Vietnam is more than you know (and reaching Cambodia the hard way)

 Day 2,045 since October 10th 2013: 181 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country  

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).

Is the last thing you heard - the first you remember?

pano

Egypt: Pyramids. Syria: conflict. USA: Trump. Japan: Sushi. UK: Brexit. Rwanda: Genocide. France: Eifel Tower. Brazil: football. China: wall. Russia: snow. Switzerland: chocolate. Vietnam: war. How wrong do you think you might be about most things you think you know?

They say that ignorance is bliss. They also say that perception is reality. They also say that people are lazy. They say a lot. Sometimes they are right. You might still be in school. It might also be many years since you left school. How many of the topics which you were taught did you stay updated on? They say that 50% of what a medical student learns will be proven wrong over time. But which 50% then? Well, that is the question isn’t it? So you are probably not a doctor or a medical student. However the same kind of applies to your life too. Much of what you think you know and much of what you have been taught is now outdated and in some cases simply not true. On top of that our world today now has a layer of disinformation so it can generally be really hard to know what is true and what is not. Your first impression is important but you can recover from a poor first impression. Often we might find that we are no better than our last results. My personal accomplishment of having reached this far within this project (with a lot of support from many of you) are no better than my last posts, blogs or country visit. So many new followers reach out to me and have no idea of what I have been through to get to this point. And so many people around the world have no clue about what the planet they live on is like. I have gained some insight over the past five years but I far from know it all. And yet I know a lot more than most. The world has changed. So much has changed. Some stayed the same. Are you aware? Are they?

Peoples committee

Peoples Committee of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.

sky deck tower

Bitexco Financial Tower.

I first came to Vietnam fifteen years ago. That means I was twenty-five years old and not the same man I am today. I listened to different music, I had different world views, I had different plans for my life and I had friends I no longer see. However elements of me from back then still exist. I still like the Beatles and a handful of my friends from back then are still my friends today. What I’m trying to say is that if you met me fifteen years ago and meet me today thinking that nothing has changed then you are in for a surprise. That is true as well regarding the 2013 me and the 2019 me. And yet I am the sum total of my experiences. B.J Neblett wrote:

“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”   

red car

District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.

HCMC

View from the Sky Deck at the Bitexco Financial Tower. 

Vietnam has felt the wrath of war several times over its millennia long history. The region has been far from peaceful however the richness of culture and tradition has been ever growing. Vietnam was occupied by China no fewer than four times throughout history, however the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. At various points during these thousand years of imperial dynasties, Vietnam was ravaged and divided by civil wars and at various times attacked by the Songs, Mongols, Yuans, Chams, Mings, Dutch, Qings, French, Japanese, and the Americans. Yup! Our pale blue spinning dot has never been as peaceful as it is today no matter what the media might lead you to think. Europe used to be one large battle field in the past but mostly enjoys peace today. The world has changed and so has every country on it. Vietnam can pride itself in Water puppetry dating back as far as the 11th century and in 938 CE the Vietnamese developed a trade system to exchange animal skins, ivory and tropical goods for Chinese scrolls on administration, philosophy and literature. If you want to head further back then their famous Dong Son drums are a relic of the sophisticated Bronze Age culture between 500 BCE and 300 CE. And yet the key note reference seems to be of the Vietnam War which lasted from 1954 to 1975. My entire life came after that…and so did life for most Vietnamese. In my opinion that wars continual portrayal in movies, TV shows, songs and magazines completely dominates most people’s thought of this remarkable country and what’s truly significant in Vietnam. It was however formerly America’s longest war until it was surpassed by the war in Afghanistan and an important part of recent Vietnamese history so how can I not mention it…

food

Vietnamese food is good food.

