My first trip to Iran and Afghanistan

Here is a full report of my first Iran-Afghanistan trip in 1972 [I have no photos as I didn’t own a camera, but I have attached some pictures of souvenirs from the trip]:


In February 1972 I turned 21, which was at the time the age of majority in my country Luxembourg. I had worked for Luxair Luxembourg Airlines for over two years.

I decided to celebrate my new independence by traveling as far as possible from Luxembourg and took two weeks’ leave from my job for the second half of March 1972. The company would request a free ticket for me from another airline but there was a limit to how far I could fly based on the length of time I had worked for them. Looking at a map I found that Tehran, Iran was the furthest I could go for free, and I received a ticket from Lufthansa German Airlines for that destination on their once-weekly flight.

I knew practically nothing about Iran. The country had been in the news a few months earlier, in October 1971, when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi threw an extraordinarily lavish party in the desert at Persepolis for royalty and heads of state from 60 countries. Our Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, the parents of the present Grand Duke Henri, had attended, and it was prominently covered in the local media. According to the Shah the occasion was the celebration of the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great.

It was late afternoon on 16 March 1972 when I arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on a Lufthansa Boeing 727. I found a tourist information office that was just about to close for the day. A young lady, the only person on duty, was very friendly and helpful. She booked me into one of the cheaper hotels in the city and also arranged for a taxicab to take me there.

One of the first things I learned in Iran was that local people use water to clean themselves in a toilet rather than paper. At the Asia Hotel the toilet outside my room was a squat version just like our old outhouse, and there was no paper at all, only a jug of water.

I encountered a lot of other interesting things in Iran that I had never known before, and I was fascinated. Even today I fondly remember the rice dishes I ate in Iran, which were always fabulous. I was also extremely fond of Iranian pastries, and dates instantly became one of my favorite fruits.

At breakfast in the hotel on my first morning in Iran I met two young men, one of whom said he was from Kenya and the other from Kuwait. The Kenyan gave his name as Taffy. He was a few years older than I, and somehow he didn’t seem like a typical African. I learned later that his ancestors came from the Punjab, which is today divided between India and Pakistan. He told me he was on his way to Lahore in Pakistan to visit relatives there and was looking for people who would join him for the ride in his car and share expenses on the trip. The Kuwaiti was a friend of his named Mahmood who could not go with him because he had to return home to his country.

Taffy asked if I was interested in riding with him to Lahore or at least as far as Kabul in Afghanistan. Since I wanted to travel as far from Luxembourg as possible I accepted immediately. He proposed to meet again at breakfast the next morning, when he would take me to the Afghan Embassy to get visas for that country.

Later that day I walked around the area in Tehran near the hotel but I don’t remember seeing much of the city.

When I returned to the hotel in the afternoon I ran into Taffy again. He had just seen Mahmood off – I don’t remember whether it was at the airport or a train station. Taffy proposed to go to a nearby movie theater to watch one of the latest James Bond films, and since I was a Bond fan I was happy to join him. [I am not sure I remember this correctly: my memory is not clear about whether this happened in 1972 when I was with Taffy or a year later in February 1973 when I was in Tehran again by myself]

When we entered the auditorium the movie was already in progress. I remember seeing Sean Connery as Bond entering a room with a greeting of “Salam.” It turned out the film was all dubbed in Persian, with no subtitles. Taffy and I had missed that point when we bought our tickets.

At the end of the film we stayed in the auditorium for the next showing so we could watch the first part, which we had missed.

Before the movie began huge pictures of the Shah and his consort were projected to the screen, and all the spectators rose from their seats as a recording of the national anthem resounded through the hall.

The following morning after breakfast Taffy took me to his car. It was a huge American Ford Galaxie 500 XL with a 5-liter engine and Missouri/US license plates. Taffy told me he had bought the car while studying in the United States and had shipped it to England, where he had moved from Kenya with his family in the 1960s. From England he had driven the Ford across Europe and the Middle East to Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic pilgrimage there, and then he had come to Iran via Kuwait, where he had picked up Mahmood.

At the Afghan Embassy we met a bearded young man who must have been about two meters tall. He was an American from New York who gave his name as Robert Barrett. It turned out he was also headed east, and after a brief discussion of probable costs of the trip he agreed to join us and share our expenses. Staff members at the embassy informed us that it would probably be easier and quicker to get visas from the Afghan consulate in Mashhad in eastern Iran, so we left.

Taffy and I drove back to our hotel to collect our luggage, then we picked Robert (Bob) up at his hotel and headed north out of Tehran.

The city is separated from the Caspian Sea by the Alburz Mountain range, whose highest peak is the 5,600-meter extinct volcano Demavand, Iran’s tallest. The main road north passes close to the foot of the mountain at an altitude over 2,000 meters.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Demavand but as we drove into the mountains the view became increasingly foggy and within a short time we were caught in a snowstorm. There were policemen on the road warning drivers of dangerous conditions further up and advising everybody to put snow chains on their tires. Luckily Taffy had snowchains in his trunk, which he had used earlier that winter while traveling on perilous roads in the mountains of Turkey.

I am not sure I remember this correctly but when we fitted the snow chains it looked to me at one point as if Bob the American held up one corner of the heavy car by himself for a moment.

We drove on through the mountains but could not see much other than a short portion of the road in front and the snow swirling around us.

Some time later we left the snowstorm behind as we traveled downhill through a forest on the northern side of the Alburz range towards the town of Amol, about 180 km from Tehran. We turned east just south of the Caspian Sea, and night fell before we reached the town of Sari.

After spending the night in a shared room at Nader Hotel in Sari we continued our journey east. I remember Bob telling us he had deserted from a US Army base in Germany and was on his way overland to Australia, where he had a girlfriend.

The weather was pleasant most of the day until some time in the afternoon when we drove up a hill on the way towards Bodjnurd, about 450 kilometers from Sari. The sky darkened and snow began to fall. Soon we couldn’t see more than 20 meters ahead. At one point I had to get out of the car to remove a large stone from the road in front. As we continued the snowfall got thicker and thicker, and a strong wind blew.

Not much later we had to stop because a car was stuck in the snow just ahead of us. Taffy got out and trudged to the front to see what was happening. He came back and told us the road was blocked by several cars that were unable to move. We had to wait for the storm to pass.

A minibus filled with passengers stopped behind us, and the driver left the engine running to keep the interior warm. We didn’t have that option because there was not much gasoline left in the Galaxie’s tank.

By the time darkness fell we were shivering in the car and we huddled together to try to keep warm. There was only one blanket, which we shared as best we could. Outside, the snow kept falling and a strong wind blew. We did not sleep much if at all that night.

By the time the sun rose in the morning the storm had let up and the sky cleared. Inside the car the windows were covered with a layer of ice from our breaths. It was very hard to open the doors as we had to push away the snow that had piled up hip deep outside, and it was impossible to keep the stuff from pouring into the car.

The engine of the minibus behind us was still running, although the driver must have stopped it once or twice during the night to top up his fuel tank from some jerrycans he had on board. Taffy, Bob and I visited the minibus and the driver allowed us to stay inside for a short while to warm up. I remember that some of the passengers carried live chickens with them.

The landscape outside was beautiful, all white. There were snowdrifts in some places on the slope more than 2-3 meters high, and even on the road it was not much less than one meter.

We scraped the ice and the snow to clear the car’s windows, and Taffy tried to start the engine. Luckily it sputtered to life after several increasingly desperate attempts.

