Perhentian Short Story: The Japanese Couple

In the morning in Kota Bharu, I arrived at the bus station to go to Kuala Basut then to Perhentian.

Sat, waiting for the same bus were a couple that lived in Japan. The guy – Garrett – was a Canadian that lived up to the legendary Canadian niceness. The woman – Maki – was Japanese woman born in South Korea who moved back to Japan when she was a child. They are both teachers in Japan and were on holiday for a few weeks.

Their kindness was immediate and apparent. Even on the bus they were sharing their biscuits and breakfast knowing that I hadn’t had time to eat anything that morning.

During the few days they were on the Perhentian we’d always hang out. Garrett was always selflessly and genuinely offering to share his food – fruits, sandwiches, snacks…everything.

Garrett would claim he’s nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but as Maki was studying for her Open Water Certification he would help to translate a lot of the concepts into Japanese. He spoke Japanese impressively well.

Garrett would share stories and opine on the cultural differences between Japan – well to be fair everyone else. One particular one comes to mind.


In Japanese ‘Jin’ is a word that translates to people. So Japanese people would be ‘Nihon no jin’. Word for word translation ‘Japanese of people’ but contextual translation is ‘people of Japan’.

Japanese have a term for foreigners – Gaijin. It translates to foreign people.

Garrett described how in Japan they have a very linear view of the world or Japanese view of the world. There’s great difficulty in stepping out of Japanese shoes into somebody else and seeing the world from an alternate perspective. ‘Gaijin’ is a great example.

One of Garrett’s students had come back from holiday and was sharing their holiday stories in Japanese. They were talking about the cultural shock of seeing different people and said “There were Gaijin everywhere, I was completely surrounded by them”.

Garrett thought it was an odd turn of phrase to go to somebody else country and say ‘There were foreigners everywhere’. Garrett probed a bit more. He said, “You realise because you’re in their country you’re the Gaijin. Because, it’s their country.”

He described how an expression somewhere between blank and frustrated peered back at him.

He tried again “In Japan, Gaijin are the people who come here from abroad. In somebody else country, Gaijin is the people who go there from abroad. So in this case you were Gaijin to them”.

Something along the lines of “No but I’m Japanese. There were Gaijin everywhere,” was parried back to him.

Relying on the kindness of strangers

Garrett and Maki were extremely organised. They had left their main backpacks at their AirBnB hosts house in Kota Bahru and brought with them everything they would need. Just the right amount of clothes they’ll need, the exact amount of money and they had brought all the food they’d need with them – mangosteens, rambutan, crackers, bread for sandwich’s…I mean everything. They were prepared. They had heard that sometimes things go missing on the Perhentian so they left their cards, passport, and the rest of their belongings safely in KB.

Garrett was open water certified, but to make the most of some of the other dive sites, and well because he was here, he wanted to do his Advanced Course. Alas, he was about 50 Ringgit short of being able to do it and with a card he had no access to further funds – the FX places wouldn’t change Yen.

As he explained it to me, this was a no-brainer. I told him I would happily lend/give him the 50 Ringgit. If that’s all the stood between him and doing his advanced certification and doing some awesome dives than that’s a fairly easy problem to fix. He was so happy I’m sure would have done a triple somersault if he knew how to. He said, “I don’t know how I’ll pay you back, but I’m a stubborn person. We will cross paths again in the future, and I will pay you back. I usually go OTT on this kind of stuff. I promise”. I believed him unequivocally. Some of my previous posts had talked about relying on the kindness of strangers, I’ve certainly benefited a lot from the kindness of strangers and will continue to, so it’s nice to give back when I can.

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