An Easter Ritual For Ghosts (Thailand)
This story is about my private ritual on Jomtien Beach to honor a friend who had drowned there earlier. It looks at the concepts of faith, ceremony, and spirits. As a side plot, I explore the rapid growth of tourism in Thailand and wonder about the ghosts of the country’s past.
Plot Shift #1: Racing a motorcycle past Goa’s palm forests in India, I decided to check my e-mail. For some reason death weighed strongly on the back of my mind. My response was to embrace it: live a bit more intensely, spend a bit more foolishly, and race a little bit faster. This selfish ethereal feeling dissipated in seconds when I clicked on to my e-mail account. Before the message from my friend, Da-ru, was fully downloaded, I already knew the contents. My friend, Brad, had drowned while swimming on a beach in eastern Thailand. I tried my best to arrange the earliest possible flight home to attend his ceremony and to pay my respects. However, a series of complications, including a mugging by two taxi drivers in Mumbai, I could not get out of India in time. In result, I missed the funeral ceremony, my friends had already returned to Seattle, and I ended up being trapped in Utah for three months.
I should have flown to Seattle instead, so that I could have at least provided support to his friends in Washington State. Nevertheless, since I was stuck in Utah, I made good times with family and friends. I found a temp position as a librarian for the deaf and blind. I could not find solid non-temp employment in the United States, so as I bid my time in Utah while I looked for teaching positions overseas. Ultimately, my path circled back to Thailand – a country that I have always loved despite the fact that I was robbed there during Christmas on my last visit.
The fact that Ayutthaya, the city where I now teach, is only three hours away from the beach where my friend drowned was not lost on me. I decided that the first chance I had, I would go on a pilgrimage to Jomtien Beach and conduct a private ceremony for him to compensate for what I had missed earlier. In the three months that I was in the United States I always felt unsettled. I had three dreams in which my friend, Brad, had appeared to me. In these dreams he would always appear as a child with hair so curly that it almost formed an Afro. In the morning, after I awoke, I would always get angry because instead of revealing important messages or secrets about the afterlife, the Brad that appeared to me only wanted to talk about fishing.
Before I left for Thailand I was able to schedule a brief stop in Seattle. A few hours before I left for Thailand, his companion, Lynley, donated a pair of his pants and some fishing gear for the ceremony that I would perform. I would get the opportunity to use this gear soon, since I had five days off for the Songkhran festival – the celebration of the Thai New Year. This year the festival would coincide with Easter Sunday in the United States. It is a very playful holiday in which everybody squirts each other with water and paints everybody with mud and various powders. I had some plans on how I would perform specific, self-created rituals for Brad during this time, but realized right away that I would have to make adjustments.
Plot Shift #2: I raced home after teaching to get ready, only to see my landlady fishing in front of my bungalow. She was using a bamboo pole with mashed Asian “wonder bread” for bait. I live literally next to the river and can fish off my balcony or watch Tiger fish swimming by the riverbank. I originally planned on leaving his fishing gear on Jomtien Beach as part of my ritual, but imagined Brad lecturing me about wasting perfectly good fishing tackle. Instead, I decided to give this gear to my landlady and the villagers that fish in my neighborhood. They used it, too. A short time later I witnessed them catching dozens of small fish with it. My ritual could no longer include the use of fishing gear as I had planned. The ritual changed with the situation.
It was easy to find transportation from Ayutthaya. The tourist industry here is huge and it offers many choices: bus, train, mini-van, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, and riverboat. According to the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT), who were first created in 1960 to oversee the tourism industry, Thailand had over 9.5 million tourists in the year 2000 and the industry earned over $7 billion in tourist revenue that year (not including the black market). Next to the production of computer-related products, tourism is Thailand’s biggest source of income.
This growth has been very rapid. In the year of my birth, 1963, there was less than 200,000 visitors and tourism revenue was only $20 million dollars. Tourism has changed the face of Thailand due to this growth. Bangkok is now a major hub city in SE Asia, and the country now helps to develop and promote neighboring tourism industries. Thailand is the keystone that holds up the region’s economic stability, one that increasingly looks to tourism to construct a foundation of peace.