A few hours later we saw a group of Iranian soldiers in winter uniforms approaching on skis. They all carried backpacks filled with bread, cheese and I think even some dates, which they proceeded to distribute to the people stranded in the snow. They were certainly welcome. They told us there were machines on the way to clear the road and free our vehicles but that the snow was so deep in some areas they might not be able to finish the job until the next day. They said workers were clearing a path leading down the slope on which people could walk about a kilometer or so to a place on the road where buses from nearby Bodjnurd would pick them up so they could spend the next night in the town.

As luck would have it the path branched off the road very close to where we were. Taffy got the idea we might be able to drive down that path, which Bob and I thought sounded crazy. He inspected it even as workers were clearing the stretches on the slope where the snow was too deep to walk through.

It was already late in the afternoon by the time the workers finished their job. Taffy, not wanting to wait until there were too many people on the path, decided to risk driving down in the Galaxie.

The upper part of the slope directly below the road was quite steep, so we quickly picked up speed going down. The heavy car bumped up and down so much on the very uneven path that our heads hit the ceiling several times (there were no seatbelts in those days). It got so bad we feared the Galaxie’s suspension might collapse.

Suddenly Taffy noticed the steering was not responding when he turned the wheel. The car just kept going straight no matter how much he tried to change direction. I think we were very lucky there was no major curve and the wheels didn’t turn sideways, otherwise the Galaxie would have overturned.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the end of the path and were back on the road, which was covered with a layer of ice and gravel. Taffy stopped the car and we got out. Then he put a jack under the front of the Galaxie and lifted it up. He was holding a length of cable with which he hoped to fix the steering system temporarily so that we could drive down the road to Bodjnurd.

When he slid under the car I remember worrying that the jack might slip on the icy road and he would get crushed.

After a few minutes he was done. We got back in the car and slowly drove towards the town as night was falling.

In Bodjnurd we found a garage where Taffy could have the steering system welded back together. We spent the night in a shared room at Izadi Hotel, very happy to sleep in warm beds again. According to some notes I wrote down that time the room rate was 150 rials, which was about 86 Belgian francs or not much more than 2 Euros today without adjusting for inflation. Unfortunately these notes I kept cover only my spending and contain very little information about the journey and my impressions. My total budget for the trip was 4,500 francs (7,830 rials) or a little over 100 Euros.

The next morning we left Bodjnurd for Mashhad, about 270 kilometers away. This part of the trip passed without incident.

When we arrived in Mashhad we did a little bit of sightseeing. There were large crowds in town as it was Nowruz, the Iranian new year. I remember being very impressed by the huge Imam Reza Shrine complex with its golden dome but because there were so many people in the area I decided against going inside.

As I recorded in my notes we spent the night at the “Tourist Hotel” for 150 rials. The next morning we went to the Afghan consulate and were issued 15-day visas for that country. It was the second day of the first month of the year 1351 in the Iranian/Afghan Islamic solar calendar (22 March 1972 CE).

When we arrived at the Afghan border at Islam Qala I found out I needed to prove I was vaccinated against cholera. My vaccination certificate was good only for smallpox, which was all that was required for Iran. Taffy talked to one of the officials there who, for a small baksheesh, stamped the back page of my certificate with a note in the Afghan language Dari saying it was accepted.

The first thing we did after entering Afghanistan was replenish the Galaxie’s huge gasoline tank at a filling station. Bob immediately asked a young boy there if he could sell us some hashish. Sure enough, the boy disappeared briefly in the small building of the station and returned with a bag. Bob showed him some beautiful turquoise stones and within a short time they agreed on a trade.

As we drove on towards Herat, the main city in western Afghanistan, the three of us were taking puffs from joints Bob had rolled and shared with us. Even though I was a fairly heavy cigarette smoker by this time I was afraid to inhale the hashish smoke deeply as Bob and Taffy both did. It was a first for me but because I didn’t suck it into my lungs I felt almost no effect.

In Herat we found a room at the Behzad Hotel for 80 afghanis per night for two people, according to my notes. Taffy and I were planning to spend just two nights there before heading southeast to Kandahar, the country’s second largest city. Bob said he wanted to spend more time in Herat and would not continue traveling with us, so we split up and he went to look for a cheaper hotel in town. We didn’t see him or hear from him again after this.

Among the very few things I remember about Herat were young boys we encountered in many places who were asking for handouts. In Iran I had given some coins to beggars, too, as I recorded in my notes, but I think they were mostly older people or women. I also recall the open sewers in the city streets and the myriad small shops often minded by young boys. Unlike in Iran, women and girls seemed almost invisible as they either shunned the streets or were hidden inside all-enveloping burqas.

In Herat I visited a beautiful large mosque. It was the first Islamic house of worship I actually saw from the inside, as I had not entered one in Iran. I remember a local Afghan man I met there telling me that poor people were allowed to sleep in the mosque at night. This surprised me as I could not imagine our Catholic churches staying open during nights to serve as sleeping quarters. Much less could I have believed at the time that nine months later I would spend part of one night resting on some steps in the big mosque of Mecca, the Muslims’ holiest place.

After two days Taffy and I were on our way to Kandahar, about 570 kilometers away. The road, Asian Highway 1, appeared to be covered with rectangular slabs about 20 meters long, like very large tiles. There were small ridges between the slabs where they were fitted together, and the Galaxie’s tires made a popping sound every time we crossed one of those.

In many places along the way there were swarms of small birds like sparrows sitting in the middle of the road. When we approached they flew up but some of them were not quick enough and ended up smashed and stuck to the front of the car or the windshield. I asked Taffy to slow down so they would have time to escape but he seemed to be in a hurry to get to Kandahar.

At one point we stopped at a gas station to refill the Galaxie’s tank. After a short while there a scruffy-looking man walked up to us and plucked the dead birds from the front of the car, dropping them in a metal pot he carried. We assumed he was going to cook and eat them.

The weather was good and the road ahead of us seemed to glisten in the light of the sun as if it was wet. We were about halfway to Kandahar when, suddenly, this mirage became real and the car splashed into water. The road was flooded more than knee-deep over a stretch of about 50 meters, and the Galaxie’s engine quickly sputtered to a halt. — We were lucky. A bus had stopped on the far side of the flooded area and some of its male passengers were wading in the water. When they saw that our car was stuck they came to help us and pushed the Galaxie to the other side. Taffy and I thanked them profusely.

In Kandahar we stayed at Spozhmay Hotel on the main road into the city for 100 afghanis in a 2-bed room.

At the hotel we met an American hippie couple who told us that during the opium harvest the whole city smelled of the drug. Among the very few things I remember from Kandahar is a bus I once rode into town that seemed to be made mostly of wood, with chickens and some goats among the passengers.

The day after we arrived it was already 25 March, and I felt I should not continue traveling to Kabul and beyond with Taffy because I might not be able to get to Tehran in time to catch my once-weekly flight back to Europe only five days later, on a Thursday. I had to get back to my job at Luxair the following Monday, and I didn’t think I had enough money to fly back to the Iranian capital from Kabul.

The following day we left the hotel. Taffy took me to the bus station in Kandahar and then drove on towards Kabul and Lahore.

I arrived back in Herat by bus late that afternoon and went straight to Behzad Hotel, where I spent the next night, then in the morning I took another bus to the Iranian border.

At the Tayebad border post on the Iranian side I was asked to show my cholera vaccination certificate. When I showed the officials the stamp one of their Afghan counterparts had placed on the back of my document a few days earlier they were not impressed. I was immediately taken to a room in the building that looked and smelled like a dispensary. A man in a white coat prepared a needle and then jabbed it into my shoulder so hard I was sure he had hit the bone. I winced but didn’t complain. The pain, however, bothered me for quite some time afterward.

