Monday 13 May 2024

Visit to the shaman (5, final)

Final glimpse of the offerings plate, with my worried partner in the background

Talking about the encounter later, I adopted the phrase "witch doctor" (หมอผี) to describe Mor Sawaeng. I was speculating aloud whether he sends a cut of his earnings as a shaman back to Mor Joe, who sent him our trade after all.

I also wondered why Mor Sawaeng's boss at the restaurant puts up with his frequent excursions into the carpark to perform his ritual over customers, and also the fate of the alcohol, which we left there unopened with him. 

Perhaps it finds its way into the Chinese dishes on offer at his restaurant, or maybe the cooks knock it back together out the back.

Maiyuu said that if I was being polite, I should call him a mor peun ban (หมอพื้นบ้าน), which translates as traditional doctor. This is a more innocuous phrase, of course, but also helps salve my partner's bruised ego, after he regretted leading us on this silly expedition.

Later, as I mused over whether I should feel upset at having parted with a stupidity fee (ฝรั่งเสียค่าโง่) as the Thai rather bluntly puts it, or the cost of my own ignorance, Maiyuu suggested we should see the encounter with Mor Sawaeng and his enabler Mor Joe in a more positive light. 

The day's expenses, which came to over 1,000 baht including the teacher's fee, alcohol and taxi fares, were really the price of buying a new experience (ค่าประสบการณ์), said charmingly.

However, Maiyuu admits he should have thought about the expedition more carefully. "I panicked, but I was worried about your condition," he said ruefully.

It's not as if we were not warned what was coming, in a roundabout way at least. As I left Mor Joe's place for the taxi, he uttered some parting words which puzzled me at the time: "Never mind, we all have to help each other in this life."

I can see now that he was referring to his mate Mor Sawaeng, to whom he was sending a "referral", courtesy of our own gullibility.

Never mind, indeed. I learned from the experience, and enjoyed meeting Mor Sawaeng, warm, ebullient soul that he was. I hope your days are plenty and prosperous, if I may offer a prayer of my own in return.

I am sure they will be, if Mor Sawaeng indeed is treating a constant procession of needy types from the provinces in search of low-cost cures for shingles  as he says. The cost of seeing an ordinary doctor, in our case, would have been much cheaper.

As a postscript, I should add that I realised on the way back in the taxi what was really causing my red spots: an allergic reaction to clothes washing liquid. I wash some items in a bucket, slothful person that I am, and in my haste to get the items into the sun, forget to rinse properly. I passed this news on to Maiyuu, who looked relieved to have a more likely explanation of what ailed me. 

Since our misbegotten adventure to Phaya Thai, we are now converts to modern medicine. Maiyuu has bought some conventional lotion for inflammatory dermatoses, which he applies to my body at night before bed. The red spots are fading nicely.

He has also replaced our clothes washing liquid with a softer mix tailored to children and which is less likely to inflame my skin. It has a great scent, I am happy to report. 

Maiyuu knows my habit of rinsing clothes inadequately in my humble bucket, which I keep in the bathroom, is unlikely to change, so buying products suitable for kids rather than adults is the best way to keep me safe. How apt, I thought. Now I can stop pretending I am grown up.

Visit to the shaman (4)

The offerings plate: alcohol, a few baht for the monks, leaves, dry herbs

No, as it turns out. Mor Saeang placed the bottles of alcohol on a plate, one each for me and Maiyuu, who also underwent a similar ritual for a persistent viral complaint in his eye, for which he takes ordinary meds. 

Mor Sawaeng said a prayer for him too, just as he did me, to drive the virus away, just in case his meds fail to work.

Alongside the bottle of alcohol, Mor Sawaeng dropped a few leaves and, from a grubby bag in his pocket, some dry herbs, no doubt to add some spice to his cure. He also asked us to donate a few baht for local monks, and had us hold up the plate close to head level as if making a sacrifice to the gods. 

In my case I had to accomplish this with one hand, while holding up my shirt with the other, so he could blow on my red spots.

So how did it go? "Gibber gibber gibber....pause...blow, up and down the body."  Be careful not to miss any red spots, my health may depend on it. 
I made sure to keep quiet as he chanted, lest the health gods not be amused.

