There are moments in your life that break through the clouds like little shafts of sunlight, illuminating the fact that you love living in Thailand. Turning the corner to find an undiscovered temple. Finding a street food vendor at the end of a winding alleyway, bearing delicious food with a smile. Cooling drinks in a plastic baggie. These are all Amazing Thailand moments, earmarked for the next TAT advert.
Then there are moments that illuminate something else, like the fact that no matter how much time you spend in this country, or how many family members are around to listen to your blathering about the Steelers’ playoff chances, you are in an alien place, wrestling with its alien demons all on your lonesome. You have not truly lived in Thailand until you have seen a ghost, or until you or someone you know has come down with a nasty case of black magic.
It’s easy to dismiss these cases because, you know, you weren’t brought up that way. Everything can be explained scientifically and rationally. It doesn’t matter that every Thai you talk to has had at least one paranormal experience, and that the front yards and parking lots of every establishment you go to boasts a spirit house bristling with joss sticks and food for hungry ghosts (because these ghosts are Thai, and they get hungry too.) Great, hulking bo trees are tied with ribbons, meant as warnings to leave these trees — and the spirits that live there — alone. Life and death coexist peacefully here.
But when they don’t, it’s up to your fortune teller or maw doo (literally, a doctor who sees) to fix the situation. Almost every Thai you talk to either goes to one or knows of one that can help you out. It’s just the way things work. Because just like how ghosts are entities that must be negotiated and appeased, the future itself — your fortune, the fates, what have you — is treated similarly, respectfully, kindly, like a crochety great-grandmother who could end up cutting you out of her will.
So you have heard of these ghosts, and maybe imagine you’ve felt them once or twice, and have gone with your friends to see the occasional fortune teller, choosing to believe in the good stuff and discarding all the bad. Life ticks along as usual. Until the day when a fortune teller tells you that your husband has fallen under the sway of a black magic-casting sorceress, skilled enough to make him putty in her hands. That’s when you think … Huh. And then, I’ve never been in this position before. I have no past experience to guide me. Better ask for advice. And then, finally: F@*#ing Thailand.
“Write the name of your husband and the other woman on two eggs and then throw them into the sea,” one friend advises. She laughs. “It’s meant for when your husband has a mistress.”
“I have a guy,” offers another. And still another, “My cousin knows a guy who can help.”
The one you do end up seeing, he won’t even touch you for fear of contamination. He can feel the black magic, like a hot iron searing into the side of his torso. Your predicament gives him great pain. But he can take it. “Drink this bottle of water,” he says, before consulting with the ghost of a powerful monk who serves as his guide. You drink two more bottles before the ghost is satisfied. You are then told to make merit with monks for three consecutive days, and you think it’s over. It’s so easy, and you’re relieved. After all, the girl who comes after you will have to scrub the toilets of 7 different temples before she can get rich.
But then the ghost gets restless, and dictates come down from on high. You need him to drink special water, taken from the washing of his mother’s feet. You need to “cleanse” several of his effects. It’s not until you find yourself in your closet, rubbing a bracelet he received as a gift with his mother’s underwear and surreptitiously enclosing another pair in his pillowcase when you start to think, Maybe it’s gone too far. This may or may not have happened, of course. It’s hypothetical. You are a friend of a friend, after all. Because boy oh boy, do I love to write stories.
That black magic spell doesn’t just happen with people. It could extend to things like food. Like, goose. Han pullo to be exact, goose stewed Chinese-style in a brew of aromatic spices such as star anise and cinnamon. The most famous of the eateries serving this surprisingly hard-to-find dish is, hands down, is Chua Kim Heng (81-83 Pattanakan Road, 02-319-2510). It’s open-air and has expanded to straddle a sort of driveway that opens out into a parking lot — a rarity for what is essentially a street food establishment.
At the height of the lunch hour rush, you wander into the dining room (the non-chicken rice one) unmolested, and continue to be unmolested for the next 10 minutes as you sit and wait for someone to take your order. Someone eventually takes pity on you and brings you a platter of sliced goose breast swimming in broth and crowned in fresh coriander, plus a tart dipping sauce thick with garlic and a spoon and chopsticks. You have to ask for a bowl of rice. Goose has never been your favorite — too fatty, and subtly flavored — and the dipping sauce is like pure vinegar, peppered with chunks of garlic strong enough to scare any vampire away. It has been a struggle for you to get an iced tea drink, much less the usual clear broth soup of bitter melon and pork rib to accompany your rice. But somehow, and this is where the black magic comes in, it’s delicious.
It’s almost delicious enough to warrant a second trip. Takeaway, of course. But if you insist on basking in an atmosphere of complete indifference leavened with a touch of contempt, go for the “small” meat platter (190 baht) or, if you are a leg person, two goose legs for 80 baht. Make sure to get the clear soup (80 baht) as well. Bon appetit.