I had to wait a short while in another room where I was soon joined by a young Sikh man wearing the typical turban, two older Afghan men and a small Afghan boy. The five of us were taken by bus to Tayebad quarantine station, a place that looked like a small fort in the middle of a desert-like landscape. To tell the truth I don’t remember much about what it was like but this was the impression left in my memory.

At the station a doctor told us in English and Persian or Dari that we would undergo a test the next day and would then have to wait there for another 24 hours for the evaluation, which would show whether or not we carried a cholera infection. The Sikh man immediately protested loudly, saying his wife was sick in a hospital in Tehran and he had to get there as quickly as possible. The doctor insisted we had to wait 24 hours, but after some discussion he agreed that we could take the test right away rather than the following day.

He took each one of us to a separate room for the test. What I remember is that he asked me to stand facing a wall, and to drop my pants and underpants. Then he asked me to bend forward and hold my buttocks apart so he could insert something into my anus. It turned out to be a long stick with some gluey substance stuck to the end, which he pushed quite a long way inside. I gasped, but then I worried about how the little boy would take this treatment.

It turned out the most difficult patients were the two older Afghan men, who almost got into a fight with the doctor — or at least it sounded like that to me.

We spent the night and the following day at the station, and the next evening we were taken to Tayebad town. After this I don’t remember seeing any of them again. I found a bus that would take me to Mashhad, with very few other passengers on board.

By the time I arrived in Mashhad it was already quite late at night. I didn’t recognize any of the few places where the bus stopped in the city, so I just got off at the terminal. The streets in this area were mostly dark, with only a few lights here and there. I walked around a bit, lugging my heavy seabag and looking for anything that might be a hotel.

There were hardly any people in the streets this late in the night. I saw one man a little older than I and asked him in English if he knew a hotel in this area. He seemed to understand but answered in broken French that there were none as far as he knew. We went on to talk a little bit in French, and he told me he was a sports teacher at the Ghazali school. His name was Gholamreza Gholami, as he wrote on a little piece of paper that I still have.

He invited me to spend the night in the house nearby where he lived. I ended up sleeping alongside 8 or 9 other men on a mat on the floor of one of a few small rooms around a central courtyard in an old brick building. There was a manual pump in the middle of the yard, which we activated the next morning to get water for drinking, for tea and to wash ourselves.

After a simple breakfast Gholami and one of the other men took me in an old car to the center of Mashhad. I had told him I needed to get back to Tehran to catch a flight back to Europe. At first I considered traveling by bus or train but I was worried that if there was any kind of delay I might get to Mehrabad Airport too late to catch my flight the next day 30 March. On Gholami’s suggestion we went to an Iran Air office to see if I could fly instead. I had only 2,100 rials left but it turned out a one-way ticket to Tehran cost exactly 2,000, so I bought one and gave Gholami the remaining 100 rials.

The flight was enjoyable and uneventful but shortly after I arrived at Mehrabad Airport I almost collapsed with pain from severe stomach cramps. I also had a very bad diarrhea and had to run to the toilet every half hour or so for the rest of the day and throughout my last night in Iran. And I had no money left to buy anything to eat or drink.

Next morning I went to the Lufthansa office to check if there were seats available on the flight to Frankfurt, since I could not have a reservation. I was lucky: several places were free. A young Iranian man who worked for the airline took me aside and asked if I wanted to earn some money by doing him a favor. I guess he had noticed how miserable and disheveled I looked.

I asked him what he needed, and he said he wanted me to buy two bottles of Black & White whiskey at the local duty-free store and take them on board the airplane, where he would come to pick them up just before the flight left. [I think it was two bottles, though I don’t remember clearly and it might have been just one]. He would give me money for the purchase and a couple of hundred rials extra for myself. I happily agreed to do it, because I was quite hungry by this time. He gave me a bag in which he wanted me to place the whiskey bottles once I had boarded the plane.

After checking in I bought the two bottles of whiskey, took them on the plane and then put them in the bag the man had given me. Sure enough, shortly before the plane left the gate he came on board and took the bag with him.

When I returned home from this adventurous trip I found it hard to go back to my daily routine. Almost everything seemed boring, especially at work.

Categories: Travel | Leave a comment

On my 2½ days in prison in Czechoslovakia

My visa for Czechoslovakia

In March 1982 I traveled by train from Vienna to Berlin, passing through
Czechoslovakia.

At Tabor, about 90 kilometers south of Prague, five armed soldiers took me off
the train. One of them had found what they considered suspicious material in
my luggage and called the others for help. There were some newspaper
clippings of mostly anti-Soviet commentaries and the latest annual report from
the US Secretary of Defense to the Congress, as well as a lot of literature on
current military affairs, etc.

I hadn’t thought they would search my luggage thoroughly as I was only in
transit, especially since a few years earlier when I spent nine days crossing the
Soviet Union by train I underwent only what I felt was a rather superficial
inspection by KGB border guards.

These people were serious. They kept me for an hour or so in the waiting room
of Tabor train station, with two soldiers armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles
beside me. They came to stand guard behind me when I went to the toilet.
There were other train passengers in the station but hardly anyone dared look
in our direction.

Later I was taken to a big office upstairs and ordered to strip down naked while
they checked to make sure I didn’t carry anything unusual attached to my
body or in my clothes. They went through all my luggage and separated all the
material they deemed suspicious, then put the rest back.

Later in the evening two men in plainclothes came from Prague and took me
and my luggage by car to Ceske Budejovice, about 60 kilometers away. We
entered a large building marked with a red star and walked up one or two
flights of stairs, then they took me to an office in a long corridor. There was at
least one armed soldier who stood guard outside. In the office one of the men
started interrogating me while the other took notes on a manual typewriter. I
spoke to them only in German.

They asked me many questions about my background, my work as a journalist
and about the stuff I was carrying. I felt I should cooperate as much as
possible so they wouldn’t get the impression that I was hiding something. They
had found out I was a member of the Unification Church of the Korean Rev.
Sun Myung Moon, and this seemed of special interest to them because they
wanted to find out if I knew anything about secret activities of this movement
behind the Iron Curtain. Luckily I didn’t know anything about that – I say
luckily because had I known something they might have noticed that I was
hiding it from them, and the interrogation would surely have turned much
more unfriendly.

Unlike the soldiers at Tabor the two men from Prague were not especially
intrigued by the literature I was carrying from the US Defense Department and
even the CIA. Perhaps they knew the Pentagon provided this material to
journalists for free. I had collected a lot of stuff from the Pentagon that they
sent me without charge during my years working for The News World daily in
New York. I also used to get literature from the late former Navy Captain
Herbert Hetu, who opened the CIA’s first Public Affairs office in 1977 –-
nothing secret, of course. The US government was much more generous giving
out information in those days than it is now – I think mainly as a result of
embarrassing congressional investigations during the mid-1970s.


Late at night the soldier standing guard outside and one other man took me to
the end of the corridor, where they opened a thick door that looked like it was
made of steel. Behind the door was a prison. I was taken downstairs to a
basement and given prison clothing, a towel and a spoon, knife and fork with
very short handles and made of some very light, soft metal. After that they led
me back up to cell number 26. Much of what happened is a little fuzzy in my
memory now but I did memorize that number.

If I remember correctly the cell contained a toilet, a sink and four bunk beds.
The ceiling was very high, and there was a small window at least two meters
above the floor. There was also a simple light fixture high above and the light
was always on.

I spent the first night alone in the cell. In the morning some food and water
was pushed through a small hatch in the door. I don’t remember any details
about the food except that it seemed a bit strange to me but basically edible. I
remember hearing voices coming from outside the window at one point. It
sounded like prisoners were outside in a courtyard, but the window was too
high for me to be able to see what was below.

