Adapted from a story originally written for the Facebook group Unification Church under the Microscope (*)
I’m from Luxembourg but I met and joined the Unification Church in the United States – twice, in 1975. The first time was during its teaching workshops in Barrytown (on the Hudson River in upstate New York, later the site of the Unification Theological Seminary) that spring, where I went through 3-, 7-, 21- and 40-day programs and also saw Moon (Sun Myung Moon – the Korean church/cult founder who died in 2012 and whose followers regard him and his still active wife Hak Ja Han as “the True Parents of humankind” representing God on Earth) for the first time. I must say he didn’t make a good first impression because to me he seemed terribly arrogant. I was mostly impressed with his “Divine Principle” teaching and the friendliness of a majority of the members, which is why I stayed in the movement.
In the summer I worked in Boston for a few weeks with a group from Barrytown led by Henry S. to restore a basement apartment that we later used as a witnessing center.
Peter S. (a member of that FB group at the time I wrote this) was my central figure for a short time at 4 W 43rd St. (the church headquarters in New York City) under Neil Salonen (then-president of the American church) in the fall of 1975. During that time I traveled a couple of times with Larry O. in a big truck down to the Sophie Mae factory in Atlanta to pick up loads of peanut brittle, which we dropped off for Mobile Fundraising Teams (church members who move from town to town selling various items door-to-door or in parking lots or bars to raise money for a “good cause” – the church) in the Carolinas, the Virginias, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Later I worked for a few weeks with Ron P. and Toni M. at the Going-Up Press printshop in Washington DC under its director George E.
After telling everyone I needed a break I left the job and the Washington DC branch of the church on Veterans Day (11 Nov.), and hitch-hiked down to Durham/North Carolina, then west along Interstate 40 all the way to California, sleeping under highway bridges a couple of nights. I briefly visited Brad B., a member friend who had quit, in San Rafael/Marin County, then tried for a few days hitch-hiking north from Sacramento, sleeping in bushes.
Later I rode freight trains with a hobo I met at a Sacramento soup kitchen but didn’t get very far. He was badly hurt on one train and I took him to a clinic (27 Nov.), then I was robbed near Livermore of all my meager possessions, and finally I was invited to a free Thanksgiving dinner in a house near University of California Berkeley campus by two “students” who said they belonged to a local “Creative Community Project” organization. I recognized quickly enough that it was the Unification Church by another name, but by that time I was ready to rejoin the fold anyway.
After a few weeks attending Divine Principle workshops and working in their garden at Boonville, and a few more mostly spent “witnessing” (proselytizing mostly young tourists) at Fisherman’s Wharf / San Francisco with Matthew Morrison I was sent east in a bus with many new recruits. Then came Moon’s big religious rallies at Yankee Stadium in New York in June 1976 and at the Washington Monument that September, and before the end of that US Bicentennial year (1776-1976) I became part of the editorial staff of our new daily The News World in New York City. At first I worked briefly in the National Department with Josette S., and then I was transferred to International under, first, Hal McK., then Robin K. and finally Betsy O.
I might mention here that I was an illegal alien the whole time I was in the US, never qualified to get a “green card” residence permit.
I pressured my bosses, publisher Mike W. and chief editor John D., to let me go to Bangkok, Thailand as correspondent, and after some time they agreed but told me I had to pay for the trip and most expenses from my own pocket.
In July 1979 I went home to Luxembourg to make some money working with local church members. In October I took the trans-Siberian train across the Soviet Union (from Luxembourg to Nakhodka, a journey of well over 11,000 kilometers on trains in 11 days, stopping overnight only in Moscow and Khabarovsk on the way), then a Soviet ferryboat through a typhoon in the Pacific to Yokohama, where I arrived exactly two weeks after leaving my country (6-20 October), followed by another two weeks traveling in Japan with my “spiritual mother” — a Japanese lady who had introduced me to the church in New York and who had invited me to visit her in Tokyo (her husband had been one of the first followers of Moon in Japan in the early 1960s – they are both deceased now).
In early November I went to Bangkok to try to work as correspondent. I didn’t manage to get a work permit and the high spiritual atmosphere in the local center (I didn’t have enough money to afford a place of my own) was not at all conducive to journalistic work.
In New York, Mike W., John D. and others left their jobs and the church during that time, and the paper was in trouble — so in early 1980 after three months in Thailand I was called back.
Over the following two years I spent another 18 months working for The News World in NYC and several months in Luxembourg or traveling in Europe on my own, once spending 3 days in prison in Czechoslovakia in March 1982 because I was found in possession of “anti-Soviet” literature and documentation on nuclear weapons. My last time in the US was March-June 1982 when I did research for Russian émigré author Lev Navrozov in NYC.
— I’m telling you all this only so that you can see I was nothing at all like a model member. I was always more or less on the fringes of the movement, even though I believed in Divine Principle, True Parents and all that, and was deeply troubled by my own inability to completely “submit” (=this word always reminds me of the meaning of Islam; my few weeks as a practising Muslim in the Middle East in 1972-73, when I performed the full Haj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, had left a lasting impression).
Despite my status as a sort of loose member I was strongly urged by many friends and former central figures to participate in a matching (of couples by Moon himself for an arranged marriage – one of his many publicity-seeking mass weddings) in Seoul in October 1982, and this is where I had my one and only close encounter with Moon himself.
In the school of the Little Angels (a children’s singing and dancing troupe founded by Moon to charm world leaders, and whose large hall was crammed this time with men and women members waiting to meet their matches) he asked Western men who wanted to be matched with Oriental women to come forward. I was one of several dozen or more who did so.
After matching a few others he reached over somebody else’s shoulder, gently took me by the chin and – to my great surprise – asked me directly in English why I wanted an Oriental wife. I said I thought it was more interesting and I could learn more. He seemed to like my answer, then he asked where I worked and where I was from, and after hearing my answers he took me along a row of Oriental women and chose my wife, who is Japanese.
I realized later that I was chosen for the “Blessing” not because I was a good member or ready but simply because they needed to try to get as close to 6,000 couples together as possible. So bodies were needed to fill the quota.
Later I helped to start the weekly newspaper Middle East Times in Cyprus and worked there and in Greece for a few years while my wife worked in one of the church’s secret accounting offices in Japan and also went out fundraising (street selling) there. I didn’t see my wife again until almost 4 years later, and then only for a week when we went to Luxembourg to meet my parents. In 1987 we got legally married in Japan but did not stay together as I took up an assignment as correspondent in Pakistan. We only started our family in 1988 when I returned to Japan, and later lived in Greece, where our first son was born (1989), then a year in Egypt, and Cyprus again until we finally settled in Luxembourg in late 1991 after my father died.
We had another son in 1994 and a daughter 2 years later. Both our sons turned out to be seriously mentally handicapped and autistic, totally unable to live independently. They inherited the fragile-X chromosome syndrome. Luckily, our daughter did not inherit any of it and is not handicapped at all.
During the late 1990s I completely turned away from the Divine Principle teachings about “God” and “True Parents”, and developed my own ideas about how we and the universe came into existence, etc., but I did not impose anything on my wife, who remains a loyal follower of Moon and now his wife. I no longer believe in the “God” postulated by the monotheistic religions at all.
I don’t hide the fact that I reject Divine Principle from leaders here in Luxembourg but nonetheless my wife and I are regarded as regular members – though I don’t participate in most church activities, including one of the most basic – prayer.
Our daughter knows I don’t believe, but I let her choose her own way – though under the influence of my wife — so she has gone to several short workshops to learn Divine Principle in the Netherlands and has also been to Cheong Pyeong (the church’s main spiritual headquarters in South Korea, in a resort area by a lake of the same name) for 21- and 40-day workshops. It seems she fits in well and can take it all in stride without the terrible mental/spiritual struggles I went through, and also without becoming any kind of fanatic. She is very level-headed.
She has always been able to make friends easily, and has some close friends here in Luxembourg who have nothing to do with the movement.
She studied for 5 years at Sun Moon University (the church’s own university) in Korea, which she really seemed to enjoy. She met an American fellow student and member there, whose parents contacted us because he had told them he was interested in our daughter as a matching partner. When our daughter agreed we arranged a matching with him and his parents, and they were “blessed” by Mrs. Moon in 2018.
So, somehow I am both still inside as well as outside the church – inside in a practical sense through my wife and daughter, even tithing, but outside because I don’t believe any of their teachings at all and don’t follow any instructions. Of course, it’s like a house of cards, and it could all come crashing down if my wife insisted on following a course that would go totally against my convictions.
I feel I should add part of a previous post here about my death:
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.
…. NATO, led by the USA, has pushed Russia under Vladimir Putin into a corner since it expanded to include many eastern European countries that had belonged to the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union until it collapsed and disintegrated in the 1990s.
NATO has always been hostile to Russia, and this has become worse in recent years as Russia regained some of its former strength as a great power under Putin’s leadership.
The situation in Ukraine became so bad in recent years, and so threatening to Russia, that Putin launched a large-scale attack on that country to prevent it from joining NATO and to eliminate fanatic Ukrainian nationalist, anti-Russian and quasi-Nazi forces that have been trying to subjugate renegade ethnic Russian-dominated areas in the eastern part of the country since the “Euromaidan” US-backed coup of 2013-14.