Forgive me if I can't recall the words of his mystical Buddhist cure. I don't do Esan, though I swear I heard the Thai word for diabetes (เบาหวาน) thrown in there. 

He blew on me a lot, and I admit I enjoyed the experience. I can hardly wear my sceptical foreigner's hat after such an event, as I happily took part in the ritual, even when the outline of what was to follow started to take shape and I realised he was not a real doctor at all.

When the chanting ended, Mor Sawaeng told us not one, but multiple times, that practitioners such as himself  do not charge for dispensing their wisdom, but merely suggest we leave a teacher's fee. 

"It's up to you how much you give," he said, smiling. 'but people come from all over the country to see me for a cure."

Maiyuu parted with 500 baht, or 250 baht for each of us, as we both recevied a prayer while holding up our booze plate. 

I went first, followed by Maiyuu, who managed the plate more adeptly than I did, and offered a graceful prayer to the spirits as Mor Sawaeng did his thing. The way Thais have with their hands when they pray; it's an unfailingly beautiful thing to watch.

My ritual, if I can call it that, lasted longer, perhaps because I was the main attraction, reporting with "shingles" as I did. 

That said, Mor Sawaeng looked surprised when he came out to greet us and realised that I was a farang. I am sure few foreigners seek him out for his cures, no matter how grand his reputation might be. They would rather place their faith in modern meds, but there you are.

now, see here

Visit to the shaman (3)

The restaurant where our shaman works as a cook

However, to get them, Thais would have to part with money for a doctor's consultation and of course the meds. Shaman's cures in the provinces, however, are cheaper. A Thai friend in his 50s told me recently that when he was a boy, shaman's cures, often dispensed by a monk, could be obtained for as little as one or two baht.

Maiyuu anxiously called Mor Sawaeng, and made a time to see him. Within half an hour, my partner and I had hailed a taxi and told the driver to head for a restaurant (of all places) opposite Vichaiyut Hospital in Phaya Thai. 

Initially we had planned to go the following week, but Mor Joe impressed upon us the urgency of it all.

"It is in the early stages. Catch it now, you can cure it. Leave it, you could die," he said, vouching for the effectiveness of Mor Sawaeng. "I have sent hundreds of customers to him for a cure," he added.

Nice work if you can get it. Shaman such as Mor Sawaeng typically ask for a "teacher's fee", a payment supposedly for the monks who taught him the magic words he chants. But more of that later.

Mor Joe's shaman friend is a portly, cuddly looking chap who works as a cook at the restaurant and offers cures as a sideline. We met after a tense 15 minute drive from the massage place and many, many phone calls between Maiyuu and Mor Sawaeng, who guided us to the spot.

Initially, muddle-headed Mor Joe mistakenly gave us the name of a restaurant in Pattaya, not the one in Phaya Thai we needed, which confused our taxi driver, who looked it up on Google Maps and asked why were going so far afield.

When we arrived, Mor Sawaeng came out to meet us in the carpark wearing his cook's apron and ushered us to a table under a tree. The carpark faced the rear of the restaurant, where from an open door I could see cooks working on Chinese dumplings in little bamboo boxes. 

A motorcycle taxi driver from a nearby queue came over to watch. He was to be our audience of one for the unusual ritual which followed.

Before we left, Mor Joe asked Maiyuu to buy two small bottles of lao khao, a severe Thai spirit which tastes like rocket fuel. Maiyuu said later that he assumed that the mystic would blow the alcohol on my red spots.

now, see here

Visit to the shaman (2)

The turnoff to Vichaiyut Hospital, with ambulance handily placed at left.

The sound of the hospital was re-assuring. I assumed he was a doctor there and would pop out to see us with some meds, without us having to go to the bother of seeing a doctor the normal way. But blowing?

At first when I heard the word blow (เป่า or Pao), which in this context was shortened from pao raksa rok  (เป่ารักษาโรคงูสวัด), I was none the wiser, though my partner knew what he meant, and should have put a stop to it then and there. 

It's his job to protect me from such voodoo stuff, and any other con jobs which naughty Thais might want to spring on me, or so I thought.

Mor Joe wanted to send us to his Esan shaman friend Mor Sawaeng, transplanted to Bangkok, who blows his breath on the patient's body while reciting religious incantation in Esan dialect. 

It's a traditional remedy handed down through the generations and which doctors these days recommend against.

