To better understand where my journey went, I think it’s best I return to the beginning. It’s best to return to that fear, that moment of uncertainty over whether this decision was the right one to make, whether I should really go ahead with it, or turn around and run home. I watched as the sun set for one last time before boarding a ferry to take me from Shimonoseiki, Japan to Busan, Korea. Where would I be without this step? Nowhere. I wouldn’t be sitting in Loveland, Colorado recounting my joys, pains, utter disappointments and triumphs. So let’s start there. Oh the Police. That’s our first step…
New to this whole film-while-traveling apparatus, I stood in the middle of a crowded waiting room of the ferry port on the edge of Shimonoseiki, Japan. Drab really, the building was quiet with restless small groups of families both waiting to go home to Korea and waiting to go on their short vacations away from Japan. A mix of Japanese and Korean was in the air as having spent a few years in Japan, I could pick up on the Japanese segments. Excited to buy food. That’s what it was. So many people were excited to go to Korea to eat Korean food. I wasn’t. No, I have nothing against Korean food. I was shaking at a single revelation.
For the first time in five years, I was leaving a country where I could get by relatively easily linguistically and entering another one with absolutely no knowledge of the native tongue.
I took out my GoPro, attached to the new steadicam I had been slowly getting used to slinging up in the air like an FBI agent may hold up a handgun, both hands rolled around a handle, staring down the barrel. Upon repeating this rehearsed motion and scanning the room, I caught the attention of a Japanese man a few feet away.
This would be the first of many skirmishes with police around the world.
Without hesitation, he walked in front of me, pulled out his badge and asked in terse Japanese, “What is this? What are you doing?”
I looked at him closely. He wasn’t dressed like a police officer. The baseball cap, jeans and loosely fitting shirt told a quick story in succession. He was supposed to meld in the crowd as much as an officer can. Mannerisms are difficult to hide, though, and if someone were to sit back and watch our conversation, it would have been quickly apparent who this man was. So I did whatever any good sceptic person would. I asked in Japanese to see his badge more closely.
He started to glare intently, waiting for an answer. Great! So not only do I have the next year of stuttered conversation over my head as a deep fear rooted only moments before. Now, I’ve angered an undercover police officer before leaving his country. I tried to grasp at the air to take back my usual defiance and lack of respect for authority. But alas it was gone.
He repeated himself, but his accent had changed. Instead of the terse single line addresses, he calmly and respectfully asked for the favor to know what I was doing and what I was holding.
Surprised, and still lacking in trust; I started to explain. I gave a quick introduction to my project…
“I’m going around the world and filming the adventure while I continue to study science.”
He paused. I couldn’t read this man at all. Still having only flashed his badge in my face, I started to second-guess my backing down. Was I making him more angry?
“I’ll show you my credentials if you show me yours.” He said with the same aire of politeness as before.
I smiled, and in a slight yet silent act of defiance; I pulled out my Japanese driver’s license. I know he wanted my passport, but this guy was going to have to prove himself before I handed that over…
He glanced at it and started to laugh with a vengeance. Then, seemingly noticing his conspicuous behavior, he stopped and I was left once again with the feeling that something bad was about to happen. Something was brewing behind that concrete expression, I just couldn’t grasp at it.
Starting to pull his badge back out, he remarked in clear English, “Do you like baseball?”
Wait… What? Oh…. I looked down at his badge. Sure enough, he was a legit police officer. Not knowing whether to calm down or distress further, I smiled. “Yes, Do you know the Colorado Rockies?”
“Oh yes, I do! Are you from Colorado?” Again clear English.
While answering in the affirmative, an announcement came over the intercom. It was time to go.
“Well, ettto” He stuttered in Japanese for a second as the line for Immigration started to form.
“Don’t kill anyone!” He proclaimed in the same clear English with a laugh and a slap on my back.
“Yes… umm, I mean, Ok… sir?” I stammered as the line continued to form around me with a few inquisitive looks from passers-by. I picked up my bags and started to walk. I looked back to see him smiling and waving. I waved, and approached Immigration. My first step into Project Iko…
Thinking back on that moment, those chance events, I can’t dissect a moral from the equation. I can’t find solace at having not been arrested. I only remember the fear of what was to come. I think starting a new journey is like pushing a rock down a hill. The momentum from the push can be so great it can eclipse anything.
Including an undercover police officer telling you not to kill anyone.