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Thursday, September 11, 2008

A dispatch from Japan by our new Korea correspondent

The Reiki Digest proudly introduces our first official correspondent: Michael Swerdloff, a Reiki practitioner and English teacher living in Cheonan, South Korea. His first article for us, however, is from Osaka, Japan, where he recently spent a few days.

My Hollywood Nightmare
by Michael Swerdloff

It was nearly eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit in the Namba District of Osaka, Japan. My black backpack was stuffed with my camera, MacBook, iPod, writing book and the book I am studying Korean lazily. It weighed a lot since I had been walking around to stall time before picking up my passport and accepted E-2 work visa from the Republic of Korea as an English teacher. I had waited for this day since the day I departed the Northwest Airlines airbus six weeks ago to become a legal resident for one year as a teacher.

Last night I had a nightmare that I would be walking down the street and for no reason, a band of Japanese police officers would grab me from all angles, question me in Japanese which I do not speak, detain and keep me like all those awful movies showed at 3:00a.m. on cable of American’s lives ripped to shreds in a foreign land for no reason except country of birth. The nightmare included being beaten, raped and starved to the point of malnutrition. Yes the nightmare pierced through my belly and kept me awake for at least half the night. No visa, no flight back to Korea at 5:00p.m. and no teaching English to incredibly loving and wonderful elementary school students at Cheonanyoungam Elementary School. Life over. Till I awoke in the morning and I was sleeping on a bed in a youth hostel in Kyoto with the sun shining through the plastic window. I was not in jail but safe and apprehensively preparing for my day of travel and finally attaining my E-2 working visa. I ate breakfast at the Zen Café; the German potato salad was not very German or really potato salad, just boiled potatoes. Everything else was a little better- mediocre. The train and subway rides back to Osaka were boring and uneventful. I then walked around Namba searching for a place to eat lunch after acquiring my visa from the Korean Embassy to make sure I had a decent meal before the train ride to Kansia Airport departing to Incheon, South Korea. The plan was perfect including one more meal of fresh Japanese Sushi, a perfect plan.

Perfect till a warm “Hello” to the two Japanese police officers stations outside the Korean Embassy where I will enter at 1:30 to pick up my E- visa. Perfect till the first young officer approached me at the corner about forty feet away out of breath with his right hand placed firmly on his black pistol and his mouth and nose covered with a white pollution mask. He asked me something in Japanese, I answered by asking him, “Do you speak any English?” Before he could answer, another officer approached with urgency and got directly in front of me and looked me in the eyes and asked in broken English, “Passport?”

That is when the nightmare began. See, my visa was sitting comfortably on the desk in the air-conditioned office of the visa officer on the second floor of the Korean Embassy forty feet away. He just stared, not having any idea what I just said to him. The stare is what produced my panic, any response would have signaled at least a hint of understanding. Nothing, Nada, Zilch. Just a blank stare that began to increase intensity when he again asked, “Passport?” This time it was less of a question and more of a directive. I took a deep breath and was extremely conscious of speaking slow, even and soft- my freedom was now in serious question. I reached to take my pack off my back and a third officer approached and stopped me with fear and intensity in his eyes that were open wide. I stopped without flinching or reacting suddenly. He asked again for my passport and I again tried to explain that it was at the Korean Embassy knowing what little they understood was being communicated by an American that keeps bringing up the Korean Embassy; a two for one of Japan's two greatest targets of prejudice and hate.

They then demanded to see some identification. I reached slowly for my wallet and showed them my Wisconsin drivers license, which only added to their concern. I was giving them an American drivers license when I said I live in South Korea. “Open your bag!”

I slowly released my backpack off my shoulders onto the cement sidewalk full of pedestrians walking by. I was too scared to see if they were watching or not but I could feel their stares rolling off my back. I slid the zipper of the largest compartment open and took out my MacBook covered in a pillowcase that I purchased from an old Tibetan couple at a twelve-day Teaching with the Dalai Lama in August of 1999. Then my little purple, orange, black and red knit bag that I found on the sidewalk in Madison, WI, a few years ago with my iPod, cords and my black Canon S5 IS camera that shot over 500 pictures in the previous three days in Japan. My yellow, brown and ochre writing pad that is almost full of pages written this summer. The book I am learning how to read and speak Korean. And finally, my soft, clear plastic Nalgene bottle that I have drank from every day since the spring of 1995 full of tap water from the youth hostel I stayed in the night before in Kyoto. Still no expression.

The medium pocket with my small pad I carry for notes and drawings for language barrier emergencies was of no help with Japanese police. Then I saw the e-ticket for my flights to and from Incheon-Seoul airport and Kansai, “Maybe this will help”. I showed it to them excitedly until they pointed out to each other that I came from Seoul. “You came from Korea? I thought you were an American! Where is your passport!”

The officer with the white mask covering his nose and mouth from pollution spoke to one of the other officers and then looked at me and said, “We take you to police station now!” I cold feel my freedom evaporating- no E-2 visa, no flight back to Incheon-Seoul and no life in Korea or elsewhere. I motioned with my fingers for them to walk with me to the Korean Embassy to get my passport. “We take you to police station now!”

I took a deep breath, I remembered what has worked in most life situations since I was first trained and attuned in January of 1996 in my cherry wood paneled loft out in the country. Reiki! I took another deep breath and invited Reiki into the space for a few seconds, maybe ten. Then the strangest thing happened. They all just walked away. No internal conversation, no “I am sorry for bothering you”, no “OK, you can go now”. They just independently walked away in three different directions as if nothing happened.

I was standing there on the street corner with my black pack on the ground opened by myself. I picked up my pack, slipped it on my back and walked the forty feet to the Korean Embassy. I walked up the stairs to the right passed one of the officers who just violated me and my space to the automatic glass sliding doors to enter the Korean Embassy. Up the stairs to the visa issuing officer. It was now 1:28, I was two minutes early. I sat on one of the available seats and held back my tears on the outside but on the inside, I was drenched. I survived my Hollywood nightmare in Namba, Japan.

My number was called, “13” and I was issued my E-2 visa. I shared my experiences with the officer who appeared genuinely bothered. I returned down the steps out the door past the two officers guarding the Embassy and to the sushi bar around the corner I discovered earlier for my last opportunity for fresh sushi in Japan. It was an incredible meal! I paid my bill and headed towards Namba station to take the train to Kansai International Airport.

I never thought in my life that a Korean Embassy in Japan would be such a welcome sight to an American from North Jersey just outside of NYC. For me, it was the end of the nightmare and the beginning of my trip home safely to Cheonan.

Thanks, Michael. That story reminds me of the Star Wars scene where Obi-wan Kenobi tells the stormtroopers that "these aren't the droids you're looking for." Hmmm. Could there be a connection between Reiki and "The Force"?

Michael is the first of what we hope will be many correspondents around the globe. If you'd like to become a correspondent for The Reiki Digest, contact and tell us a little about you, your Reiki experience, and what you'd like to write about.


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