Nah…you are better off remembering that traditional Vietnamese culture revolves around the core values of humanity, community, harmony, and family. And if you’ve ever been to Vietnam then you are likely to confirm that the street food culture, which is quite popular, is considered by many to be one of the best in the world. And then of course: so much had changed between my first visit fifteen years ago. Like anywhere else, smartphones have found their way into the hands of the Vietnamese. You even order a motorcycle taxi or food delivery via an app. And the driver naturally has a smartphone or even two. It seemed that the preferred app was “Grab” which is dominant in the region. I first came across it in Myanmar. However “VietGo” is giving it some competition in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). HCMC was formally known as Saigon and continues to be so for many. While it is the largest city in Vietnam with some ten million people it is Hanoi in the north which is the capital. I did not head up there this time. There was no need for it as logistically it made no sense and I could handle everything from HCMC. Hanoi is very nice though…at least it was fifteen years ago. And the culture is vastly different in the north compared to the south. In my opinion diversity makes a country strong when managed right. It should not be a reason for separation.

temple

Incense at Thien Hau Pagoda.

alley

An alleyway after the rain.

The Saga is so full of routine and obligation that I can hardly breathe sometimes. It is my own fault as I believe that all of this work will benefit me and many others in the long run. But me oh my how I do regret getting involved with this project from time to time. And I hear you: “don’t give up. You are nearly there. You have come so far”. It is true…however you cannot ask a marathon runner at the finish line to run an additional 20%. Well, I’m not know to quit and I’m not about to…but man!! This has got to get easier! It is however always great to meet up with Maersk – a company which has kept my head above water in more than one sense. Maersk has no obligation towards the Saga but has yet become a part of the very fabric it is made of. And it makes sense! Why would this logistical masterpiece of mine not be related to the world's largest container shipping company? The Saga has been called our times toughest project in modern travel history.

MSK

Great team, great questions, great fun. Great! ;)

MSK lunch

Lunch with Lam Bui and Giang Nguyen from Sealand and Maersk :)

The Red Cross is a different story. Throughout the Saga I act as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross which in itself is a great honor. However apart from the tittle the Danish Red Cross (DRC) is hardly involved in any way I can think of. They are not supporting financially which I fully agree with. I mean…how could I possibly take money from the Red Cross? They are not offering any logistical support from HQ in Copenhagen which I find peculiar. However the DRC is not in possession of unlimited resources so I write their lack of engagement off as simple resource management. You will not find anything across the DRC social media which relates to Once Upon A Saga. The Saga is however successful on a local level where National Societies most often thoroughly enjoy my visits, the benefits it brings and the accomplishment thus far. I argue that the Saga is the greatest attempt in history to unify the entire movement in a single journey. I do so on the basis that Gerard Stark completed visits to 148 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies before dying in a tragic motorcycle accident back in 2003. I have as of Vietnam reached the Red Cross or Red Crescent in 176 countries. Unfortunately for the Saga the organisation is fiercely independent and my efforts are not spreading on a global level. As such a visit remains a local success within each country. The DRC, the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appear uninterested and unimpressed even after all this time and the routine of establishing contact, scheduling a meeting, paying a visit and afterwards creating an online promotion is tiresome and time consuming. But what can I do? I am fairly interested in the accomplishment of completing a visit to the Red Cross in as many countries as possible. It feels like the right thing to do. And on and off my efforts do inspire people to volunteer or make donations. Every little bit counts.

VRC

Beautiful how the VNRC placed the Vietnam and Danish flags together ;)

Bloody Red Cross!!! Nah, that’s just a play on words. Because the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Branch of the Hội Chữ thập đỏ Việt Nam (Vietnamese Red Cross (VNRC)) has a mighty impressive Blood Transfusion Hematology Hospital in which they receive over 260,000 blood donations every year!! And they are looking for new professionals to join the team!! I was greeted with much kindness at HCMC branch office where we talked about their major impact on society. They enjoy support from 215,000 members and 27,000 volunteers in HCMC alone! No small thing!!

VRC blood

The VNRC was established in 1946 and the HCMC branch which I visited is represented in every district. They operate ten hospitals and are well known for their humanitarian engagement. They are involved on so many levels: providing first aid training, handing out first aid kits, sponsoring medical support, free meals, sponsored eye and heart operations, 4,000 scholarships/year, provide cows to poor households, construct households, arrange for large scale support marches (10,000 ppl), support with international humanitarian aid and A WHOLE LOT MORE! Mighty impressive!! Three major areas of work for them are:

1) The blood center!

2) Awareness of first aid within the public!

3) Protecting the population against air pollution and ensuring a supply of safe drinking water!

VRC dinner

Dinner with the VNRC management from HCMC. Fun people :)

VRC day

I was invited to join the Red Cross celebration with speeches, parades, dancing and music. It took place on Sunday May 12th.

rain

No lack of rain during my visit.

