Having been told that there still exists in Thailand men who make love potions for a living, we put the word out that we were looking for one of these magical blokes. Our mor sanae (literally ‘charm doctor’) was not easy to find, after weeks of asking all and sundry if they knew of a love doctor, our search finally took us to a soi, off a soi, down a road, through a collection of gardens and into someone’s darkened living room that was not surprisingly adorned with an array of reverential pictures and religious objects. The mor sanae then revealed himself, a stout, grumpy looking fellow whose arms had seen many a tattoo needle. He explicitly informed us: no names, no pictures of the face. He didn’t waste any time in expatiating, a la Twilight Zone, the instructions to making a well known love potion – albeit in yong, a language, unfortunately, none of us could speak. Between us we shared fluency in Thaiglish, northern Thai, middle Thai, but yong, a language marched into Thailand by itinerants who’d travelled from China through to Burma and finally on to places like Lamphun stumped us all. In the end we corralled our resources, phoned a friend, and between us, we made sense . . . grammatically speaking. This is how the interview went:
Mor Sanae (tone: solemn, portentous):
“If you want to make a love potion, [Ed: aka naman prai. This will make any man or woman love you for life] you have to stay in the cemetery seven days. You dig out a corpse of a woman who died during childbirth. Then you open her stomach, extract the fetus, take the fetus to a cradle and take the woman’s corpse to a bamboo enclosure demarcated by holy thread, and repeat incantations to the corpse. If at any point anyone enters the enclosure they will die.”
Me (inquisitive, amused):
“Why will they die?”
Mor Sanae (seems kind of annoyed):
“Because that’s what the spirits will do.”
“After the seven days is up the doctor takes a candle to the woman’s chin and burns her chin trying to extract oil. If no oil fills the cup in five minutes then the doctor must give 3,999 baht as an offering to the spirits, if no oil is extracted again then you must pay 6,000, and if still no oil you must pay 9,000. If you still don’t succeed the eyes of the woman will open and the doctor will die.”
Me (respectfully, trying not smile):
“So you’ve done this before?”
Mor Sanae (again very solemn):
“Many times, but a long time ago.”
I considered asking him about inflation in the spirit world, 3,999 was a ton of cash a long time ago. I also considered asking how the spirits had decided on the well known psychological pricing strategy of using the .999 in the cost to fool the consumer . . . but I thought better of it.
“So are you still gainfully employed?”
“Yes. If you give me a photo of you and the one you love, plus an item of his/her clothing, their DOB and their full name I can cast a spell. It’s 3,000 baht for outpatient visits and 1,000 for me to do it here.
“Hmm, that’s good.”
“But I won’t do it for those who are already married.”
“Nice. You’re an ethical man. So how does the magic work. What’s your modus operandi?”
“I can’t tell you that, I have a lot of methods.”
And so, with the Thai staff looking demi-concerned, half afraid to disbelieve the mor sanae, and with me sharpening my western cynical empiricism, we left the gloomy room. But not before we were coaxed into having a whip round for the doctor’s time. It wasn’t a cheap whip round either.