Since large Russian army formations invaded Ukraine starting 24 February, a war has been raging. The US and its Canadian, European and other lackeys have imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia and vowed to punish any other countries that try to break those.
There is no serious effort to try to resolve the problem through negotiations. Rather, it seems the US is bent on trying to provoke a regime change in Russia, after which it would certainly go on to try the same in China.
The US really wants what the Pentagon calls “full spectrum dominance” of the entire world.
I am not a strong supporter of either the current Russian or Chinese governments, but I believe the US and all its lackeys are really destroying the world, and their schemes must be thwarted. For this reason I want to see Russia and China, and many other countries, stand up to the US and force it to change course or collapse.
The US could have been a leader of the world if it had become a good example of a strong but harmonious and peaceful society, and a beacon of freedom and hope that others could emulate. But it has chosen instead to dominate by imposing its economic power and military force on others. It is extremely vindictive and petty in many ways, not magnanimous and forward-looking at all. It certainly does not want to share any of its wealth and power with others.
I know, many Americans tend to be quite generous and ready to help the less fortunate.
But the leadership of the country and the most powerful of its people just want to impose their will on the world. They want to impose the American capitalist system that perpetuates and constantly widens inequalities in society, and that would ultimately lead only to the enslavement of most of the world’s population …. or the destruction of human civilization in a nuclear war.
This must be opposed and stopped at all costs. I hope Russia and China, and many other countries together will be able to do that and to create a new multipolar world order. The US must be weakened to the point where it has no choice but to accept this.
Chronology of my life until my arrival in Cyprus in early 1983, with more detailed accounts of some important periods and experiences I haven’t covered much in other writings, plus a very short timeline from 1983 to the 1990s.
1951 Feb: birth in Esch-sur-Alzette (I was the first of 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, born between 1951 and 1964).
1957-1964: elementary school Esch-Brill, 7 years.
1960 ca. May: Holy Communion
1961 Summmer: One-week trip to Koksijde, Belgium with group of schoolkids organized by the Luxembourg Red Cross. This was the first time I saw the sea and swam in it. I had learned on my own to swim when I was about 8.
1963 early August: Traveled by train to Austria for about one week with Esch-Grenz boy scout group, staying at a chalet we rented at Tauplitz in Styria (Steiermark). Saw big mountains for the first time and was totally fascinated by the sight of 2,351-meter Mount Grimming. Also was stung by wasps twice, including once on the lid of one eye, which swelled up and bothered me a lot for a short time.
1964-1966: Technical secondary school, preparation for apprenticeship, “Ecole Professionnelle de l’État” (EPE), Esch
1966 Sep-1967 Feb: Apprentice fitter at Luxembourg’s largest steel mill Arbed Belval (my first paying job) and continuation of technical school EPE (36 hours’ work in the steel mill plus 12 hours of classes per week – 48 hours); I quit in February 1967 after half a year because I believed my chances were not good to be accepted for training as an electrician, which is what I really wanted. Only a relatively small group of the best apprentice fitters were chosen after one year to be trained to become electricians. My ultimate goal at the time was to study electronics.
1967-69: I switched from the steel mill+EPE to “Lycée de Garçons Esch” (high school – really junior high) in mid-year. As I came from a different education program I had to start from the beginning, meaning I was 3 years older than most of my classmates. At this time I started learning English.
In Luxembourg in 1968 the full high school program was increased from 6 to 7 years, which meant that I would have finished high school at age 22 – earliest (I wasn’t good enough to be able to skip a year or two). I passed the “examen de passage” (“halfway” or junior-high exam/diploma) in 1969 and then decided to quit school and get a job.
In the summer of 1968 I applied for a scholarship from the American Field Service to study for a year at a high school in the US. I had to write an essay in English on a theme I don’t remember. My application was accepted but I could not go because I did not have enough money to pay for the trip, and my parents could not help me at the time as our means were very limited.
In late 1968 or early 1969, I met middle-aged American itinerant evangelical preacher and puppeteer Ben Barker at Clervaux youth hostel (=no longer in existence as far as I know); he was on a cycling tour of Europe; my first American friend – I corresponded with him for a few years until around 1971-72 (still have some of his letters from that time).
Also at that youth hostel, I responded to a bulletin board pen pal request from Japan and then corresponded with Mitsuo Sekine in Sapporo/Hokkaido. A few months later he traveled overland across Asia and Europe to Luxembourg and stayed a few days with my family in the summer of 1969. He traveled around the world for two years through about 100 countries on an extended sabbatical from Hokkaido University.
After this journey he finished his studies in Sapporo and became a physician. I corresponded with him for a few years but lost contact when I went to America in 1975; in 1986 I got in touch with him again through Hokkaido University, then we met in southern Japan in 1988, and in 1993 he took me and my family on a tour of Hokkaido Island; then later he came to see us in Luxembourg in 1994, 2009 and 2010.
During these last years of the 1960s I had my first struggles with religious questions and doubts about the Catholic faith I had been taught, and also my awakening to politics. We got our first black and white TV set in 1967 and I could see shocking pictures of what the US was doing in Vietnam, which led me to regard America as a world bully. I once joined a protest march against the Vietnam War to the American Embassy in Luxembourg City.
1969 Oct-Dec: worked at Banque Générale, Lux. City headquarters, Service Portefeuille (bank transfers). It was a high-pressure desk job and I really didn’t like it, so I quit after three months when I was accepted by Luxair Luxembourg Airlines as a reservations agent.
Around this time I developed a strong desire to travel the world, which was first kindled in the mid-1960s when I read many short adventure stories and also several books on the great explorers of earlier times, and heard stories about World War II from my father and others.
1970 Jan – 1972 Sep: worked at Luxair as reservations agent starting 7 January 1970. — Our Luxair reservations department was located in the Air Terminus building next to the tall CFL office building at Luxembourg City train station – not at the airport. Some time later we moved our office to a rented apartment in a building across the street, next to the old Alfa Hotel. I never worked at Luxembourg airport – though one of my brothers and one of my sisters both did (they joined Luxair later).
My first one-week trips with free tickets provided by Luxair took me to Vienna in July and Paris in November 1970 and to London in April 1971. In September 1971 I flew to Ivalo in Finnish Lapland with my first free ticket from another airline – Finnair.
1972 Mar: 2-week trip to Iran and Afghanistan. — In March 1972 I flew to Tehran, Iran on a once-weekly Lufthansa flight. This was my first trip outside Europe. I met Taff (or Taffy – Iltaf) at Asia Hotel in Tehran, and he proposed to take me on a journey to Lahore, Pakistan, in a big Ford Galaxie 500 he had bought in the US if I paid for half of the gasoline used. I accepted because I wanted to go as far away from Luxembourg as possible, though I still wanted to get back to my job two weeks later.
We made it as far as Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, and I had to return to Tehran by public transport in order to catch my flight home.
After this adventurous journey I found it difficult to go back to my daily work routine in Luxembourg.
I began to believe that I should leave Luxembourg and try to start a new life in another country. I felt I could not fit into this society. Apart from a certain social awkwardness and my particular idiosyncrasies it was especially my total inability to find a girlfriend which made me feel I did not belong here. I always felt I absolutely needed a female companion or partner but it never worked out because I was too awkward in trying to win one.
I became infatuated with one beautiful girl after another but on the very rare occasions when a girl actually seemed interested in me I almost immediately lost interest in her. My real problem was that I was very afraid I would not know what to do if a girl came to me.
1972 Aug: smashed my first car (a 1964 Opel Kadett) at Ottange/France while drunk (it had cost only 8,000 francs / ca. 200 Euros). — I had a crush on a beautiful and vivacious French young woman (A.G. of Algrange) who joined our team at Luxair reservations. We sort of became friends and I got to know her family in France and even slept one night in her bed when she wasn’t there, but it was always clear that she was not interested in me as a love partner or companion. She was always after other men, and she was very popular.
Once in August 1972 after a night of bowling and drinking with her and her father, brother and sister on the French side of the border I had a serious car accident. Her younger sister was with me in the car and she herself was with her father and brother in a car just behind me when they saw my car overturn in a complete barrel roll. They were shocked, and although neither I nor the sister were hurt the incident led to the ending of our relationship.
I had long been fascinated by the Amazon Jungle because several years earlier I had read a book by a German explorer who visited many of the tribes there in the 1940s, and I had marveled at the black and white pictures of those people whose lives were so different from ours. I got the idea to go to Amazonia and perhaps settle down there.
A colleague at Luxair suggested that it might be a good idea to go to Cayenne, French Guiana, to get a first taste of the jungle before heading to Manaus in Brazil, as I was thinking to do. I resigned from my job in September 1972, and surprisingly the Luxair director still granted me a free ticket to Cayenne on Air France – even though I was not entitled to one. I had asked for a one-way ticket to make sure I wouldn’t chicken out down there and come back too quickly, but he gave me a round-trip one.
1972 Sep: Left Luxair; with last free ticket, flew Air France B-747 to Cayenne/French Guiana but stayed only 3 days and returned to Paris; then took train to Strasbourg and hitch-hiked to Munich/Germany. — At Cayenne Airport I was the only person on the 747 Jumbo jet who wanted to go to Cayenne itself – all the other passengers were engineers and their families who headed straight to the space base under construction at Kourou up the coast.