The United States who wanted a foothold in SE Asia to prevent the spread of communism propped up early tourism in Thailand. The U.S. poured money into Thailand especially during the Vietnam War when its buildup increased dramatically, including several U.S. military bases and thousands of troops. By 1968 the U.S. had nearly 600 aircraft, including B-52s, that it used on Vietnam and Lao from its base in U Tapao. The infrastructure for tourism continued after the war and in 1987 Thailand prepared its first tourism promotion campaign to boost visits. In this process many middle class Thais adapted to western lifestyles and started to travel for the first time across borders. As I bargained for cheap transportation this western impact was all lost on me.
In Bangkok I had already been squirted a few times with water, but had no idea as to what would become since the Songkhran festival had not officially begun yet. I needed to transfer to a bus station at the opposite end of the city. I bargained with a motorcycle driver to take me there, offering him a bonus if we arrived before the last bus left. On route we passed many ghosts of Thailand’s tourism industry. The motorcycle crossed the Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok.
Perched on this site earlier was the Erawan hotel. This hotel was opened in 1957 at a time when Thailand wanted to attract foreign diplomats and world leaders. It was operated in western style and served European cuisine. Thailand’s first luxury hotel peaked in the 1970s during the height of the Vietnam War, but collapsed after 31 years because it did not pay commission and its style became outdated. Ironically, its failure was timed one year (almost to the same day) that Thailand launched its first tourism campaign. The Erwan hotel marked an end to an era in which state enterprises were being replaced by privatization. There are many of these ghosts living in Thailand. Their spirit remained unseen by me as my motorcycle raced past wet streets along concrete highways.
Bangkok motorcycle driving is a socially accepted form of expressing insanity. They race through traffic, cut in front of buses, weave between cars at traffic lights, and defy any legal definition of driving – all at the speed of light. This volatile mixture of driving was punctuated by an occasional splash of water from some mischievous child. The motorcycle rapidly navigated around and raced down the wrong side of the road, but we made it just in the nick of time. I literally leaped onto the last bus as it was driving away.
Plot Shift #3: I met a beautiful woman on the bus. She was missing teeth like myself. She was an English teacher from the Philippines, who was concerned about finding an affordable place to stay during this busy holiday. Traffic was jammed up and the bus was several hours late to arrive. In this time my new friend had convinced me to first go to Pattaya and witness at least one day of full-blown Songkhran activities. We looked for separate rooms, but decided to share one room with double beds when it was established that the budget rooms were already full, and this concession ultimately led to our sharing the same bed together after promising that no physical exchange of intimacy would be shared between us.
Pattaya illustrates the impact of westerners in Asia and how tourism evolved in Thailand. Pattaya was located near a military base during the height of the Cold War and its strategic location helped prevent the spread of communism in Asia. The United States pumped millions of dollars into developing Thailand’s tourist industry after World War Two. The Korean and Vietnam wars exhilarated this process. During the Vietnam conflict American soldiers would come to Pattaya while on leave from one of the several U.S. bases in Thailand. In result, today it is one of the largest centers for go-go bars, prostitution, and gay clubs in Asia. Although the prostitution rate is statistically higher per capita in the Philippines, Pattaya gives Thailand the reputation of being the center of sex tourism. The sex industry is inescapable in Pattaya as it is primarily male tourists who flock to the city from around the world.
Western citizens operate several legitimate and illegitimate enterprises in Pattaya. Global corruption stemming from the west, unfortunately, is also common. Recently, one German citizen, Wolfgang Ullrich, absconded with millions of dollars donated to an animal welfare organization. Ullrich operated several businesses in Pattaya until he was arrested for tax evasion (relating to his yacht in Thailand) and suspected of drug trafficking and operating illegal brothels. Unscrupulous westerners continue to corrupt Thailand with dubious business practices that can include money laundering, forced prostitution, and drug sales. To this day, Pattaya is the only city in Thailand where a street vendor has offered to sell me hashish.
That night I was introduced to a different underworld in Pattaya, the world of Filipino musicians. These musicians are the Philippines contribution to the global village. The Filipino community provides Asia with much of its live musical performances. The traveling Filipino troubadours have an amazingly large repertoire of songs that can be sung in a variety of languages (English, Thai, Japanese, and French), depending on the tourists in the audience. My new friend was born in Manila and had originally come to Thailand to book music for a local agency. Eventually, she found that she could profit more by teaching English. That night we walked through the city looking for music. Although some people thought of her as a prostitute – an Asian woman walking with a white westerner –a problem inflected on many Thai women who spend time with “farang”. However, the desire that we sought was music. I noted that I had never heard a Filipino musician actually play a Filipino song, so she located a musician that would play me one of her favorites, “Appa” (a song made popular by Freddie Aguilar). The song remains one of my lasting impressions of this journey.