I reached Vietnam just as the rain season began to set in. So on some days it would rain every hour for ten minutes. On other days it would rain afternoons. I did have some extra time on my hands than usually. For the next few countries I do not need to apply for any visas so that’s a load off my back. The visas I need are available at the borders. And I’m not looking to board any ships for a while so that saves me time as well. SIM cards are cheap here in Southeast Asia and Wi-Fi is plentiful and good. That also saves me time as I do a lot of online work and the faster the internet is the better. It is easy to get around: trains, buses, taxis, tuktuk’s, motorcycles etc…and to top it off distances are relatively small now. The distance from HCMC to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) is merely 202 km (126 mi). Phnom Penh to Bangkok is only 334 km (208 mi) as the crow flies however more than three times as far by land. Overland travel does not compare to flying. But you know that. I’ve said it before.

rat

Can you spot the rat?

With the extra time on my hands I had some spare time for walking about in HCMC which has really changed a lot. Many high-rises are now towering above the city, there are far more cafes, lots of the colonial architecture had been renovated and I generally found the city to be cleaner as well. I ended up staying at a really nice and clean hostel for $5.5 USD per night. I frequently dined on the street for $1-2 USD and I mostly just walked wherever I needed to go. But a short ride on the back of a motorcycle wouldn’t be more than a dollar and often less. In a park I found some tranquillity from the hustle along the roads and I also spotted a great many squirrels. I like squirrels although they are somehow just cute rats. But then I saw some less cute squirrels…no…what…that was a rat. And another! And another! There were plenty of them throughout the park. I wonder if the rain had pushed them out of the sewers but a second opinion told me that people leave so much food in the parks that they are always there.

Noah

Noah takes great pictures! Find him on instagram: @NomadicNoah

I also had time to meet with both Luke and Noah who independently reached out over Instagram. Two very different people. I met Noah at noon and we sat down to talk about travel and life. Noah has been to 131 countries which is an enormous amount!! He’s from Texas in the USA but is really more a man of international wonder. He travels the way I think travel should. He is free of most obligation and stays as long as he pleases. He explores the countries and tries to experience life as it is for the locals. That’s how traveling should be. And that is also why the Saga is not really a travel project. The Saga is an achievement in which a lot of travel is required. Good man Noah! :)

Luke

In the late afternoon I met up with Luke from Plymouth in the UK. He has been living in Vietnam nearly as long as I have been away from home. He came to Vietnam to teach English and now works at the British International School. He brought me to a super cool café in a renovated colonial building which had been brought back to life with cafes and restaurants on every level and several on each level. Quite an interesting use for an old apartment building. Luke happens to be a phenomenal photographer so you might want to check him out on Instagram. Just follow this link and enjoy: @LukeNeville123 

Luke then asked if I was interested in speaking at his school?

Thor

Have you ever told 300 year 5 and 6 students, that you’ve reached 180 countries in an unbroken journey completely without flying...and then asked them if they have any questions?!? It was simply amazing getting to interact with these bright students at the British International School - Ho Chi Minh City (BIS)! My great appreciation goes out to Luke and Chris at BIS for organizing this. Luke has been following the Saga for years and pitched it to his Deputy Head Teacher. High fives all around! And as such it became the 94th speaking event throughout the Saga. Closing in on the big 100!

church

Tân Định church is a church built during the French colonial period in the 1870s and completely built in 16th December 1876, when Vietnam was part of French Indochina.

It didn’t take long before I was off again. The Saga does not complete itself and there are more countries up ahead: Cambodia, (Thailand), Malaysia, Singapore etc… I dropped in on a few temples, ate some food, took some photos, did some research, and before I knew of it I was on my way to Cambodia. But before letting go of Vietnam I must stress that if you think there is nothing more to Vietnam than a war which ended in the 70s then you are in need of getting an update. Schools, Universities, companies, businesses, markets, cafes, selfies, trekking, waterfalls, beaches, mountains, caves, farms, colour, taste, texture, invention, football, games, rice, noodles, traffic, rats, squirrels, shipping, humanity, libraries, museums, love, anger, peace and everything in between. Vietnam is a funny mix of culture from USA, China and Vietnam. Legend has it that the people of this land originated from a union between an immortal Chinese princess and “The Dragon Lord of the Seas”.

bus

Bus number 312 since I left home.

