Ghosts are big business in Thailand. Everyone believes in them, even those who tell you they don’t. And while none quite capture the cuteness of Casper, whatever you are looking for in a ghost you’ll find in the Land of Smiles. There’s a long list of Thai ghosts, both by name and by preferred method of haunting. The more famous get movies made about them, the less well known are still used to keep unruly rug rats in line. Farang can chalk them up as nothing more than local superstitions, but then we all know how silly farang can be. Ladyboys scare the heebeejeebees out of a lot of them and they aren’t even the most gruesome creatures Thailand is known for.
Some of Thailand’s more popular ghost stories, much as they often do in the rest of he world, stem from true historical accounts. Others, passed down by word of mouth, sound more like myth. Not that that makes them any less real to Thais. Mae Nak, a rather pissed-off female ghost who likes to take her anger out on the men of the world, preferably in the most bloody fashion, is probably the country’s most famous ghost. You can visit her shrine in Bangkok where she’s gloriously honored by those who believe that if you can’t get winning lottery ticket numbers from a vengeful and somewhat vain female spirit then there’s no hope for the world. Si Quey is almost as well known. But there is no shrine honoring him. Unless you count his mummified remains – which someone lovingly smothers in petroleum jelly every year to keep it fresh. And that not quite so grandiose bit of immortality is meant as a warning, not as a source for a quick path to riches. Or to a full tummy – there’s a hand-lettered sign hanging next to him that notes that he killed “because he loves to eat human’s organ not because of starving”. But then when it comes to ghosts, murdered pregnant women and their unborn off-spring rate higher than your run of the mill serial killer.
Coming from America where we’ve elevated serial killing to an art form, Si Quey – or more properly See Uey Sae Ung – seems to have been a bit of a slacker. Sure, besides being a serial killer he was a cannibal too, but Jeffrey Dahmer was also a multi-tasker and his record puts Si’s to shame. And unlike the city of Milwaukee who bought and then tore down the Oxford Apartments where Jeff lived and many others died, the best Bangkok could do for Si Quey’s home turf was to allow his fellow immigrants to expand the area into what today is known as Chinatown. Because in America that’s how we roll, you can still take guided tours around Dahmer’s haunts. Mention Si Quey in Chinatown, and everyone will act like they don’t understand you. Cross the river, however, and you can slap the dude a high five. Albeit you can only press his flesh through an inch of glass.
Si’s story began back in 1944 when as a Chinese immigrant he moved to Thailand. Back then, even in Bangkok, the Chinese were not well thought of, especially those without a fat bank account. China had been busy exporting its citizenry during World War II as well as after the country fell to the communists in 1949; most arriving in Thailand, like Si, were boat people. The locals called them pussy blood chinks, rickshaw chinks, and human animals and treated them accordingly. So the only work Si could find was as a coolie, rickshaw-puller, and vegetable farmer. During the day, as he had back home, Si toiled in the fields. At night he pulled wealthier citizens through Bangkok’s streets, centering his business around Green Lantern Lane, which was Bangkok’s main red-light district in the 1950s (though technically it was the green-light district where gambling, opium dens, and locals more traditionally associated with the red-light trade thrived). Si was not a happy camper as you can well imagine. And while you may not imagine the only path to happiness open to him was to kill and eat little boys, Wen Liang, a now retired police officer on active duty at the time Si Quey was on the loose says, “I have often wondered if his anger was not a more generalized rage against the world mixed with a kind of sorrow that came from knowing he would never see his homeland again.”
And that’s how Sunee Plaza came to be. Oh, wait. Wrong tale. My bad . . .
Homesick or not, what everyone does seem to agree with was that Si was a bit sick in the head thanks to the years he spent as a soldier fighting against Japanese invaders on the Chinese island of Hainan during World War II. Professor Somchai Pholeamke, former head of Siriraj Hospital’s Forensics Department where Si now resides, is among those who believe Si’s bloodlust was stoked on the battlefields of Hainan province. “His military commanders told the troops to eat the livers of the enemy soldiers to take on their strength and power,” says Pholeamke while not commenting on just how dubious the strength and power of a vanquished soldier may be.
