Tag Archive: South East Asia

The Body Snatchers of Bangkok

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Cheryl Rutherford

“For the body snatchers of Bangkok, the road to Nirvana is paved with deadly collisions.”
— Peter Lloyd, Journeyman Pictures, 2006

They rush through the dark, gridlocked streets of Bangkok as fast as they can, night after night, in order to arrive first at scenes that would give most people nightmares for days: sites strewn with bodies that are bloodied, mangled, crushed, shot, drowned, burned or torn apart; car crashes, suicides; the murdered, the unlucky. All victims of trauma, all lying dead on streets or in rooms, all waiting for someone to find them and give them peace at last. Careening towards these accident scenes are not highly-trained, paid professionals in ambulances, however. Instead, these are untrained, unpaid volunteers known as the “Body Snatchers” – or less graphically, the “Guardian Angels” – of Bangkok. These average citizens rush to the aid of trauma victims, either to provide basic first aid to the wounded or to take the dead to hospitals for cremation. In a city of eight million people, no formal emergency services and two million car accidents a year, the body snatchers are indeed guardian angels for the dead, performing a much-needed form of philanthropy.

Bangkok body snatchers are officially recognized volunteers for one of two Thai foundations and many have been doing this work for years (even decades). Sometimes entire families volunteer together. Because there are so few ambulances in Bangkok, many drive battered pickup trucks customized for the task at hand. Often, these everyday citizens will go out at night after a day’s work. Even popular actors or models volunteer to collect bodies, and late-night corpse runs featuring these celebrities are filmed for reality TV shows. Rushing to be first at the grisly scenes, they don’t do this for fame or financial gain – the few paid collectors make about $135–500 a month – but instead they do this for a much more personal reason: to bring “merit” or good fortune unto themselves and their families; to build karma in order to protect themselves in this life and improve the next. The Bangkok body snatchers are Buddhists, and they believe that “by helping someone pass through the rigors of death, good karma is…earned.” [Ehrlich, 2010]

Earning this good karma is not without risk. Rather ironically, in addition to karma, Buddhists also believe in ghosts and touching a dead body risks having the spirit enter one’s own body. Furthermore, the more violent a death, the more powerful the ghost of the victim. Thus, collecting a body from the scene of a car accident, for example, is fraught with spiritual danger. To arm themselves against the powerful spirits, body snatchers don protective amulets. Should an amulet be lost, no fear: the insignias embroidered on the volunteers’ uniforms are infused with protective powers, as well. Along with believing in ghosts, Buddhists believe in reincarnation. So to the body snatchers, the inherent risk of touching the dead is worth it: once collected, the corpse is handed over to the hospital, the body is cremated and its spirit is released and free to move onto its next life, further earning the rescuer much good karma for his good deed.

While many groups have tried to gain a foothold in philanthropic body collection (resulting in much fierce competition), since 1991 only two foundations have been officially recognised by the police and allowed to operate in Bangkok, each with its own territory of collection: the Poh Teck Tung Foundation and the Ruamkatanyu Foundation.

The Poh Teck Tung Foundation was founded in 1910 to provide care to the sick and wounded, as well as collect the dead after accidents. (1) Since it began, it has founded several hospitals, the most recent in 1997 (Hua Chiao Hospital). On viewing its website, the foundation also appears to provide disaster relief and to award scholarships and grants for continuing education.
The Ruamkatanyu Foundation was founded in 1970 with the purpose of collecting the unclaimed bodies of accident and murder victims and to provide them with a proper burial. Today, the foundation has a number of ambulances and volunteers who bring the dead, injured or sick to the hospital free of charge. It is also able to handle large-scale rescues in the event of disaster.

As volunteers with either of these foundations, the body snatchers of Bangkok provide multiple necessary services: streets are cleared of accident victims, the wounded are helped, the dead are collected, cremated and sent onto their next incarnation. All this good work results in the accumulation of good karma for the body snatcher and his family. As a form of philanthropy, some Westerners may find the practice of corpse collecting a gruesome one. However, as Akapan Banloerit – one of Thailand’s most popular actors and a volunteer body snatcher for over 20 years – explains: “Acting is our job. We have to do that to earn money – but for this, we volunteer. We give our time, our heart, and everything to help society.” Certainly Western philanthropists can relate to that heartfelt sentiment.


(1) Interestingly, one of the founding members was Anuwat Rachaniyom (or Yi KoHong), who was a leader in a Chinese secret society, the Hong Moen Thian Ti Hu, which ran gambling dens in Bangkok. Chinese secret societies provided mutual aid between the members, including caring for a fellow member’s corpse after he had died and ensuring a proper burial. One might wonder, with his background in crime and experience with caring for his fellow members’ bodies combined with the Buddhist belief of karma, did Rachaniyom help establish the more upstanding Poh Teck Tung Foundation as a way to bank good karma and make amends for his own past bad deeds.