In Cayenne I talked to the sous-préfet, who didn’t think I had a chance to find a job there or an apartment – and I had no qualifications for any decent job in Kourou. I realized my money wouldn’t last long as Cayenne was more expensive than expected.
A couple of months before leaving Luxembourg I had received a letter from my friend Taff from Pakistan who suggested that he and I could meet in Munich and start a business there to make a lot of money in the wake of the Olympic Games (1972). Re-reading that letter in Cayenne I thought that sounded like a good idea – and I could come back later with a lot more money.
After only 3 days in Cayenne I flew back to France and hitch-hiked to Munich.
1972 Sep to Nov: lived about 7 weeks in Munich; around 10 November, hitch-hiked back to Luxembourg. — I stayed at the Pullach youth hostel and later rented an apartment when I worked for Manpower as a fork lift driver at Linde gas company in Dachau. I also tried my hand as a magazine subscription door-to-door salesman with devastatingly miserable results.
Based on my excellent work certificate from Luxair I was offered a job for El Al Israel Airlines at München Riem Airport but declined because I didn’t want to abuse their trust since I wasn’t planning on staying in Munich too long. Taff never showed up, and I spent too much money having fun at the Oktoberfest with some American friends I’d met in Pullach. Finally, after only a month and a half in Munich I hitch-hiked back to Luxembourg – penniless.
1972 Nov-Dec: worked ca. 3 weeks at Rêve d’Orient carpet store Luxembourg City. — While working in Luxembourg City for a few weeks in Mme. Servais’ carpet store on Boulevard Royal I got a letter from Taff inviting me on a trip to Lahore, Pakistan. I was to be a backup driver.
He and his brother Fakhar and his family (wife and 3 small boys) were planning to drive 2 cars, a VW van and a Ford Capri 3000 GT, from Rochdale/Lancashire, England where they lived via Luxembourg all the way to Kuwait, where I could stay with their oldest brother Hamid while they were going to race across Saudi Arabia to Jeddah, pick up their mother at the airport there in early January 1973, take her to Mecca and Medina for her first and probably last Hajj (the full Islamic pilgrimage – not Umra, for those who know the difference), and then return to Kuwait a month later for the rest of the trip with me to Lahore.
1972 Dec 19 to 1973 Feb 27: trip to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran (original final destination was Pakistan). — We left Luxembourg on 19 December 1972. After an adventurous journey driving almost non-stop day and night we arrived at Abu Kemal (or Al Bukamal) on the Syrian-Iraqi border only 5 days later, on Christmas Eve 1972. The Iraqis insisted we needed to get visas from their embassy in Damascus in order to be allowed to proceed across their country to Kuwait.
1972 Dec 24-28: Syria. — Fakhar and his family stayed behind in the VW at the border while Taff and I raced back to Aleppo and then Damascus in the Capri. At the embassy we were told it could take up to 2 weeks to get the visas (the Iraqis made life difficult for us because of a diplomatic problem they had with Britain at the time). That was impossible for us.
We had no way to contact Fakhar, so we drove all the way back to Abu Kemal via Aleppo (roads were not good enough to take a shortcut), and then returned in both cars to Damascus in order to proceed from there across Jordan into the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, where the holy cities are (in the Capri we had thus driven nearly 3,000 kilometers in Syria alone).
On the way Taff and Fakhar told me I would either have to return to Europe on my own or become a Muslim so I could go with them, as non-Muslims were not allowed in Medina and Mecca.
I officially became a Muslim at the Saudi Embassy in Damascus, where Taff and Fakhar vouched for me. I got a special pilgrim visa for Saudi Arabia and a new name: Omar Hussein (Hussein was my friends’ family name).
1972 Dec 30 to 1973 Feb 1: Saudi Arabia; Haj, Medina, Mecca, Mina tent city, Jeddah; then across via Riyadh to Dammam and then Kuwait City. — We drove to Medina, where we met Taff’s Filipino friend Abdullah Mahdi (original name Leonardo Villar), who studied at the Islamic University there. Abdullah was to be our guide. The only two photos I have from my time in Saudi Arabia were taken by him.
In Medina we had to prepare for our first visit to the Kaaba in Mecca, over 400 km to the south, by taking a bath and putting on our Ihram clothing, the two simple white sheets wrapped around the body that must be worn during the pilgrimage.
We arrived at the holy mosque in Mecca late in the evening of 31 December 1972, and I slept part of that night on some steps in the colonnade surrounding the big central courtyard where crowds of people were making the rounds of the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction – what is called the tawaf.
The next day we performed the same rite and the prescribed walks between the small rocks of Safa and Marwa, and drank the water of the Zamzam well, etc. Later we set up a big tent a few kilometers outside the city in Mina among thousands of other tents. We lived there for the next two weeks or so, and returned to Mecca a few times for further rites in the great mosque.
A few days after arriving in Mina we went to Jeddah to pick up Taff and Fakhar’s mother, Ummi, from the airport. She stayed with us in the tent in Mina, and for the tawaf in Mecca we paid two men to carry her around the Kaaba on a sort of stretcher with a basket in the middle.
Near the end of our stay in Mina we spent a day at the foot of a hillock called Jebel Arafat, a few kilometers away, and then picked up pebbles in a place on the way back to Mina called Mustalifa. The pebbles were used the following day to throw at the shaytan (devils -petrified in this case) in Mina, three stone pillars with low walls around them. Also, an animal had to be sacrificed for every pilgrim. I gave some money to my friends who arranged for sheep to be slaughtered for us.
I saw huge herds of sheep, goats and other animals near Mina, and large piles of bones of animals killed in earlier years. As a white European I seemed to be a curiosity in Mina and was invited by many people into their tents for a cup of tea and a chat.
After the main part of the pilgrimage in Mecca and Mina was over we returned to Medina and rented a ground floor apartment in the old quarter behind the great mosque. We stayed there for more than a week together with Ummi, mainly to say the 40 prayers during 8 consecutive days prescribed in a hadith (=an account of the sayings and actions of Prophet Mohammed), and to visit the prophet’s tomb and the Jennet Al Baqi cemetery, where many of his relatives and companions are interred. We also visited Jebel (Mount) Uhud and various other important sites from the early history of Islam.
I could not resist climbing to the top of a rock on the 1,077-meter Mount Uhud above a famous cave that played a role in the Battle of Uhud – the second battle in Islamic history, and Abdullah took a picture of me coming back down, which I still have.
The quarter where we stayed seemed like a town from the Middle Ages. I learned from Abdullah much later that it was torn down a few months after our stay to make room for an expansion of the mosque.
After we saw Ummi off at Jeddah airport on a flight back to London we stayed a few days in the house of a Pakistani family living in Jeddah. My friends suggested that I could perhaps marry one of the daughters of this family, a 16-year-old girl named Razia. They said I might be able to stay in Saudi Arabia and get a scholarship to study at the Islamic University in Medina – just like Abdullah. I told them I was not at all ready to get married and settle down.
They were concerned that I was not serious enough about studying and practicing Islam, and they felt their relatives in Pakistan, with whom we were going to stay, would not appreciate that. Taff and Fakhar themselves did not worry so much about me not trying hard to be a good Muslim but they believed their family would not accept me as I was, and this is why they no longer wanted to take me to Pakistan with them. Their family in Lahore would have been informed by Ummi that I had been on the pilgrimage with them.
So I decided to try to find a job on a ship. We first went to the port of Jeddah but were not allowed to enter for this purpose.
1973 Feb 1 to Feb 27; drove from Jeddah to Riyadh via Taif and then on to Kuwait City (arriving 1 February), where we spent 9 days in a villa of the Al Balool family with whom Hamid lived, then via Basra/Iraq (ferryboat across the Shatt Al Arab waterway) to Abadan/Iran, where I stayed behind alone to try to find a job on a ship, there and in nearby Khorramshahr. No chance.
I took a train to Tehran (on my 22nd birthday, 11 February), stayed a few days, then took another train to Istanbul/Turkey, stayed 3 days, then went again by train via Belgrade to Ljubljana/Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) and on by bus to Kranj, which cost me my very last penny. From Kranj I hitch-hiked back to Luxembourg over 2-3 days, spending nights outside in the cold (February).
1973 Mar to July: worked short-term jobs in Luxembourg, then about 2 months at Avis car rental agency, Luxembourg Airport.
1973 July 8-15: Flew Luxair Caravelle to Monastir, Tunisia, together with my father (his one and only trip outside Europe), using free tickets provided by my brother, who still worked for the airline (he was going to make the trip with my father but then something came up that prevented him, so I used the ticket issued in his name). We had a good one-week vacation in Sousse and Tunis together, and also visited the ruins of Carthage.