Later I was taken back to the office to continue the interrogation with the two
men from Prague. Everything I said was directly translated into Czech and
typed up with three carbon copies. Once they filled a page they read it back to
me in German and asked me to confirm if it was correct. Then I had to sign the
original and every one of the carbon copies. In this way, during the course of
the second day they filled nine pages with my statements. A couple of times I
asked them to correct something they read back to me, and they did, but of
course I did not know Czech and could not check what they typed up.

I was taken back to the cell for lunch and later returned to the office for
another round of interrogation. I asked how long they were going to keep me
there and I wanted to contact the embassy or consulate of my country. I don’t
remember what the men said but it was non-committal.

After returning to my cell I found two other men there. I tried to talk to them
to find out why they were in prison but they spoke only Czech and didn’t seem
to understand my rather lame attempt to communicate with sign language.
They were not unfriendly, though, and the next night passed without incident.

On the third day I was taken to the office again but this time there was
another man there who seemed to be a figure of authority. He barely glanced
at me but spoke to the other two men in Czech and at one point made what
seemed like a dismissive hand gesture. One of the two men then told me I was
free to leave and asked whether I wanted to continue my journey to Berlin. I
asked if the East German border guards would go through my luggage again,
and he said they would be much more thorough than he and his colleagues
had been. Then I asked to go back to Gmünd on the border in Austria.

That morning I was taken to Ceske Velenice on the Austrian border with my
luggage – from which to my surprise only relatively few items were missing.
Two soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs were waiting for us at the station there,
and I was told to get onboard a train on which I seemed to be the only
passenger.

As the train headed into the forest towards the Austrian border I saw the two
soldiers standing on the platform, watching intently. Perhaps they wanted to
make sure I didn’t jump off before crossing the border.

The train stopped at Gmünd for me to get off, and if I remember correctly it
headed back to the border afterwards. At Gmünd I went to see the station
master and showed him my ticket to Berlin. I told him I had been stopped in
Czechoslovakia and was not allowed to continue my journey. He put a stamp in
my ticket indicating I had not completed the trip – and later after I returned to
Bonn in Germany where my journey had begun I was able to get a refund for
the unused portion….

Categories: News and politics, Travel | Leave a comment

The King’s Daughter, Soo Baek-hyang

By Source (WP:NF

CC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47807818

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King%27s_Daughter,_Soo_Baek-hyang
Just watched this Korean drama. I have never seen any movie or TV series that moved me as deeply as this one — ever. It’s a fantasy story about the mysterious daughter of King Muryeong of the ancient Baekje Kingdom in what is now Korea, some 1,500 years ago. This drama has plenty of inconsistencies and faults but the beauty of the story, the characters, the setting and the music made me forget the world for a time. I was especially moved by the main character, the young lady Seol-nan, whose identity as the king’s daughter is hidden. She is perfectly portrayed by the wonderful actress Seo Hyun-jin. Incomparable!

So, how do I relate to this drama?


Diary Wednesday 28 April and Thursday 29 April 2021:
This is something very special.


My wife highly recommended a Korean TV drama, “The King’s Daughter – Soo Baek Hyang”. It’s long: 108 episodes of just over half an hour each. It’s a fantasy based on a real woman who lived some 1,500 years ago in the kingdom of Baekje (whose capital at the time was located about 50 km south of where the city of Cheonan lies today – the well-preserved tomb of the king portrayed in this drama was discovered in 1971 and is a now registered as a Korean Historic Site).


I finished watching it 2 days ago. It is by far the most deeply moving story I have ever seen in film. That’s what it is to me.


The story of Seol-nan or Soo Baek Hyang, the main character whose identity as King Muryeong of Baekje’s daughter is hidden, resonates with my deepest feelings like no other. She is wonderfully and beautifully portrayed by the actress Seo Hyun-jin.


The story is complicated but it is basically about a girl who was conceived by a top general who later became king with his greatest love, the lady Chaewha. The two were tragically separated although their love for each other never waned. The girl’s mother was falsely regarded as a traitor to the country and might have been killed if not for a deaf-mute laborer who carried her away to safety and prevented her from committing suicide because her beloved general was directly responsible for the death of her father, whom he saw as a traitor.


The laborer, Koo-cheon, protected her and loved her, and he was with her when she gave birth to the daughter of the general who had by then become king. From the very beginning as a small baby the girl had a special fondness for the poor deaf-mute laborer, who also loved her as if she was his own special child. The mother was deeply touched by this and later married Koo-cheon because there was no way she could ever return to her true love, the king.


Later, she gave birth to a second daughter sired by the laborer. They were named Seol-nan and Seol-hee. Seol-nan, the king’s daughter, was full of love towards her mother and her stepfather (whom she knew only as her real father), and very protective of her younger sister even if it meant taking punishment for wrongs Seol-hee had done. Seol-nan was also very happy with their simple life in a remote village in the mountains. Seol-hee, on the other hand, wanted a better life and even came to despise her poor handicapped father.


One day they were attacked by assassins who they thought were bandits. In fighting desperately to protect his family the father was so badly wounded they thought he was dead. But he had fought so fiercely that Seol-nan was able to create a diversion that allowed her and her sister to escape from the assassins, taking their wounded and blinded mother with them.


They hid in a cave in the mountains and Seol-nan did her best to erase their tracks so the assassins could not find them. But the mother, who had lost her eyesight to a sword stroke in the fight, was so badly injured that her life was in danger.


Seol-nan risked her own life to try to find a doctor in a village not far away. The doctor was not willing to go to the cave with her but he gave her some medicines for her mother.


While she was away her mother woke up and started talking urgently to Seol-hee because she thought it was Seol-nan who was with her. She addressed her as Seol-nan but Seol-hee did not tell her that her sister had gone to look for a doctor. Seol-hee kept silent so the mother could not know she was actually talking to her rather than Seol-nan since she could not see her.


She felt she was close to death, so she wanted to reveal to Seol-nan the secret of her conception by the king. Both daughters had known only one father, Koo-cheon. Seol-hee listened intently to her mother telling her her name chosen by herself and the king for their first child if she was a daughter would be Soo Baek Hyang.


Her mother also urged her to find a special hairpin the king had given her before the events that drove them apart. The mother had lost that hairpin on the way to the cave but realized it only later. They were lucky the assassins did not find it because it could have led them to their hiding place.


Lady Chaewha told Seol-hee to go to the Baekje capital and try to get access to the king. She was sure the king would recognize the hairpin and the name Soo Baek Hyang, and would be happy to welcome his daughter because she knew he valued blood ties almost above all else.


Then she touched Seol-hee’s face and realized she was talking to the wrong daughter. Seol-hee told her Seol-nan had gone to find a doctor. The mother asked Seol-hee to tell Seol-nan about these things if she herself was unable to do so when her older daughter returned. Seol-hee promised to do that and then, at her mother’s urging, stepped out of the cave to look for her sister.


When Seol-nan came back with the medicine and met her sister outside the cave, Seol-hee acted distraught and told her their mother was delirious and telling crazy stories. She stood in the way and even prevented Seol-nan from entering the cave right away. Seol-nan then brushed past her sister and found her mother crawling towards her in desperation and on the threshold of death.


Seol-nan held her mother in her arms and lady Chaewha desperately tried to tell her what she had said to Seol-hee before. She did not have the strength to speak anymore, however, and only managed to whisper something like: “Your name is Soo Baek Hyang.” It was barely audible and Seol-nan was not sure she heard right.


Her mother died in her arms.


