Garuda: The Lord of Charoen Krung

12 08 2017


The ghost tower is ready for its close-up

11 08 2017

A primal scream from Bangkok’s collective unconscious: the towering vortex that is the Sathorn Unique has become the setting for a new Thai horror, “The Promise”.

The building is the most high profile of the cities “ghost towers,” never-completed reminders of the 1997 stock market crash that have dotted the city skylines for decades afterwards.

Towering conspicuously over one of the city’s busiest transport interchanges at Saphan Taksin, the brooding concrete shell of the Sathorn Unique has become a Bangkok urban legend and a magnet for graffiti artists and urban adventurers from around the world.

In new movie “The Promise” the tower is the scene of a teenage suicide pact. When one of the pair survives, and returns to the still-derelict building twenty years later, the ghost of her friend tries to see that she makes good on her promise…

Japanese ghost story

27 04 2017


Scenes from the Kaikidan Ekotoba, a nineteenth century Japanese scroll illustrating 33 kinds of monsters said to inhabit the wilds of Kyushu and Korea.

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Bangkok werewolf

8 04 2017

The new Thai celebrity trend – pet werewolves.


8 01 2017


Images at my local shrine of Nezha (right), a Hindu-inspired Taoist deity: half-baby, half-adult, who spits rainbows and flies around the heavens on his “Wind Fire Wheels.”

The Essex Serpent

8 01 2017


The “Essex Serpent” by Sarah Parry has been my holiday reading. It is based on a 1669 pamphlet entitled “Strange news out of Essex” which told the story of a dragon-like creature terrorising the swamps of the then-rural English county, now located on the outskirts of greater London. Intriguingly, Parry has picked up this real-life inspiration and re-imagined a story set two hundred years later. In the Victorian era, where Charles Darwin’s ideas are being hotly debated and British high society society has become fascinated by strange specimens streaming in from all over the empire, an upper-class London moves to Essex and hears rumblings of the serpent, said to have arisen in the Essex “Blackwater.”

See Hua Haa Taa

4 12 2016


Armed with my copy of The Thai Occult by Jenx I went back this week to the President Centre in Mongkok, a minimall dedicated to, among  other things, Thai amulets. Thanks to the book I was able to identify this as a “See Hua Haa Taa” (Four eyes, five ears) a scary looking demon that eats hot coals and excretes them out again as gold. According to the book, statues like this one should be given an offering of coral on the first full moon of the month to provide good fortune to their owners.

Aside from the six or seven little stores trafficking in colourful statues of Thai deities, amulets, and I’m sure much more …esoteric items under the counter, the President Centre also has a raffish collection of magic and crystal store, sex aides, head shops, manga figurines, a tattooist, cheap mens’ hip hop style street clothes and a record store: a very “MK’ experience.

Serpents, supper and spirits

7 11 2016


Even as Bangkok continues in its black-robed mourning period for the late King, life is returning to the capital in the form of hot upcountry boys courtesy of local photographers Supper, a ghost scare around the temple Wat Samian Nari and the opening of a new suburban”serpentarium“.


Jumping Jack Flash

8 10 2016


Interesting article here on atlasobscura about the urban myth of Spring Heel Jack, a leaping assailant who once terrorised the streets of Victorian London. It also reminded me of this blast from the mid-90s past:

Thailand’s Teen Giant

2 10 2016

Thai movie “Teen Giant”, still in production, has taken a leaf out of Percy Jackson’s book. It aims to keep Thai mythology alive by bringing it to a new, younger audience. Following a now-familiar plotline, a schoolboy who has always suffered from being “different” discovers the key to his true identity, that he is descended from a legendary beast – in this case the fierce yaksha giants who guard Thai temples. Embracing his true self, he is pitted into a battle against other creatures from the Thai netherworld, played out against a contemporary Bangkok backdrop. Looking forward to it!

