Here’s my story. I don’t believe in ghosts. Or rather, I didn’t believe in ghosts much until a recent visit to a beach resort in Thailand, known for its unfortunate encounter with a tsunami back on Dec. 26, made me think again.
Now I am not so sure.
Before visiting Phuket on a press tour, I was the biggest skeptic you could imagine. Whenever someone would tell me about their poltergeist experience, I would relish picking it apart, finding holes in it, always looking for a logical explanation. Basically, I was Scully. I even took this smug attitude along with me to Southern Thailand, to an island that even the wire services had been reporting ghost stories about. You’ve no doubt heard some of them: the cab driver who claims he picked up seven passengers in his Tuk-Tuk, then looked back at the end of the trip only to find that two of them had vanished!
Before the trip, my Filipino officemates had traded tales of foreigners seen walking the coasts of Phuket late at night, then disappearing as the spectators drew closer. We even heard about limbs and bodies still floating in the water. It was all too much for Filipinos, who are prone to superstition and are more likely to possess the necessary “sixth sense” to see ghosts than most people in the world. Few of them were eager to visit Phuket, even on an all-expenses-paid media trip. But me? That stuff is right up my alley. I welcomed a ghostly encounter.
Bring it on, I figured. The only trouble is, someone must have heard me. On the second day of our visit, I checked into a certain beach front hotel that hadn’t been directly hit by the tsunami. I won’t reveal the name of the hotel because, well, I don’t know, I think it might hurt their occupancy a little. The first thing that struck me was when I turned on the bathroom faucets: the water started running red. Not a bright red, but a brownish-red. I dismissed this immediately as a little rust in the pipes; understandable in a hotel that hadn’t seen a normal number of guests in the past few months. We had spent a long day touring and inspecting beach sites to ensure that they were safe and clean. They were.
At night, after a long dinner and bout of schmoozing, I finally settled in to bed around 1:15 a.m. I clicked off the bedside lamp and closed my eyes. And was awoken two minutes later by a loud thump. That’s the kind of thing that tends to make me sit up, skeptic or not, so I put on the light and investigated. It seems my carry-on bag; which had been placed perpendicular to the edge of the dresser across the room; had flown off the dresser. That was the thump. I picked it up, checked out its contents, took a quick cursory look around the room (yes, the door and windows were locked), put the bag back on the dresser; farther back this time; and climbed back into bed. Of course, I was concerned. I thought of possible causes; the air conditioner had blown it off the dresser, there had been a minor earthquake; anything to explain away this strange occurrence. I decided to shut off the lights and see if anything else would fly across the room. Nothing did, so I fell asleep after about eight minutes. This is usually the part of the story that Filipinos don’t get. “You fell asleep? In that room? I would have sprinted down the hall in a heartbeat,” said one. “I would have been cowering in the closet,” mentioned another. I don’t know. I guess I was tired that night.
My main reaction was vague annoyance. I had practically begged for a ghostly encounter, and then I got one. But I was too pooped to get worked up over it. To be fair, I gave the ghost a fair chance to raise another ruckus. For me, that’s about eight minutes, during which time I listened carefully for eerie sounds, breathing, wailing, etc. After that, what are you supposed to do? Put out refreshments? When I later recounted this incident to my officemates, who supposedly had a little more “background” with poltergeists, they chided me for not being a better host. They said I should have at least tried to get an interview. Why hadn’t I left out a notepad and pen, they asked? Maybe the ghost was trying to communicate something. Or maybe the ghost was just lost, or clumsy, I responded.
That’s one thing I don’t get about ghosts: they’re in this other realm, they have certain special powers we do not possess, yet they make their presence felt through the most awkward, oafish gestures. No finesse whatsoever. Knocking travel bags off dressers, for instance. “That’s because they’re not orientated to their new state,” explained my ghost tutor. “Didn’t you see that Demi Moore movie?” “Ghost?” I shot back. “You’re talking about Ghost? That’s your authority on this?” Worse, the ghostbusters in the office insisted that I had behaved rudely. “You should have welcomed him, made him feel comfortable,” they said. I must admit, my initial reaction was more along the lines of blurting out, “What the f**k are you doing in my room?” By their lights, I had not observed proper ectoplasmic etiquette, and no wonder ghosts go around knocking your belongings around, they said, because you’re just not a very good host.
So now, in addition to being haunted, I felt like a total dick. In truth, our Thai tour guide did try to clue us in to how to behave around ghosts; on the way to the airport, that is, at the end of our trip. Maybe she didn’t want to bring it up while we were still fresh and green. She probably thought such encounters would not compel us to write positive travel pieces. On the other hand, having ghosts roaming around your island might not be such a bad selling point. There’s a great deal of interest in the subject these days, and travel agents can open up a whole new area of exploration: instead of ecotourism, ectoplasmic tourism.
But of course, if the shoe had been on the other foot, there’s no doubt in my mind that my two office inquisitors would have been racing for the “EXIT” sign faster than Scooby and Shaggy. They are, after all, Filipinos. Ghosts scare them. This one didn’t upset me much, though. It was strange, in fact, how calmly I incorporated this new development into my world-view. In some ways, I felt I had crossed a few inches over from being a complete skeptic to being someone who allows the possibility that ghosts and spirits may dwell among us. And in the future, I will probably try to be a little more understanding if one does choose to make an appearance. As with most of my relationships, my interpersonal skills tend to be a little rusty. I have to work on that.