Seol-nan did remember the name Soo Baek Hyang, though, because she had a tattoo of a flower on the back of her left shoulder. Her mother had given her that tattoo when she was a child and told her the name of the flower was Soo Baek Hyang, the centennial fragrance, and the “Baek” part was what gave the Baekje kingdom its name.
Her mother had told her this one day when she was bathing the two girls and they asked her about the tattoo on Seol-nan’s shoulder, which Seol-hee did not have.


Seol-hee never told Seol-nan what her mother had revealed to her in the cave.


After the mother died Seol-nan vowed to find their parents’ murderers and punish them, and to always protect and support her younger sister as Lady Chaewha had asked of her and as she had done many times in the past.
If I remember correctly Seol-hee found the hairpin from the king but did not tell Seol-nan about it.


When they were on their way towards Baekje from the small neighboring Gaya Confederacy where their parents had found refuge and raised them, Seol-hee stole away and disappeared. She abandoned Seol-nan and made her way to the Baekje capital, where she wanted to take Seol-nan’s place as the daughter of the king.


Seol-nan, distraught when finding her sister gone, believed she must have been kidnapped by bandits and resolved to rescue her at the risk of her own life.

This is just a very brief account of the beginning of the story.


The purity, sincerity, selflessness and dedication of Seol-nan throughout this story moved me to tears many times. To me, Seo Hyun-jin, the actress who portrayed her, is not only ravishingly beautiful but also displayed a wonderful personality here very convincingly. She really embodied the incomparably lovable and loving character of Seol-nan.
In the film she often takes on roles normally reserved for men and she is regarded by most of those she encounters as a tomboy. Many of the men fail to see her great beauty as a result.


So, how do I feel connected to this story?


I have a daughter who happens to live in Korea. She has two older brothers who are severely mentally handicapped and unable to live independently.


From the time I was in my late teens my secret heroes were always girls, women, heroines, not men like myself. I am very happy to be a man and never wanted to be a woman myself because I always felt very deeply that I wanted to love and cherish women while seeing them from a male perspective.


I saw my imagined heroine more as a daughter of mine or perhaps a younger sister (I was the oldest of six children and grew up with three younger sisters) than as a love partner or wife. My ideal heroine was like a daughter to me rather than a wife. This drama has fully brought that realization home to me.


In this story I personally identify most with the laborer Koo-cheon, the only man Seol-nan knew as her father until she discovered the secret of her conception. But I also feel like the king towards Seol-nan, who, after she goes through many tribulations and much suffering, finally discovers her as his true daughter. This is one of the greatest moments of the drama. Unfortunately the king dies not long after this of an illness. Yet I was very glad the drama ended on a happy note, with a new beginning.


There is much sadness here but also much joy, much hatred counterbalanced by great love. I feel a special, deep love as a father towards my daughter because I see a Seol-nan in her.

*** Here is a link to the song in the drama on Youtube, the first part being sung by the actress Seo Hyun-jin herself: https://youtu.be/RTXBfdaTaXE

The ‘evil empire’ is in the west

544-DSCF9525

Weapons of war displayed at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. Photo 2014.

Diary entry Monday 31 August 2020 (excerpt):
The volume of anti-China and anti-Russia disinformation spread by western media and western governments these days is beyond anything I have seen and heard before – almost unbelievable.
It’s a huge campaign to vilify those countries that don’t toe the capitalist-oligarchist-white supremacist-militarist-fascist-Zionist-Judeo-Christian-centered line.
The USA has truly become a huge criminal enterprise and an “evil empire“ in my view, bombing and occupying other countries, supporting evil regimes like Saudi Arabia, which is destroying Yemen, threatening and coercing others around the globe, strangling nations like Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and others with sanctions, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering and plundering in so many places, etc.
I am not “anti-American.” I just want to see peace, cooperation and harmony in the world, and in my view it is primarily the USA and Israel who are working against those ideals, even though they pretend otherwise. More than anything I would like to see peaceful cooperation among nations and non-hostile competition. But the USA and its “allies” (lackeys, really), and Zionist Israel go out of their way to destroy any chance of that happening.
They have really been doing this ever since they were created even though they publicly espoused great ideals in which many of their people believed. They were deceived and hijacked from the beginning by selfish, lying, evil people who quickly gained great power.
Today these powerful people cannot bear the fact that the leaders of China, Russia, Iran and others stand in the way of their efforts to gain absolute power over the world. They want to crush them either by inciting revolts in their countries or – if they become desperate enough in case “regime change” attempts meet with no success – by destroying them with military force. They believe they have God on their side, and that God wants them to take control of the whole world.
Our Moon [Unification] movement also wants to take over the world and build what they describe as the “Heavenly Kingdom under God and True Parents.” They focus on winning leaders of countries and powerful people in all spheres of life to their side. In essence they are building an oligarchy that they want to rule the world under the guidance of Rev. Moon’s widow Hak Ja Han and her successors.
But have they built a really peaceful, harmonious, cooperative society on a small scale anywhere? Yes, they get people to cooperate harmoniously (I guess) in order to organize their many spectacular, lavish events such as big rallies and conferences designed to entice world leaders in all fields to join their fold. But I don’t see any real progress at the grassroots level towards building a real harmonious society that could become a model for a future world of peace and love.
Perhaps I don’t know enough about what may have already been achieved or be in the process towards that goal. Until now I have seen no sign at all of the building of an ideal society. It seems the focus is totally on a top-down approach, which in my opinion is doomed to failure because it will almost certainly be hijacked by the most powerful, devious and ultimately selfish people – just like almost any society created by humans before.
I hope I can be proven wrong in this. I do hope so. – Right now it doesn’t look good.

How my view of the USA changed over time:
https://erwinlux.com/2019/09/19/thoughts-on-the-18th-anniversary-of-9-11/

****

More on the Unification (Sun Myung Moon / Hak Ja Han) movement and the USA:  

Fighting the Good Fight – or not …

**** 

Also: Why I cannot go back to my previous ‘faith’


On death (mine):


Diary entry Thursday 3 September 2020 (adapted):
I’m reading an article in Psyche magazine about how to overcome our fear of death.
Do I fear death? In one sense, yes. It’s the fear of the unknown, a natural fear.
But I believe in essence I do not fear death itself – being no more. What I fear far more than anything else is the likely and the possible consequences of my death for those I leave behind – my immediate family. My wife and our children.
How could they cope when I am gone? I worry about that much more than about myself dying. Also, I worry very much that I might become a burden to them if I lose my mind or parts of my body.
This is what I fear and what I worry about much, much more than my own demise. I believe I am now fully reconciled with the idea that I will die. I certainly would not want to live too long – only long enough to be able to take care of my family as much as possible. I do want to leave this existence once I feel I have done my best in this. … And I definitely do not want to exist beyond this earthly life.
I, this self – whatever it is – clearly began at some point in time after I was conceived in my mother’s womb. I believe it is quite natural that I should cease to exist at some point in time.

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My very brief Arctic adventure

1971-09-06 Finnish Lapland Ivalo

1971-09-06 Finnish Lapland Ivalo – postcard; stamp was removed

This is a story I wrote elsewhere about a short trip I took at age 20 in 1971 when I worked for Luxair Luxembourg Airlines. At the time I gave all the money I earned to my parents, which was a condition my father imposed until I would reach the then-legal age of majority of 21. He always gave me some pocket money and a little extra for my vacations.

…. After one year of service with Luxair I was entitled to one free round-trip flight within Europe on certain airlines but didn’t want to fly to one of the typical tourist destinations. Yet I wanted to travel as far a possible. Looking at a map it seemed to me the farthest I could go was Ivalo in Finnish Lapland, the northernmost airport in Finland. At that time Finnair offered flights between Luxembourg and Helsinki with a short stopover in Gothenburg, Sweden.


