The Sultan and me
On Saturday and Sunday, November 13th and 14th , 2010 the Sultan of Brunei, 64-year-old Hassanal Bolkiah (formally called Yang Dipertuan Negara Hassanal Bolkiah) one of the richest men in the world, was staying at the luxury hotel at Tokyo Station, near the Imperial Palace, where I perform weddings on the weekends. He was in town to attend the APEC meeting that was being held in Yokohama, about 25/30-minutes south of Tokyo by commuter train. Each day mobility within the hotel was limited because of the movements of the Sultan - for example, when he was moving from his room downstairs to his car to go to meet Emperor Akihito on the morning of Saturday 13th, or when he returned to the hotel from some event.
When I arrived on Sunday 14th I saw and passed by what I presumed to be security people standing outside the hotel’s rear Service Entrance - adjacent to the entrance/exit of the underground parking garage. The Employees’ Entrance that I use is just a small, normal-sized door on the side of the building, and I had to pass the Service Entrance to get to it. When I saw these men standing around I immediately knew they were security because they looked suspiciously alert, and because I knew the Sultan was staying at the hotel. I also knew the times of restricted mobility, and my arrival time was just 10-minutes before the scheduled start of the Sultan’s morning descent to his car. The security men looked scary in dark suits with open jackets, and I wondered what they had stashed inside their jackets that they needed to keep them unbuttoned for. I didn’t want to find out. During that week there was a lot of security here in the capital. Policemen in pairs or groups were quite visibly patrolling major commuter stations, like Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.
Since I have been stopped and questioned by police in my neighborhood a total of sixteen times for the offense of riding a bicycle while foreign, I always feel at risk of scrutiny by police. Even more so during visits by foreign heads of state, when police are publicly out in force. That day, the 14th, before passing the Service Entrance of the hotel I had already walked through Tokyo Station and passed four or five groups of police officers in the space of four minutes. They were so thick that as soon as I passed one pair I could already see the next pair ahead of me. In such cases I try to look straight ahead, avoid eye contact, and reduce my arm and shoulder movements. I wish I could contract like a tortoise or snail to reduce my exposure. Well, maybe in the next life. The area around the hotel’s Service Entrance was not cordoned off, but I was the only pedestrian I could see - just a clueless foreigner wandering through a security area - making it easy for me to be selected for questioning if anyone took it in mind to do it.
I also saw a couple taxi cabs there, and two ‘drivers’ waiting, leaning against their front fenders. Not smoking, but chewing the fat. I figured, maybe the Sultan was being moved around in taxi cabs, or in police cruisers disguised as taxi cabs, and these men who looked like drivers might really be security men disguised as drivers. Or, maybe the Sultan had a limousine in the underground parking garage and when it emerged the police-cars-disguised-as-taxi-cabs would take up protective escort positions fore and aft. Or, maybe they were just ordinary taxi cabs and ordinary drivers. And maybe the men-in-black that I took to be security personnel were just innocent business men in black suits, victims of my imagination and coincidentally at that place at that time. It was all just speculation on my part, of course, because as far as I knew the Sultan could have come and gone through the front door of the hotel.
Not that I saw him, or anything. I never even came close.