Jade Emperor Pagoda

30 07 2016

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One (afternoon) in Mongkok

19 06 2016


Mongkok is one of the most densely packed neighbourhoods on Earth, its pavements heaving with surging crowds in its street markets and shopping streets and home to bleach-cropped “MK boys” who work the city’s vice trades as well as maddening numbers of mainland tourists.  Over the years, I have developed an ambivalent relationship to the area. At times, on a steamy Summer night, walking down Portland Street with its dingy door-ways and blazing neon, I have enjoyed its seedy vibe. But often it drives me to distraction – there are simply too many people, and way  too many wheelie suitcases.

This weekend though I discovered that hidden in the upper floors of its buildings, up above its maddening streets, Mongkok still has some cool little surprises to yield.

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I discovered this amazing mini-mall of Thai amulet stalls on the third floor of the unremarkable-looking President Building. A dodgy European in cornrows was attempting to bargain in broken Thai, and there was also a vinyl record store, a sex shop and a  tattooist – I think I’ll have to go back to explore the other floors.

I didn’t see any of the kuman thong (human foetus charms) I had once seen in a similar store in Yau Ma Tei – but I’m sure they have them under the counter.


Elsewhere, in the heart of the city’s specialist bathroom supplies district, amid stores selling tiles and toilets, I went up a a dingy staircase to find the surprisingly hipster White Noise records. This old-skool indie record store stocks vinyl, band Tshirts and CDs arranged into categories like “Iceland”, “post-rock” and most extensively, “Japanese underground”. I picked up a compilation album put out by the store’s own White Noise Records called “Made in Hong Kong”, and featuring disco, funk and rare groove tracks from the city in the 70s, like the one below. A find.

Devil made me do it

30 05 2016


This week I have been reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” a satire about the appearance of Satan in Stalin’s avowedly Moscow of the 1930s, watching bad made-for-netflix movies about Krampus (above)…and (attempting to) slay my own demons at work.

Be gone Satan! Today is not your day… 😉

The mystery of the turtle lake

3 04 2016


Hanoi is dotted with lakes, big and small. It’s traditional centre is the Hoan Kiem Lake, circled by trees and colonial buildings, it’s whole circumference joggable in thirty or forty minutes. In the mornings, the lake shores boom with techno music, colour-runs and Herbalife rallies. People take pictures with selfie sticks and practice ballroom dancing under the banyan trees. In the evenings, its banks are partly lit up and given over to strollers and gay cruising. A pleasant cafe sits on a terrace looking over the water. And traffic swirls around it day and night. But even with all of this, the lake maintains an aura of calm – its waters calm, grey and serene.

In a small island in the centre of the lake stands the Turtle tower, commemorating the lake’s greatest mystery, the strange giant creatures which perhaps still inhabit its grey depths.

These turtles became symbols of the city in Vietnamese myth after one of their forebears supposedly retrieved a magical sword lost in the lake. In fact the species, which can weigh up to 250 kg per specimen, was considered a myth itself until a turtle surfaced in the lake – in the very heart of a major city – in 1998.

That specimen has since died, and lies embalmed in pride of place at the Temple of the Jade Mountain, on a small island in the lake’s Northern reaches, connected to the city by  vermillion bridge thronged with local day trippers.

Another specimen was found floating dead earlier this year, leading to an outpouring of grief in the city and speculation as to the meaning of this omen.

Whether there are others in the lake still, or this was the very last of its kind, is not yet clear.



21 03 2016


Drink some bee tea.

Necessary Voodoo

7 03 2016


Offerings to the White tiger Mother at my local Aberdeen shrine, complete with pork strips, to mark Jinzhe (this year on March 5th) when the insects under the Earth are said to awaken from their Winter hibernation and curses are at their most powerful.

Bangkok round-up: Dancing Under the Death star

7 03 2016


Thailand’s Khao Sod newspaper reported this week on a deathly grip tightening around Thailand as Uranus, considered by Thai astrologers to be a harbinger of ill portent, neared the end of its long, elliptical journey around the sun.