The next morning we walked outside and Songkhran was in full scale. Truckloads of teenagers prowled the streets with huge implements for spraying water, children lined the streets with four foot tubes that could jettison water thirty feet, hoses were drug out for non-stop spraying, and a creative choice of plastic machine guns were showcased by all. These tools delivered a variety of lukewarm, ice cold, and salty water. They all combined with the ritual of throwing mud and a variety of powders at those passing by.
The ritual evolved from the tame practice of sprinkling a little rosewater on the heads of elders to honor them, but it has evolved into a three day, 24-hour a day, water fight. It is an equalizing holiday in which social status can be momentarily suspended and everyone is considered prey: children can squirt adults, students can spray teachers, and locals can soak foreigners, even a few policeman have gotten wet. Buddhist monks are the only people who seem to escape the water during Songkhran. As monks walked down the street water wars would part down the middle, suspended until the monk had passed by. The sense of scale is impossible to imagine unless it is witnessed first hand but, to put it into perspective, we were both soaking wet within five minutes of being outside and we stayed that way for the entire three days.
The Songkhran holiday also happens to be very dangerous. Like my friend who drowned while enjoying a swim on the beach, many Thai revelers also die during this cultural celebration. The newspaper had already reported many deaths by traffic accidents, brawling, and electrocution. The hectic, crowded, and wet roads are a partial reason for these accidents – one not helped when the driver gets sprayed in the eyes with water. However, a greater contributor to death and injury is drunken driving. It was common to see a motorcycle driver with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, taking shots as they wove around volleys of H2O, or spotting passengers nearly falling out of a moving truck while trying to both shoot water and chug from a bottle of alcohol at the same time. Having fun can be dangerous, and Songkhran is an incredible celebration for having extreme periods of extended fun.
Songkhran was a very asymmetrical, but an oddly appropriate holiday for my ceremony for Brad. I tried to honor him by designing an elaborate ceremony but I was confused about what to do. Since I am not from any specific religious background, I lacked a framework for these last rites. I tried to create my own rituals base on either what felt right for me or what my friend would have appreciated. I started to prepare myself by shaving my hair and eating only the foods that Brad would have appreciated. In most cases it turned out to be fish or shrimp. One dinner was a large, obscure, exotic fish, pla duk, which is coated in rock salt and cooked guts and all directly over a fire pit. It had a skewer of lemongrass, basil, and coriander stabbed into its mouth. When we finished a beggar asked to take the leftover fish, which we gave him. That night in Pattaya we showered, put on not-as-wet clothing, and watched Indian television movies. Late that night I nestled between the gates of paradise drank from the fountain of youth, and then we slept.
Plot Shift #4: The next morning I tried to access the damages. Almost all my clothing was still soaked and my accessories misplaced. I tried to put everything back into order. In one pocket I discovered, to my astonishment, some dry dog biscuits wrapped in a plastic bag. I was surprised that I accidentally packed them, even more by the miracle that they had remained dry. I forgot that they were there. The reason I had them was because many stray dogs wander around where I live. A few days before one had bit me, although it didn’t draw blood. I also had to contend with my landlady’s dog, named “Cow”, which would growl at me when I first moved in. I started to carry a few dog biscuits with me whenever I walked just to bribe or distract them. Until the local canines get used to this strange smelling foreigner in their neighborhood, I will have to oblige them with such luxuries. The dry dog biscuits seemed misplaced but they would later prove significant to this ceremony.
The third day we took a tuk-tuk to Jomtien Beach. The vehicle maneuvered the best it could around the traffic jams on the highway, but we still remained stagnant –and open targets to water throwers. Luckily, we were fully armed and I was getting to be a good shot with a plastic machine gun. However, as I found, a well placed aim only encouraged celebrators to break out the heavy artillery. I would make impressive shots only to get doused in revenge the next time our tuk-tuk got stuck in traffic. We arrived at the exact address that Lynley had written down for me. About three inches of water poured out of the tuk-tuk as we left. Feeling primal from the mud coating our faces, we hunted for a place to stay. Afterward, we ventured back into the afternoon light. We were re-saturated by the fifth minute. We stalked the streets while getting wet and returning the favor to other revelers.