I went to bed at 01:00am and got up before 06:00am in time for my 06:45am $12 USD bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I sat down to a man close to his 70s and we began to talk. He was originally born in Vietnam and lived there throughout much of the war before leaving for Switzerland. Now he has spent the past forty years in Australia. He was on his way to visit family in Cambodia. We both had a Vietnamese ice coffee as the bus took off. A few hours later we reached the border and it was no issue crossing. However there was a tendency in Cambodia which I had not seen in Vietnam. Some teenagers were on the bus and the steward on board tried to scam them while waiting for our visas at the border by saying that the bus would leave without them and that they had to pay more. He didn’t try that with me. Maybe it’s my big bushy beard. Maybe it’s the distance in my eyes. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe something else. As we came across the border the bus made a stop and we had thirty minutes to use the toilet and/or get something to eat. I got a hold of a local SIM card and an instant soup.

Cambodia

Cambodia.

Casinos were lining the roadside just across the border. I hear that the Chinese are investing heavily in Cambodian tourism and that they have bought up large stretches of beaches and have built hundreds of casinos and hotels. It soon enough began to rain again. The outside temperature was something! 32 degrees C (90 F) with a humidity of 64%. I soon made it to Phnom Penh and pushed my way past all the tuktuk drivers fighting for my attention. Then I found a restaurant and had a green curry which looked a lot better than what it tasted. It was slightly watery. Usually food tastes better than what it looks? However as I got to the bottom the taste was good and strong. Then I downloaded “PassApp” which is the leading app in Cambodia for booking a tuktuk. Yeah – Cambodia has changed too. My driver had two smartphones attached to his vehicle. I had also been to Cambodia fifteen years ago and to the famous Angkor Wat twice. Cambodia is famous for a few things. One of them is certainly Angkor Wat. I’ll touch upon another in next week’s entry. However if you are interested then Cambodia has been declared as having the world’s best rice thrice before and the Kampot pepper is world renowned for its taste.

Arr Cambodia

My first few days in Cambodia were as good as they could get. Kent had reached out to me long ago across social media and offered me a home once I reached country number 181. As such we had been in touch for a while. I arrived at his home and met him for the first time…or did I? Let’s get back to that in a bit. I was introduced to his lovely wife Christina and their FOUR children Asger (9y), Carola (7y), Magnus (5y) and Elias (3y). A really warm and loving family from the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe! ;) I served in the Royal Danish Lifeguard some twenty years ago and when us soldiers needed a break from the army barracks we would head across the road to KFUM's Soldiers' Home, where we could play board games, have some decent food, hang out, wash our clothes and breathe some civilian air. The KFUM's Soldiers' Home is a Christian mission which offers guidance and support to the soldiers if required. For me it was however just a place away from the army barracks. It turns out that Kent used to work there twenty years ago and that he actually remembers me?!? My first question was: “for something good or bad”. Kent doesn’t really remember me as much as he recognizes me. He is really good with faces and sort of remembers that something once happened in the line for food and that I was standing nearby. That is pretty vague but it was twenty years ago.

Andersen

Amazing family! Find them on Facebook HERE or check out their website HERE :)

I was given my own room on the third floor of their house which lies a little outside of Phnom Penh city center. My room was equipped with air-conditioning, a fan, WIFI, towels, water, mint candy, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and a long line of other accessories. Amazing! We sat down and had a delicious home cooked meal and talked until late into the evening. The Andersen’s are a really nice family. Both Kent and Christina speak some Khmer which is the local language and some of the kids do too as well as both English and Danish. It is the benefits of growing up abroad. Kent and Christina are Christian Missionaries (Evangelical Lutheran (Protestant)) and are doing great work as far as I can tell. Kent has studied theology and works as Faculty Teacher at Phnom Penh Bible School (PPBS). Christina works with girls whom have been sold to or otherwise end up in prostitution. She is changing lives for victims of human trafficking at Daughters of Cambodia (DoC). The School of hard knocks is prevalent for many in Cambodia and whether you are religious or not a friendly hand is always worth reaching for. I have seen enough of this world to know that many people have a strong need for hope.

