The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “The Romance of Siam” by Jai Arun Ravine

Jai Arun Ravine

HINTS TO WALKERS

1. Never walk alone.

2. On Easter Sunday afternoon in 1967, [Jim] Thompson, the renowned American from Thailand, vanished into the jungled mountains of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. His vacation companions at Moonlight Cottage assumed that he was off on one of his frequent solitary strolls, but they grew alarmed when he had not returned by nightfall. The authorities were alerted, but their search parties failed to uncover a single trace.

3. I am thinking of silk tycoon Jim Thompson’s afternoon walk into the jungle and his bizarre disappearance as symbolic of the desire many White people have to lose and reinvent themselves in Thailand. I call this inexplicable phenomenon WHITE LOVE.

This subverted travel guide interrogates WHITE LOVE by tracking the ways it proliferates in popular American media, mutates as a virus in the industry of tourism, and plays out in the theater of the western imaginary. It also examines the blurring of fact and fiction and the reinvention of self through a kind of acting, which is so often the lure of Thailand’s landscape.

WHITE LOVE’s obsessive and addictive texture is mirrored in my use of the sestina, the form of which replicates the need for repetitive patterns and a search for satisfaction in affective valences that cannot entirely be grasped.

4. As a mixed race person of Thai and White descent, my attempts to connect with Thailand as “place” and “cultural identity” are colonized by tourism and White desire. The western imagination has constructed a particular fantasy and romance around Thailand, which is subsequently mass-produced by Thailand’s tourism industry for its own profit. For non-Thais (Americans, White people, White men), Thailand’s collision of ancient religious tradition and R&R facilitates a sense of freedom and escape, as well as a permission to reinvent self, which translates into its supposed ability to accommodate extremes (i.e. the impossible is indeed possible, only in Thailand).

Despite the fact that Thailand was never colonized by another country, tourism is the occupying force in the country today. The hyper-referentiality and over-saturation of sources, links, quotes, references, actors, and characters that I work with in this project are meant to mimic that colonizing force. In this process, Thailand itself becomes obscured. What is left is Whiteness.

This project attempts decolonization in the face of such an erasure.

5. This pocket guide will help you navigate the wild jungle of White desire. Go ahead and lose yourself. Fake your death. Reinvent yourself. DO NOT PANIC.

6. You should always take the following items on your walk:—

a. A filled water bottle.
b. A box of matches (to light a signal fire).
c. A compass (this may be bought at the tourist board).
d. A whistle.
e. A torch.
f. A little food (e.g. chocolate).
g. A knife.

7. KEEP TO THE NUMBERED PATHS AS SHOWN ON THE MAP.

 

INFORMATION: #2 is from the dust jacket of William Warren’s The Legendary American: The Remarkable Career and Strange Disappearance of Jim Thompson (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1970).
DID YOU KNOW? #1, #6, #7, and the italicized portion of #5 are pulled from a Cameron Highlands trail marker. See Warren (page 7).


Jai Arun Ravine is a writer, dancer and graphic designer. As a mixed race, mixed gender and mixed genre artist, their work arises from the simultaneity of text and body and takes the form of video, performance, comics and handmade books. Jai’s first full-length book, แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE: LESSON PLANS, POEMS, KNOTS, re-imagines immigration history and attempts to transform cultural inheritances of silence. Their short film TOM/TRANS/THAI approaches the silence around female-to-male (FTM) transgender identity in the Thai context and has screened internationally. THE ROMANCE OF SIAM is their second book.

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