Legends of Thailand: Jim Thompson & John Fowler

1 of the features of this wooden bungalow that I appreciate the most is the bedroom window. It faces west towards Bokor Mountain and is fronted by a modest mangrove from which sprouts ferns and palms and other green foliage indigenous to Southeast Asia. A couple of papaya trees also make up part of the ensemble. I take pleasure in gazing by means of this portal at dusk, at dawn and, specifically, in in between around 3 in the morning. The play of light that shrouds the scene in numerous hues reminds me of Monet’s haystacks. This evening it reminded me of the Jim Thompson Property in Bangkok.

I’ve visited that residence half a dozen times for the duration of my tenure in this part of the world and it is at the top of my list for vacationers to check out although in Bangkok. Jim Thompson was an American who first arrived in Thailand as an OSS officer just as the Japanese surrendered. He speedily became enamored of the Thai culture and folks, cashed out his chips in Maryland and took up permanent residence in Bangkok. At that time Thai silk was merely a scattered cottage business. Thompson organized it, set his special inventive flair on its styles and quickly became recognized as the ‘Thai Silk King’. Inside 15 years Thompson silk goods had attained a globe-wide renown. In 1959 he disassembled a number of old northern Thai teak wood homes, floated them down the Chao Phraya River and reassembled them into 1 glorious property. By the early ’60 his dinner parties were a single of the most esteemed soirees in the city.

Then, although visiting pals in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia on Easter Sunday 1968, he went for a late afternoon stroll. It was a stroll from which he in no way returned. His disappearance remains 1 of the intriguing mysteries of Southeast Asia.

Rumors and speculations have continued to percolate for half a century. Communists and CIA agents aspect into the mix. I had the privilege of understanding a Welshman named John Fowler who created his organization with Thai cotton as Thompson had done with Thai silk. Fowler and Thompson had recognized every other. 1 evening more than Mekong sodas on the verandah of John’s riverside property, I asked him what he thought had occurred to Thompson.

“It was enterprise, pure and simple,” he said. “That was it. Disregard all the conspiracy theories. That shit is meant to sell books and cover up the truth. Thompson had a monopoly…a quite lucrative monopoly. Some Thais wanted in…he refused. So, they took him out. Appear what has happened considering that. No much more monopoly now is there? The Chinese-Thais have become large players. Where we come from they would have sued Thompson for unfair company practices. From what I know of his business practices a very good lawyer would probably have won the case. Thais think differently. They figure a bullet is less costly than a lawyer. And, there is no appealing the verdict of a bullet.”

So, back to the window…

Last year I took my wife to see the Jim Thompson Home. It was converted into a museum many years following Thompson’s disappearance and showcases his valued assortment of Southeast Asian antiques…porcelain ware, Buddha statues, wood carvings and so forth. I didn’t pay mush interest to all that this past go to. I looked out the windows upon the courtyard of sandstones and the banana trees and all the green palms. I like to envision what the place was like 50 years ago when it was on the outskirts of the city. Now it is dwarfed by tall buildings and besotted by targeted traffic noise and air pollution. Still, it remains a worthy vestige of a bygone era. I hope it remains so for many years to come.

Our tour guide was a pretty young Thai woman…both affable and informative. What I especially appreciated was that she did not refer to the common anecdote about Thompson occasionally entertaining some mysterious woman in his boudoir late at evening. He might well have entertained mysterious guests in his boudoir on occasion but none of them have been females. I couldn’t care much less about his sexual inclinations but why perpetuate a falsehood about them? He was properly identified to be gay as is the Georgia boy who wrote the most extensively study book on Thompson. John Fowler was also gay but, unlike the other two, he never ever resorted to duplicitous implies in order to deceive people. John was constantly honest. In fact, he became 1 of the most flamboyant ‘gay queens’ of Thailand in the 70’s and 80’s. Sadly, he died of AIDS not long following I last spent time with him in 1989.

He was a single of the most colorful, intelligent and thoughtful men I ever met on this side of the planet. He was witty and marvelous enjoyable to be with. Twenty years right after his death I still remember him with great fondness. Someday, somebody ought to investigation his life and write a book about him. Somebody honest who’s not ashamed about who he is or who John was simply because John completely enjoyed himself and the planet around him. He was a proud man with considerably to be proud about.

If a book worthy of John Fowler ever gets written it will place him appropriate beside Jim Thompson in the pantheon of ex-pats who have made a glorious contribution to Thailand…the country they chose to make their residence and a country that is greater off because they did so.

I will be searching out my window in the wee tiny hours tomorrow morning. Maybe I will get lucky and see a flickering image of John’s wry smile and sparkling blue eyes amidst the moonlit palms.
SABUNG AYAM
Don’t do shrooms in Thailand

i’ll function on the british accent
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