Cambodia2

First (real) meal in Cambodia in fifteen years.

That brings us to the end of this entry and the next one will be entirely from Cambodia. I am expecting a special guest to arrive on Saturday. You might even be able to guess whom ;) Cambodia is a super easy country to reach from Vietnam. A few hours on a bus and then $30 USD for a 30 day visa at the border. Tourist take that trip all the time. It’s a piece of cake. But yours truly didn’t “just” do that. Nope! In your company we left Denmark on October 10th 2013 and visited EVERY COUNTRY on four continents...and then some...before coming here. And in an unbroken journey completely without flying!!! That last part is pretty important too. And that is the how you reach Cambodia THE HARD WAY! ;)

honor pin

I was awarded this pin during my stay in HCMC. The local government gives this as a recognition for individuals who have contributed to the city. The VNRC presented me with it.

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - twenty-two countries from home. 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

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The good ship “Pontresina” – passenger number one (a containership story)

 Day 2,038 since October 10th 2013: 180 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country  

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).

The wind, the waves and the way forward

pano

For a while I have been closer to Melbourne in Australia than Copenhagen in Denmark. Both in distance but also in regards to time zones. And yet Denmark feels so much closer. This world of ours is always perception versus reality. They say I’m getting close to the end. They say so much.

Logistics and bureaucrazy (yes, that is how we spell that within the Saga) have always been the two greatest hurdles within this project. Lately neither have been an issue. Reaching Taiwan and getting away could have been a nightmare. At the very least a highly expensive and time consuming affair. However the logistics worked out extraordinary well. A containership brought me from Japan to Taiwan and I am currently writing this while onboard the containership which by the end of this blog will have brought me to Vietnam. Without the kind assistance of SeaLand, a Maersk company, I would have had to apply for another dual entry visa for China. I would have had to spend time and money by returning to China wherefrom I could have taken two ferries from China to Taiwan (one from mainland to an island and the other onward to Taiwan). Then when I was ready to continue I would have had to take the two ferries back from Taiwan to China and have continued a vast distance overland to the border with Vietnam. Thankfully I did not have to do all of that. I was so confident that I would be able to leave Taiwan without returning to China that I didn’t apply for a Chinese visa while in Japan. A bit of a gamble as I would not have been able to apply for a Chinese visa in Taiwan. Fortunately my confidence was placed correctly and last Tuesday (April 30th) I received an email from SeaLand which put my mind at ease: “We are glad to inform you that your upcoming trip from Kaohsiung to Ho Chi Minh on M.V. PONTRESINA has been confirmed by owners”. Two days later I took the high speed train and returned to Kaohsiung from Taipei. And that same evening I boarded the vessel.

globe

Not much left they say. Yeah? But there is a lot of water in between.

No…these days both logistics and bureaucrazy have been gentle affairs. I am concerned about finances as the Saga does not enjoy an overwhelming steady financial income. However generous Saga backers have now pledged an accumulated $510 USD / month through the Sagas Patreon account. That is about $17 USD / day which is not enough to pay back the debt which has accumulated over the years and hardly enough to get us across the finish line…however it is a heck of a lot more than nothing ;) In addition to the Patreon account I have been writing a monthly article for Syre, a Swedish magazine, for nearly a year now. I have been able to invoice Syre €100 EUR / month for that which also adds to the economy. The Saga also benefits from personal contributions which have come in the form of cash in envelopes from people I have met. It is far from a daily occurrence however the generosity is not to be ignored. Finally I often get to spend time with generous hosts who cover my costs as long as I am their guest. Yes…I am not filling my pockets while moving forward within the Saga however I do see all of this as an investment. Hopefully I will return home victoriously and can start writing a book almost immediately. I also hope to build up a life as a motivational speaker which overtime should bring back the expenditure. As such the Saga is an investment much as if I was attending University and paying my way through it. The business model seems sound but offers no guarantees. We will see how that goes…I’m no ex-president so I will not be able to invoice millions of dollars per session ;)   