We ran into several people along the way. An American businessman offered me a job in his silver manufacturing company and a Thai father offered us several glasses of Scotch. Both people illustrate a different western/Asian connection. The business owner, an American, married a Thai woman and permanently migrated to Thailand to raise three children. Many expatriates marry locals and start up their own companies. I have seen more expatriates in Thailand, who marry and permanently relocate, than any other Asian country. The American businessman planned to send his children to the U.S., but ended up staying in Thailand since visas were too hard to obtain for his family.
The Thai local fought in the Vietnam War on behalf of the west. Many Thai men died in the Vietnam War. Their solid commitment as soldiers is all but forgotten in U.S. literature and Hollywood movies. After the war was over this Thai man internally migrated to Pattaya, and raised a family near a popular U.S. military base. It was a moment of great honor to get plastered with this man’s family as sheets of water coated us. The father covered both my cheeks with mud as we parted. I wondered at how these two fathers had merged into a different culture and how this experience would shape their future.
Minutes later a German woman launched into an angry diatribe against somebody that had sprayed her. The reaction of westerners to Songkhran is interesting. Many have no idea what this holiday is before coming to Thailand. In result, many tourists will fly into tantrums after getting wet. I witnessed several western women complain about getting their fancy clothes or hairstyles ruined. Some men threaten to fight the locals who soak them, and I saw one westerner racing down the street while flashing his wallet as if it were a shield that could intimidate everyone. Younger tourists, once they participate, learn to love Songkhran. They join in with full enjoyment. This is good because “farangs” are prime targets and many Thai flock to tourist packed streets to demonstrate the fine art of getting a foreigner wet.
That night, after another fish dinner, we took a shower and dressed into still damp clothing. While my friend was in the shower, reality hit as I looked at the ocean. Maybe Brad drowned on a night like this. I didn’t want to feel sad, so we both went to a quiet bar around the corner. At the bar I met a German computer programmer that lived in Thailand as a tax shelter. One by-product of the Internet is that many individuals can work from their computers while living overseas. They can both avoid paying a large income tax back home and live very comfortably in the third world on their western salaries. Some even marry locally so that they can be eligible to partially own Thai property.
The German and I talked for hours about a new tourist-related trend that I have been noticing. For the first time large groups of Russian tourists are flocking to Asia. Emerging middle classes of Russians now seek the opportunity to travel. Many have roots in the black market, but even more just want to experience the new opportunity to freely travel around the world. The problem is that the infrastructure isn’t in place to support non-English speaking Russians. They want to travel but don’t know how to survive as a basic tourist. Pattaya has tapped into this new market with bilingual, Russian-oriented, travel agencies and tour guides. There are a growing number of menus translated into Russian script and restaurants are sprouting up with cuisine from their homeland. The globalization of tourism is expanding to include new markets such as Russian tourists in Asia. As I talked to the inebriated German his Thai girlfriend slapped him for not giving her enough attention. Later, as I reached into my wet backpack to pay the bill I pulled out the plastic bag of dog biscuits. “What are these dog biscuits doing here and why are they still dry?” I thought.
The next day I knew I needed to conduct my ritual alone. My Filipino friend and I swapped e-mail address and made arrangements to meet in Ayutthaya in a few weeks. She went south and I headed for the beach. At the mouth of the beach I took a few moments to feel gratitude for having met Brad. Then I began the only shamanistic ritual that I am good at: walking.
I abandoned my sandals and walked up and down the beach barefoot until it was painful. I walked until the endorphins kicked in and I started to feel high, than I walked some more. I thought about what rituals I would choose, but mostly I was seeking a feeling of energy. I was hoping for a vibration that signaled the location where my friend had drowned. I walked past the sprayers of Songkhran water as I paced the beach. During this time I thought about him and things we had done together. I was distracted by these thoughts when an intense feeling suddenly overwhelmed me. It was so strong that I had to kneel down to observe it. In truth, the sensation probably stemmed from within me, triggered by my thoughts, rather than actually finding the spot where it occurred, but who knows?
Once I established the location for the ceremony I meditated on the body of water in front of me. I thought, “So this is the gulf that swallowed my friend”. I knew I had found the place that I sought, but I wasn’t ready for the ritual yet. I had to get into a different frame of mind. I walked more until the endorphins raged and the pain in my legs had gone numb. Then I went for supplies. The first step was to start drinking. As I worked my way into a beer buzz, an old man had tried to practice his English with me. In the course of our conversation I inquired if he knew the monastery where cremations were held. It turns out that there was one nearby, so I went there and noticed beautiful buildings and charred wood. I forced myself to stay there longer, so that I could offer a prayer.
