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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts


The Brothers Paranormal is playing at the CoHo Theater October 25 through November 16. Featured performers include Lidet Viravong, Elaine Low, Melissa L. MagaŮa, and Samson Syharath. (Photo/Alex Haslett)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #20 (October 21, 2019), page 6.

Asian ghosts

My mom believed in ghosts and swore to me that sheíd seen one. When I was an adolescent, she told me about a night when she was walking through a cemetery. She passed by a weeping woman dressed in white with long dark hair covering her face. Thinking it was a ghost, she ran away from the woman in fear. She said if the ghost woman had turned in her direction, its long red tongue would roll out of its mouth onto the ground. And anyone who saw this would die. The image scared me to no end.

Since then Iíve been apprehensive about being in a cemetery at night. My momís story created in me a respect for ghosts, just in case theyíre around ó and watching. I tried to research the ghost my mom described. Most Chinese ghost stories have mixed mythology and folklore. Though I did not locate any with long creepy tongues, I found ghosts with torches or needles as mouths and another with such bad breath even the ghost itself was disgusted. What struck me was that there are so many ghosts ó and they have quite varied personalities.

Itís not that I have a fascination with Asian ghosts, but you know those feelings ó when you fear something but are also drawn to it. I think itís about testing oneís own bravery. I believe thatís often why people watch horror movies. The last full-fledged Asian ghost story movie I watched was The Ring. Bad dreams and a need to sleep with a nightlight followed.

It is my personal belief that Asian ghosts are the scariest; there is no benevolent Casper, the friendly ghost. Most seem malevolent and out for revenge. I just finished watching "The Terror," a television show on AMC set in a Japanese-American incarceration camp during World War II. One family is haunted by a vengeful female spirit who can take possession of anyone. I started following the show because itís perhaps the most accurate and authentic depiction in film or television of the forced imprisonment of people during this shameful chapter of American history. And though frightening, the ghost demon in the show is a symbol of the horror Japanese Americans endured, which still haunts much of the community.

Ghosts can be a catalyst to bring out not only our own fears but also lingering trauma. For instance, Thai ghosts are named for pain and suffering during life and death. Phi Tai Ha is the ghost of someone who died in an accident, Chao Kam Nai Wen is a ghost who continues to have ill will towards a person who was wronged, and Phi Tai Hong is the ghost of a person who suffered a sudden violent or cruel death. Many Thai ghosts seem to be women, which is a theme of The Brothers Paranormal, a production by playwright Prince Gomolvilas.

Gomolvilas spent 11 years off and on writing the play in the hope it would one day make it to the stage. He received two rolling world premieres last May. And around Halloween this year, MediaRites and its Theatre Diaspora program are co-producing The Brothers Paranormal in Portland with CoHo Productions. Also playing in Seattle, the show up north is presented by the Pork Filled Players and opens at the Theatre Off Jackson on October 26 .

The play centers on two Thai brothers who capitalize on numerous sightings nationwide of female Asian ghosts. Their first clients, an African-American couple who survived Hurricane Katrina, swear they are being haunted by a young female Thai ghost. When I read the play, I was drawn to it because it was such a funny and scary pageturner with twists and turns. But itís also a metaphor for grief, loss, and what haunts cultural communities.

This particular ghost story also speaks to the reticence of communities of color to seek mental-health services. The ghost may indeed be real or could be a manifestation of psychological trauma. The brilliant cast brings this theme to light in every scene and leads the audience to wonder if they too might be seeing a ghost in their lives.

Ghost stories serve a purpose in every culture. They give voice to our own mortality and fears and bring up the question of what might happen in the hereafter. Iíve noticed that the older I get, the less I fear that question or worry about the potential that ghosts are already around us.

Check out The Brothers Paranormal on October 25 in Portland if you would like to meet Prince Gomolvilas, who will be manifesting himself to Portland for the opening-night performance. Or will he? Come find out.

The Brothers Paranormal is featured at the CoHo Theater, located at 2257 N.W. Raleigh Street in Portland, October 25 through November 16. To learn more, or to buy tickets, call (503) 220-2646 or visit <www.cohoproductions.org>.

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