circle view

The real obstacle these days and for a while now has been my mental state. I have not been home since 2013. I have constantly been moving forward in that period and living out of a bag. I always feel tired. I cannot recall when I last felt well rested and energized? It seems like it might have been years ago? I thought that I would be able to regain that energy by getting to the bottom of my ‘to do list’ and then do nothing for a few days. I succeeded in that onboard the good ship ‘ALS Vesta” a few weeks ago. However it took less than a day for me to feel exhausted after reaching Taiwan. I feel that the “cure” is to return home and leave the stress behind which is to reach the remaining 24 countries completely without flying. For years I have been aware that if I could not reach or enter a single country across this journey then the overall goal within the Saga would be a failure. For years I have known that I have been fortunate that nobody close to me have fallen seriously ill or have died. 7-9-13 and knock on wood. And while the Saga has been growing longer and longer I have been getting older and older. So have my friends and my family. And that has increased the risk of something horrible happening to someone I care deeply about. Can I go another ten to fifteen months and avoid that risk? You might say that “we are nearly there”. I look across the map and ask: “how the heck are we going to get to all those islands in just ten months?” How many more times must I pack up my bags? How many more times must I say farewell? How much more time will this take before I can sleep for a thousand years in my bed in Denmark? You can say “cheer up” and you can say “remember to enjoy it”. You can even say “you are lucky to have your life”. However you cannot say you know what it is like to have travelled 267,000km (166,000mi) over land and sea, though 179 countries without returning home for five years and six months. That “privilege” is mine alone. And yet: we keep on keeping on…

map

Planing the Pacific...

 

May 2nd 2019 – Thursday

The train got me to Kaohsiung and I found a café at the railway station with wifi. Then I got the blog online which as often took more time than I hoped. I saw the hours drift away while I worked as hard as I could to meet my timeline. I was due to meet Joey from Maersk between 9:30-8:00pm so he could take me to the vessel. Onboard I would most likely be offline so I had to get it all done. Blog, social media and the most important emails. As it got later and later I began to feel a pain left of the center of my chest. A manifestation of stress? I try so hard to represent the countries I visit and the people I meet as best I can. Would people like the blog? Would I be able to get the most important elements into the blog? What was that chest pain? What time was it? When was Joey going to arrive? Deeeep breath. Just type away and get it online. You can do it. I did it. The blog came online and I scheduled it for release by email to more than 1,000 subscribers as well as posts on Facebook and Instagram to 41,000 followers. Who the heck are all those people? Could I claim to know more than 2,000 of them? Grew up in a village with just 1,200 people and did not know everyone. No matter. I had some time left to schedule posts on Facebook and Instagram so that updates would appear daily while I was at sea. I had a list of ideas for posts. Darn it…it was taking longer than I anticipated!! Should I cut corners? NO!! I will have a solid post to promote the work of the Taiwan Red Cross for the RC Sunday posts. I will promote my sisters fantasy writing (https://tjcedar.com/). I will give a shoutout to Charlie and his unique Pilgrimage (http://walkingforwater.dk/). I will inform the public about the ship. I will make a post about the Sagas Patreon account. I will make a post about Saga Social Media options. I will make the Instagram post for the ‘Awesome Maps’ competition. I will make the post promoting ‘Lifesaver’ as they sent me a “free” Liberty water filter bottle (https://iconlifesaver.com/). And I did. Somehow I managed all of that and then I sent a final message to my fiancée saying that I was leaving for the ship. I never managed to get a reply because Joey had arrived and off we went.

owner

Thank you for the honor guys! Always appreciated :)

Joey is such a professional within shipping and logistics. He has been a Maersk employee for 28 years! In fact I found that a lot of Maersk employees in Taiwan had been around for decades. One at the Taipei office had even celebrated 35 years! Joey had anticipated that I would come back to Kaohsiung and depart from there. How he knew is beyond me? I didn’t know when I arrived. I only learned that several days later. However Joey had prepared a shore pass for me which made it much easier for me to return to the port and embark the vessel. And that shore pass was ready the day I disembarked the good ship “ALS Vesta” a week before this day. 28 years in the business is not nothing. It was good to see him again. He brought me through customs and immigrations with great ease and onboard the ship. Thank you Joey. The 3rd mate (3rd officer) welcomed me and brought me to the Owners Cabin which was to be mine for the voyage. Such an honour. I had a loooong warm shower before crawling into bed. Onboard these ships I can do that and not feel guilty. The ship draws water from the ocean and desalinizes it. And it is heated from the ships energy. I quickly fell into a deep sleep while the ships generator hummed away and to the occasional bump from containers being lifted on to the ship.