As a novice I had to spontaneously teach myself how to pray (something I have only done about four times in my life). I lacked the formal words to say, so I just pretended that I was speaking directly to him. I made an offering to the spirit house. In Thailand property often includes a miniature house for the spirits of former residents to reside in. It is often decorated and supplied with food and other offerings. I made my offerings to the spirit house near the crematorium, and then I went looking for a live fish.
My original goal was to find a fisherman who was willing to gamble on a fish. I wanted to play a game of poker with him, one of Brad’s favorite forms of recreation. If he won I would pay double the price; if I won he would give it to me for free. However, I could not find anyone willing to poker for a fish. It is just as well since with Brad’s luck at poker I would have paid double. I had to resort to my backup plan. I would purchase a live fish from a restaurant. I sought out this lucky fish while drinking booze and getting sprayed with water along the way. Outside I noticed that it had started to rain a Seattle style drizzle, although it was still 96 degrees.
I found the restaurant and broke out my guidebook to discuss a fish. I wanted to make three things clear: 1) The fish had to be alive. 2) I was buying the fish to release it. 3) The fish had to come from the same gulf of water as outside (I could imagine a lecture from Brad about placing a fresh water fish into salt water). Luckily the waitress understood because in Thailand Buddhist believe there is good karma and merit in releasing caged birds and fish. I was given a choice between three fish. I selected a “Ray” fish because this name also belonged to a mutual friend of Brad’s and mine. Armed with a live Ray fish I went to the spot that I located earlier.
While carrying the fish I was soaked by water from all directions by tuk-tuk passengers. I held the fish in a bag of water, rain drizzled down from the darkened clouds above, and volleys of Songkhran water criss-crossed my path. My soaked body, which is comprised of more than 80% water, will soon dip into the salt water in the gulf of Thailand. The cycle of water and life were evident everywhere. My body was coated with mud, the mud would wash of into the gulf, and the waves would wash it all right back to the beach.
I built a makeshift altar of sand. On this altar I placed one piece of fishing tackle and a beautiful picture of Lynley. I poured a bottle of whisky on the ground then I broke out a photo album. I showed the pictures to the mass of water that lay before me. I taunted the gulf with photographs of Brad’s friends. I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. Perhaps I was trying to coax Brad’s spirit out of the water, if any of it remained. Although it might sound like a cliché, I actually saw lightening. It was a strange type of horizontal electricity that I can’t recall seeing before.
When I was discombobulated from copious amounts of alcohol and an excess of endorphins, I began to wade into the gulf. A crowd of Thai gathered around me. They understood what I was doing. A father and his child reverently waded halfway out with me and let me continue by myself the rest of the way. The water was soon deep and I did not want to submerge myself. It was time to release the fish. The Ray fish shined with bright blue stripes. It had been saved directly from somebody’s dinner plate. I had to outbid a diner for it. This lucky fish would get to live. However, it got snagged in the plastic bag during its escape. Its tail was waving around which reminded me that some Ray fish are poisonous. I did not want to get stung, especially while submerged in the gulf where my friend had drowned, but I reached into the bag to free it anyway. I saw it slowly glide away into the water. In time, I worked my own path back to the sand.
I sat next to the sand altar trying to process what I had done. What is the meaning behind this ritual? Did any of Brad’s spirit remain in the gulf? Was I bribing the water to release my friend’s spirit in trade of a fish? Could I send a spirit back to its home? Would my friend’s spirit have preferred to play in the waters of Jomtien Beach? What right do I have to mess with one’s spirit and what is a spirit comprised of anyway? I have no religious context to place these questions into. I didn’t know any of the answers but it felt good to perform the ritual anyway.
Before I completed the ceremony I made one last trek into the water. The rain drizzled as I waded into the deep. I wondered if I should submerge myself or not. Instead, I stumbled onto the fish one more time. It disturbed me because the fish remained in the same spot. Why wasn’t it fleeing into the deep with its new freedom? It was at this point that I realized that there wasn’t any part of Brad’s spirit remaining on Jomtien Beach. There wasn’t any magical electricity to the spot that attracted me. The fish that I released only represented something from inside myself. This ritual only acknowledged a longing to connect with my friend. Brad’s spirit is the feeling that I get when I look at the ocean. It is the knowledge that he somehow shaped my life. Brad’s quintessential energy is what still vibrates among his friends during another round of poker without him. It is what lives when his family members look at each other.
