An American in Bangkok left a legacy, and a mystery or two.
Above: Jim Thompson. One biographer is quick to deny that he could have been homosexual. (But then, she fails to even mention Cocky, his pet white cockatoo.) While in Bangkok, we recommend a tour of Thompson's traditional-style Thai home.
Getting around Thailand
The Thai language
Mai pen rai: a slogan and a philosophy
Honah Lee: Adventure travel in Thailand for gay men and lesbians
This page describes one of the many spots you can visit on Honah Lee, a Thailand vacation for gay men, lesbians, and friends. Links at the bottom of this page lead to more information about this tour.
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As World War II ended in 1945, thousands of Americans found themselves in remote corners of the world. One such American was Jim Thompson, an operative with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, predecessor to the CIA) who in 1945 was scheduled to parachute into Thailand.
The war ended two days before Thompson arrived in Bangkok. Rather than return to the United States, Thompson chose to remain, as a civilian, in a land that was already bringing its charms to bear on him. After a stint helping to restore the faded glory of the Oriental Hotel, he turned his attention to the silk industry.
Colorful, hand-woven silks had once been a prized part of Thai culture, but gradually they were pushed aside by mass-produced textiles. Thompson collected an assortment of his favorite handmade silks, then made the long journey to New York, where he caught the eye of the fashion industry. In the decade that followed, he revitalized Thailand's silk industry.
Thompson also took an interest in the architecture of Southeast Asia. Traditional Thai homes had developed, over the centuries, in a style uniquely suited to the environment. Teakwood panels provided not only beauty, but resistance to rot. Without plumbing or utility lines coming in, a Thai home was a relatively simple affair: Large panels that acted as walls, hung on a simple wood frame. Air currents were desirable in this climate, so there was no need for a perfect fit. When a family decided to move, they simply loaded the wall panels onto an elephant or raft, and re-build elsewhere.
Jim Thompson purchased six such homes and reassembled them into his own, much larger, dwelling. The Thai influence remained, but Thompson added his own touches, putting a central stairway indoors, rather than leaving it outside in the traditional style, and flipping the wall panels so that the outside decorations now faced in. He then filled his new home with the art of Southeast Asia: carvings, paintings, and pottery he had collected during his time in Thailand.
On Easter Sunday, 1967, Jim Thompson was vacationing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. That afternoon he set off by himself for a hike, and never returned. Search parties fanned through the region, but found no trace. Thompson had already established a small international reputation, and this mysterious disappearance gave him new notoriety.
Theories abound: He was eaten by a tiger. He got lost, slipped down a slope, and died. He was kidnapped, but died before his captors could demand ransom.
Or perhaps Jim Thompson simply decided it was time for a new life. OSS training would have been valuable for anyone wishing to disappear and re-locate elsewhere.
And while we're wondering about things...
Was Jim Thompson homosexual? Rumors persisted. One biographer felt compelled to deny them, pointing out, after all, that he was married for 9 months shortly after the war. He disappeared at a time when gay still meant happy to most people, and if part of his attraction to Thailand was the culture's less rigid approach to sexuality the Thai language did not even have a term for homosexual he left no clue to that in his public persona.
We have no inside information about this subject. But we did note that on the end table in his home sit two tribal drums that Thompson purchased at a market. He had fashioned them into table lamps.
Other stops on this tour of Thailand:
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