Mor doo! You want to see mor doo?’ my driver asked as he laughed heartily while I sat shivering in his sub-zero taxi in heavy Bangkok traffic one Saturday afternoon.
We were heading to Tha Phra Chan, a pier sitting in the shadow of the Grand Palace along Chao Phraya River, the major artery cutting the sprawling megacity in two. I was looking to visit one of Bangkok’s many psychics, known locally as mor doos, or doctors who see.
My driver’s response wasn’t due to his scepticism of the practice. On the contrary, his disbelief was that a farang (foreigner)—known amongst locals for regarding such practices with more than a touch of cynicism—was engaging in this fondly held tradition.
A culture steeped in mysticism and superstition, many Thais hold a range of peculiar beliefs that dictate day-to-day life. I’ve encountered co-workers who stopped eating meat to increase their chances of winning the lottery, people who refuse to cut their hair on Wednesdays due to bad luck, and a widely held and unshakeable belief in spirits. Mor doos, too, have long held their place among these superstitious practices, with Thailand’s much revered royal family having employed court astrologers to guide each generation of rulers since 1782.
Constrained by my upbringing in the U.K., a nation in which mystics have long been consigned to the fringes of society, I’m often guilty of narrow-mindedness when indulging in practices that lay outside the realm of scientific enquiry. But my instinctive human desire to make sense of the world is immutable, and surrounded by a society displaying such conviction, curiosity got the better of me.
My destination—the dark, cluttered and winding alleys of Tha Phra Chan’s riverside market—is famous for its concentration of mor doos.
Numerous psychics sit at stalls adorned with elaborate tablecloths, gems and tarot cards, beckoning passers-by with promises to divulge in consummate detail every facet of their future.
With my inexperience in soliciting such a service, I settled upon a woman best fitting my Hollywood-dictated conception of what a psychic should look like. Dark, piercing and mysterious eyes? Check. A mischievous grin with sparkling gold teeth? Check. Ostentatiously bejewelled hands? Double check. We negotiated our price, settling on the princely sum of 800 Thai Baht, or $25—a bargain for a vision into my future, I concluded.
Producing a heavy Dell laptop from under her desk, she began reading my astrological calendar from a PDF in a curious marriage of modern technology and ancient tradition. ‘Who am I to judge?’ I thought; technological innovation is happening in every industry, and I’m anything but a Luddite.
In the following 20-minute session, noteworthy revelations included that I like to travel (perhaps a given in the circumstances), I’m a kind and generous person (who isn’t?), I’m in a loving marriage with beautiful children (lamentably, I have neither), and that I will become very wealthy in 2018 (unlikely in this line of work). The rest of my reading consisted largely of invitations to donate money to an assortment of planets in order to improve my chances of good fortune in the coming year; an offer I gracefully declined.
Disheartened at my experience, bemused laughter ensued as I recounted my misfortune to my Thai colleagues at work the following Monday. ‘You got ripped off’, I was unceremoniously informed. ‘That area is full of farang mor doos. You need to go to a temple for a true reading’.
With the Hollywood-esque get-up suddenly now a glaring red flag, I questioned what value I took from this experience. The moral of the story became clear; in this New Year I should focus less on analysing my future and take greater satisfaction from the present. If that epiphany is not worth 25 bucks, I don’t know what is.
Alastair McCready is a British journalist.