5 Weirdest Superstitions Encountered Abroad

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So you’re bumming around Cambodia and happen to piss off the wrong person—word gets around that a hail of bullets may be in your future. Do you:

Call the cops? Nope.
Invest in a Kevlar wardrobe? Nah.
Make a beeline for the nearest tattoo parlor? Bingo!

Traditional tattooing in Cambodia is commonly believed to hold mystical powers, with their “Yantra” tattoos being able to bring both good luck and protection. If someone feels their life and health are at risk the may seek out magic tattoo artists, a practice especially popular among both soldiers and kickboxers.

While snagging yourself some magic ink may sound appealing, just remember that each one generally comes with a set of rules which, if broken, can decrease or eliminate its power. Common rules include abstaining from alcohol, avoiding bridges, and of course promising not to use its power for evil.

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After narrowly escaping Cambodia you stop over in Thailand, where you sit around on oxen sipping Ovaltine with your friends Bank, Letter, Ping Pong, and Apple. As your colleagues Fork and Spoon approach, you turn to them wondering if it’s all just a fever dream—only to finally learn those aren’t their real names at all (no way!).

It was once a frequently held belief in Thai-Buddhist culture that calling a child by their given name made them an easy target for evil spirits. While these spirits could be powerful they apparently held the IQ of a potato, because not knowing a kid’s real name was enough to utterly confuse them while kids with boring or unflattering names were simply overlooked.

While most Thai people still use nicknames, they are often more playful or creative in the younger generations. Still, don’t be surprised if Thai locals insist on giving you a new name “for your own protection”.

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Laos people aren’t all that concerned about personal space—it isn’t uncommon for someone you’ve just met to pet your arms or shoulders, while complete strangers see no reason not to lean up against you at the market or on the bus. Yet, strange as it seems, they do indeed have a personal bubble—it just only encompasses their feet. While the head is outright holy, the feet are considered dirty. No matter how often you scrub your tootsies, they will always be seen as offensive to the point that so much as pointing at someone with your feet—let alone touching them—is incredibly rude. However, keeping track of your feet is also practiced for your own protection—if you happen to step over the legs of someone older than you, you’ll be cursed with bad luck for the foreseeable future.

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Superstitions are generally beliefs held-over from a time when faith in the supernatural was commonplace, with many dating back thousands of years. Superstitions in Korea are no exception, with their most common conjecture dating all the way back to the 1920’s.

Wait, what? How could the same decade that blessed us with both penicillin and PEZ also have let loose a new and dangerous mystical power into the world? Indeed, a demon was unleashed: The Electric Fan.

“Fan Death” is considered a true threat in South Korea, as locals believe sleeping with your fan or AC on can lead to sudden and inexplicable asphyxiation. Most fans are equipped with a timed, automatic shut-off in case you doze off with your death machine running. Korean adrenaline-junkies know no greater rush than sleeping at a comfortable temperature on a hot night, cheating the Reaper even in their sleep.

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Okay, so you’ve dismantled your air conditioner, invested in a full-body tattoo, changed your name, and aced your exam on foot etiquette, but you’re still feeling unlucky; fear not, my friend. A quick trip to your local Thai food market can offer a quick solution.

Oftentimes you’ll find buckets of turtles tucked away in the fish markets, which many horrified travelers assume will be eaten. If your hippie-heart is aching to rescue one of those cuties and grant him glorious freedom at the nearest riverbank, then consider your bad-luck woes a thing of the past!

It turns out the Thai people aren’t heartless turtle-murderers at all—caring for a turtle and setting it free is said to bring good luck and longevity. By collecting those unintentionally caught in fishing nets merchants can basically sell luck to their customers—but with so many strange and unexpected superstitions out there, it may be worth the price!

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4 comments

  1. Lots interesting information here, presented in an entertaining fashion! I think you’d really enjoy the book “A Fortune Teller Told Me” by Tiziano Terzani. Some of those superstitions/ beliefs are mentioned in his book about a year without flying… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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