This is a ghost story although, unlike many ghost stories, it actually happened. I know, because it happened to me.
But first, some background.
Almost all Thai people, whether they're relatively uneducated villagers or the most sophisticated city-dwellers, take ghosts seriously. Thais believe in a whole pantheon of ghosts, ranging from benign to horrific. I personally know four Thais who woke one night to see a member of their family -- someone who lived a considerable distance away -- standing in their room, usually at the end of the bed. Without exception, they learned the next day that the person they had seen -- a grandmother, an uncle, a mother -- had died. This is accepted. The spirit came to say farewell.
Other ghosts are not so harmless. There are many kinds of malign spirits, and they tend to take up residence where lives have ended badly. From the beginning of construction on the new Bangkok airport (set on a piece of land that used to be called "cobra swamp") workers complained that there were ghosts everywhere. Many workers resigned rather than have to mingle with the dead. And when the airport opened and the computerized baggage retrieval system broke down, the malfunction was briefly blamed on ghosts. And I mean officially.
While I have no idea what, if anything, may have happened at the prime minister's official residence (sort of the Thai White House), I do know that almost no one ever spends the night there because of the house's ghostly guests. We are talking the highest realms of government here, folks. Prime ministers, cabinet ministers, generals. Nobody sleeps there. The general official, high-level reaction to the place seems to be brrrrrrrrr.
So with all that as a setting, here's what happened to me.
About 25, 26 years ago I was in Pattaya. This was when Pattaya was still a relatively quiet little town, although the nightlife that ultimately transformed it into a sewer was beginning to blossom. I was staying in a small hotel set into a cliff overlooking the sea. I went to bed about midnight and drew the curtains so I could sleep in. That made the room extremely dark.
At about 3 AM I snapped awake, knowing I was no longer alone. Remember, the room was almost pitch-black. In one corner, diagonally across the room from me, was a figure.
I looked away. I looked back. I blinked heavily. It was still there.
I could only see it by looking slightly past it, but it was a female wearing a shapeless white dress that fell almost to her ankles, and black hair down to her waist. Her head was bent downward so she was facing the carpet, and her face was hidden by the fall of hair. Then, moving slowly, she grasped handfulls of hair and lifted them straight up and let them fall again. Then she reached down and did it again. The second time she pulled her hair into the air, she started to bring her face up.
I knew that if I saw her face, I was dead. I rolled over as fast as I could, snapping on the lights on the bedtables, and when they came on, she was gone. I lay there, fighting for breath, literally more frightened than I've ever been in my life. And I stayed there, wide awake, until the sun came up.
When the room was bright enough, I went into the bathroom, pulled the shower curtain, turned on the shower, and let the water hit me full in the face. When I'd had enough, I pulled back from the stream of water and opened my eyes, and something moved very fast on the other side of the shower curtain. I left the water running, grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me, and ran all the way to the lobby, where I demanded, and got, a new room, as far as possible from the old one.
Later that day, I went back with a maid to pack my things -- there was no way I was going in there alone -- and the maid said, yes, that woman had been seen before in the room, and she volunteered to take me to the temple later that day when her shift was over to burn some incense and do a brief ceremony to release that poor woman's spirit from whatever powerful force as holding it on this side of the curtain. And we did, and I felt a little better. But that night -- even in my new room --I slept with my lights on.
And no, I had never previously believed in ghosts.
Tim -- Sunday