Thailand: A Walk in the Jungle

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Seven Teak Houses. The scope and intensity of last week's search showed the respect and affection that Southeast Asia felt for Jim Thompson. A Princetonian from Greenville, Del., Thompson was an architect when World War II began. He went to Asia as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services, liked the area so well that he stayed on when the war ended. Fascinated by the silk spinners he saw when traveling in rural Thailand, he collected samples of their work in a suitcase, brought them to New York and persuaded fashion designers to use them. He went back to Thailand, started his business with $700 and contracted with the dying silk industry, whose 200 scattered weavers worked on ancient handlooms, to turn out fine silks that he stamped in brilliant colors and designs. His success inspired some 130 competitors, eventually produced thousands of jobs for the Thais.

Divorced in 1946 and never remarried, Jim Thompson entertained lavishly and often at his Bangkok home, created out of seven traditional Siamese teak houses. He never tired of showing visitors his collection of ancient Buddhas, Thai paintings and blue and white Oriental porcelains, opened his house to a twice-weekly tour whose proceeds he gave to charity. His will leaves his house and its treasures to his family in the U.S. But Jim Thompson, whether or not he survives his walk in the jungle, has left the Thais an even more priceless gift: a pride in Thai craftsmanship, announced around the world in banners of the iridescent silks that he made famous.

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