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  • Around the curve of the beach they walked, a couple, emphasizing the emptiness of blue sky and white beach. They walked near the waves quietly lapping the sandy shore. The woman was carrying her shoes. Watching her, I felt as if I was walking barefoot on the sand too.

    They walked off the beach and into the Prince Philip Park, where we were. At one of the shaded sitting areas, they put down their packs. The woman put her walking shoes back on and then she stretched out on the long seat.

    Her husband, for that was who he was, came over and we started chatting. They were from Japan. He said it was cold in Tokyo. "We escape to Malaysia," he laughed. His wife came over. She wore casual and immaculate cotton. They were in their golden years, perhaps late fifties. One of their sons lived in America. If I am not mistaken. I know only a very few words in Japanese. Konichiwa (which I thought meant 'friend' for the longest time), arigato, sayonara. Their proficiency in English is such that we can carry on a running conversation.

    I feel grateful for this chance encounter. There was a time when we would not have been talking together with so much ease. Not through any lack of friendliness and the wish to be tomodachi but because of the tension in those years. During WWII the Japanese Imperial forces sailed over the deep blue sea we were admiring, to gain control of the area through the Battle of Borneo.

    It was approaching noon. They thought of how they were to go back to their hotel. They asked if there were taxis on the road right outside. There were but they weren't regular. Earlier I had met a young grandmother also out walking by the Tanjung Aru beach. (Tanjung means Cape and Aru means Casuarina) She lived in the nearby luxury condominium block with her daughter and son-in-law, both architects. They were French and they went back to France to live there for part of each year. She said she drove because the daily bus did not go to this beach.

    The Japanese man asked for the name of a dish they could try here. Maybe I should have said Peking Duck but I didn't think that was readily available. I thought of something simple to pronounce (the vagaries of language!), something delectable that might appeal to them, and, yes, something that "looked" Japanese (!) and came up with Dim Sum. I was fairly certain they would find it at the place they were going next, the Tanjung Aru Beach Hotel, from where they could get a taxi back to their lodgings.

    I asked a cheerful young man who looked Filipino if he knew the sidewalk way to the nearby Beach Hotel. He grinned and said it was a shorter walk by the sea. Around fifteen minutes.

    The Japanese couple said they wanted to enjoy the beach for a while longer. I wanted to be with the waves and the sea breeze for as long as possible but it was time to go. Our tomodachi headed for the beach hotel. If I did not know it for sure, it would have been easy to think we never met, had not exchanged a few words in conversation, as I watched them for a moment - seeing them off, as it were - walking once again along the shore.
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