Upside down anyone?
Can you believe it? If you turn your head upside down you will see that the sign is promoting the Chinese New Year celebrations in Pattaya.
It seems difficult to believe that anyonewould erect the sign upside down and drive away – job done. Even if the sign workers couldn’t read English, there’s plenty of Thai script on it as well.
Maybe they were Cambodian workers… no, can’t be that, as most Cambodians can speak and read English – even the beggars.
It beggars belief…
The rise and Fall of Luk Thep Dolls
Three years ago, Mananya Boonmee, a woman who is known as Mama Ning, went from selling purses to changing lives, when she created Petch, Thailand’s first Look Thep doll.
A few haunted dolls, some help from social media and the word was out.
“Luk Thep is a doll who is alive.” Mama Ning explained. “I created a soul to live in the doll, and owners can raise them as their own children, taking them out in public, just like a normal kid.”
Given Thailand’s history with black magic, it’s commonly misunderstood that Luk Thep involves a dead child’s soul or even contains human remains, such as the infamous Kumanthong, a magic charm prepared by frying a foetus and wrapping it in gold foil.
While they are all worshiped for similar reasons, Mama Ning’s secret ceremony calls upon a Hindu goddess to create a new, infant soul and bring the doll to life. No necromancy here.
“I put life essence into the dolls … like seeds,” Mama Ning said while refusing to disclose the ingredients she uses to forge Luk Thep. “I chant prayers and then style the doll’s hair, but I insist there is no black magic involved. I follow the Dharma way.”
Mama Ning is a dedicated Buddhist, but she also worships Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, since she was young. It is Parvati who supposedly awakens a Child God.
“I consider myself the ‘body’ of the Parvati Goddess. I have the goddess in my heart, so I created the Luk Thep which means my Child God.”
Petch was her first and favourite doll because she infused it with the spirit of her son. Three years ago, when he was 17, she was at her wits’ end because of his bad behavior. So she placed the amulets and charms she loved inside the doll, and it awakened. She starting treating Petch like her child, carrying him around and taking him to make merit at the temple, in the hope that her son would change his ways.
According to Mama Ning, it worked.
Her son started improving his life and eventually moved out and got married. Now Petch has gold rings on every finger as a reward for bringing in the money for Mama, and their relationship has become stronger than ever.
“For me, when I’m lonely, I dress him up. I talk to him. When I sold purses, he helped me make a profit. My Luk Thep even comes to see me in my dreams.”
It wasn’t long before she started selling Luk Thep dolls at her purse shop in western Bangkok. Many people offered to buy Petch. She lists dolls for as little as 1,999 baht to as high as 16,000 baht. The expensive ones are the most realistic and are imported from the United States.
From there, word spread. Her followers who had adopted their own dolls came back with success stories.
“People came to thank me for changing their lives. One couple took a doll, and they won the lottery 17 times in a row. From people with nothing, they now have money,” she said.
Talk to the dolls, and the dolls talk back. Mama Ning says there’s a little telepathy involved. She can hear the dolls in her mind and can understand their personalities and needs.
So why not just get a weird-looking doll that also picks excellent lottery numbers?
“People look for happiness. They want a better life, luck and wealth. Their happiness is their interaction with their dolls.”
The dolls can fill something missing in their lives.
“Some people lost a child. Some never found love, so they came to Luk Thep. They’re cute and really alive. Then the love blossoms; they want something to hold on to.”
But if Luk Thep dolls are alive, is it possible they could also die?
“Do they die? It depends on us,” she said enigmatically.
The dolls were adopted by celebrities and thousands of earnest individuals who believed these factory-manufactured dolls would bring them blessings and wealth. The owners treated the dolls like real children and even went to the temples to have the monks bless them.
The craze became so big that a Thai airline announced that they would accept bookings for extra seats so that passengers’ Luk Thep dolls could fly with them.
Now it seems that the bubble has burst.
Many have become disillusioned with the power of their Luk Thep dolls and have been abandoning them by the thousands in temples.
In Bangkok, two temples which used to welcome people bringing their “child angels” for superstitious rites and blessings have now prevented them from abandoning the dolls in the temple grounds.
The ban came as the Luk Thep doll craze began to slowly abate with people leaving these dolls within the grounds of a famous temple, Wat Sawang Arom, in Nakhon Pathom province.
As the news spread, more and more dolls were left at the temple and people started to flock there to view and take pictures of them.
Some even asked for permission to take some of the dolls home, claiming they felt sorry for the abandoned dolls who might be lonely. The offers were declined.
However, a few individuals have managed to sneak many out right under the noses of officials.
Only 20 dolls now remain in the temple. Clearly the officials need to be more vigilant.
One woman visited the temple yesterday hoping to be granted permission to take one or more of the dolls home with her.
When questioned, she stated that she has owned several Luk Thep dolls for almost 2 years and believed that they bring her good fortune and improves her business. She came hoping to take some more home as she took pity on them.
The abbot of the Wat Sawang Arom temple speculated that some of the dolls were probably left there because their owners were frustrated at not having their wishes fulfilled.
He said that their owners were overzealous with the dolls which may have resulted in quarrels with family members. Almost all of the dolls left there had Pluk Sek rituals performed on them as evidenced by the symbols that adorned their bodies.
“It is often just pure coincidence – such as hitting the jackpot in the National Lottery after purchasing the dolls. But sometimes, when someone takes these dolls home, an argument breaks out with their spouses. So what do they do … they leave them in the temple.”
One family from Samut Sakorn province also came to the temple with the intention hoping to take a few of the dolls home but was similarly refused.
“I saw on Facebook that many of the little dears have been left here. The poor little ones! We wanted to take a few home because they are just like little children”
In addition to the Luk Thep dolls, officials have also discovered numerous Kumarn or infant figurines that have been also been left there.
Meanwhile, another temple, Wat Buakwan which had been popular for carrying out the rituals on child angel dolls, also made it clear that they will not allow people to abandon their children at the temple.
The temple has also stopped one of the monks from performing any more rituals. He used to carry out hundreds of rituals when the doll fever spread.
This Luk Thep craze is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as far as Thais are concerned. They believe in everything from reincarnation, to fortune telling to the power of religious amulets, shrines etc. and of course, ghosts. It is all part and parcel of Thai culture, along with their fatalistic belief in karma. It is also one of the reasons why Thailand has one of the world’s worst records of death on the roads If it’s their time to go, so be it.
It is all part and parcel of Thai culture, along with their fatalistic belief in karma. It is also one of the reasons why Thailand has one of the world’s worst records of death on the roads If it’s their time to go, so be it.
Failure to understand their superstitious natures is a failure to understand Thais. I have yet to meet a single Thai, no matter how or how sophisticated or well educated – even from western schools and universities – who doesn’t believe in ghosts.
As they say…. Only in Thailand.