While the idea of dining on human liver might seem repulsive to you, Anthony Hopkins, licking his lips as only Anthony can, better hits the mark. In Asia, over the centuries, cannibalism has been practiced during times of warfare to dehumanize the enemy; the troops of the ancient Khmer empire and the more recent Khmer Rouge ate the livers of their enemies to increase their strength and stamina. You call it cannibalism, Si probably thought if it more as tradition. The part where he preyed only on little boys was his own twist. He apparently believed that the practice made him stronger, healthier, and immortal. And all things considered, you can’t argue that his little happy times didn’t immortalize him.
Back in the U.S. of A., Ed Gien, who like Dahmer hailed from Wisconsin – not that that automatically means everyone from America’s Dairyland is a cannibal – had racked up an impressive record that included a body count of 2 (or 3 if you count his brother) and a partial body count that totaled about a dozen – during a search of his home after his arrest authorities found four human noses, nine masks of human skin, ten female heads with the tops sawn off, nine vulvae in a shoe box – is this beginning to sound like a Christmas carol to you too? – human skin covering several chair seats, a belt made from female human nipples, human skulls on his bedpost, a pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shade, and a lampshade made from the skin from a human face. He’d later be immortalized as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of The Lambs. Si, being an uneducated immigrant didn’t realize the power of the press or that size always matters and so no one is quite certain just how many kiddies he dined on. It wasn’t like he was counting calories.
Most believe he murdered and ate anywhere from five to eight children, which to Jeffrey Dahmer would be considered but a light snack. Some speculate that Si wasn’t as picky as believed and dined on adults too. As his legend has grown, so has his body count. But Officer Liang disagrees. “Let me put it this way. It would not have been difficult to pin some other unsolved murders on a poor, illiterate ‘human animal’,” he says. “He did confess to killing some of the children, but it’s possible he may have targeted some adults, too. We found a few other corpses that had been cannibalized in Bangkok around that time, but he was never charged with those crimes or confessed to them.”
Si’s dinner was interrupted one evening when the father of his most recent meal caught him in the act of burning the boy’s corpse, a bit of info you may want to recall next time you go out for Chinese barbecue and can’t quite identify just what that piece of meat you’re eating is. He was arrested in 1958, a year after Ed Gien (initially) got off on an insanity plea. At the time of his arrest Si told police that after stabbing the children in the throat, he then slit open their chests and ate their hearts and livers. Just in case you’re one of those cooks who always needs a detailed recipe. After sharing his secrets Si was quickly executed by hanging (though the bullet holes left by the executioner’s machine-gun, now filled in with white paraffin, tell a slightly different tale).
Today his cockroach-brown, wax-filled corpse stands slumped in an upright glass casket that looks a bit too much like Superman’s phone booth. Si is the star attraction at Bangkok’s Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum, on the grounds of Siriraj Hospital, where once a year a Bangkok masseuse rubs his body down with Vaseline to give him that same shine Kim Kardashian enjoys, undoubtedly the whole time muttering, “It rubs the lotion on its skin . . .”
That would be the end of Si’s tale except you have to give credit where credit is due, as well as pay honor to the Thai fondness for producing knock-offs. So just in case you were worried that cannibalism is dead in Thailand: last year a member of the Musur hilltribe in Thailand’s northernmost district of Chiang Mai, Mae Ai, was arrested by police for killing, cooking, and eating her two sons, who will forever be 1 and 5, respectively. According to the Bangkok Post, law enforcement officials allegedly found the woman asleep with several body parts strewn around her. The police report ‘hallucinations’ may have played a role in the tragic crime; Mai Ai says she thought her kids were pigs. Which, if you think about it, is a much scarier ghost story than Si Quey’s to tell your young ‘uns when they don’t clean up their room. But then a good ghost story takes years to develop into a truly frightening tale and Mai Ai’s kids probably still need to stew for a few more years before their tale appeals to the appetite of those who love a gruesome ghost story..
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