1973 July 20 to 1974 Feb 14: England and Ireland; went by train and ferryboat to England, lived in Hayes/Middlesex until end-August (6 weeks) and worked for Trust House Forte at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 duty-free store; then moved to Rochdale/Lancashire at the invitation of Taff Mughal, lived in a house owned by his family and worked as a bus conductor for SELNEC Northern bus company based in Manchester;
left the job and the town abruptly early November when confronted by Muslim co-workers who knew I was a Haji (one of them had come to my favorite pub one evening to buy cigarettes and saw me drinking beer there – which is haram – forbidden for Muslims);
moved to Kensington/London (Kensington Student Centre) and worked at Army and Navy Stores on Victoria Street in the Radio and TV Department; left the job in December and traveled by train and boat to Dundrum near Dublin/Ireland where my brother Gilbert stayed with friends;
spent ca. 3 weeks in the Dublin area, mostly drunk and high on hashish and opium (took LSD just once); together with my brother, his girlfriend and others returned to London via Liverpool, then stayed again in Kensington and worked short-term jobs for Industrial Overload at Tottenham Court, including a 2-day stint carrying large furniture eight floors up in the main BBC building.
1974 Feb 14 to early March: Left England for the continent, almost penniless again; hitch-hiked to Verden south of Bremen in Germany, spent one night out in the snow, then met some hippies whose address I got in London from 2 French professional thieves;
the hippies gave me an address in Paris, so I hitch-hiked to southwest Paris, where other hippies at the given address let me stay in their well-stocked apartment near rue de Versailles while they were away on a vacation in the Savoie; stayed 10 days in Paris and walked all over the city;
the hippies from the apartment were members of Mouvement pour la libération de l’avortement et de la contraception (MLAC), and based on some evidence I found might have performed abortions in their apartment; finally I hitch-hiked from Paris to Longwy and walked from there during one night in a few cm of snow to Belvaux (about 20 km), where a driver gave me a ride home to Esch in the early morning.
1974 Mar to 1975 Mar: worked short-term jobs (for Manpower Lux.City), then was accepted by Dupont De Nemours to work in the Typar physical testing laboratory near Contern, rented a room in Contern; worked at Dupont nearly 6 months then got bored by routine and quit;
worked odd jobs again for Manpower, including one for 2 weeks at Eurotex (not sure of name? – we were doing quality control of freshly-assembled JB Lansing loudspeakers) near Bascharage where my boss was an American evangelical Christian (forgot his name) who told me a lot about the Last Days, the Apocalypse, as interpreted in the book The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey.
During this time I developed my ideas about a coming nuclear World War III that would wipe out modern civilization, probably around 1979; I made my plan to go live in the woods of British Columbia/Canada for at least one year as a survival test and then head for the southern hemisphere – Patagonia to wait out the expected nuclear war;
my final job in Luxembourg was a 3-month stint as a van driver delivering washing machines and other large household appliances all over Luxembourg for Neckermann in Lux. City.
1975 Mar 6: USA, first journey: 4 years and 4 months until 1979 July 7: Flew to New York, intending to take a train to Montreal and hitch-hike to British Columbia; met Noriko S. of Japan (and others) in front of Madison Square Garden, who invited me to a lecture on “Divine Principle”, talking about the Last Days (right up my alley that time) and the need to unite religion and science, etc.;
lecture by Irishman Aidan B. was interesting; agreed to attend a 3-day workshop in the countryside upstate to learn more about this movement, Unification Church and its founder Sun Myung Moon of Korea; went to Barrytown 170 km north of NYC on the Hudson River with many other young people, and after much prodding from some of them stayed after the 3 days for 7-day, 21-day and 40-day workshops;
I decided the Moonies with their Divine Principle had a better idea that could save humankind without first destroying civilization as I believed necessary, and I joined them (later that spring in Barrytown I saw Moon for the first time; he did not make a good first impression: he looked like a rich westernized businessman and seemed extremely arrogant — but I was sufficiently impressed with many of my new Moonie friends and the Divine Principle to overlook this; I was never able to shake off that first negative feeling, though); worked on the small farm (we grew corn, etc.) at Barrytown, then spent over a month in Boston restoring a basement apartment where we then invited people to try to bring them into the fold;
later I worked in New York City and traveled a few times in a big truck to the Sophie Mae factory in Atlanta/Georgia to pick up loads of peanut brittle (candy), which we dropped off for mobile fundraising teams (=teams of young people who went door to door or approached people in shopping mall parking lots to sell candy, flowers, etc. at inflated prices allegedly for a good cause but in reality for the Moon movement — often without disclosing for whom they worked) in the Carolinas, the Virginias, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio;
finally I moved to Washington DC to work in a church printshop but felt constrained and bored, and decided to travel around on my own and to think about God and the world without having Moonies all over me; I told my friends I had to leave them because I needed a break but would be back within anywhere from three days to two years;
I wanted to visit a friend with whom I had worked in New York and who had left the Moonies to return home to California; the others asked me to promise to visit a church center in California, which I did.
1975 Nov 11-27: 16 days’ “vacation” from the Moonies: hitch-hiked from Washington DC to Durham/North Carolina (where I spent a night under a highway bridge), then along Interstate Highway 40 up to Asheville near the western end of North Carolina;
was getting ready to sleep under another bridge there when a blue car stopped by the side below; amazingly the driver (whose name I don’t remember, only his handle on CB radio: the Blue Blazer) was on his way from Miami/Florida to a place called North Highlands in California; he took me along;
we drove along I-40 across Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas (Panhandle – Amarillo) and New Mexico to Arizona, where he dropped me off in Seligman west of Flagstaff (he wanted to go back to Ash Fork to visit relatives there who could tell him where North Highlands was, since none of the many truckers he contacted via CB radio had known the place — much later I learned that it was a suburb of Sacramento);
I hitch-hiked to Kingman/Arizona and then in the night on to Yucca (the big burly guy in a small truck with a rifle inside who picked me up late evening in Kingman threatened to throw me out in the desert if I didn’t give him a blowjob — but I managed to get him interested in talking about God and the world’s problems, and when he dropped me off near Yucca he said it was the most interesting conversation he’d had in years);
slept under a bridge on I-40 near Yucca and got a ride next morning with a Mexican family on the bed of a pickup truck among sacks of potatoes and onions; they took me to Thousand Oaks west of Los Angeles, then I continued to Santa Barbara, and on Highway 101 to Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo and on to San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael, where I stayed a few days with Brad Bufkin.
Brad later took me to Sacramento. I wanted to travel north to British Columbia, going back to my original plan before I met the Moonies. I tried to hitch-hike north for 3 days (sleeping in some bushes near Interstate Highway 5 to Redding) — no success.
Then I met a hobo at the local soup kitchen and he talked me into going south with him to Indio, near Los Angeles, where he was sure we could get jobs during the winter (I could always go to BC later on). We rode freight trains but got only as far as Stockton. Later, not far from there, he got badly hurt on one train, breaking his hip bone, and I had to take him to a hospital in Tracy. I couldn’t stay with him: I was an illegal alien (that’s another part of the story).
Later the same day, Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27), I was robbed of all my possessions except my passport and a few dollars near Livermore, then a fundamentalist Christian guy gave me $ 60, and I was about ready to look up the church again. I couldn’t find the church center in Berkeley, but in the evening I ran into two young guys who invited me to a free Thanksgiving Dinner at a place on Hearst Avenue near Berkeley campus. That turned out to be the Unification Church, under a different name (Creative Community Project)….
1975 Nov 27 to 1976 Nov 7: Boonville, San Francisco, then Tarrytown, New York and Washington DC; I attended workshops of the Creative Community Project in Boonville/Mendocino County/California for about 5 weeks and also worked on the farm there, then spent the month of January 1976 “witnessing” (proselytizing, trying to win converts) in San Francisco, mostly at Fisherman’s Wharf, where we invited people to have a cup of tea or coffee and donuts while listening to lectures in a converted bus we called “Dumbo”.
We also once swept and cleaned some streets near city hall and were proud to see our efforts shown on TV. At the end of January 1976 about 30 of us left California on that Dumbo bus, headed for New York. We were fresh recruits from California, where a lot more Moonies were produced than on the East Coast, and were sent to help on the other side of the continent.
We traveled east along Interstate Highway 10, the southernmost major route just north of the Mexican border. From El Paso/Texas we turned northeast via Abilene to Dallas, where we cleaned some streets and tried to get TV coverage of what the Moonie leadership called the God Bless America Bicentennial Cleanup Campaign (1976 was, of course, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence).
We then went on to do the same in several other cities along our route: Birmingham/Alabama, Atlanta/Georgia, Raleigh/North Carolina, Richmond/Virginia, Washington DC and finally New York City, then headed to Barrytown for a 21-day workshop; after that I worked in Tarrytown (50 km north of NYC) for a few weeks refurbishing an old house called the “Green House,” then in New York City (in a 7-story building at 4 West 43rd St.) installing window air conditioners in church offices there.
In August my brother Gilbert, an evangelical Christian, came to visit me in New York after spending some time street witnessing in Canada during the Montreal Olympic Games. He was traveling with a British girlfriend and they invited me to spend a few days with them at an evangelical Christian youth camp near Camden, New Jersey. I joined them at the camp for a few days, and later they attended a 2-day Divine Principle workshop in New York City.
They had hoped I would turn to Jesus and I had hoped they would be inspired by Moon instead – but in the end we parted with our own different beliefs unchallenged.
1976 was a very important year for the Moonies as Moon held his two biggest rallies ever in the US as part of what he called the God Bless America Festival. The first one was held in New York’s Yankee Stadium on 1 June, and the second at the Washington (DC) Monument on 18 September. According to the Moonies, several hundred thousand people attended the two rallies. Even if their figures were inflated the rallies were really big events.
