A year ago, I was teaching in eastern Thailand, and the dean told me I could have free housing on campus. I went to visit the house. There was a professor living there who was planning to move out. “You won’t be alone,” he said.
I didn’t know what he meant. When I walked around, there were pictures of monks, small Buddha statues and amulets hanging from the walls. The house was situated on a potholed road on the edge of campus in what can only be described as jungle. It was so humid there that your shirt stuck to your skin. I decided to move in anyway. My salary was low — $460 a month — and the house was free.
I loaded my stuff into the back of a pickup truck — books, computer, clothing and a bed — and moved into a bedroom on the second floor. Another professor moved in across the hall; his specialty was political economy. The electricity in the house wasn’t very reliable. When the power went out, we lighted candles or used our mobile phones to see. The floors creaked as you walked.
But mostly, it was a house like any other. Then one morning, my housemate approached me. “Last night a ghost jumped into my body,” he said.
I didn’t believe him. My housemate offered me an amulet for my protection. In my entire life, I have never worn any kind of amulet. I was born a Buddhist, but I don’t believe in any religion — and I never believed in the supernatural. A Marxist should not believe in ghosts.
A month later, I went to the funeral of a distant cousin and then hiking at Khitchakut Mountain, which is revered by Thai Buddhists. As I said, I’m not religious. I just wanted to see it. The next day, I returned to my house. Just as I was about to go to sleep, I felt something pulling my toes.
At first, I thought my housemate was playing a joke on me. But it was the end of the semester, and he had already left. I was all alone. I tried to reason about the situation. Maybe it was a cramp in my leg. I was about to go back to sleep when I had a definite feeling that someone was standing next to me. I opened my eyes and saw a very clear shadow of a person. I sat up and turned on the light. No one was there.
I walked downstairs and opened the door. The stray dogs outside didn’t bark as they always do when you open the door. I kept thinking, I don’t believe in ghosts. I went to bed around midnight.
The next day, I proctored exams and then went back to my house. I kept telling myself that everything was normal. But when I was about to go to sleep, something pulled my right hand, very hard. I turned on the light and put on some heavy metal — Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth. I thought that maybe the ghost would dislike this music. I kept the music going all night.
In the morning, I went to work, but I didn’t tell anyone about the ghosts. I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. That night, when I was about to go to sleep, I heard the sound of footsteps in the room next door. Maybe it was a thief, I told myself. The only weapon I could find was a screwdriver. I walked quietly, poised to attack, and opened the door quickly. No one was there.
That night, I dreamed about a woman and a child. The woman said, “I have followed you since the funeral.” She said that she liked me, and that she wanted me to transfer some of my good karma to her. I woke up and saw a shadow and heard someone walking. I said, “What do you want from me?” I felt as if I were going crazy. All night, I played computer games.
My friends ridiculed me. “How could a Marxist see a ghost?” It became a running joke.
I decided to follow a Thai tradition. I drove to a temple about 13 miles from my house. I brought Buddhist offerings. When I met the abbot, he smiled and said, “Something happened to you, right?” I had never been to that temple. How did he know?
I told the whole story to him, but I didn’t say anything about my dream. The abbot chanted prayers and gave me holy water. I didn’t know any of these rituals because I rarely went to Buddhist temples. He asked me, “Where did you go recently?” I told him about the funeral and the hiking. The ghost had followed me since the funeral, the abbot said, and was still following me.
The ghost never came back. Not long after, I quit my job at the university, but it wasn’t because of the house. Marxist scholars believe in historical materialism, in science and tangible things. But my friends love to tease me: “Are you still running from your ghosts?”