Time Change.

In 1962, my father wrote my mother from Bangkok from the Hotel Rama, 981 Silom Road.

Today is fifty years more since then, and while I can’t comment on any progress or lack thereof in the regional jewelry industry, obviously a lot of time has passed in Bangkok. Time changes places and the streets I walked last night during my first few chaotic jet-lagged hours here, might technically be the same my father walked fifty, sixty years ago, there is precious little he would recognize here.

For example, air conditioning. Neon, the scooters and motorbikes, the color satellite televisions set the BBC at breakfast at the hotel. The WIFI connecting me with Oliver, “Hey Dad, I know you are in Thailand but can you send me $200 via PayPal? I found a great deal on that bat I was looking for.”

Time changes places, people too. I wonder if he had lived if he would have turned to me one day, as an old man, and wanted to come back here one more time, to the heat, the humidity, the temples, the suit made in a day tailors, this place, this city.

My mother as she grew older had been to every continent save one. She traveled to the Galapagos in her seventies, her dementia such that she didn’t remember much, just that she had now been to all the continents. Check.

What would my father have wished for? To see his house in Rangoon one more time. To go to Saigon, Borneo, Bali. What would he have wished for? Would we have walked these streets, would he have told me, you should have seen Bangkok back then Jamie, you traveled the rivers on boats, the flight from the States took three days, all you could do was cable home ever so often. Would he have wanted to see where he fought in the South Pacific, remembering the battles of his youth?

What would he have wanted? I have no idea.

I realize now just how much he lived the life of the wealthy expatriate here. His letters are full of “I cabled Scotty (US Ambassador to Burma).” “I’m off to see Jim Thompson at his house.” Or this:

The first book I read for this trip was “Burmese Days” by George Orwell, who lived in Burma as young man serving in the military police. I take comfort in the letters from my father’s friends and colleagues in Burma, saying how well he treated the Burmese who worked for him, how well he spoke the language and wrote it and read it as well.

It’s a vortex of time and space for me being here, the years and the relationships between time swirl. My dad was last here twenty-eight years ago. He was first here sixty years ago when he was just thirty years old on his way into Burma. My mother first came here, well, I am not sure really, probably in the 1950s when she flew for Pan Am. My father’s friend Jim Thompson lived here and his house is a museum now.

Jim Thompson disappeared into the jungle when I was young, he simply walked into the hills of Malaysia and never came back.

I remember being very young, and my parents talking about Jim Thompson and how he disappeared; I remember my mother asking what had happened to him and my father just shaking his head. At one point, my dad went to see what he could find out. He went to the Highlands and spent a week or so there talking to the last people who saw Mr. Thompson alive. I never knew what he discovered if anything.

Jim Thompson was divorced and never had children. His sister was murdered months after he died. And his nephew who supposedly killed his sister then killed himself. As far as I know, that was the end of the line for his family.

So really there was no one left to look, no one left to wonder, no one floating.

No one sitting with me in a hotel lobby in Bangkok, by the canal, on a warm and steamy Sunday morning, thirty, forty, fifty years later, wondering what happened when he went on his stroll.

Wondering how it happens that a man who lived here, on these streets, in these jungles, in the prime of his life, a man who spoke the language, had fought in the wars, how is it that a man like that simply doesn’t come back.

When you die on the other side of the world, and you don’t leave a son, who is it that sits there years, decades later, pondering what were his last thoughts, did he have any wishes, regrets, thoughts, did he see the light? Was it calm? Did he close his eyes, smell the jungle and let go, happy that his last moments where here, where he lived, where loved, where he was at his happiest.

Of course, some say that Jim Thompson got tired and simply wanted to disappear. That he had had enough and want to be anonymous again, that he walked away and lived out his life somewhere quietly, peacefully, alone in the jungle. Maybe that’s what my father found out when he went to look for him.

I wonder.

I went down to Silom Road yesterday. 981 is now a Holiday Inn. Of this I am sure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s