JIM THOMPSON’S INSIDE OUT RECIPROCITY HOUSE

I found this in the drafts folder and decided it wanted to be posted off. I have a lot of drafts. I change my mind a lot. I don’t always finish things. These are all traits I heard about ad infinitum growing up. i still have them. That must be arrested development. This is from last October of 2007.

Jim Thompson's Dining Room.

Jim Thompson's Dining Room

A few weeks ago in Maine while staying at The Blue Hill Inn, I had breakfast in the dining room and started chatting with another guest at the next table. He was a retrired CIA agent who spoke 12 languages fluently and had lived all over the world spending the majority of that time in Asia. I told him that while in Bangkok years ago I had visited the house of the American ex-OSS agent, whose name I could not recall, who was credited with being solely responsible for creating an export industry for Thai silk and thus helpfully changing the economy. Naturally this retired CIA Agent knew his name and had been a friend of this Jim Thompson. And for some reason this morning, which should have been yesterday morning, I thought of this guy and his house again.

If you look closely you can see the little riser thingie at the bottom of the doorway

We had a tour of this house, now a museum, and the guide told a fascinating tale, one which I cannot find online exactly. It seems this Jim Thompson bought a house along the Klong Maha Nag (Maha Nag waterway) but it wasn’t big enough. So he bought another house farther up the waterway and had it floated on a raft down to the banks of the existing house. Foreigners are allowed to purchase an exactly measured bit of land providing that the same exact real estate opportunity is made available for purchase by a Thai in said purchaser’s country of origin. Thai law seems to be about reciprocity in this respect. Nice. Reciprocity makes perfect sense to me in this often incomprehensible world.

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I want to live in a house just like this.

Once he got the pieces of the house and was ready to reassemble it (Thai houses were traditionally built to be movable and so were built with interlocking panels that required no nails or wood screws), he decided he liked the outside so much that we wanted it to be the inside. So he put it back together inside out. Shutters opened inward and the walls were weathered, as outer walls would be, and the overall effect was rather fascinating.

Walking through doorways was tricky because they are different from our doors. Thai doorways have (or maybe “had”) a little riser at the bottom because they believe that evil spirits can only travel horizontally and thus would not be able to get into a house or into various rooms. I suppose this makes sense in a metaphorical way because maybe evil people can only think horizontally. If evil spirits or people could think vertically perhaps they grow or evolve or might look beyond their own eye level perceptions of the world and thus be open-mided and, inevitably, enlightened and this would of course make them nice and not evil. And perhaps they would thus be capable of change, as in change of thought. For if thoughts and people never change… well, who knows.

The notion of an inside-out house is fascinating to me. And if you remove that little space between “out” and “house” it makes for an interesting Freudian slip with further possible redundant metaphorical possibilities. I sometimes think my metaphorical house is an inside-out house but I don’t know if that removable and possibly Freudian space is part of my house or not. Perhaps because I am an oversharer and my neuroses are so fully on display. With neon signs blinkingly heralding their existence. How I live is somewhat inside-out. So Jim’s house made perfect sense to me and I wanted to live in it. Maybe some day I will have an actual inside-out house.

Years later Jim disappeared while on his daily walk in the woods with his trusted guide. Neither of them were ever seen again. There are many theories about this ranging from the more incidental possibility of being attacked by bears or the like, to the more conspiratorial murder theories about his ex-OSS status and etc.

Upon landing at the airport in Bangkok I met my first pickpocket. We were no sooner through customs, at midnight thirty during a monsoon that had rocked the plane enough that I banged my head on the window a few times, than the spectacle bgean much as it said it would in our Lonely Planet guide. We were swarmed. I had a foolish hat in my hand which would later in the hot sun prove to be non-foolish, and my other hand guiding my rolling bag.  My money and passport were in one of those holders on a string tucked into my shirt. I felt hands going through my pocjkets and at first I knida freaked out and flung my hatted hand about at the swarm but then I just resigned to it. And then came the task of getting to our hotel….

TO BE CONTINUED… (this is a serial post)

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