Works cited

Carter, Jeff C., Ghost Tower, February 21, 2013


Crampton, Thomas, The Body Snatchers / Fighting for a Gory Prize : A Race to the Death in Bangkok, January 29, 2002


Ehrlich, Richard S., Bangkok’s real-life body snatchers, April 1, 2010


Leveau, Arnaud, editor, Investigating the Grey Areas of the Chinese Communities in Southeast Asia, March 14, 2007


Poh Teck Tung Foundation website: http://www.pohtecktung.org/

scheng1, Ruamkatanyu Foundation in Bangkok, March 21, 2013


Viceland, Thailand – Body Snatchers, 2006


Journeyman Pictures, produced by ABC Australia, Body Snatchers – Thailand, April 28, 2006 (uploaded August 8, 2007)

Transcript: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2006/s1584927.htm

Payen, Cyril, France 24, Thailand: the war of the “Body Snatchers”, March 3, 2011


Ponlapat Nanthamanop, Ruamkatanyu Foundation final, uploaded November 28, 2012

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My mother’s memories of Manila

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Marecar Joanne Chan

Growing up in the Western society, I have inherited some of my values and traditions from the culture of my mother. My mother was born in the Philippines in the capital city of Manila, however was raised on an island in the province of Southern Leyte. Born into a family the youngest of 5, my grandmother did not have the sufficient funds to support my mother through her education. A tradition within in my family includes providing support through establishing an agreement to pay for a student’s school tuition fees and in return, the student would live and work for the person or family supporting them.

My mother and her siblings are the product of this cultural form of giving. As a young girl, my mother moved to Southern Leyte to live with a family that would be able to afford to fund her education and in return, she lived with the family and assisted them with household chores. These household chores would include cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and assisting with general house work.

This is a form of giving in a sense that the family that supported my mother did not necessarily need the outside assistance to complete everyday tasks. The family created work for my mother at a very young age, which allowed her to receive an education that would not have been available to her due to her lack of resources. Instead of simply giving her the money to fund her education, through taking her in, they have relieved her family from the expenses of raising her and created an honest way to earn money. In this way, this is a diverse form of giving that empowers the people of the community. Rather than seeing the money as a handout or welfare, creating a job allows people to work and feel the satisfaction of earning a living.

Today, my aunt and her husband live in the same province. With no children of their own to support, they have taken in a little girl from their community to fund her education in the same way it was done for my mother. In a household of two, my aunt and her husband do not require the extra assistance with cooking and cleaning, however being able to afford her education provides her with greater opportunities in life. Opening their home to this little girl, allows her the chance to receive an education, pursue her dreams, and later support her own family.

Philanthropy in this form includes members of the community supporting their community to provide a better quality of life. Through funding a community member’s education, they are creating sustainable development that benefits the person, their family, and their future. The people with the available funds are donating to sustain and improve the human resources in an area, which is a different practice than investing in only physical resources. Through this philanthropic tradition, people with greater means are able to support their community and empower the people that live within it.

Works cited

J, Chan, personal communication, September 27, 2013.

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Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy

By Ezra Mayled

The sense of family is an important part of many cultures; the Filipino culture is no exception. From a culture that is often identified as being “hospitable”, the practice of philanthropy is also present. Over recent years there has been an increase of immigrants coming from the Philippines, with Filipinos being the highest number of permanent residents by top source countries from 2010 to 2012 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2013). A similar situation can be found in the United States.

Also birthed from the migration of Filipinos to the Western World is what Garchitorena (2007) calls “Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy.” Diaspora meaning, “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland (Collins English Dictionary, 2012). When Filipinos move overseas they tend to “give back” (Garchitorena, 2007) to their homeland country.

Reasons as to why they give back vary from situation to situation; those who have done well abroad seek ways to share their “wealth or talent with their home country” (Garchitorena, 2007). As I took a second to reflect at how this is true in my own (family) life I see that the Diaspora Philanthropy is evident so who better to discuss the topic than my own Filipino family. Upon asking my father, his reply was “the reason for giving back is gratitude, because we are thankful for what our families have done for us, and we want to share the blessings we have received here in Canada” (P. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014). Another reason for the desire to give back to the homeland is “self gratification in knowing that I have helped someone who is more in need” (N. Pantig, personal communication, September 19, 2014). “After giving back and sending Balikbayan boxes or money, I feel comfortable knowing that people who will be receiving the gift will be a little more comfortable in life themselves” (M. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014).

Methods of giving back which have been briefly mentioned include Balikbayan boxes which are boxes filled with non-perishable food, clothing, health-related items. These Balikbayan boxes are sent directly to families usually on trips to the the Philippines where “there is great personal satisfaction when one can actually meet the person who will benefit from a donation” (Garchitorena, 2007) or by shipping it and the recipient(s) receiving it in approximately 4-5 weeks. Another common method is through money transfer. My family every so often sends money over to their families back in the Philippines, especially to help cover ever-so-expensive health costs for a family member. One other method my family gives back is by donating money through our local church especially to help victims of natural disasters such as typhoons, and landslides.

I believe one of Garchitorena’s (2007) reasoning encompasses why I would personally give back in the near future which is the “compassion for the poor and underprivileged”. I was born and raised in Canada, and have only seen a glimpse of living in the Philippines. With just that slight glimpse I know the way of living in Canada is a hundredfold different (and one could say better) than in the Philippines. I can see them as two completely different worlds. To see how my relatives in the Philippines live and how I live here in Canada makes me count my blessings, and even share them whenever I can out of the compassion of my heart.