I arrived at Ivalo airport on 6 September 1971 after changing planes in Helsinki and Oulu. As far as I can remember there was only one building that looked like a log cabin at the airport. Apart from the Convair Metropolitan 440 propeller plane on which I arrived there was one other aircraft on the tarmac, a DC-3 with the letters NOAA painted on it.


At the hotel in town I met some of the passengers of the DC-3. They were scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) studying weather patterns in the Arctic.


I had read about Hammerfest in Norway as the northernmost large town in Europe and thought I might try to hitch-hike there. The next morning I started walking along the main road north from Ivalo, holding out my thumb every time a car passed. There was very little traffic but I quickly got my first ride up to Inari. Later in the day a young woman not much older than I picked me up and invited me for a beer and a smoke on the balcony of her cottage at Utsjoki. She told me a lot about northern Finland, which I found very interesting.


Some time in the afternoon I got a ride with two ladies in an old car crossing the border into Norway and all the way up to Rustefjelbma near where the salmon-rich Tana River flows into the Tanafjord. By this time the sun was already low on the horizon and I found a good place to sleep among some shrubs not far from the road. As I started to pull my sleeping bag out of my big US Navy seabag a car came up on the road. On the spur of the moment I decided to try to hitch another ride.


The driver, a man about 40 years old, stopped and told me he was going west, which was the direction I needed to go if I wanted to reach Hammerfest. He told me he would drop me off in a place called Ifjord and then head north on a different road to catch a boat going to a remote village on Nordkinn, if I remember correctly. I quickly closed my seabag and joined him in the car. Darkness fell as we drove on a road along the southern end of Tanafjord and across the neck of the Nordkinn Peninsula. Not much later it started raining. The man, who spoke very good English, told me about his travels in India and other places.


When he dropped me off at Ifjord it was pitchdark and cold and windy outside, and a heavy rain kept beating down. He asked if I was okay and I said confidently that I could protect myself from the rain. So he drove off into the night.


I looked around. There was not even the tiniest speck of light to be seen anywhere. I couldn’t see anything at all. Not far away I heard water running and thought there was a creek nearby. I put a large sheet of plastic on some higher ground away from the water and laid my sleeping bag and the seabag on it. After slipping into the sleeping bag I wrapped the plastic sheet around myself and tucked it under me but found I had to hold onto it because the wind kept blowing it loose. Soon I had an intense headache. I could not sleep at all that night.


The rain stopped before the sun rose in the morning, but I and all my gear was soaking wet. I saw two or three small houses not far away but they seemed uninhabited at this time. There was no sign of life at all. Luckily my head no longer ached.


In my heavy seabag I had a camping gas cooker, which I lit to get some warmth. I hung some of my wet clothes and the sleeping bag on a branch of a small tree nearby and put the burning gas stove under them. Gradually I was able to dry most of my clothing this way.


A little later in the morning a jeep-type car came up the gravel road from the same direction I had come the night before. When I signalled to request a ride the driver stopped and let me sit next to him. He spoke only Norwegian and tried to tell me something I didn’t understand. After a few kilometers he stopped at an open area where some large road building machines were parked and indicated to me this was as far as he was going.


I continued on foot up a low hill from where I caught a view of a beautiful wide inlet with dark blue water, my first glimpse of the Barents Sea. It was a corner of the Laksefjord. I followed the road down to the gravelly beach, where I saw a few small houses beside the road and some rowboats in the water on the other side. An old man stood by the road and when he saw me he seemed very surprised, as if I was an apparition. I greeted him but he didn’t utter a word. Judging from his reaction I thought he might be wondering if I was a ghost. I continued about a kilometer up a hill past the houses and when I looked back the old man was still staring in my direction.


Shortly afterwards a herd of reindeer crossed the road just 20 meters or so in front of me. I don’t think I had ever seen reindeer before. They are very beautiful animals. This herd seemed tame but I didn’t see any humans with them. As I didn’t want to frighten them I kept my distance and stopped by the side of the road to let them pass. The reindeer didn’t pay much attention to me but suddenly I was attacked by a swarm of very aggressive flies that must have accompanied them. Some of the insects sat on my glasses and tried to get into my eyes, and I was flapping my hands wildly to chase them away.


After the reindeer passed the flies were gone just as suddenly as they had appeared.

A car came up the road from the direction of Ifjord and I held out my thumb. The driver, a middle-aged man, stopped and let me sit beside him. He didn’t speak much but I found out he was on his way to Lakselv, about 100 kilometers away to the southwest.


After about an hour of driving we passed through the village of Borselv and then I saw one of the most spectacular sights I had glimpsed until this day: the Porsanger Fjord. As we drove south along the inlet’s east bank I could not take my eyes off the view of the sea, the hills on both sides, the islands in the middle and the many birds everywhere.


After the man dropped me off at Lakselv I thought about whether I was ready to continue hitch-hiking to Hammerfest. I had plenty of time as I had taken two weeks’ leave from work for this trip. But I didn’t think I had enough money to stay in hotels. Remembering that horrible night at Ifjord I felt I really wouldn’t want to go through such an experience again on this trip. It had been my first night outside in such rough conditions and it demoralized me more than I realized at first. So I decided to go south, back to Ivalo, and to forget about Hammerfest. I chickened out. Although it was not the first time I lost courage like this it sticks in my memory as an event that foreshadowed many others. Perhaps my father had been right to call me a wimp, a coward, although I am sure his intent was to stoke my pride hoping I would overcome my fear.


As I walked along the road leading south from Lakselv the air around me was suddenly filled with the ear-shattering noise of powerful jet engines. Three F-104 Starfighter jets passed just above me at great speed and then disappeared over the horizon far ahead.


A little later a young man in a pickup truck took me to Karasjok near the border of Finland. When we arrived it was late in the afternoon, so I walked out of the village and found a place in a big meadow with some trees and shrubs where I could camp for the night. I laid my plastic sheet on the ground under my sleeping bag and wrapped it around me as I had done at Ifjord. There was no wind and no rain this time, and as I was quite tired I fell asleep fairly quickly.


Next morning I woke up because I felt someone pushing against my sleeping bag. It was a male sheep (it might have been a goat – I don’t remember for sure), apparently incensed that I had taken over one of its favorite grazing spots. There were several other sheep all around me in the meadow. I quickly packed my belongings into my seabag and headed back to the road.


Not much later a middle-aged man in a Volkswagen Beetle picked me up. He spoke only Finnish. I told him I was on my way to Ivalo, and he indicated to me he was going there too. He took me across the border to Karigasniemi and then Kaamanen, where he stopped and told me something in Finnish. I understood he had some business to take care of in this village before heading down to Ivalo. After about an hour or so he returned to the car and took me the rest of the way.


At Ivalo I booked into the same hotel where I had stayed a few days earlier. I didn’t feel like spending another day in the village, so I decided to take a flight to Helsinki the next morning.


When I arrived at Helsinki airport I realized I would not be able to go to the city for some reason I don’t remember now. I don’t know if I felt I couldn’t afford staying in a hotel there because I didn’t have enough money or some other problem. At any rate I do remember spending a night in a kind of transit lounge at the airport, aided by Finnair staff. The next day I caught a direct Finnair flight back to Luxembourg.


The experience of this very short trip to Finland and Norway left a deep impression on me, which is why I remember some details I have forgotten from other, much longer journeys. Yet I missed many of the most spectacular sights of Lapland and the Arctic, such as the Northern Lights or the midnight sun.


Today I cannot understand why I never thought of buying a camera and taking pictures on my trips. My father always had both a still picture and a movie camera, and used both frequently. Of course, seeing how he took photographs it seemed very complicated. He used a light meter almost every time, and adjusted his aperture and exposure settings according to the readings of that device. Also, film and development were expensive, and I may have felt I couldn’t afford taking photographs. Yet today I regret very much not having a pictorial record of my early travels other than a few picture postcards.

