Readers' Submissions

Devout People?

  • Written by Papa John
  • October 29th, 2003
  • 4 min read



Ever since my first visit to Thailand I have been impressed by how worshipful Thai people are. I observed the ritual of giving the “wai” every time a Thai passes a small shrine on a street corner, or next to a building, or in the entrance to places such as Nana Plaza.

They also show a real respect for their monarchy, even to the extent of “wai-ing” to the television screen if HM The King appears on it.

This comes across as very pleasant to watch for a cynical farang like myself. In my country, the UK, the respect for religions seems to be on the wane, and although I am an atheist myself, it does seem rather sad. At least religions give guidance on how to live one's life, and I suppose if they die out any moral guidance will slowly disappear.

So although I do not believe in a supreme being, I am happy to see devout people, and religions being respected, except for the out and out fanatics who seem to use death as a weapon.

My view of the Thais as devout and respectful continued for a while until I got to know a Thai lady extremely well. OK I first met her on the stage in Nana Plaza but I did think a lot of her, and every time I came to Thailand we spent lots of time together.

So when I turned up in BKK a few years ago I was surprised that she could not spend the nights with me. She had to go back to her flat because her mother was staying with her.

The story was that a lady living in the same apartment block had committed suicide by hanging herself in her room.

Now this caused panic among the ladies living in the building, and maybe the men too, but I don’t know about them. They were all scared to stay in their rooms on their own, including my lady friend. So she had arranged for her mother to stay there for a certain period. Apparently there is a set period where the ghost or “phi” as I think they call it is on the wander, and during that time they all want company in case they are “visited”.

I asked her why she thought the dead lady would want to harm her, and she told me she wasn’t frightened of that, but the fact that the said lady might come to her, and tell her of her woes. She was truly scared of this happening, and gave a slight shudder as she told me.

This led me to ask more questions about “phi”s etc., and it came as a surprise to me that it is not a worshipful act when they “wai” to the shrines, it is more a sign of homage. They believe that if respect is not shown, the “phi” will make sure bad things will happen to the person not making the appropriate sign.

So I was a little disappointed. What I took as being a devout act was in fact the act of someone who is shit scared of the consequences.

This was reinforced on me when I visited my lady friends home at Koh Pet (Diamond Hill) near Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) – Thais even have nicknames for their towns.

I hired a mini bus and took the “family” for a day out. They chose the venues of course because I had no idea where to go, and one of the venues was a kind of entertainment park, with various kinds of shows and rides.

To my amazement nearly all the “attractions” were something to do with horror, and horrific happenings to human beings. Mostly they were in little darkened rooms where there were tableaux of people behind bars in a kind of prison being tortured and emitting horrific screams, timed every two or three minutes. There were children being brought to see this stuff, and some of them made even me shiver.

So my perspective about worshipful Thais was gradually altered. I now think they are really very scared people, who would shit themselves with fright if they didn’t make the right sign at the right time. They seem to be brought up to be scared, as evidenced by the “entertainment” park. Some photos of the park are attached and they are supposed to depict things that will happen to you in the “afterlife” if you get up to things which are considered bad. i.e. drinking, adultery etc. Note the punishments. Spears up the arse, axe in the stomach, torture on a rack etc.

Wonderful entertainment for children?

In actual fact the main reason for this submission was to submit these photos, but I think my point is a valid one. Please let me know if you agree or disagree, or better still submit your own perspective on this subject.

Stickman says:

Thais do look at such morbid things in a quite different way to us. Just have a look at some of the local magazines and newspapers which often feature pictures of (just) dead bodies…