Thais can have very different attitudes towards life and death compared with most Westerners and sometimes this can be quite confronting. None more so than the sad story of Noo Soy Thong who’s body is on display at Wat Pom Wichian Chotikaram in Samut Sakhon.
Noo Soy Thong’s real name was Phansa Sae Ngow and she was born to Chinese-Thai parents on 5th December 1975. The family lived in Mahachai district of Samut Sakhon and she was their eighth child. At the age of three Phansa suffered an accident whereby 40% of her body was scalded with hot water. She died due to infection of her burns aged just 3 years and 4 months old.
Phansa’s body was stored at Pom Wichian Chotikaram temple. After six years had passed the temple committee set about organising a joint cremation ceremony on behalf of those families that could not afford the expenses of a funeral ceremony. Phansa was to be included but to everyone’s amazement when her body was removed from storage it had not decayed. News of this spread quickly and soon people came to pray to Phansa’s spirit asking for help with their problems.
Phansa’s reputation for answering people’s prayers grew quickly and soon people called for her body to be spared cremation. The temple committee agreed whilst also bestowing upon her a new auspicious name “Noo Soy Thong” (Little Gold Necklace).
Today Noo Soy Thong lies as if sleeping in a glass case, albeit with sunglasses on. She is dressed in a pink dress and blue silk slippers, with a pink hair band on her black wig and a long pearl necklace. She is surrounded by dolls for her spirit to play with. Those who have had their prayers and wishes granted by Noo Soy Thong bring new toys for her in order to fulfil their end of the bargain and these are seen placed on top and around her glass case.
This story reveals many aspects of Thai life and culture. No doubt life was very hard for the Sae Ngow family with eight children to support and one can only imagine the parents’ grief in losing their youngest daughter at only three years of age. But Thailand is a poor country and so organising joint funeral ceremonies on behalf of the poor is not uncommon. In fact donating coffins for the poor is a common form of charity in Thailand. One can see this in Wat Hualampong on Rama IV Road in Bangkok where the Ruamkatanyu Foundation organises funerals for the poor and the public can help pay for the coffins.
Another aspect of Thai life revealed in Noo Soy Thong’s story is the attitude to superstition and luck. When the strange case of her preserved body became known publicly people immediately came seeking help and luck from her spirit. People might most often ask for help in choosing winning lottery ticket numbers with the promise to return with a toy for the three year old if successful. The nice toys placed around Noo Soy Thong is ample evidence for all to see that she has indeed intervened through the spirit world to grant others their wish. The power of this spirit must have been apparent quite quickly for the temple committee to agree to preserving the body and bestowing an auspicious name upon her.
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Details of this story come from an old printed sheet on display next to Noo Soy Thong’s glass coffin.
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