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Spooked out in Kathu: A true Phuket ghost story

PHUKET: This past week, Phuket’s predominant Chinese residents celebrated Por Tor – the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, which like Halloween in the West, is based on the ancient animistic belief that spirits of the deceased can return to the physical world they once inhabited, even if only temporarily.

By Steven Layne

Friday 22 August 2014, 07:00PM

If you asked me what I thought a week ago, I’d probably have told you that it’s nothing more than traditional folklore, mythology and so forth. Indeed, up until recently, I never was a believer in ghosts, at least not since entering into the so-called enlightenment of “science-explains-everything” adulthood.

I’ve been cognitively capable enough to realize that much of the prevalent beliefs in extra-physical spirit entities the world over – those with human-like attributes, dressed up, animated and roaming around trying to seek closure with some “unfinished business” if not to mark and secure their territory with good ol’ fashion scare tactics – is mostly the product of imaginative scriptwriting, storyboard sequencing and cinematographic trickery, if not just vulnerable and gullible audiences.

Still, most Thais and even some Westerners I know in Phuket, can’t stand the thought of being alone, especially in a dark or quiet place, mostly for fear of what they might see or hear, which isn’t actually there.

But as an open-minded non-believer, I have always been welcoming (certainly not petrified) of the opportunity for an actual physical encounter with something/someone from the supernatural realm.

Such a “sighting”, however terrifying the thought might sound to some, would at least provide me with some assurance, I reasoned, that there is more to this life than what we can easily detect with our main human senses.

But in 31 years, I had never seen (or sensed beyond a convincing doubt) a ghost... that is until one recent late night at the office.

After finishing up some back-logged work, around the midnight hour, I sat down on the couch and closed my eyes. Locked up, lights off, it was just me and my scattered thoughts in need of crucial defragmenting.

During the day, the building – a four-story shop-house – can be quite luminated. But after hours, when the block has turned out, the atmosphere quickly becomes eerie with all sorts of peeps, creeks, squeaks, bumps and thuds echoing throughout the building – surely just pressure in the pipes, right?

Starting to doze, I awoke abruptly to one such thud, and at that exact waking moment, I experienced the most vivid hallucination I can ever remember.

This was that moment I’d been waiting for – the closest I’ve ever been, and might ever be to a ghost sighting, of what appeared to be a vague yet distinctly human silhouette of a thin adult male seemingly floating behind the reception desk.

Slightly elevated off the ground, the figure quickly proceeded, walking, floating, and in a flash went straight into and through the west wall before my eyes could focus. Just like that, the silhouette had disappeared, seemingly into the (vacant) adjacent shop-house.

All I could do was blink a few times before clamping my eyes shut. It wasn’t quite the assuring feeling I was expecting, the fear that came over me that moment was a feeling I hadn’t experienced since being a young boy in a tent after a terrifying round of camp fire stories. I couldn’t move, nor did I want to, all my rationality and critical reasoning skills rendered inept. Sleep was my only exit.

Surely, it was just a hallucination caused by stress, sleep deprivation and delirium... Most of my Western colleagues agree that this was likely the case – a hallucination induced by late and long hours.

In fact, one of my Western colleagues had a similar experience one late night, years ago when he worked for a daily in Hong Kong. He recalls when, in an exhausted and knackered state, he took a cigarette break in a stairwell, where he had a brief conversation with none other, he is convinced, than the late John Lennon.

A sleep-deprived and stress-induced illusion? Perhaps.

But my Thai colleagues, on the other hand, would take little convincing. Now even more scared to be in the office alone when the sun goes down, to them, my encounter – my friend’s encounter – were surely with ghosts, who’d appeared to us for a very specific reason that we would be wise to find out.

Even if they were right, then what? I can’t really be bothered seeking out a priest, monk, psychic, or other spirit medium, and I certainly don’t want to start sniffing around, digging up bones to find out if someone had died in the next building.

And though I’m a little more open minded to the concept of spirits now, or at least the existence of extra-dimensional entities that one may sense if their receptors are fine-tuned to whatever particular frequency, due to whatever reason – I still firmly believe that spells, curses, blessings, exorcisms, unfinished business, making right what went wrong, etc et al, are all things better left in a Hollywood manuscript.

That said, I sure wish ghosts, if they do exist, learned how to utilize social networking, for that would make encoding and decoding any cryptic messages transmitted between our worlds a whole lot more convenient... wait, the next horror blockbuster? The Thais, and Chinese, would certainly eat it up.

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