We try to balance our adventures with work days and tourist days while travelling. Based on our deadlines we either A) work in the morning, tourist in the afternoon, B) tourist in the morning, work in the afternoon, or C) tourist the whole day and work the next day.
I once listened to RuPaul on an interview with Marc Maron. RuPaul talked about a personal belief that life is like a play, a universal theatre. Once you realize that the play is in your control you can play whatever part you want and transform your life into whatever story or thing you’d like to experience.
I suspect Jim Thompson may have viewed his life in this same way. Thompson lived about 10 lives in one. He was a Princeton grad, Architect, American WWII Spy, Thai Silk merchant, famous antique collector, and finally the subject of a missing person murder mystery.
Jim Thompson was born in Delaware and studied at Princeton. He then went to study architecture at University of Pennsylvania. In 1941 he enlisted in the army and was recruited as a SPY. His first assignment was in North Africa.
His military career took him to Europe, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In 1946, while at the United States legation he worked with Kenneth Landon. Landon’s wife just happened to be Margaret Landon, author of Anna and the King of Siam which was the inspiration for the 1956 musical, The King and I.
At the end of 1946, Thompson left the army and returned to Thailand. He joined a group of investors to buy The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. During the hotel’s restoration he had differences with his colleagues and gave up his share in the project. He switched his focus to the Thai silk industry.
If you’ve ever seen the movie musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, The King and I, you’ve seen Jim Thompson silk. Since he had a connection with the author, Margaret Landon, he was able to feature his silk in the original Broadway show as well as the movie. And lucky for him the movie was very popular at the box office, so even more people found out about his silks.
Not only did Thompson prosper from his business, but he brought many jobs to women in Thailand. Most of his employees were women and he allowed them to work at home. This way they could be at home taking care of the kids and such, while still making money for their family. Also – Thompson didn’t have to pay for a huge factory, because all the employees did home-based weaving.
After he arrived in Thailand, Thompson began collecting art from Southeast Asia. He began amassing quite a collection that would include rare tapestries, ancient Buddha statues, ceramics, and paintings. At this time in Thailand, such antique objects were only owned by a few wealthy Chinese families, nobility and … Jim Thompson.
When you go to the museum it’s a real treat because the museum is in Jim Thompson’s house. His estate was made up of many old style Thai homes and is located in the city of Bangkok. There are gardens, coy fish ponds, and each of the six houses are filled with beautiful antiques from all over Asia.
On our tour we learned something we’d been wondering about. Why in Thailand did doorways have a raised threshold and why were you not supposed to stand on the raised threshold? This is explained by blogger, Thaizer:
In Thailand, the spirits are a part of everyday life and the raised threshold to a home or temple is reserved for the spirit guardian and also acts as a barrier to keep out evil spirits. Whether you believe in spirits or not is neither here nor there; if you are visiting Thai homes and temples, you show respect for local culture by stepping over the threshold; don’t place your foot on it. And don’t even think about sitting on it.
We also learned about Spirit houses – we’d seen these in Nok’s neighborhood. Spirit houses are everywhere in Thailand; people’s front yard, hotels, stores.
The Spirit house is usually an ornately carved wooden house that stands on a raised platform in the front yard. This house acts as a place the “spirit” of the land can reside in. In Thai culture it is believed that there was a spirit who lived in the land of your house before you moved got there. Another detail you will see in a spirit house is food and drink placed on the platform of the spirit house. This small offering of food or drink (oranges, snacks, coconuts, Fanta, Coca Cola) is meant to be a kind gesture to the spirits of the spirit house. So basically, the #1 rule is don’t piss off the spirit of the land you live on by not providing them a spirit house to move to.
The eeriest artifact you will see in the museum is a framed sheet of paper that includes a drawing of a circle. Within this circle is two dates in Thai script.
Years before his disappearance, Thompson had a Thai monk give him an astrological reading. He gave him two dates. One date was the best date to move into his new home in Bangkok. The second date the monk explained was “within 6 days of your 61st birthday you must watch your health carefully, be careful with yourself before and after your 61st birthday.”
Thompson disappeared from Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands on Sunday, 26 March 1967. This was 5 days after his 61st birthday. To this day no one “really” knows what happened to him. Legend says he flew out of Bangkok to spend a day in Penang with his long time girlfriend, Connie Mangskau. On Friday, 24 March they left Penang for the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. They stayed at the Moonlight Bungalow with friends. On Sunday morning, March 26th, Thompson woke up and decided to go for a walk. He never came back to the bungalow.
I wonder if his spy past caught up to him? Or were people jealous of his wealth? It’s an interesting disappearance and it had me googling about Jim Thompson for hours after we left the museum. His life sounds like a fiction novel or Hollywood movie.