By THOMAS FULLERDEC. 28, 2010
BANGKOK — Don’t be fooled by the skyscrapers, the roads clogged with the latest luxury cars or the high-tech gadgetry in pockets and purses. This country of 65 million people has embraced modernity, yes, but many Thais will tell you that ghosts and spirits still wander the streets and inhabit buildings. Important business decisions often require consultations with a fortune teller. Cabinet ministers and military officers are sometimes so concerned with numerology and advice from their shamans that politics in Thailand could be called the black art of the possible.
“We still have our ghosts, we still have black magic,” said Todsaporn Jamsuwan, the co-founder of Holy Plus, a company that makes “spirit houses,” the ubiquitous miniature structures that resemble dollhouses and serve as dwellings for protective ghosts.
Far from abandoning traditional beliefs in the paranormal, Thailand is harnessing the forces of technology and modernity to reinforce them.
Mr. Todsaporn’s company has tweaked the idea of the spirit house, replacing wood with modern construction materials like ceramics, glass and granite panels. With electric wiring and indoor lighting, the Holy Plus spirit houses resemble the glass-and-steel office buildings and condominiums they are meant to protect.
Those who might have predicted a few decades ago that the rise of science and technology would eventually blot out Thailand’s longstanding preoccupation with the supernatural can walk into one of the country’s thousands of 7-Eleven convenience stores. Amulets meant to protect and bring good luck sell next to breath mints. Horoscope books are mixed in with instant noodles and junk food.
“Spirit houses,” said to be where Thailand’s protective ghosts dwell, are now made of artificial materials rather than wood. Credit Agnes Dherbeys for the International Herald Tribune
There are YouTube channels devoted to fortune telling, home-shopping television shows hawking amulets and computer programs like “Feng Shui Master,” which is advertised as helping divine the future of gold prices.
Luck Rakanithes, a fortune teller who started out two decades ago dispensing horoscopes the old-fashioned way (face-to-face in a corner of an obscure Bangkok hotel) now runs a call center with a room full of fortune tellers sitting in cubicles and wearing headsets as if they were selling credit cards or offering tech support. They dish out celestial advice for 15 baht, or 50 cents, a minute.
“There are only two things that people are really, really interested in: sex and fortune telling,” said Mr. Luck, whose name, he says, only coincidentally corresponds to the English word for good fortune.
At the headquarters of his multimillion-dollar fortune-telling empire, Mr. Luck shows a visitor his computer servers and sound studio, where he records weekly horoscopes and advice on lottery numbers for the 60,000 or so callers who pay for the service each month.
Advice and inspiration for choosing lottery numbers in Thailand ranks very high among favorite conversation topics. One regular story on the evening news features villagers coming across potential lottery numbers like apparitions. Recent examples: a five-legged cow and stillborn Siamese piglets, attached at the chest, with eight legs, three ears and one head. Potential winning number: 5-8-3-1.
Mr. Luck is the son of rice farmers but has been so successful in his fortune-telling business that he is literally surrounded by bullion. During an interview in his office he held a large alloyed bar of gold, silver and copper in his lap and stroked it like an emperor might pet a lapdog.
Luck Rakanithes, once a private dispenser of horoscopes, now runs a call center empire in Bangkok with a room full of fortunetellers who offer horoscopes and lottery advice to about 60,000 callers a month for 50 cents a minute. Credit Agnes Dherbeys for the International Herald Tribune
Each year, Thais collectively spend about 1.9 billion baht, or about $63 million, on visits to traditional fortune tellers, according to the Kasikorn Research Center in Bangkok. On average, they consulted fortune tellers three times in 2008, the latest year for which data were available, according to Kasikorn. That is an increase from twice a year earlier in the decade.
“People still queue up for famous fortune tellers. They trust that it will be more human,” said Pichit Virankabutra, the curator of an exhibition on ghosts that since August has attracted 120,000 visitors at the Thailand Creative and Design Center in Bangkok.
Online fortune telling is cheap and easy, Mr. Pichit said, but “if you can connect with someone in person, it’s better than a cold computer keyboard.”
Some Thais prefer traditional spirit houses, too. When Mr. Todsaporn first introduced the modern versions, “we had to answer a lot of questions from our customers and their Brahmin priests,” he said.
The construction of the new spirit houses — ceramic tile instead of wood — was seen as not hospitable for the spirits.
“Some people said, celestial beings will not stay here because it’s not in the style of a temple — they won’t live here,” Mr. Todsaporn said. “I answered, ‘Have you ever talked to a spirit? How would you know?”’
“Spirits: Creativities From Beyond,” an exhibit in Bangkok, offers a glimpse of Thailand’s embrace of ghosts and spirits. Credit Agnes Dherbeys for the International Herald Tribune
West and East, many people enjoy a good ghost story or a peek at their horoscope now and again. What sets apart Thailand and other countries in Asia is the prevalence of fortune telling and other supernatural-related activities at the highest levels of government (Nancy Reagan’s astrologer notwithstanding).
Newspapers in Thailand frequently carry rumors and stories about politicians holding secret ceremonies to remove bad luck.
In a book published two years ago, a renowned Thai fortune teller recounted his consultation with one of the country’s powerful generals, Sonthi Boonyaratglin.
They met in January 2006, a time of political impasse, and Warin Buawiratlert, the fortune teller, told the general, “There must be a coup.”
“Who is going to do it?” the general asked.
The fortune teller, who told the general he was the reincarnation of an 18th-century warrior, replied: “You.”
Nine months later, on what some considered the auspicious day of Sept. 19, Mr. Sonthi fulfilled his fortune — and overthrew the government.
credit to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/world/asia/29iht-ghost29.html?_r=0
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