I went to Washington DC in late August to prepare to bring people to the September rally there, and worked mostly in Silver Spring/Maryland, where my old friend Ben Barker (from 1969) had once lived. I wasn’t successful at all, so later I was surprised that other Moonies had managed to bring huge crowds to the rally. It’s quite possible there were indeed 2-300,000 people at the Washington Monument listening to Moon (the crowd looked impressive in pictures; but I must admit I was not present at the Monument that day, just as I had also missed the Yankee Stadium event even though I was close to that location — I don’t remember now why I didn’t or couldn’t attend).
After the rally I stayed on in DC and, to sort of atone for my failure I volunteered to join a fundraising team; sold flowers for the Moonies door to door and in parking lots mostly in small towns of northern Virginia, and once also in Hagerstown/Maryland. My results were among the best of the team the first 2 weeks or so but then, as others got better I lagged behind – and finally ran out of steam completely.
Some of my better-educated friends in DC received application forms to join a daily newspaper Moon was planning to publish in New York City as a conservative counterweight to the New York Times, which was considered hopelessly liberal and influenced by leftists. One Chinese-American girl I knew received a form but was not interested, so she gave it to me and I applied, even though my formal education was sorely lacking.
1976 Nov 7 to 1979 Jul 7: New York City – beginnings of The News World newspaper – and Washington DC, and my plan for Bangkok…; I was accepted and invited to come to New York on 7 November 1976. Moon himself had decided that the newspaper should be named The News World and that its first issue must come out before the end of the year 1976.
If I remember correctly about 180 of us future journalist Moonies got together in the New Yorker Hotel, which the church had bought earlier that year and later renamed the World Mission Center.
The New Yorker had been built around the same time as the Empire State Building, 1930, in the same style, but was “only” half its size: 43 stories above ground and I think 3 floors in the basement. The hotel had once been great but had become unprofitable and closed its doors a few years before our church bought it. It boasted about 2,500 rooms and many elevators, ballrooms, etc.
The great Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla had lived out the last 10 years or so of his life in a room on the 33rd floor of the hotel until he died in 1943.
We occupied at least 2 floors and many rooms for the newspaper and almost all of us lived in the hotel. I was going to spend altogether more than 4 years living in this hotel off and on until 1982, mostly on the 21st and 22nd floors.
In the first years of the church’s ownership of the hotel there were a few deaths among members (Moonies), some by accident probably due to lacking safety standards, such as when at least one Moonie fell into an elevator shaft, and others by suicide when one or two jumped out of windows on the higher floors.
Most of us on the staff of The News World were total novices in journalism, so we were trained more or less on the job. Only a few members had university degrees in journalism, but there were also a few experienced “outside” professional journalists who helped and advised us almost from the beginning (for good pay, of course), including well-known figures like Barry Farber and Tommy Zumbo, etc. (also at least one ex-US intelligence man [CIA?] whose name I don’t remember).
We were going to be the daily anti-communist voice in New York and the nemesis of the “liberal-leftist” New York Times et al.!!!
The first issue of the paper was due to come out on the last day of 1976 and it seemed like an enormous amount of work to put it together. But then, of course, once it came out we would have to prepare the next day’s paper, and the next, and so on…
I was first assigned to the National Department dealing with US American news. My direct superior was a very attractive young woman (sister – in the Moonies we called each other brother and sister) named J. S.
I was immediately smitten with her but felt guilty because as far as I knew, as Moonies we were not supposed to have such feelings. We were supposed to wait until Moon himself matched us with a person who would become our life partner – the idea being that Moon would give us the partner with whom God wanted us to be paired; it was not our choice.
Somehow I believed that J. must be the partner God would choose for me, simply because I had such strong feelings for her. But there was always a nagging doubt: what if I was mistaken, and God had someone else in mind for me whereas I was not ready at all to consider any other woman? Over the next 2 and a half years this would cause me much anguish.
I now believe J. – and others – probably noticed that I had a crush on her (though I was by no means the only one, as I later found out). She talked to me once over breakfast at the New Yorker Hotel about my position on the newspaper and said she felt the International Department was more appropriate for me than her own section. I had to agree, even though I really wanted to stay with her.
So I moved to International – world news. My job in the very beginning was just to cut up the endless rolls of paper our teleprinters from 3 news agencies spat out, separating the individual articles and sorting them by the department for which they were destined: national, international, features, sports, etc.
But fairly quickly afterwards I was tasked with proofreading and then editing and combining wire dispatches, cutting up articles from the news agencies and pasting the pieces on sheets with text typed or hand-written in between to make them fit together and to give the stories a conservative, anti-communist slant.
Before the end of 1976 I started writing my first article for the paper. I had just read three books, one on the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), another on the Soviet KGB and a third one on the Chinese intelligence service. Spy stuff had fascinated me ever since I read a book on the history of espionage when I was still in my teens and watched the James Bond movies that came out in the 1960s. So my first article was a brief description of the US, Soviet and Chinese intelligence services.
My piece finally made it into the newspaper on the editorial page in March 1977, cut by about a third and under the byline of Aaron Stevenson, a pseudonym that was chosen for me because there were concerns about my being an illegal alien, and my bosses didn’t want trouble from the Immigration Service.
I became an assistant editor in the International Department and started writing other articles on the side about subjects of concern or interest to me, hoping to get them published. It was not difficult because the paper always needed more stuff to fill the editorial and feature pages. My second article was on communism and the expected collapse of the Soviet Union, based in part on the book “La Chute Finale” by the French demographer Emmanuel Todd, which I had just read.
The stuff I wrote was pretty naive and simplistic, and I don’t think any other papers, least of all a prestigious publication like the New York Times, would have deigned to publish anything like it. But that was the standard of our paper. We were, almost all of us, very young, wide-eyed and inexperienced.
In the spring of 1977 we moved our offices from the New Yorker Hotel to the old Tiffany & Company Building on 5th Avenue and 37th Street (401 5th Ave.). That building had been the home and main store of Tiffany & Co. from about 1906 to 1940, and our movement had bought it during 1976. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
Sometime during 1977 I became fascinated with Thailand. I read a book on the country in which it was described in such glowing terms that I thought it must be paradise on earth. But it was threatened by the turmoil in neighboring Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, controlled by communists. I collected a lot of information and wrote several articles on Thailand, including a two-page feature with color photographs provided by a friend who had been there.
About mid-1977 I took over a paper route someone else had started in the Lower East Side section of Manhattan, where this person had supposedly sold about 50 subscriptions to our newspaper (although I found only a few people paid up). It was at the time a run-down, crime-ridden area just east of Tompkins Square Park, between 6th an 9th streets and Avenues B and D (this part is now called the East Village – though apparently local Latinos still refer to it as “Loisaida” — from Lower East Side, which is now limited to areas further south).
For about a year and a half I walked down there every morning carrying newspapers from the New Yorker Hotel at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, and then back up to our ex-Tiffany Building offices on 37th Street and 5th Avenue. I met many interesting people there but also had some encounters with real weirdos.
One incident that happened to me in a different area in early 1978 caused me to become paranoid for a few months and to have nightmares about criminals attacking me on my paper route – but I kept going anyway.
From time to time we were sent fundraising, which meant selling candy or flowers door-to-door in different parts of New York City. The incident I mentioned happened while I was fundraising in St. Albans, Queens, on Saturday 25 February 1978.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, that same afternoon police found the body of our French sister (fellow church member) Christiane Coste, who had been beaten, strangled and thrown down from a tenement building in East Harlem the day before and then covered with cardboard. She had disappeared while delivering our newspaper in that area.
A few other members had been mugged in different parts of the city earlier, and at least two or three were killed while distributing leaflets or fundraising – so there was reason to worry.
Together with other members I had been taken in a van to St. Albans and dropped off in late afternoon, to be picked up a couple of hours later. My partner Roger and I split up, with me taking the main street and him doing a residential area nearby. I saw only black people in the area, and after dark it seemed a lot of mostly young men appeared in the street on their way to various nearby bars.
I tried my luck in some of those bars, selling candy out of a big box I was carrying. At one point I became aware of two young guys who seemed a bit suspicious because of the way they looked at me. I had the vague impression that they might be following me.
In one apartment building I climbed several flights of stairs to the top and started knocking on doors to try selling my candy, going down floor by floor. Just below a landing between two floors I encountered one of the two guys I noticed earlier sitting on one step, looking down. I had a strange feeling about it and didn’t want him to get behind me, so I stopped on the step next to him and asked him very nervously if something was wrong.
He didn’t answer, and then I asked whether he was locked out of his apartment. Again, no answer, but I didn’t budge even though I felt very fearful. Suddenly he jumped up and grabbed me (I don’t remember exactly how – I was extremely scared but he seemed calm, as if what he was doing was routine).
Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw his accomplice coming quickly up the steps from below and pulling something out of his back pocket that might have been a switchblade knife (I didn’t see it clearly).
Despite my fear I managed to push the guy holding me a couple of steps up to the landing and then kicked wildly at the other one coming at me from below. It seems I must have hit him in such a way that he lost his knife or whatever it was he held in his hand. He either fell down the stairs or went down to pick up the object.