 

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Why I cannot go back to my previous ‘faith’


Diary Tuesday 30 June 2020: In recent days I have thought about whether it is possible for me to return to a belief in the God of the Divine Principle and True Parents (Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han of Korea), etc. My wife and daughter remain committed to that belief. Many of my old friends, too.

I support my wife and daughter in this, of course. I know I could not pull them away from it because I have nothing else to offer them in its place.

But what about the possibility of myself returning to the fold, so to speak? Am I insisting on staying away, closing myself off, or perhaps afraid to contemplate the possibility that the Divine Principle is the Truth after all?

Am I avoiding this or figuratively running away from it – as I wanted to put it in the title of my prospective memoir “On The Run From God,” which may never end up being completed?

Well, I just have to remember what it was like when I was a supposedly fully committed believer. One of the most if not the most important missions of a believer is witnessing, proselytizing – spreading the good word and bringing others into the love of God. How did I feel doing that – even at the best of times when I was inspired by a good prayer or a great talk I heard from Rev. Moon or some other leader? How did that feel?

I’m afraid the answer is unequivocally negative no matter how deep down in my heart I dig. I always felt artificial. I could never, even once, put my heart into it. Not at all.

I always did it not because I really wanted to but because I felt obliged, pressured or otherwise duty-bound to do it.

Why was this so? The answer is simple: I did not really believe in that God and in the True Parents. I never really did. I wanted to believe. Yes, I wanted, sometimes almost desperately, to believe. But deep down I could not really believe.

Why not? I don’t know.

Before I first decided to join the Unification Church back in Barrytown, New York, in March 1975 I faced a stark choice. My goal at that time had been to put myself through an ultimate life-or-death test. I wanted to survive completely alone in the wilderness of central British Columbia for at least one year. I was not planning to go back to Europe and my family – ever.

This was because I expected a nuclear war that would destroy our modern civilization, and I believed humankind would have to start its history again or rather a new history from Stone Age. I was aware that I might die in the wilderness. In fact, when I thought deeply about it I felt my chances of survival were not very good. But I was desperate enough to try anyway, because I was totally fed up with our civilization and had concluded that I could never really fit into it, adjust to it.

I felt I had to go through a life-or-death struggle to find my true self. And I believed I had to do that in a wilderness environment so that if I survived I could become completely one with nature, like any wild animal. In a way I felt the whole of humankind had to go through something like this, and a nuclear war would start it by destroying our civilization. Humankind would have to try again from scratch and to avoid making the mistakes that led to the disastrous history we know. It was of utmost importance that we always remained totally in harmony with nature, I believed.

So I was ready – or thought I was – to face death in the wild, in the unknown, and I felt I absolutely had to do it. But then when I learned the Divine Principle and got to know those bright young members of the Unification Church I thought maybe there was an alternative, a way to avoid the destruction of our civilization by changing it into a “kingdom of heaven” that was also in harmony with the natural world.

I would also avoid having to face death in the wilderness. In a way my decision to join the church was an escape from the stark reality I had chosen to face. I was not truly convinced that Divine Principle was the ultimate truth but gradually it came to represent a lifesaver or a kind of spiritual anchor to me. However, deep down I always knew I did not really believe in it – I just wanted to believe.

This fact became starkly clear to me every time I tried to convince another person that it was the absolute Truth. I simply cannot truly believe in it. 

My first serious doubts about God – May 1994

Escape from God …?

Also: On my first Far East trip and on God

Categories: Thoughts | 3 Comments

My Instagram pictures – .instagram.com/erwinluxembourg

 

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Father figure — and the inner voice

Erwin Franzen with fishing boat crew Tunis July 1973-Bild-15

My father took this picture of me with a fishing boat crew in Tunis in July 1973. It was the only time I went on a vacation with him alone, one of the best memories.  

Diary Tuesday 21 April 2020 [with updates 3 May and 7 May below]:

Recently I converted many old VHS-C and mini-DV videos of our family to MPG files on my computer and in doing that I saw a lot of film I had recorded 10-20 and more years ago.

I heard in the films how I talked to our children and felt very embarrassed by the impatient, even angry tone I used all too often. Then the other day I read for the first time the quote from Peggy O’Mara: “the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” It really hit home. I feel very bad about it now, but why didn’t I realize that much earlier when I could have changed it?

When I think back to my own childhood I remember my parents also often spoke that way to me and my younger brother. The four siblings who were born later were lucky, because my father especially mellowed very much after the first of our sisters joined the family. I don’t remember him beating them or even screaming at them the way he did to us from time to time. My father didn’t humiliate and belittle them as he tended to do with us elder sons. My mother did the same to us, too, though she hardly ever beat us. She mostly just followed my father’s example as he was always the dominant figure in our family.

When I joined the Unification Church (as it was then called) in America in 1975 I gained a new father figure: Rev. Sun Myung Moon. We, his followers, learned to regard him as the “True Father” of humankind, meaning the restored Adam of the Bible.

Diary Sunday 3 May 2020 (continued from 21 April):

I have always had an inner voice telling me I am no good, I will fail at almost everything, and I should just give up. That voice was sometimes so strong it paralyzed me.

Also, whenever I had an argument with someone there was always a voice inside me supporting that other person’s side. So I could never really be sure of anything at all. I could never completely believe in anything or trust anyone fully, and I could never have self-confidence.

At the same time I could never really fit in anywhere and was always ill at ease with myself, even when I was alone in nature. I am nearly 70 years old now and this is still mostly the same.

I was also always in silent rebellion, against any authority figure, any group to which I belonged, any environment in which I found myself, and of course most especially against God, or rather the very concept of God which I had been taught. This has not changed as I have aged. I don’t know why this is the case but I feel it has something to do with my peculiar sense of justice.

I remember discussions I had with my father when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Today I don’t recall details of any of those discussions but what remains clearly in my mind is that we disagreed on questions of justice. My father tended to support the authority of the state, the police, the military, whereas I always argued in favor of people who opposed it – rebels, dissidents and minor criminals (though never rapists and murderers).
Of course, there was always my inner voice agreeing with my father. I don’t think I ever really won any argument.

When I joined Rev. Moon’s Unification Church I tried very hard to find God and love, which somehow remained an alien concept to me even though I do believe my parents loved me. I now think I never really understood their love because to me it meant simply that I was indebted to them, which is a point they tended to over-emphasize. This caused a feeling of deep alienation in me, because it was clear I could never repay that debt.

It turned out that Rev. Moon’s love was the same, and so was God’s love the way he always explained it. We and all humankind were hopelessly indebted to God and Rev. Moon for all they had done and suffered for us fallen, sinful, faithless children.

I know Rev. Moon said many beautiful and inspiring things in his innumerable, lengthy speeches to us members of his movement. I heard many of them when I was in direct attendance in America and in recorded versions later. But what often struck me more than the good points he made were his accusations that we had failed, causing God and him and his family much grief. He always claimed credit for himself for any success achieved by our movement and blamed us for absolutely all failures.

He claimed or at least implied that he always, without fail, did his utmost best to win a victory, seemingly wanting us to believe he was perfect. This is what most of us tended to believe. He created around himself an aura of invincibility, of perfection and near-omniscience. When one of his sons died in an accident he blamed us for it because we had allegedly failed to fulfill the spiritual conditions required to protect him.

He also often threatened us with persecution by evil spirits because we failed to accomplish the very high goals he always set for us in terms of money earned by fundraising or people recruited into the movement or gathered to attend his public speeches.

