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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fake blood, they say, keeps the vampires away

Fake blood, they say, keeps the vampires away

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Tang Dany, 8, and her older sister, Tang Srey Leak, 13, with their fake blood talism in Kampong Cham.

In the small hours of the night, a crescendo of howling dogs rips apart the deep

silence.

For the residents of Thbong Khmum district in Kampong Cham, the howls are an ominous

sign that the dogs have spotted evil spirits wandering nearby.

While restless dogs in the countryside may not seem cause for concern, residents

of Kampong Cham and some neighboring provinces have been gripped by fear of bloodsucking

vampires and have begun taking preventative action.

"Mixing red dye with water looks like the blood of a virgin girl," says

Chheang Lay, a 37-year-old resident of Thbong Khmum. "Any household that does

not hang bottles or plastic bags of red-dyed water in front of their houses risks

having evil spirits come into their homes and sucking the blood of their daughters

or family member."

Lay, who has a 15-year-old daughter, says that two weeks ago he filled a plastic

water bottle with the fake blood and hung it outside his house to quench the thirst

of roaming vampires.

Along the streets of his village, hundreds of bottles and bags of bright red water

hang on gates and doorways.

"It's only this year, about a month ago, that people started using the red dye

and water that looks like blood," said Sim Sithov, Thbong Khmum district chief,

adding that most families in his district had taken up the trend.

"People told me that this year there would be bei sarch chunh chuk cheam [evil

spirits that suck blood] or giants who need humans and animals, while other people

said they just do it to keep their families safe," Sithov said.

The farming area of Thbong Khmum district has long been a stronghold of superstition.

Locals insist all new district chiefs honor a powerful neak ta, or ancestor spirit,

before taking office, and residents usually place scarecrows outside their homes

to protect their families from wandering spirits.

It's unclear what started this year's colorful variation on the tradition, but the

tales making the rounds are imaginative and often gory.

Duch Pic, 74, from Thlak village, says there have been many fatalities on the roads

lately, and those who have died have become vampires. Pic believes the vampires like

to roam at night to find food and their favorite treat is blood, so she has hung

two bottles of red-dye water to offer to any thirsty spirits.

At the more gruesome end of the story-telling spectrum, Huy La, 13, tells the story

of a pregnant women who lived in a remote part of Thbong Khmum. She waited so long

for her husband to return from the market with pork that she tore open her stomach

and ate her unborn child.

Another horror story is one of a family checking on their cattle shelter, only to

find blood gushing onto the ground - the result, say the locals, of a vampire vomiting

after overindulging on cow blood.

While Seng Hour, the acting chief of monks at Wat Ang Naram Srei Siem in Thbong Khmum

district, says the fear of rogue spirits is rooted in Brahmanism, not Buddhism, the

popularity of local and imported horror films might also play a role.

One of La's other stories - that of a woman who died giving birth to twins, who then

wander around angrily sucking blood - also happens to be a common theme in B-grade

horror films across the Kingdom.

Vampire skeptics include La's father, 46-year-old Seak Ou, who says the climate of

fear has been drummed up by thieves to keep people indoors while they steal cattle.

While La claims she is not afraid of vampires, she admits that she asked her father

to hang a bottle of red-dyed water inside the first floor of her house, tucked out

of sight, just in case.

District chief Sithov says many people are jumping on the superstition bandwagon.

"People just copy from one another in order not to miss out," Sithov said.

"If they did not do it and had problems later, they would have regrets because

they did not follow the others."

Whatever the reasons behind people's fear, it seems vampire fear is spreading beyond

Thbong Khmum district.

Sun Sokly, district chief of Ponhea Krek in Kampong Cham, said his region is also

dotted with bottles of red-dye water, while Chheang Lay says the talisman has spread

to Chhlong district in Kratie and Svay Chrum district in Svay Rieng.

Uy Than, chief of Svay Chrum, confirmed that people in his district began hanging

fake-blood offerings about a month ago, saying they considered teenage girls particularly

at risk.

The upshot for Than is that an informal nightly curfew for young women makes it easier

to protect their safety.

"Now most of the girls in my community are prohibited by their parents [to go

out at night] and must stay at home," Than said, adding that the boys were still

out strolling after dark.

Back in Thbong Khmum district, locals are also hurrying back home as dusk approaches,

seeking the safety of houses and their protective offerings of fake blood at the

door.

Ghosts with the most

Ghosts play an important role in the religious and cinematic life of Cambodians.

The Post has consulted with the dark side and come up with this beginner's guide

to Khmer ghosts and ghouls.

Arb - A staple of Cambodia horror flicks, an arb is believed to be a living person,

usually a woman, with the magical ability to detach its head and vital organs and

fly off into the night to consume unsavory things such as infected wounds, afterbirth,

frogs and garbage.

Bei sarch chunh chuk chheam - An "evil spirit that sucks blood", or vampire.

Khmoach - The umbrella term for any ghost, but usually indicating the souls of those

properly blessed by monks.

Khmoach anatha - This "vagrant ghost" did not receive the correct burial

rites and continues to wander the earth.Khmoach tai hoang - "Ghosts who have

died an unnatural death" such as murder, suicide or attack by an animal, are

also restless spirits.

Khmoach chhao - A "raw ghost" is said to be the result of a cat jumping

over a corpse. These zombie-like creatures are a common sight in Chinese horror films

dubbed into Khmer, appearing either with arms outstretched or jumping to suck the

blood of humans.

Yumabal - The "Guardian of Hell" acts as an investigator for the judgement

of souls.

Yumareach - The "King of Devils" makes the final decision on which of the

nine gates of hell a soul will be sent. A stay in gate one is usually short and followed

by superior reincarnation. Gate nine leads to an eternity of torture in hell.

Yumatout - A devil or demon. Employed as a torturer in the lower levels of hell.

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