Then the other one shouted something like: “Come back. I got him, I got him.” I dropped my box of candy and managed to wrestle him loose, then I somehow pushed him down the stairs as well. My memory of how this happened is not clear.
Just then I heard doors open upstairs and people’s voices shouting, asking what was happening. One big, burly black man came running down the stairs towards me. When I looked down to see the assailants they were already on their way out of the building. I talked to the big man and other residents, and they told me there had been muggings before in the building but the police never came when they called them.
This time, however, perhaps because I was a white guy who had been attacked there, two white police officers came and took down a report of “attempted robbery.” Later, they took me around the block in their patrol car to look for the two guys, but of course they had long disappeared. The police told me to be more careful and left.
When it was time for us to be picked up my partner Roger and I met in front of a supermarket that had closed since we had been dropped off and was now in the dark. As we were waiting for our ride a group of perhaps ten black teenagers approached us, several looking no more than 13 or 14 years old but at least two of around 18. One of those two walked up to Roger and grabbed packs of candy from his box, while the other one came to me and took three packs of mine.
I was nervous but also angry, so I suddenly kicked him in the chest and he fell down, dropping the candy packs. He got up quickly but was clearly dazed for a moment when he asked me: “Why d’you kick me? Why d’you kick me?” I didn’t respond but put down my box and took up a fighting stance, as if I was ready to kick and punch it out with him and his friends. Roger had pulled away behind me, clearly intimidated.
At this point I noticed our van pulling up and I thought it would stop right in front of us – but instead it passed us and came to a stop about 50 meters away near a street lamp. The guy I had kicked turned around, picked up the candy packs he had taken from my box, and the group left.
Later it turned out that our friends in the van had seen me kick the guy, and the story went around our office that I could fight if provoked. I earned some respect there but at the same time I was for a while deathly afraid of getting killed by young black men, and had some nightmares about it over the next couple of months.
The fact that for about 6 months in 1978 I had a second newspaper route to take care of in Harlem (though not in the most dangerous area) didn’t help.
In May 1979 Rev. Moon came to the New Yorker Hotel and matched hundreds of couples for a future ‘Blessing’/mass wedding. I was among a few men left over when there were not enough women but to my great shock and dismay J. S. was matched with a guy from the Midwest whom I had met at Boonville in California.
I was crestfallen but recovered after a while and decided it was time for me to go elsewhere. I pressured my bosses to let me go to Bangkok as correspondent. Our publisher at the time, Mike W., sent me on a 3-day vacation to our retreat at Barrytown (the seminary) to meditate about what I really wanted to do.
I came back to New York determined to go to Thailand, and both Mike W. and the chief editor J. D. agreed to let me go as long as the paper didn’t need to pay for all my expenses including the trip.
I was then sent to Washington DC for a month to work with J. S. – who was then our bureau chief there – and to get to know a little bit about how the US government functioned. During the whole of June I attended hearings in congressional buildings, press briefings and conferences almost every day (with only my News World badge as ID – both my stay permit and passport having long expired; today that might seem incredible but back then it wasn’t), and got to know J.S. a little better.
Only then did I realize we were very different and wouldn’t fit together at all. She really seemed to enjoy being around rich, well-dressed and powerful people, whereas I could not imagine living in such an environment.
1979 Jul 7 to Oct 6: First return to Luxembourg; work with local Moonies to make money for my trip to Bangkok via Japan. Returned with a long-expired passport (it had expired in May 1977 and I was unable to renew it at the Luxembourg consulate in New York because I couldn’t provide any documents proving that I was still legal in the US) via England and Belgium. Noriko S., my Japanese “spiritual mother”, had invited me to visit her in Japan, which I wanted to do on my way to Thailand. –
So I worked in Luxembourg for 3 months, mostly staying in a house owned by the Unification Church in Luxembourg City rather than with my parents in Esch – though I visited them from time to time. We Moonies prepared and sold hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries at stands in different places around Luxembourg, and business was good.
I didn’t want to just fly to Japan but rather travel by train across the Soviet Union and on from there by boat. I really wanted to see what our “evil empire” looked like up close.
1979 Oct 6 to Oct 20: Trans-Siberian and boat in typhoon to Japan. – Took a train from Luxembourg to Liège, Belgium, and another train from there to Moscow. On the train I met and became friends with Communist Party official Andrei A. Gossen, Director of the Fields and Forestry Department in Tselinograd, Kazakh SSR, who was returning from a visit with family in Paraguay.
I later corresponded with him for 11 years until 1990, when his wife wrote me that he had died.
Traveled on the trans-Siberian train from Moscow Yaroslavski station to Khabarovsk on the Amur River near the northeastern tip of Manchuria between 9 and 16 October, then spent one day there and continued on another train to Nakhodka, east of Vladivostok (which was then closed to foreigners).
From Nakhodka port I continued on the Soviet Morflot passenger ship Baikal to Yokohama, spending 24 hours terribly seasick off the Pacific coast of Honshu Island in the remnant of Supertyphoon Tip, which a few days earlier had been the largest and most intense tropical cyclone ever measured (it was well over 2,000 km [!!!] in diameter; Wikipedia has a good article on it).
1979 Oct 20 to Nov 4: Japan. Stayed in Hiyoshi, Yokohama but went to Shibuya, Tokyo a few times; visited Kyoto and Nara by Shinkansen “bullet” train with Noriko but didn’t get to meet her husband or children; went fishing in a boat off Itoh on Izu Peninsula with a friend of Noriko’s named Kunitoki, who also took me to the Japanese parliament (called Diet) to meet two senators including Ichiro Inamine of Okinawa, who was planning to go on an official visit to Bangkok, and whom I would meet there again in December.
1979 Nov 4 to 1980 Feb 01: Air India Boeing 707 flight Tokyo Narita via Hong Kong Kaitak to Bangkok; stay in Bangkok Unification Church (Moonie) center off Sukhumvit Avenue; got press card but no work permit due to inability to find required Thai guarantor; was somehwat disappointed with Thailand and in the Moonie center it was impossible for me to work as a journalist;
helped to bring supplies to Si Khiu refugee camp northeast of Bangkok twice with Japanese Moonie doctors and nurses sponsored in part by Senator Inamine, whom I met again in Bangkok;
also traveled by bus and train and ferry boat to Penang Island, Malaysia twice for a few days to renew my Thai stay permit/visa;
one day in January I received a call from New York, where several important people had quit The News World and the church, and I was asked to return to help with the paper there; they sent me enough money for the trip back to the US. I was fed up with Bangkok anyway….
1980 Feb 01 to late August: Flew TAROM Boeing 707 via Bahrain to Bucharest, then on a Tupolev 156 to Frankfurt, and back to Luxembourg; stayed 2 weeks and got new visa for US in new passport; then flew Loftleidir/Icelandair back to New York; worked in the paper and helped to start a “strategic information” newsletter – the International Report – with Robert M. of Tennessee, who had been Tokyo correspondent (I had met him in Japan) and now became International Editor;
after six months I became restless again, and used the excuse of wanting to attend my brother Gilbert’s upcoming wedding in Luxembourg to take another break from New York (which I had come to love and hate at the same time).
1980 end-August to 1981 Jan 1/2: Flew Icelandair to Luxembourg and attended my brother’s wedding. Stayed alternately at my parents’ house in Esch and in the small Unification Church center in Luxembourg City while I worked part-time as night doorman/receptionist at Hotel International opposite Luxembourg City train station. After about 4 months I gave up and returned to New York.
1981 Jan 1/2 to 1982 Jan 1/2: Worked in the International Department at The News World again, and on the International Report with Robert M. In March I spent a few days in Washington DC helping to organize a press conference at the presitigious National Press Club a stone’s throw from the White House for the Cambodian rebel group Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF).
This group was founded and led by former Prime Minister Son Sann of Cambodia. Japanese UC missionary Satoru K. brought some members of the KPNLF from Bangkok to the US for this conference. I helped to organize the event, which was not well attended, and wrote a big article on the group that nearly filled a whole page in our newspaper.
Later in the year Rev. Moon announced that the movement needed to launch a newspaper for the Middle East in order to promote peace in that volatile region. Dana W., one of our Middle East correspondents and UC missionaries, was among the first to be chosen for this task, along with Thomas C., a former missionary to Egypt and Jordan.
The newspaper was going to be a weekly called The Middle East Times. I immediately volunteered to join this project and was accepted. At first there was a plan for us to launch the paper in Turkey but Thomas, who was to become its publisher, preferred Cyprus, where he said conditions were better. He hoped to be able to start the project within less than a year.
Towards the end of 1981 after spending another full year there I got tired of New York again and wanted to return to Europe, to wait there until we could found The Middle East Times in Cyprus. I wanted to explore a possibility to work as a correspondent in Berlin although The News World could not support me directly there and I would need to earn a living mostly by freelancing.
1982 Jan 1/2 to 1983 Jan 15: In Luxembourg during most of 1982; travel in Germany and Austria; prison in Czechoslovakia; another 3 months in New York; Moonie mass wedding ‘Blessing’ in Korea; finally, Cyprus. –
I flew back to Luxembourg, stayed a short time and then traveled to Bonn, Germany, where I stayed a few days with The News World’s correspondent Jeremy G. (since deceased) and his wife. Then I took a train to Vienna, where I spent around two weeks staying with semi-undercover Moonies (the church had been banned in Austria) who published a somewhat independent political magazine called Integral.
