Editorial : April 2006
My aunt once told me that while fifty percent of her believed in spirits and the other fifty percent didn’t, she was certainly one hundred percent scared. This is from a woman who was one of the first female generals in Thailand, her main job being to supply highly classified intelligence reports on foreign policy to the government. While her comments amuse me, they are also telling: that living in Thailand, whether one believes or not, one can’t get away from the supernatural.
My old school friends dragged me to see my first fortune teller last month. I have always resisted this most popular of national hobbies and was therefore seriously unhappy to be told that I would probably contract a very deadly illness this year, that my mother may also suffer a similar fate, that my marriage was on the rocks, that my company was never going to get any bigger, that I should leave my current position to become a university lecturer and that I should spend some personal time to combat the cowardice deep within me. While rationally I don’t believe a word of it, I am, like my aunt, nervous.
But personal anecdotes aside, superstition is so deeply rooted in this country that it often causes ripples not just personally, but throughout the entire nation. Last year, a much respected soothsayer predicted that on the 18lh of November the South of Thailand would be completely swept away by a giant earthquake and tidal wave. People actually left their jobs and moved up north for a couple of days; newspapers actually carried this ‘news’ on the FRONT page and hospitals in Bangkok actually implemented contingency plans for this imminent disaster. Really. Like all those premillennium doomsday cults, I would like to hear what these great visionaries had to say after they were proved wrong.
It never ceases to amaze me how far we Thais take this. A family friend, whose companies employ tens upon tens of thousands, doesn’t make one single business decision without getting the OK from his mor du (fortune teller) and we all know how much ThaksinShinawatra (excuse the lack of introductory title, as by the time you read this he could once again be Prime Minister, continue to be Caretaker Prime Minister, or, insha’allah, back to plain Mister) relies on the stars and the occult.
There is nothing wrong with faith. While I personally struggle to grasp how one makes that leap in the dark, I know that the world is populated by billions of intelligent and good people who have leapt. However, it is very dangerous and irresponsible, I feel, when people — George Bush with his personal conversations with God, Osama with his various missions on behalf of Allah, Thaksin allegedly putting hexes on members of the Democrat party, and certainly most public about his constant roller-coaster of a relationship with the stars – bring The Other into political play.
This country is in enough turmoil without adding something so wholly intangible into the mix. And while I am swollen with pride at how we have so far peacefully handled this political upheaval, I hope that we will continue to do so and use rationality and sensibility to move this country forward rather than rely on our ingrained and socially infused superstition.
Having said all that, I am going to cut this editorial short now and go for my medical checkup at the hospital.
The reason I have been pontificating about the supernatural this month is because of an incident at work which led me to write my feature story this month on superstition in the workplace, and which has led me to take notice of the number of headlines this issue gets in the national press. Other articles this month, however, are much more firmly rooted in fact, with Oliver Benjamin’s report on Thailand’s more scientific (and mostly downright bizarre) achievements in the Guinness Book of World Records, Laura Turnowski’s chilling story of her visit to Cambodia’s TuolSleng Museum and Sabrina Gyorvary’s look into a group of strong women in Lamphun who are pioneering the Forrest Community Support Group.
Then there is the hard-to-miss cover story by Po Garden on his apparent never-ending quest to chat up Chiang Mai’s sexy nurses, which brings a bit of harmless smut to our pages. Lastly, a big thank you to photographer Brent Madison, for his saucy cover photograph.
Happy New Year and happy splashing this songkran!