When this last took place (one orbit takes 84 years,) it coincided with (or caused?) the revolt that overthrew the absolute monarchy…although looking at it another way, it oversaw the birth of democracy in Thailand – such as it is… 😉

Temples around the country held special prayer meetings to combat the dark influence of the planet known in Thai as Dao maruet ta yoo, “the star of death”.

It was not all doom and gloom though: revellers danced the night away at a swing and jazz dance festival in the shadow of the famous temple of nearby Nakhon Pathom, as captured in a charming photo essay by Coconuts Bangkok.

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And finally, BK magazine reports on another interesting museum to add to the list of Bangkok sights (together with the new “Museum of Thai Corruption“). This one is a museum collated by sex workers to document their lives and struggles, poignantly titled “This is Us.” The museum was put together by the Empower Foundation, a pro-sex work group dedicated to campaigning for better rights and conditions, and societal acceptance, of sex work. Interestingly, the article points out the price of sex in Thailand – a sum equivalent to ten bags of rice – has not increased in four hundred years!

Death becomes her

7 03 2016


The bejewelled bodies of Catacomb saints from photographer Paul Koudounaris’s book “Heavenly Bodies.”


Strange beasts

3 03 2016


Bangkok this week was surprised by the sight of a roaring T-rex stuck in Sukhumvit traffic – it is to be a star attraction at a new robot-dinosaur park apparently about to open in the latest extension of the Emporium mall, on the former site of Washington Square, home to an entirely different species of dinosaur.

Meanwhile, Shanghai was being terrorised by its own mysterious beast, a stealthy web-footed carnivore leaving a trail of dead poultry in its wake.


I also came across this article on an unlikely intruder in Germany.


9 01 2016

Passing through the winding roads of the Japanese Alps, it is easy to imagine how forbidding these peaks must once have seemed. Local people, shivering in their straw coats in the relative safety of their villages, must have looked up at the wild mountain woods in wonder… and fear. Prowled by bears and (now-extinct) wolves, and whipped by frigid winds, the high country was also peopled in the popular imagination by stranger creatures still:  winged tengu, oni giants and of course, the chilling Snow Woman, utterly chilling in both senses of the word.

A Perfect Tokyo Day

29 12 2015


A 7 km jog from Shinjuku to the Imperial Palace, down Koshu-Kaido.


A 5km lap around the palace moats, where broad grassy banks dip down into the placid lake-like surface and rise again on the other side of the water, where ancient old trees rise up to form a barrier to what one writer perfectly described as the “mysterious green void at the heart of Tokyo.”


From here it is another kilometre or two to Iidabashi and the old geisha district of Kagurazaka, with its multitude of French restaurants and winding backstreets of Japanese style bars and discreet restaurants for those in the know. Here, on one of these winding paths, is the rickety old Atami No Yu bathhouse, where you can change in a tattered old changeroom and wash off the sweat from the run in a timewarped bathroom decked with a glorious Mount Fuji.




From here its just a few minutes to the Canalside Cafe, where you can sit by the river in the Winter sun, with a blanket on your lap, watching the Sobu line trains glide by on the other side.


Backtracking slightly to Ushigome-Kagurazaka station, its then a straight line to Monzen-Nakacho, home to one of the city’s most interesting temples (and, a friend informed me, a nascent coffee scene with several Australian and Kiwi-owned cafes).

But I was here to see Fukagawa Fudo-do, the impressive temple of a slightly cult-y Buddhist sect. The monks in their bright robes are very much present throughout the temple and frequently conduct “fire ceremonies”on a professionally-lit stage area, complete with thunderous drumming, strange droning chants and the lighting of a ceremonial fire, which worshippers can approach to have objects (usually bags) blessed.  Also, there is a corridor of ten thousand crystals, each containing a Buddha image, through which worshippers can wander.

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