Vienna was an important hub for the Unification Movement’s secret religious and political activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I went there mainly to take a substantial amount of money my boss Robert M. had given me in New York to Floyd C., an American former missionary to Africa who was now our paper’s secret correspondent for Eastern Europe. I met Floyd at Schloss Schönbrunn (if I remember correctly) and handed over the dollars.
My mission in Vienna finished I took a train to Berlin, which would, of course, pass through then-communist Czechoslovakia and East Germany (DDR).
1982 Mar 3-5: A short time before the train reached Tabor, about 100 kilometers south of Prague, a Czech soldier in uniform came to search my big green ‘seabag’ (US Navy duffel bag – I had owned it since at least 1971 but don’t remember now how I got it). He quickly found some literature that intrigued him and left, only to return with four other soldiers who let me know I would have to get off with them at the next station.
At Tabor the soldiers took me to a large office on the second floor of the station and searched all my luggage, then I had to undress completely and they checked all my clothes very thoroughly. I talked to them in German only. They told me they had found anti-Soviet and other suspicious literature in my luggage, and I had to wait for some officials coming from Prague to inspect those items and interrogate me.
Among the stuff in my bag was at least one copy of the current US Secretay of Defense’s Annual Report to the US Congress (I got those documents in the mail from the Pentagon for free every year I was in New York, from Donald Rumsfeld under President Ford, Harold Brown under Carter and Caspar Weinberger under Reagan) and a lot of information on the military situation in Europe.
I had to wait for a couple of hours in the train station, with two soldiers armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles behind my back even when I went to the toilet.
Two men in civilian clothes came after dark and took me by car to Ceske Budejovice (Budweis in German). We entered a large office building with a red star on it that later turned out to be a high-security prison. In one of the offices on the second floor I was interrogated (without any violence) for hours into the night and then taken to prison cell number 26 for the night.
The interrogation by the two men, always in the presence of armed soldiers, continued the next day and into the morning of a third day. I always spoke only in German. They translated what I said into Czech, typed it up on sheets with three carbon copies, then read it back to me in German and I had to sign every copy of every page. On the third day, after filling 9 pages, they decided to send me back to Austria.
1982 mid-March to mid-June: 3 months New York. — When I returned to Jeremy’s place in Bonn I found out that I was offered a temporary job: to do research in New York for 3 months for the Soviet exile writer Lev Navrozov, who was working on a book about The New York Times – to be entitled “What The New York Times Knows About the World.”
I quickly got a visa from the US Embassy in Bonn and not much more than a week later I was on a Capitol Airways flight from Frankfurt back to New York. The immigration officer at John F. Kennedy Airport asked me how long I wanted to stay in the US, and when I said 3 months he gave me exactly that amount of time. I had never before been given more than 2 weeks, so I had always overstayed my permit and become an illegal alien.
Lev Navrozov was a 54-year-old Russian of Jewish background who had left the Soviet Union with his wife and son in 1972. He had done a lot of secret research on the Soviet system in his privileged position in Moscow as the only translator of Russian literary, philosophical and scientific works into English, and after he emigrated he published the information he had covertly collected in the west.
I stayed for a month in a rented room in an apartment building by the Hudson River in the Bronx on the same floor where Lev lived, and then spent the remaining two months in the New Yorker Hotel. The research I did mostly involved copying New York Times articles on the Soviet Union from the 1920s onwards in the New York Public Library. The pages of the New York Times were all preserved on microfiches.
Later, my former boss Robert hosted about a dozen budding Moonie journalists from various countries for training in the Tiffany Building. As part of their journalism training I gave them assignments to do further research for Lev’s book.
Much later I was to find out that the book was never published. Lev (since deceased) used some of the information we had collected to write many commentaries for various publications including Newsmax, and in a 2004 self-published 700-page book entitled “Out of Moscow and into New York” in which he warned that China and Russia could come to dominate the “Western democracies” by threatening their annihilation with “post-nuclear superweapons” based on nanotechnology etc.
1982 mid-June to 1983 Jan 15: Returned to Luxembourg and helped the small local group of members of the Unification Church with various business and other activities. Also tried unsuccessfully to find a regular job outside the movement. I was waiting to hear from Thomas C. and his British business partner Peter E. in Cyprus when the money would be available to launch the Middle East Times.
Shortly after my departure from New York, Moon had organized a mass wedding of over 2,000 couples at Madison Square Garden on 1 July. A similar but larger wedding was to take place in Seoul, South Korea, in October. As the date for this event approached I was urged by my Moonie friends in Luxembourg and in New York to participate in it.
I was plagued by doubts about Moon himself (whom we revered as the Messiah) and many aspects of the movement I didn’t like, and felt I was not ready for such a deep commitment. But as my friends kept insisting and offered to lend me the money needed for the trip and the various expenses involved in such an undertaking I agreed to go.
I flew to Seoul via Singapore and stayed with thousands of other members at the school of the Little Angels Children’s Folk Ballet of Korea, a dance troupe Moon had founded in 1962.
Two days after my arrival, on 10 October 1982, I had my closest encounter with Moon himself as he was matching couples for the upcoming ‘Blessing’. In a big hall in the main building of the Little Angels school he asked Western men who wanted to be matched with Oriental women to come forward. I was one of several dozen or more who did so.
After matching a few others he reached over somebody else’s shoulder, gently took me by the chin and – to my great surprise – asked me directly in English why I wanted an Oriental wife. I said I thought it was more interesting and I could learn more. He seemed to like my answer, then he asked where I worked and where I was from, and after hearing my answers he took me along a row of Oriental women and chose my future wife Tomoko, who is Japanese.
I realized later that I was chosen for the “Blessing” not because I was a good member or ready but simply because they needed to try to get as close to 6,000 couples together as possible. So bodies were needed to fill the quota.
After Moon matched us Tomoko and I were led to a hall on the second floor of the building, where several Oriental “sisters” were sitting on a carpet, talking to other newly formed couples. One Japanese sister who spoke good English acted as our translator.
Even though, like most Japanese, Tomoko had learned some English in school, she had never actually practiced it and found it very difficult. The sister asked if we had any questions, and Tomoko asked me through her whether I wanted children.
Although founding families and raising children was a central theme in our Unification belief system I had never considered this idea for myself at all. To me, a female partner would be just something like a very close friend and traveling companion.
I answered that I hadn’t thought about it but if Tomoko wanted children I would help her and welcome any offspring. She was satisfied with my answer and we returned downstairs to bow to Moon, indicating that we accepted the matching. Some people who didn’t want to accept their new partners were severely scolded by Moon.
One thing that amazed me in the following days was that I somehow always quickly found Tomoko among large groups of Oriental sisters, even though I had seen her only very briefly and we were able to communicate only with gestures and a handful of English words that she managed to pronounce.
On 14 October we were officially “blessed” by Moon and his wife in the Jamshil Gymnasium, along with 5,836 other couples.
We lived in different places as men and women were strictly separated, and could not spend much time together as we were almost always surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other couples. In the Unification Church at the time it was customary for newly-married couples to spend a few years apart before they could get together to start a family.
In our case, as Tomoko was only 23 at the time (I was 31), her Japanese leaders felt she had plenty of time and we should get together only after she turned 30 or even later – which meant that we would have to wait at least 7 years.
Tomoko had to return to Japan a few days after our blessing but I stayed a few more days in Korea and joined other members on a very interesting bus trip to Gyeongju and Pusan.
After returning to Luxembourg I continued working with local church members until word came from Cyprus that we could start The Middle East Times early the following year, 1983.
In January I traveled by train from Luxembourg to Athens, where I linked up with Dana W. who had flown in from the US. We stayed two days in the Greek capital and then flew Olympic Airways to Larnaca, Cyprus on 15 January.
1983 Jan 15 to 1987 May 4: Lived in Nicosia, Cyprus working for Middle East Times weekly; returned briefly to Luxembourg in 1984 and 1986; went to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1984 and 1985, and to Lebanon and Israel in 1985. In May 1987 took a ferryboat to Athens, Greece after our main office moved there. –
Our first office in Cyprus was an apartment in Nicosia, the divided capital, whose northern portion is occupied by Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot troops, with United Nations peacekeeping soldiers watching over the demarcation line / buffer zone between the two sides. Cyprus has been divided de facto into two separate states since a Turkish invasion in 1974 that separated the northern 38 percent of the island’s area from the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which is dominated by Greek-Cypriots. The northern, Turkish-Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey.
Soon after we started making our plans for the newspaper we were able to rent a large office on the fourth floor of a 5-storey building on Dighenis Akritas Avenue in Nicosia. Thomas, Dana, Peter and I were joined by Toni M., an American sister with whom I had worked in Washington DC in 1975 and later at The News World in New York. For a short time another sister (church member) joined us in the early days – Jane S., who I believe was originally from Australia.
Also, we were able to hire other professional staff who were not church members, including Cypriots Elpida N. and Philip de C., American Gary L., Briton Ian M., a journalist in his 50s who became associate editor in the early years, and 70-year-old Ethel D. from what is now Zimbabwe who became our secretary. We also hired a part-time proofreader, a British lady named Carol R. Others such as British businessman John B. and Professor John M. of the American University in Beirut and later A. U. Cairo, helped out as advisors.
