This is a guest post from Tan Your Mind, Outpost’s web series in Thailand. Click here to see more.

The lifelines grew like branches across her cheeks as she smiled. She placed her silken hands on mine as she said the Thai equivalent of “Just call me grandma.”

Khun ya Poon, a.k.a. Grandma Poon, took us under her white-robed wing on the train from Kanchanaburi back to Bangkok. Sugarcane fields and bits of rural Thailand were brushed like watercolours out the window, but I would not spend much time admiring them; instead I found myself chin-to-hand with a woman who did not see nationality, age or skin colour as a barrier to family, let alone the language difference.

No, she just saw something to love.

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It was like a visit with my own Oma, except Khun ya Poon forced sticky sweet rice balls upon us instead of cookies. She balanced the gooey dishwater-coloured orb on a toothpick as the rattling train threatened to unhinge it, passing one to each of us.

With the patience of nun—which we later found out she was—she a taught us how to read honours to the king instead of reciting our prayers. She would not rest until she could properly pronounce the names Su-sanne Bed-fawd and Leeee-nah Dez-minds.

Like all grandmas do, Khun ya Poon considered full bellies of the utmost importance. She waved down a busy vendor who dropped his patron at her call and proceeded to pass us green curry in a bowl of banana leaves. She made sure we paid no more than a dollar.

Despite being on a rickety shack train, with its death traps between cars and its dusty, rusted interior, with Khun ya Poon, I felt just as safe. My Oma also introduces herself by her title, not her name, as if she has become synonymous with everything a grandmother should be.

lovely thai woman

Khun ya Poon saying hello with a wai, Thailand’s palms-together greeting.

It would have been easy to miss my chance to connect with Khun ya Poon. It would have been easy to put in my ear buds and smile back at her politely. It would have been easy to bow and turn my back and engage only with Sue. It would have been easy to bury my nose in a book or a dispatch. How easy it is today to disconnect, and yet how important it is for us to plug in.

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Normally, I talk to my Oma every day, but because of how iffy the Internet connection is here, it’s been over a week. Today, through a start-and-stop connection, I got her on the line. I could hear the relief in her voice as she recognized mine. I imagined her love and laugh lines like kite strings as she turned up her smile. Before she asked me anything, she said, “I found you on a map today. It took me a while. I couldn’t figure out how to spell Chiang Mai.”

She told me she’s worried about me, and I reassured her I am safe. She asked me if I was hungry, I reassured her I am well fed. She told me she loved me. And then she told me again. I told her right back. And then I thought of Khun ya Poon and my Oma and how if they ever met, they’d probably would have been friends.

As the Internet connection got wonky and I stuttered through the in and outs, as always, she closed with her usual chorus: “I love you; I miss you; be mindful of your surroundings.” As always, I assured her I would.

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