Works Cited

Garchitorena, V. P., (2007). Diaspora Philanthropy: The Philippine Experience. Convention on Biological Diversity.

diaspora. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/diaspora

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The Bayanihan Spirit after Typhoon Haiyan

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Donna Webb

In the Philippines, the idea of Bayanihan, working together towards a common goal for the benefit of the whole community, shapes the country’s core values. According to the World Giving Index 2012, the Philippines is the second most charitable country in Southeast Asia. In 2012, the Philippines’ giving behaviour in terms of volunteering time increased to 44 per cent, up from 41 per cent in 2011.

The Filipino tradition of volunteering can best be illustrated by the outpouring of compassion for victims following the devastating typhoon 11 months ago. On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. United Nations agencies reported that the storm killed 6,340 people and left 4.1 million people homeless.

In the aftermath of the storm, local doctors were stirred to take collective action. Dr. Evangeline Cua, a surgeon from the Western city of Iloilo sent out an urgent message on Facebook appealing for donations to dispatch a medical team to hard-hit Tacloban City. Donations poured in and within 24 hours, she had received enough funds to dispatch a team of nine volunteers with medical supplies.

The Church played a major role in providing relief and recovery. Not only did the Filipino community turn to the church for spiritual comfort, but the church also served as a physical shelter for the sick, wounded and displaced. Dr. Cua and her team set up a makeshift medical bay in the Church of the Redeemer where they treated people with infected wounds, respiratory and GI infections, and skin lesions.

What accounts for the Catholic Church’s social influence in the Philippines? The answer lies in the country’s colonial history. In 1565, the Spanish landed in the Philippines, established settlements and quickly converted the majority of the Filipino population to Christianity. The Catholic Church’s role was not limited to providing spiritual guidance; it also provided access to social services such as education and health care.

While the Church offered hope after the storm, the Bayanihan spirit drove local people to band together, support the victims, and rebuild the community. It explains why Dr. Cua reached out to the community and the world via Facebook. It explains why a doctor who was accustomed to the safe confines of a private hospital would brave debris-strewn roads and expect nothing in return. It explains why she decided to go, even after her sister pleaded with her to stay because of security issues.

“How could I go on with my life when I know that people are suffering and I could actually do something to help and not go there? I thought, at that time, that it’s our moral obligation as a human being to extend help,” she said.

Works Cited

The Bayanihan Spirit: Dead or Alive – Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 7:91-105 (1979)


World Giving Index 2012


History of the Philippines


Philippines Aid begins at home: Social Media helps local people prevent spread of illness following Typhoon Haiyan (The Independent)


Typhoon Haiyan After Action Report: Local Physicians Give First-hand Findings (Emergency Physicians International)


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Feeding the Monks: Pindapata ~ Alms Food Collection

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

by Leah Tanner

Pindapata or Alms giving is a practice in which Buddhist monks walk through their village every morning to collect donations of food from the general population for their daily meals. The tradition began with the ritual that the monks are to simplify their lives by not preparing or cooking their own meals and to rely on the generosity of the lay people. The alms round was, for the Buddha, a key feature of the monastic life and the alms bowl is, for all Buddhists, a symbol of the monastic order. Read the rest of this entry >>

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Thich Naht Hanh

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Megan Thomas

Thich Naht Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926 and helped to found the ‘engaged Buddhism’ movement during the Vietnam War in the 1960’s (Hahn, 2008). In the simplest terms, engaged Buddhism entails a focus on the present and full participation in community, as well as a compassionate regard for the well-being of others (Hahn, 2008). Read the rest of this entry >>

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Buddhism and Enlightenment

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in South East Asia Tags: , ,

By Anna Marie Kolodziej

Philanthropy has been a prominent act throughout history, more specifically in the different cultures of the world. In the society today there are different religions and cultures which include traditions of giving; one in particular is called Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition it is believed that humans are all interconnected in life and that we are continuously receiving generosity from others. Read the rest of this entry >>

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The Story of Vessantara

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in South East Asia Tags: , ,

By Kim Collins

Buddhists traditions of south East Asia revere the story of Vessantara. In Buddhism there are ten (or six depending on the tradition) main virtues. The first virtue is the paramita (or perfection) of dana (generosity) (Ratnasinghe, 1). The paramita of dana is extolled in the tale of Vessantara.

Vessantara, the incarnation before Siddhartha, was born into a royal family. His birth caused the gods to take note of his generous character, Read the rest of this entry >>

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My Grandfather’s Legacy

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Rosario P. Blardony

The Philippines has a long tradition of giving and volunteering. The bayanihan spirit, a community acting together to help its members, best captures the essence of Filipino generosity. Pakikipagkapwa (a shared sense of humanity), pagtutulungan (mutual self-help), and kawanggawa (charity) are cultural traits that tend to underlie Filipino philanthropy. The Church is another significant driving force in reinforcing neighborliness and charitable giving.
Traditionally, philanthropic work in the country has been practiced within the family and kinship groups, and not through institutions. Read the rest of this entry >>

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