Sunday, 27 May 2012

Roast babies, black magic and Michael Jackson

This story gave me the heebie jeebies for months after I wrote it. And it recently came back to mind in the course of writing a South China Morning Post column on a British citizen of Taiwanese extraction busted in a Bangkok hotel room with six babies' corpses in his suitcase. Police were called to room 301 of a Chinatown hotel room after - wait for it - neighbours complained they couldn't sleep because of babies crying all night. (Cue Twilight Zone music). Black magic, or 'sayasut', is alive and well in Thailand. I ventured into the lair of 'Nain Ae', along with fellow journalist Thomas Brecelic, to try and get a handle on the famously defrocked 'baby griller' of Thailand. Nain Ae boasted that he prowled backyard abortion clinics for fresh foetuses that he could use to extract 'nam mun prae', a black magic love potion highly prized by high society dames. I've got photos of him, but they are buried in a box somewhere. Will add them when I have time to dig them out. After this story ran, a Hong Kong woman contacted me seeking directions to Nain Ae's abode, which as a friendly chap I passed on, with a warning to be careful. Two weeks later, she called me in tears, saying she had just been raped by, you guessed it, Nain Ae. This nasty piece of work got a jail term of 100 years for sexual assault and other crimes against decency. Although my wife tells me he was released recently and is once more at large. I've done a short film treatment on some of the above. I hope this doesn't give anybody nightmares.

Nain Ae can’t understand what all the fuss is about. “I have grilled a lot of babies, but they were already dead,’’ he shrugs. The defrocked monk from the central Thailand province of Saraburi did a stint in prison thanks to his penchant for grisly black magic, but he’s back in business now and teaching his trade to eager apprentices.


When you walk into his magic room, you realise this is not the abode of an ordinary monk. A desicated foetus, mouth open in a silent scream, stares with unseeing eyes over a row of human skulls daubed with scribbles and spells. Cobwebs depend from dusty statues of ancient Hindu and Khmer gods and demons, covering  mouldering stacks of books filled with centuries of black magic wisdom. Moth-eaten animal pelts festoon the walls. Incense sticks smoulder as waxen voodoo dolls wilt in the heat.
Nain Ae’s fame has spread far and wide in the Land of Smiles since he was jailed for six months by the Supreme Court and branded “the biggest threat to the monkhood since communism.’’ That was after a television crew filmed him grilling a stillborn infant, to summon the spirit of “khumon tong’’, or the golden baby. Oil collected from the chin of a basted babe is said to be the basis of a potent love potion, and Nain Ae says everyone from gangsters to high society dames have come to his chicken ranch, looking for a little help with their love lives.
"I'm Nain Ae,'' says the tiny chap in baggy blue cut-off jeans advancing down the stairs. He's covered from head to toe in intricate tattoos. He bows, hands touching in a traditional wai, and flashes a stony-eyed smile. Then he ascends the stairs with nimble hops, rattling the yellow fangs of a tiger skull on the doorstep, before settling into a throne of sorts.

Small pointed teeth tear off a great wodge of chewing tobacco and he masticates noisly before directing a feculent jet into a spittoon.  ''Do you know about my powers?’’ he asks. “I am super-powerful. You see these tattoos? You cannot shoot me or hurt me. Bullets will bounce off. Knives can't do any harm.'' I'm thinking, 'Bat Fink (and Karate!)'. He pulls down one of the swords and half-heartedly jabs it into his stomach.

He spits again, then hops up and disappears. A moment later, he’s back, dressed in baggy white karate pants, a gold fez and several loops of chunky wooden beads around his neck. A finger beckons, and we follow him down a gloomy hall, past a cooking pot full of skulls. "They’re fresh from a graveyard,’’ he says. In his lair, more skulls are arrayed on a shelf.
So, er, when did you start grilling babies? "Shut up,'' he snaps. "I want to tell you my life's story first.'' Born Harn Raksajit, he was reared an orphan in a Saraburi temple. A precocious child who believed himself touched by the Lord Buddha, he followed other dek wat (temple boys) to train as a Nain (novice) and adopted the nickname Nain Ae.
"Even from a young age, I was attracted to magic,'' he says in a weird, high-pitched monotone. "But there was no-one here to teach me.'' Despite a lack of tuition he scoured books and honed his powers, making his first real foray into magic by predicting lottery numbers. Then he left, to roam Burma and Cambodia, in search of further instruction.
"See these books,'' he says, gesturing at the musty tomes stacked on the floor. are full of Khmer magic. These belonged to my ajarn (teacher). Some are hundreds of years old.'' He returned to Saraburi and, keeping mum about his occult powers, was duly ordained a monk. But it wasn't long until the robed renegade realised the commercial potential of his skills and began promoting himself as an expert in sayasut, or black magic.
Belief in baby-grilling is particularly strong in the provinces around Ayutthya. It has its origins in 19th century poet Sunthon Phu's quasi-historical epic Khun Chang, Khun Phaen. Khun Phaen, the central character, was a high-ranking soldier during the reign of King Ramathibodi II (AD1491-1529), long before the ancient capital was sacked by Burmese maurauders.
After an argument with his father-in-law, Khun Phaen stabs his pregant wife to death then cuts his unborn son from her stomach and takes the foetus to the temple. He builds a fire, places a grate over it, then wraps the infant in pieces of sacred cloth covered with prayers and grills the body until nothing is left but skin and bone. This ghost child, with whom Khun Phaen can communicate, becomes a talisman and a secret weapon, protecting and advising him.
Nain Ae breaks into an upbeat folk song about his exploits, which he explains was composed by a zealous fan. He points to several big lao khao (rice wine) jars, full of evil slime, sitting in front of the skulls. "That's the glass I pickle foetuses in,'' he grins. He reaches over them, into a hidden space under the shrine and extracts a smaller jar containing a liquid roughly the colour and consistency of cooking grease.
Reverently, he unscrews the top and sucks out some gloop with a day-glo orange syringe. "This is  the oil from Khumon Tong,'' he says. "One drop of this rubbed onto someone you want to love you, they will be yours within an hour. Man or woman, it doesn't matter. It cannot fail. If I rubbed some on your wife, she would be mine and never leave this house.'' He sells a small vial for anything up to 100,000 baht.
Nain Ae says obtaining the stillborn infants was easy.  He developed mutually profitable agreements with local hospitals. Some parents would even bring their stillborn offspring to him. The choicest babies came from the womb on Sundays, and the best day for grilling was Tuesday. To conjure up the baby spirit, the grilling had to be done in the temple's ordination hall. The child is then wrapped in sacred cloth inscribed with prayers and roasted for four hours over hot coals until mummified.
So has he ever grilled a live baby? "Are you stupid? I'm not someone you want to joke with with. Don't you believe in my powers yet?'' He fixes our female translator with unblinking eyes and seems to go back into his trance. A dribble of tobacco juice rolls down his chin. "You had a miscarriage when you were young and you've had two husbands,'' he intones. Her face goes white. "How did you know that?'' she stammers.
Nain Ae says he won’t give up sayasut, but won’t be so foolish as to demonstrate his black arts on national television again. He disappears into his bedroom again, then reemerges, dressed as Michael Jackson. He busts a few moves, attempts the Moonwalk, and grins like a hyena. "I'm not a bad man, you know. My magic is good magic.’’



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