The soul, like water, seeks the level that it is most comfortable with. Rainwater trickles back into the sea. The seawater that is sprayed on land during a Songkhran ceremony will eventually find its path back to the gulf. The essence of a soul is to seek out and return to what is familiar to it. It felt peaceful to have these thoughts at least. I still had no answers and no religion, but the thoughts eased me into getting on with my life.
When the ceremony was completed I felt it was time to return to Ayutthaya. Luckily a bus was leaving just as I made it back to the main street. I climbed aboard and changed into a less wet T-shirt, although it might not have been an appropriate thing to do in public. The buses promptly got stuck in a traffic jam, which turned into a painful experience because my bladder was nearly bursting due to all the beer that I had consumed during the ceremony. After three hours of delay I couldn’t hold back any longer, so I leaped off the bus and dashed toward the nearest bathroom.
Plot Shift #5: My bus left before I could return. I was stuck in Si Ratcha trying to figure out how to make it back home. I eventually located another bus that arrived in Bangkok so late I had to spend the night. I meandered over to Khaosan Road (where I had once been robbed more than one year earlier) and found an insect-ridden flophouse to sleep in. Across Asia there are these tiny pocket colonies where western tourists love to congregate with each other. Almost every major city in Asia has one of these tourist colonies that consist primarily of westerners interacting with other westerners. Khaosan Road, in Bangkok, is one such pocket colony.
The dichotomies between tourist and local, and westerner and easterner are well defined here. Many hotels will not rent rooms to Thai citizens. Locals function almost only as vendors and service sector employees that cater to tourist needs. I once brought one of my classes of Thai students to observe Khaosan Road. I wanted them to “tour” the tourists and make observations about tourist behavior. The experiment was a disaster. The tourists became openly hostile to my students because they did not appreciate the role reversal. They disliked having me point at them like a tour guide or locals taking photographs of them –in the same way that tourists usually are with Thais.
Once settled in my guesthouse I washed the mud and saltwater from my body and ventured back into the night. The water flooded the street and the mud was an inch deep in places. The police closed off the streets to traffic and it was full of merry celebrators. Hundreds of mud-coated bodies wandered the street in one primal mass. Thai music blared loudly. Hundreds of people danced as if it was a huge rave party. It reminded me of a miniature Woodstock. Through the water dripping down my eyes and the layers of mud in my face and hair, I noticed something important. At least 90% of the participants were Thai. Western tourists usually dominate over Khaosan Road. However, the intensity of Songkhran had scared the majority of westerners back into their hotel rooms to dry off. For a few nights only, locals reclaimed this street for Thailand and the ghosts of ancestors past. They reveled in this victory. Music sung in the English language disappeared and western-influenced Thai dance music beat strong in the hearts of those celebrating at midnight.
I returned home to Ayutthaya and a group of fishermen were sitting below my balcony drinking beer, fishing, and catching tiny fish with Brad’s hooks. They encouraged me to play a popular Thai band, Caribou, from my stereo. Later, I checked my e-mail and learned about a hidden thread behind the mysterious dog biscuits. My friend’s dog, Henry, had died of cancer at the time that I was doing my ritual for Brad. Henry was the ultimate dog, the King of Canines. It was an accidental confluence of events. My friend’s ritual also turned out to be an unintentional ceremony for a dog that loved to chase sticks and dive for stones at the bottom of the lakes. The ceremony was another thread that linked events together – a thread that laced Thailand’s Songkhran festival with the west’s Easter Sunday.
Songkhran’s final body count for the year 2001: 788 deaths; 65,634 reported injuries. Of these statistics 531 deaths and 32,074 injuries were the results of traffic accidents. The majority of which were considered to be alcohol related. The other accidents were attributed to street brawls and electrocution. Songkhran remains a fun and beloved holiday in Thailand, but it has become a rather dangerous one. A record amount of Thai citizens actually left the country during this holiday and the government has initiated discussion about reducing the length of this holiday.
Ten days later thousands of Thai participants helped perform the elaborate, three-day long, Pitee Kong Khao ceremony in Chonburi. The ancient ceremony originated in Si Ratcha (both cities are located near Jomtien Beach). The ceremony is comprised of many rituals to present offerings to ancestral spirits and restless ghosts. The wandering spirits (Pretah) are comprised of three groups: hungry ghosts, giants, and lost souls. In case if my ceremony went wrong and Brad’s spirit still remained in Thailand, it would have been well fed and sent home.