Rev. Moon’s accusations, threats and frequent angry outbursts left a much deeper imprint on both my heart and mind than all the good, positive things he always spoke about God’s love and beauty. When I think about it I am sure he did say a lot more good than bad. But the good was always like ice cream – it tasted great for a moment but quickly melted away. The bad is what remained in my memory, not the details but the general impression.

The same goes for talks I heard given by many high-level lieutenants of his, all of whom I can only regard as sycophants, bootlicks.

Of course, as usual, there was always an inner voice in me mostly agreeing with what Rev. Moon said. Thus, even though his speeches often made me angry, I was still impressed and even awed at times. And I kept going back for more of the good, inspiring stuff – the “ice cream.”

I was never sure my judgment was right, so in the end I left it up to him and my leaders and also the more faithful members around me to guide me. I did go my own way again and again in the movement when my feeling of alienation became too strong. But in those cases I always just insisted on changing jobs or “missions” or places within the movement rather than leaving altogether.

This continued for 20 years until the mid-1990s when I began to gradually shed my belief in Rev. Moon as the Messiah and “True Parent,” and his teaching the Divine Principle, and finally the whole concept of God itself. The most that idea of God had ever represented to me was a good, warm but brief feeling I sometimes enjoyed in prayer. That was all. I never found God.

Today I remain connected to Rev. Moon’s movement through my family only. 

Important addendum 20200507: Over the years after I joined the Unification Church Rev. Moon came to completely overshadow my own father as a domineering figure because he seemed to have no vulnerabilities or weaknesses, unlike the man who raised me.
A blog post about my father’s story with pictures

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Leader or Follower?

At our Shinto wedding ceremony Takaharu Miyazaki Japan 1987

Diary Thursday 16 April 2020: A little self-reflection:

It is said there are leader types and follower types among humans. When I think about which of these two categories would apply to myself I feel I belong to the follower types. This is because, when I look at my life, my past, I find I was rarely self-motivated and had little ambition.

I always looked to others for inspiration and stimulation – even in my marriage. In the 32 years I have been living with my wife I have mostly relied on her as a guide and motivator. I almost never took charge of our family, mainly because I never really felt I knew what was right for our lives together and for our children.

I have tended to be confused and easily sidetracked, never sure of myself. So in many ways I have always depended on others for guidance, inspiration and motivation. But there was always a problem: I was never a good follower, simply because I needed solitude very much. It’s a dilemma since, not being self-motivated I could not really live all by myself. Yet I was unable to fully adapt to being part of a group either. I always hated crowds, and in any kind of group I was always at least a silent rebel. I needed leadership but I could never follow a leader for long.

In our marriage my wife and I have worked out a modus vivendi in which I defer to her for most decisions about our family but she gives me enough space and time for my own pursuits. This agreement took many struggles over many years to come to fruition, and it’s still not quite stable.

We were total strangers who couldn’t even really talk to each other when we were matched by Rev. Sun Myung Moon in Seoul in October 1982. He blessed us in a 6,000-couple mass wedding just 4 days later. After this we didn’t see each other for close to 4 years as she worked in Japan and I in Cyprus. During this time we wrote to each other but we always depended on others to translate our letters. I tried to call her on the phone once 3 years after our church wedding, but we could not talk at all because it was just too difficult.

In 1986 we spent one week together in my parents’ house in Luxembourg – in separate rooms. Then in 1987 I went to Japan for one month and traveled with her to different places, always staying in separate rooms. We also visited her family. We got legally married in her hometown in southern Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island and also held a Shinto wedding ceremony in a nearby temple.

I met her two older brothers and their families, and other relatives. Her parents were long gone. Her father had left the family and broke off contact when she was just 5 and her mother died a year before we first met in Seoul.

She and I finally started our family in Tokyo in April 1988, 5½ years after our church wedding. We later lived together in Greece, where our first son was born, then in Egypt and Cyprus before settling down in Luxembourg in October 1991.

Rev. Moon was the one who brought us together and launched us on this path to create a family. We were both followers of his movement – then known as the Unification Church. I had joined in the USA in March 1975 and my wife in Japan in October 1979, which just happened to be the time of my first visit to her country – not knowing her, of course.
(see About my first journey to Japan, across Siberia, in 1979
and On my first Far East trip and on God )

I still do feel grateful to the since-deceased Rev. Moon and the movement he began for having made our family possible. My wife continues to be a loyal follower of his movement, now led by his widow Hak Ja Han.

I was always racked with doubt about him, about God and about the Divine Principle, the teaching that had inspired me to join his church. By the late 1990s I had mentally separated from Rev. Moon and even the whole concept of a God postulated by the monotheistic religions.

My wife and I went through some struggles over this until we agreed that for our children’s sake I would continue to go through the motions as if I was still a believer and would refrain from criticizing Rev. Moon, the church, its leaders and their idea of God.

I have since drifted further and further away from the ‘meme’ — the enthralling myth, really — of the God of religions. Inspired by many ideas in books I have read and discussions on the Internet I followed I have put together an alternative view of a God that satisfies my desire to have an understanding of what ultimate reality might be. (see Escape from God …? )

I needed such an alternative idea because I wanted to escape, in a way, to get away from the strong pull of the myth of God that kept me in thrall for so long. As I am not a leader type I cannot inspire anyone else with my idea, least of all my wife ….

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The time I went crazy

My parents — 1984

Diary Friday 10 April 2020:

I don’t remember how I said goodbye forever to my parents, my family. All I know is that I really meant it.

I don’t remember my mother’s tears but I know she cried. Her oldest son, the first of her six children, was crazy. That is most likely what my whole family thought at this time. But they knew they could not stop me, dissuade me from my crazy ideas.

During the last months of 1974 and the early part of 1975 I behaved ever more strangely. I kept talking about a coming nuclear war that would leave our civilization in ruins and wipe out most of humankind. What was even worse was that I actually wished for it to happen. I felt it was both inevitable and necessary.

Sometime in 1974 I had read Jack London’s book ‘The Call of the Wild,’ about a dog who took to the wilderness of Canada’s Yukon Territory. I had also heard a lot about ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey, though I never read that book. These stories undoubtedly influenced my thinking.

By 1974 I had shed any vestige of belief in the triune God of the Catholics with whom I grew up and also the Allah of the Muslims whom I had encountered in the Middle East.

I believed in nature, in a kind of pantheism. Human civilization defiled our planet. It was like a cancer that gradually overwhelmed the Earth. It had to be destroyed so nature could recover. Our civilization would annihilate itself in a nuclear war, and bands of human survivors would roam parts of the Earth living a new Stone Age. I wanted to be part of these, perhaps even a leader.

I don’t remember how this thought came to my mind but I believed the nuclear war would devastate the world in 1979.

At first I wanted to travel to western Canada and live in the woods there, awaiting the holocaust. But an American friend pointed out to me that the southern hemisphere was more likely to escape total destruction since most nuclear targets were in the north.

I changed my plan and decided to travel eventually to Patagonia. The Canadian woods remained my first destination, though, because I felt a strong attraction to them, perhaps inspired by ‘The Call of the Wild.’ I also believed I had to pass a survival test before heading to my final destination in Patagonia.

So my plan was to try to survive for at least a year more or less in a Stone Age setting in western Canada, and then head south to Argentina. I didn’t give any thought to how I could accomplish that feat, crossing all the countries on the way after basically becoming a Stone Age man.

Thinking back today I feel I really was crazy.

My last job in my home country Luxembourg was as a van driver delivering refrigerators, washing machines and TV sets to households throughout the tiny nation ….

(continued here:  How I met the Unification Movement — part 1

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