summation of the mood of the fetid swamplike landscape and its affects on the characters. A great novel but not for everyone. Buy The Drowned World here

I intend to read all of Ballard’s books over the coming months but the above should at least give you a taste of his work and why he is so hard to categorise. I would highly recommend his short story collection Vermillion Sands as well but I haven’t read it in ages so can’t summarise it here.

If you haven’t read any Ballard at all you are in for a treat and should try some. If you have – then I’ll just shut up. He was a great writer and one of the wittiest men to see doing a reading or an interview. Along with two of my other favourite authors dying in the last couple of years – Kurt Vonnegut and George MacDonald Fraser –  Ballard’s death is a loss to us all.

Pin It

Welcome to the Word of Ward

I was at something of a loss how to launch this site. What should be my first review? Should I write a couple of fascinating insights into life or make humorous yet powerful comments on the hot topics of the day? Something that will have people laughing out loud? There will obviously be a lot of that but as an opener? It seemed like a lot of pressure. I crack under pressure. As this site will be a mixture of blog, commentary, and review, I wanted to attack it from the right angle. I wanted something catchy that will attract a growing readership that will sign in and eagerly read my literary outpourings every few days. Eventually I just thought I’d talk about myself for a bit. At least then you’d have an idea where I’m coming from. By the time this site attracts any real interest at all, this entry will be archived and forgotten anyway. So here goes…

I was born in Hong Kong in 1972. After growing up there (and eight years at a boarding school just outside London), I got my first job as a reporter for a Hong Kong yachting magazine. I was uncertain if this was exactly the sort of journalism I was after until I reported on my first yacht launch which happened to include free champagne and a model in a bikini draped over a Ferrari. To this day I fail to see a connection with yachts but it was a good one and I went with it. Unfortunately I got drunk and lost all my notes and had to make the entire article up on vaguely remembered facts. Apart from the launches, the job seemed to involve way too much work for an immature fledgling alcoholic 18-year-old writer, so I quit.

There then followed a glittering career where I worked as: a barman, a doorman, a furniture deliverer, crew liaison for container ships, and leaflet deliverer. I eventually got a job at Star TV in transmission and realised that I enjoyed watching TV for a living. After two years my career started to take off so I quit, left Hong Kong, and went to Australia went I spent a year surfing, drinking, and picking fruit.

Even I failed to see a future in this, so I reluctantly moved to London and got a job in a film production house as a VT Operator and junior editor. The job required a little too much effort for me at the time and after two years I got a job back in transmission at MTV. There then followed 10 of the most debauched years of my already pretty debauched life. Fun though it was I realised I needed to get out.

Throughout the whole London period, I continued to travel. I got a week off a month and went to Europe to imbibe the culture, so to speak. The fact that I mainly went to the party hotspots of Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague, was a happy coincidence. I also took a 6 week holiday every year to places like Morocco, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The call of Asia was a strong one. I also continued to work as a freelance journalist, writing the occasional travel article and review. I finally landed a dream job as a computer game reviewer for a London magazine. The magazine promptly went under.

In a somewhat rash move I decided to move to Thailand. It was warmer and had better food after all. I worked full time as a journalist for two glorious years. I wrote travel reviews, area guides, film and book reviews and, best of all, bar and restaurant reviews. I worked as a news editor and wrote a book.I split my time between Bangkok and Hong Kong. I met my future wife. I slept in and drank a lot of Tiger beer. All in all – a damn good time. Unfortunately, in Thailand, it turned out I couldn’t get a work permit without a degree. It also seemed unlikely that I’d even qualify for my old job of furniture deliverer in Hong Kong without one. I realised this lack was really counting against me if I planned to stay in the Orient. Rueing my lack of education and fighting a desire to just buy a fake one in Bangkok, I came back to London where you barely even need to read to make money.

I got a degree in English Language and Literature, and moved back to Bangkok where I returned to writing full time. Only now, with a shiny new work permit. It seemed a shame to continue writing for magazines mostly based in Asia, so I have decided to broadcast my shallow opinions to the world. Why write articles in print that are enjoyed by just a few when I can be largely ignored by almost the entire world?

So here we are. My site. I shall review all that I read, write, play, see, and experience in the vague hope that someone will find it mildly interesting or amusing.

Welcome to the Word of Ward.