I met the real Jason Bourne
January 21, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
On May 3, 1986, I met the real Jason Bourne. It was on a ferry between Korea and Japan.
I’d gone to Korea to extend my tourist visa so I could work another three months before having to find a work sponsor. Korea was a nightmare of inexplicable, shudder-inducing strangeness. It was the only nation I’ve visited that made me miss Japan. I was never afraid in Japan; the Koreans seemed to be always on the verge of losing control.
The Army of the Republic of Korea loves massive firepower. Everything I’ve read says that a war with North Korea would be over in about three weeks.
During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army would flee entire sectors without a fight when the South Korean Marines were sent in. Koreans really are that scary. They make the best horror movies too.
May 3, 1986, I made my way by ferry back to Japan. A bunch of loud, dumb, obnoxious Canadian passengers latched onto me because I was white. After enduring fifteen minutes of their idiotic blather—each sounded like a different barnyard animal—I started playing hide and seek with them.
The ferry trip took seventeen hours, even though most of that time was spent docked offshore. I began panicking, thinking that maybe I’d died and would be trapped for eternity on a Japanese ferry, dodging ugly Canadian chickens, cows, goats, and pigs.
May 4 through 6, 1986, was the Twelfth G7 Summit, held in Tokyo. Although security in Japan and Korea had been noticeably tightened, nobody searched us or our bags when we got on the ferry. In the dining hall, I found a seat at a table for two and ordered lunch. As soon as my tray was brought, a man sat down across from me.
He looked almost exactly like Jason Statham.
He smiled. “Do you mind if I join you?” he asked in English with a noticeable French accent. His eyes were stunning, light blue and penetrating. There was something about him that made me instantly like him.
“Please,” I said.
“You’re an American?”
“Yes. My name’s Tom.” I held out my hand.
He reached across the table and shook it; his hand was as hard as stone. “I’m Geoffroi,” he said, pronouncing it Zhuh-FWAH. “Call me Jeff.”
Through his tight sweater, I could see that he was phenomenally fit. His shoulders were about four feet wide.
“You’ve been avoiding those Canadians, haven’t you, Tom?” he asked.
“Yes! They’re revolting! I can’t stand them!”
As friendly and relaxed as he was, he had an odd intensity, as though concentrating on something. He kept glancing past me, over my right shoulder, so I finally turned and saw a group of young Middle Eastern or Pakistani men sitting on the floor by one of the windows. Each had a small flight bag in his lap. They seemed off, nervous and self-conscious.
I looked back at Jeff and saw that he had a small flight bag on his lap. He smiled. “Let’s keep talking, Tom. You’re a teacher in Tokyo, I’m guessing?”
As I blathered on, I took another peek at the Middle Eastern men. Suddenly I remembered the G7 Summit. The Middle Eastern men were cartoonishly suspicious. They craned their necks all around them, holding their little bags, and some of them were sweating.
This can’t be happening, I thought. The IRA almost killed me on July 20, 1982, and now I’m going to be killed by Arab or Pakistani terrorists?
“Hey, Tom,” Jeff said. “Look at me.”
“Talk to me. Tell me about life in Tokyo.”
High-pitched whimpering poured from me while Jeff smiled. I looked over my shoulder again and saw that the Middle Eastern men had all begun to unzip their flight bags. Jeff glanced around the dining room; I followed his gaze and saw three more Caucasian men sitting unobtrusively in various places. Each was as fit as Jeff, and each had a flight bag on his lap.
Jeff quickly looked at them, one after another. They all unzipped their flight bags and put in their hands. I turned to Jeff and saw that now his hand was in his flight bag. He still smiled, but he peered at the Middle Eastern men with a calm, scientific appraisal. I tried to be brave while my heart pounded so violently that I felt my pulse in my neck, wrists, and fingertips.
Like in a dream, I slowly swiveled my head to see what the Middle Eastern men were doing. Even a second’s warning would allow me to hit the floor. The Middle Eastern men all made eye contact with each other and on an unspoken signal pulled from their flight bags…bottles of liquor. They unscrewed the caps and poured themselves drinks.
I heard Jeff exhale softly. Facing him again, I watched him withdraw his hand from his flight bag; he seemed to be carefully disengaging his fingers from something with a complicated shape. When I looked at the three other men, they’d all pulled their hands from their flight bags.
“Could you excuse me for a minute?” Jeff asked.
He got up and left the dining room. One by one, the three other Caucasian men left. Jeff returned in a few minutes without his flight bag. He sat down.
“You know,” he said, “when you were talking about teaching English, it reminded me of how hard it was for me to learn. Then I met Americans from the South, and I realized that I spoke English, not American.”
“Have you spent time in the US?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Lots. I love the US. Especially the South. The people and the food are great.”
And the American South is where they have the world’s best military special operations schools.
“So what do you do, Jeff?” I asked.
“Oh, this and that.” He gave me a friendly smile that clearly said, You’re a smart guy, Tom. You know what I do.
I was flattered out of my mind that he still wanted to talk to me. We hung out for nearly seventeen hours, and we discussed absolutely everything. It’d be easier to list the things we didn’t talk about than the things we did. Here are some of the topics I remember: medieval European cuisine, super reactors, music, economic theory, art, marine life, UFOs, fruit cultivation, linguistic morphology, and world-changing inventions.
It was one of the best conversations I ever had. At one point—the only time it came up—he casually explained.
“Those Middle Eastern guys in the dining room? They were so nervous because they’re Muslims. They’re not supposed to drink. Even so far from home, they’re afraid of getting caught.”
When we docked in Japan, Jeff rode the train with me for an hour before he got off.
As he stood, he took out a notebook, scribbled in it, tore out a page, and handed it to me. It was his name, an address, and a phone number in Paris.
“You ever come to Paris, give me a call,” he said. “It was great meeting you.” He shook my hand and left. As the train pulled away from the platform, I saw him join the three other men who’d been in the dining room. They handed him a backpack.
I don’t know if the name, address, and phone number he gave me were real. My impression was that he was only being polite. I never tried to contact him because it didn’t seem appropriate.
But he obviously enjoyed my company. That’s nice to know. I have days in which I think that my entire life has been nothing but a ludicrous failure and a waste, but then I remember that despite my shortcomings, people like Geoffroi have seen fit to engage me.
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