The Haunting of Room 633
Rituals and ceremonies intersect everyone’s life at one point or another. To many it is a youthful endeavor soon replaced with reason while others find themselves seduced into the belief that by practicing these arcane ceremonies their fate will somehow be better in this life or the afterlife. Americans come from a land where heads of state have gone on record that our country’s wealth comes from divine providence and our bloodthirsty rampages through poor and underdeveloped countries fulfilled God’s will and therefore as a member of this great nation I will throughout the expanse of my life be unable to take a moral high ground on anyone’s perceived insanities as it pertains to religion although I do believe it gives me good experience to criticize when necessary.
Shortly after reaching the shores of Thailand for the first time I bore witness to the myriad of Eastern rituals routinely practiced by everyone from the lowly pole swinger to the highest of land developers. Having accepted the reality that my fate in life was my own with no expectations to escape the vast darkness of death I immediately scoffed at the idea that spilling various alcoholic beverages in front of a door would ward spirits or that placing flowers around the arm of a plastic statue representing a demi-god would invoke him to sit on my shoulder and act as a good luck magnet. I had to hold my tongue and realize just as millions of my countrymen worship a book rife with impossibilities explained away by “faith” and our “mortal lack of understanding” so too do the residents of Asian nations hold true to many tenets of reality whether ultimately proven true or false.
It is good practice to keep opinions on religion private in mixed company as many have very strong ill-informed opinions on the subject and can become quite fierce when faced with rational arguments or even differing opinions. Even today one would find themselves on the chopping block literally for voicing a dissenting opinion about popular religion within the borders of some nations. I have a nasty habit of playing devil’s advocate, but have learned over the years it is best to keep religion off the table unless dealing with someone I know can handle the stress of such a conversation.
The conversation began innocently enough, “Why did you wai that statue?” I asked her.
“For make lucky,” she said.
“So do you think it is lucky for me to wai too?” I inquired.
“Yes, Thai people like foreigner wai very much!” She replied.
“Well what if I don’t want to wai, is that bad luck?” I continued.
“Yes it no good!” She affirmed.
I sat in thought for a moment and responded, “I don’t want to wai because I want bad luck, I have enough good luck already.”
She became wide eyed and replied with the infamous, “Up to you!”
In a rare showing of inquisitiveness later she asked me why I would ever wish for bad luck. I explained that I had a good job, plenty of savings, a nice apartment, the ability to travel to any country I want, etc. while she lived in the slums, made a pittance each month for tiresome work, and had many other serious problems in her life so maybe my share of luck was just a little too high. I went on to say it makes no sense though since I have never once done any of her good luck rituals yet her luck stinks and my luck is grand by her standards (money). She went on to explain the luck only counts in Thailand and since I am in Thailand now my luck is running out if I don’t start doing these rituals…convenient.
Time went by and my understanding of Thais and Thailand deepened and became more varied particularly in the realm of luck. I had continued to chip away at her beliefs of luck and had seemingly been unsuccessful. She had verbally agreed that everything I said was in fact correct, but had continued every ritual without fail.
So I hatched a plan. I decided to invent a ritual which completely went against a strong Thai belief, stress its importance, and see if she would mimic me. I set my act in motion with a long run up, a ghostly run up.
I started acting a little bit jumpy in dark areas, and on several occasions would say something when I opened a door like, “Who is it?” or “Please go away!” Then never acknowledge the phrase to her later. I would purposefully talk in my sleep when she came over and say monstrous things which she would later question me about, but I would of course deny. I began asking her information about Thai ghosts and made her give me vivid details as if trying to classify what was afflicting me without giving too much information. Finally I set in for the big day. I told her, “It is very important you spend the night on March 4.” I refused to explain why, and simply told her it was very important to me. That night I explained to her that on March 4 the spirit world intersects with the physical world at its closest point. During this time spirits try to escape and regain their lives on Earth. They will possess you and then you will die because they cannot maintain their hold on you. You can imagine the fear that set in and she quickly denounced the story as a falsehood. She told me she had never heard of such a thing and furthermore she had survived every other March 4 without partaking in such silly rituals. This was the perfect response as it clearly mimicked my initial response to her luck rituals, but I knew she did not believe it and was simply scared by the notion of ghosts and trying to get me to let her know I was only joking.
I looked at her sombrely and said in an even tone, “Now I will begin the ritual to keep myself safe from the spirits.” With that I walked over to the door and sat cross-legged in front of it. I sat with my eyes closed and pretended to mutter a prayer. After about two minutes I reached for a pair of shoes and smacked myself on top of the head five times. Then I did the same with another pair and another and another. At first she laughed at the site of me smacking my head with shoes, but she quickly fell silent as I finished and laid the shoes neatly in front of the door.
I kept my eyes low so I wouldn’t be tempted to chuckle, but could see from the corner of my eye that she was in mental turmoil. It was the abhorrence of shoes on head versus the fear of death by ghost. Well before I could even place my mental wager she was out of the bed and on the ground cross-legged next to me. I then told her she should say, “I am not a woman. I am a shoe,” and try her best to believe it 20 times in case any ghosts are listening. Then she should take every pair of shoes that she owns in the room and hit herself on the head hard five times as this will make her smell like a shoe and the shoe smell like her to a ghost. Finally she should place the shoes in front of the door. When the ghosts come through the door they will smell the shoes and think they are her since ghosts hate shoes they will be disgusted when they get too close and go back to the spirit world. If when she wakes up tomorrow the shoes are out of place we have to put them in a bag quickly and throw them in the river before sunset the next day and when the ghosts try to come back tomorrow to have their revenge they will wind up going into the river instead of into my room (knowing she might have to trash her 2,000 baht shoes I just bought her the other day made her wince noticeably). Of course she hadn’t taken her nightly shower yet and I forgot to mention that after the ritual there could be no showers because we wouldn’t want to wash the shoe smell from her head.
She dutifully performed the ritual with the fervor of someone who had done it for years and quickly raced to the bed jumping under the covers of the bed like a scared little girl seemingly unaffected by my proclamation that there would be no showers tonight. I waited a good fifteen minutes maintaining my best scared posture. I told her if I seemed possessed tonight she had to run to the shoes and begin throwing them at me to chase the ghosts away and I would do the same for her. She looked at me with earnest and nodded with the resolve of a seasoned ghost hunter. She was committed now; I had her hook, line and sinker. I let the terror simmer for a while longer and finally I told her she had to listen to me very carefully, “Rituals mean nothing, there are no ghosts, I made the whole thing up to show you how silly believing in ghosts and rituals can be now go take a shower you smell like a shoe!”
I have no idea why she stays with me.
You're evil…but that is funny!