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I'm a writer and editor who lives in New York. You can also find me at jillian_dunham and jilliankdunham.com.

At Mrs. Balbir’s

Getty / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Jillian Dunham | Longreads | January 2020 | 12 minutes (3,036 words)

I sat on the edge of the bed in my hotel room in Bangkok and dialed. Below me, longboats and water taxis bounced across the Chao Phraya like motorized toys. As much as I wanted for someone to answer the phone, for something to happen, I also hoped that it would go on ringing forever. I was nervous about contact.

The voice that answered startled me with its warmth. “This is Mrs. Balbir,” she answered. I explained that my aunt and I were interested in the Thai cooking classes she taught, listed in my Lonely Planet. “I teach out of my home,” she explained, and proceeded to give me directions. “Tell the taxi to go towards the end of Sukhumvit Soi 15,” she explained. She described the courtyard in which she lived and the tiny sign outside that identified her building. “Come a little early, we’ll have tea and talk,” she said, her voice sweet but a little unnerving, like a blurry bird’s. It was as if we were already acquainted. I didn’t wait for her to hang up first.
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