Look up the Thai words  above (เป่ารักษาโรคงูสวัด) and Google intones solemnly at the top of the results page: ไม่ควรเป่าหรือพ่นยาลงบนแผล เพราะจะทำให้ติดเชื้อแบคทีเรียแทรกซ้อน แผลหายช้าและกลายเป็นแผลเป็นได้ (You should not blow medicine on a wound, as it may become infected with bacteria, grow worse and leave a scar").

The medicine is often alcohol. In this clip of a traditional blowing ritual, which I found subsequent to my visit to Mor Joe, needless to say, we can see a female shaman blowing booze on a guy with the shingles virus, which appears as a long red, scaly patch (see the 1.56 mark).

The clip warns viewers against such things, just as Google did, while also adding confusingly that viewers should exercise their own discretion whether to believe in such miracle cures (well, yes). Another clip is here.

Doctors are unanimous in warning against blowing on shingles, for the practical reason that the shaman's saliva may infect the wound; I imagine the alcohol wouldn't help much either.

Apart from that, patients are placing rather a lot of faith in the healing properties of the mystic's religious incantation; why not just see a doctor and ask for a conventional cure? Ordinary meds will provide a fix in most cases, no further drama necessary. 

now, see here

Visit to the shaman (1)

Portly shaman Mor Sawaeng

"Oh, that's shingles," my massage therapist, a middle-aged guy who hails from Esan, pronounced assertively. For months, he had been poking about my body as it lay on his bed, marvelling at how many spots show up.

Inevitably, he asks what they are. "Pimples," my partner calls from the corner of the room. He rarely looks up from his phone when we are with Mor Joe, as he is known, unless directly engaged in conversation.

Boyfriend Maiyuu has turned to collecting and trading household adornments such as crystal figurines, spectacular coloured vases and even dolls, which bring in a modest income but keep him busy. Most of the business is online, though occasionally he will venture into town to vie with hordes of fellow traders for the latest consumer item which has caught the public imagination (most recently: Cry Baby dolls).

Maiyuu takes me for a massage under Mor Joe, a specialist in tackling disorders (mine is office syndrome), in the Sathu Pradit area every two weeks.

It has been a regular outing of ours for several years. The office syndrome never gets any better, but the visits to Mor Joe do offer some temporary relief. Apart from that, it's fun.

Mor Joe has a constant stream of customers, who have no doubt heard about his healing powers, which in my case he achieves largely with a hot compress and a deep knowledge of bones (so he says) rather than the firm hands of a heavy therapeutic, or deep tissue massage.

"You must be living your second youth," Mor Joe jokes, marvelling that someone my age can still develop acne spots, and we laugh it off.

On this occasion, however, he was sure that the spread of red spots on my upper frame, back and front, was more serious. He referred to shingles (โรคงูสวัด or gnu sawat), which is triggered by an onset of the varicella-zoster virus, often leftover from a childhood chicken pox infection (โรคอีสุกอีใส).

This pesky virus lies dormant in our bodies if ever we have caught chicken pox as a child. I assume I did; I can't recall.

My partner sprang to his feet and rushed over for a look. "I didn't notice, and the farang never bothers to examine himself," Maiyuu said, referring to me, as he explained why the isolated red spots - hardly an angry, weeping sore or rash, which  would be more worrying, and is more typically associated with shingles - had gone undetected.

Mor Joe, sitting in his premises

This rash of activity, if I can call it that, broke over me as they inspected my front flank. 

I also flopped over on my front at their beckoning so they could inspect my back as well. No one bothered asking if I knew what was going on; this was a job for the adults.

I had heard the Thai words for shingles and chickenpox in my travels, but as panic filled the air I had to ask Maiyuu to look them up on his phone with the English translation. The English left me none the wiser.

Shingles? A colleague at work had complained of a skin rash recently which doctors initially attributed to shingles, but on later inspection diagnosed as the fruits of anaemia. 

As for chicken pox, presumably that has come and gone. Painful and itchy in their day, I am sure, but the spots which had broken out on my body since my last visit to Mor Joe rarely bothered me.

"I have someone who can cure these," Mor Joe averred, recommending we visit an Esan friend of his, Mor Sawaeng, opposite Vichaiyut Hospital in the Phaya Thai area. "He'll blow on them."

now, see here