Sarah is from Belgium. We board the same (and only) train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi—a town known for its landscapes, national parks, waterfalls, cave temples, WWII cemeteries, and the bridge over River Kwai.
When I first see her, she’s holding a Hindi language guide. I assume she is going to India. She assumes I’m from India. We are both wrong. She has been living in India on a visit visa and is in Thailand to get it renewed. Maybe you can’t get a tourist visa extended from within India.
She asks me if I have ever been to India, I tell her it’s not that easy. The two countries don’t really exchange tourists, except when they arrive unexpectedly by boats. She then asks if that’s because India fears the Taliban would come? I smile and tell her it’s not that bad in Pakistan. We don’t let the Taliban reach the eastern border. Yet.
I ask if she has been to Punjab and she goes ‘No. Noooo. Punjabis keep staring at you. Gori ko dekhte hein tau rukte nahi.’ This is where I tell her I’m also from Punjab. She’s perplexed and I have to explain to her the lines drawn by the British sarkar in 1947.
She’s still in Kanchanaburi as I write this. But she’s too accustomed to cheap prices in India that when I tell her about an underground Buddhist temple, she says she’ll pass if it has a ticket.