For financial support we depended on Newsworld Communications in New York, the holding company church members had created in 1976 to launch The News World and any other future publications including – as of May 1982 – The Washington Times.
We published a prototype edition of The Middle East Times (MET) at the end of January 1983, and a special advertising edition 3 weeks later.
On 7 March 1983 the first regular weekly edition of MET came out. It contained three articles I had written, including one on the front page on Syria and one bylined with a pseudonym composed of my middle names: François Charles.
My former boss Robert M. came from New York, representing the holding company, to discuss financial matters and the political orientation of our paper. He and Thomas and Dana had an argument over our position in regards to Israel, which Robert felt was too critical. …….
Here is a very brief record of the time from the end of the above account to the 1990s, when I returned to live in Luxembourg with my new family.
1983 – all year from 15 Jan.: lived in Nicosia, Cyprus (Greek-Cypriot side of this divided capital, with many short trips to the Turkish-controlled side), working for Middle East Times, new English-language weekly newspaper published by News World Communications Co., which was wholly owned by members of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Movement.
1984 June: Flew Interflug East German (GDR) airline via East Berlin (bus to West Berlin, then PanAm flight to Frankfurt, and then by train) to Luxembourg for about 10 days, mainly to renew my passport, which I could not do in either Cyprus or Greece as there was no Luxembourg embassy or consulate as yet.
1984 August-September: Pakistan and Afghanistan, first trip with mujahideen (A. R. Sayyaf group) since the Soviets’ end-1979 military intervention: Islamabad, Peshawar, and Jaji (or Zazi) in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.
Came under mortar and tank fire, including one shell that passed just over my head and blew up a tree 50 meters behind me.
1985 June: At invitation of a Lebanese friend, flew to Beirut, Lebanon, for one week, amid civil war there. Traveled north alone (my Lebanese Moonie friends in Antelias near Beirut couldn’t get permission to pass through the many Syrian Army checkpoints on the way) to Bsharré, the village of Kahlil Gibran, and to the Cedars of God, then climbed up from there to the summit of Qurnat As Sawda (3,088 meters asl), Lebanon’s highest mountain, spending one night in a stone hut inhabited only by bats on a plateau at 2,800 meters.
Later also spent one night with a local family in Bsharré.
On the return to Cyprus my Middle East Airlines flight to Larnaca on 14 June was delayed because we had to wait for the hijacked TWA jet (flight TWA 847 -see Wikipedia, etc.) to take off on its first trip to Algiers.
1985 August: Pakistan and Afghanistan, again. Went with mujahideen (Hezb-e Islami Yunus Khalis group) over 3,000-meter+ pass to bombed-out Sao village on Kunar River, Kunar Province, Afghanistan and then to Narei (or Naray) to launch rockets against Barikot border post.
We came under mortar fire from Barikot.
After return to Islamabad, found out my boss in Cyprus allowed me to stay an extra week in Pakistan, then I flew to Skardu, Baltistan in the Karakoram Mountains, traveled from there to Gilgit and Hunza up to Passu village and returned by bus on the Karakoram Highway.
1985 December: Traveled by boat to Haifa and spent 2 weeks in Israel just before Christmas, mostly Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Dead Sea. Got temporary Israeli press card so I could interview a professor at Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus, Jerusalem, an expert on Saudi Arabia.
1986 ca. May: Flew to Luxembourg for about 2 weeks. My “wife” Tomoko came from Japan for one week to meet me and my parents in Esch-sur-Alzette. This was the first time we saw each other since our “blessing” in Korea in 1982.
1987 early May: Traveled by ferryboat from Cyprus to Greece as our newspaper moved to Athens (Voucourestiou Street close to Syntagma Square).
1987 late July-August: Flew via Singapore to Japan and spent a month traveling with my wife, always staying in separate rooms. Got legally married in her hometown in southern Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island and also held a formal wedding in a Shinto temple at Takaharu near the foot of Shinmoe-dake volcano (known as the James Bond volcano as it was featured in the 1967 movie “You Only Live Twice” with Sean Connery).
1987 late August: Moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, to work there as correspondent for both Middle East Times and the Japanese daily newspaper Sekai Nippo (also owned by Moon movement). My wife stayed behind in Tokyo, working as an accountant in an office of the Moon movement.
1987 October: Went with mujahideen (Hezb-e Islami Yunus Khalis group) from Bajaur tribal area over the mountains to the Shultan Valley in Kunar Province to launch a mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, and afterwards came under hours-long heavy artillery bombardment from 3 directions. https://erwinlux.com/2009/08/30/under-fire-in-afghanistan-some-time-ago/
In November of same year, traveled between Peshawar and Islamabad and Malakand with 2 American Moonies to try to find information about the mysterious disappearance (and probable death) of American member Lee Shapiro and his non-member soundman Jim Lindelof in Afghanistan in October.
1987 December to early January 1988: Flew to Skardu/Baltistan in the Karakoram Mountains and spent two weeks traveling to various villages including Khaplu with staff members of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme for a report for the newspapers.
1988 late Jamuary: Quit my job as Pakistan correspondent and flew from Islamabad to Tokyo via Beijing. Got permission from Japanese Moon church leaders to start a family with my wife (such permission was required) but she was gone fundraising in other parts of Japan most the first month after my arrival and I didn’t see her until several weeks later.
Worked temporarily for Moon company Kogensha publishing in Tokyo. Attended a couple of Japanese church workshops with my wife to learn about family life as an international Moonie couple.
Started family with my wife in a room of a large house with other Moonie families in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo in early April but soon decided it would be very difficult for me to live and work in Tokyo, and my wife needed to get to know the world outside Japan and to learn English.
My former bosses at the Middle East Times in Athens agreed to take me back.
1988 late May: With my wife, flew to Athens via Karachi, Pakistan and settled in the Pangrati area, where we rented a small apartment. Several months later my wife became pregnant.
1988 September: One-week trip from Athens to Luxembourg with my wife to attend my youngest sister’s wedding in Belvaux.
1989 February to April: My bosses sent me to Cairo to take care of computers in our rented office in Mohandesseen and help our managing editor for two months. From mid-February to mid-April my wife and I lived in Zamalek (on the big Nile island – Gezira).
1989 mid-June: Our first child, a son, was born at Mitera maternity hospital in Maroussi north of Athens.
1990 late January: Our office in Cairo had moved from Mohandesseen to Zamalek during 1989 and some time later the managing editor there quit his job and went home to the US. I volunteered to take over his job, and moved with my family to Cairo this time, where we rented an apartment in Zamalek.
1990 August: Flew to Luxembourg via Brussels with my family and spent a week with my parents in Esch-sur-Alzette. This was the first time my parents saw our son and the very last time I saw my father, who died just over a year later aged 80.
1990 mid-November: Difficulties piled up in Cairo, including problems with the Egyptian government and financial troubles, and my own feeling of inadequacy as editor, etc., leading me to quit the job.
Moved to Larnaca, Cyprus, and started working for Japan Security Support Company (owned by various Japanese businesses including Japan Airlines) doing bi-weekly security surveys of the Middle East — Cyprus and Lebanon in particular — and also writing an occasional article for the Middle East Times, which were also published in the New York City Tribune (successor of our old News World New York daily).
1991 September: My father died in Esch-sur-Alzette and my mother lived alone in an apartment they had just bought after selling our old house. A few months earlier Sun Myung Moon had declared that all “blessed” families (like us) should move to the husbands’ hometowns and become “Tribal Messiahs” to all their relatives and neighbors, convincing them to follow the True Parents of humankind (Moon and his wife).
My wife wanted to do that but I was reluctant as I still harbored dreams of returning to Pakistan — especially Baltistan in the Karakoram.
After I heard of my father’s death and quick cremation in Liège, Belgium (there was no crematorium in Luxembourg yet), I agreed to the plan and we traveled by ferryboat to Athens in late September, spent a few weeks there with friends and then flew to Luxembourg.
1991 October: Arrived in Luxembourg 11 October and stayed with my mother in her apartment, helping her pay back a loan my parents had taken out to buy the place as the money they got for their house was insufficient to pay for it.. I wrote many applications for jobs but all were rejected or remained unanswered.
The father of one of my brothers-in-law helped me to get a job with the Bettembourg forest warden. During December 1991 through February 1992 I did forestry work in the Bettembourg-Kockelscheuer area for the Luxembourg Water and Forests administration and earned much more than I ever had before.
My boss the warden did not want to keep me after February, so I had to quit. I then worked briefly in the reception at Rix Hotel in Luxembourg City but got fed up and sought something else.
1992 April: In March I had answered a very small advertisement in the Luxemburger Wort newspaper for a job as custodian-guide in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, which is maintained by the US government agency American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), and contains the graves of over 5,000 American soldiers who died in this region in World War II, including the very famous US Third Army commander General George S. Patton, Jr.
I was one of 8 or 9 applicants, and after two interviews with then-Superintendent Bill S. and his assistant Carl W. I was lucky to be chosen for the position, which I went on to hold for nearly 24 years until I retired at age 65 in February 2016.
Another boy was born to us in July 1994, and a girl in July 1996.
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.
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….
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
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.
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.
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.
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.