 

 

May 3rd 2019 – Friday

My alarm went off at 07:20am. We were still alongside in Kaohsiung and cargo operations were still ongoing. I got dressed and headed down to the galley on A-deck where I met the steward and cook. Good guys! I had breakfast and a cup of tea before heading back up to my cabin on E-deck. I could have taken the elevator but the stairs offer a free workout. Then I went back to sleep. My alarm went off again at 11:30 and I once more got dressed. This time for lunch. I got to meet several of the crew members this time including Captain Alexander Sachkov who seemed like a really solid guy. I signed the indemnity report and was told that the 3rd mate would take me around for a familiarization of the ship at 1:00pm. I met 3rd mate John Manzanares in the ships office as agreed and he took me out for the familiarization. John is a really upbeat character and gave me a very thorough familiarization starting on the bridge and working our way down to the engine room. He pointed out every safety feature onboard and every room I needed to know. Safety is so important onboard these ships. It is unlikely that something would go wrong but in case it does then it is incredibly important that everyone knows what to do and where to be. I case of a General Alarm I was appointed to head to the Muster Station on the Boat Deck on the starboard side and wait for instructions. In case of an Abandon Ship alarm I was appointed to Muster Station at the Number 2 lifeboat on the starboard side and wait for instructions.

Borscht

Best borscht I ever had in my life!!!

John began his life as a seaman in 1984 and has frequently sailed onboard the good ship “Pontresina”. And so have several of the other seamen. John explained that it all depends on which company you work for. Some companies rotate people so they hardly ever work with the same person twice and rarely (if ever) work on the same ship twice. I immediately thought it was a benefit to be attached to the same vessel again and again. As such you would feel more at home and be familiar with the ship? While that is true John also pointed out that you do not advance your skill set as rapidly if you are always on the same ship. If you rotate between ships then you are exposed to various types of equipment while on the same ship it is always the same equipment.

cabin

My cabin.

In the afternoon I created a ‘to do list’ for the voyage and went to work on it. I updated my lists over location and distance. I sorted all the files I had accumulated over the week and took care of a few additional administrative choirs. Then I finally began reading “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. A great book which I read a hundred pages in a long time ago but had to start over as it has been so long. And one of you gave it to me. However I cannot remember who I’m afraid. Sorry about that. But I’m grateful :)

ridge

On the bridge.

 

May 4th 2019 – Saturday

Happy StarWars day! My alarm went off at 07:20, I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. We were still at sea but due to reach Yantian in China, near Hong Kong, around midday. The cook was looking forward to reaching Hong Kong as he would receive new provisions there. For a while he had to make do with what was left. I wasn’t complaining and generally thought the food was pretty good and plentiful. Back in my cabin I continued reading in “Why Nations Fail”. It is such an interesting book and now that I have been to all the many countries the book references I find it even more interesting to read. Being StarWars day and all I decided to see “The Clone Wars” which is an animated StarWars story from recent years. I love the StarWars universe but wasn’t too keen on this StarWars story. I thought that both “Rogue One” and “Solo” were much better. Then thirty minutes before lunch I headed up to the bridge and observed as we approached Yantian. China is such a beautiful country. The coastline was green and mountainous with lots of small pointy islands sticking out of the ocean. I watched as the pilot boat approached us and the pilot climbed onboard. Then I headed down for lunch.

BRCS

Still rocking my Bahrain Red Crescent fitness tee.

In the afternoon I managed to get on the treadmill for 25 minutes and ran a tenth of a marathon. That sounds like a whole lot more than what it is. Numbers are arbitrary like that. I doubt that most of you would be able to run a full marathon (42.2km / 26.28mi)? However you should hopefully be capable of running 10%. In any case…if you can’t run a full marathon and want to then you can eat right, sleep right, train for it and do it. Very few people know there limits and most people have never come close to them. After a shower I read a little more and then organized my usb flash keys. It turns out that I have 14!! And I had no idea what was on most of them. Various files. Some of them going back five years. At lunch I realized that the crew might have thought I was a superintendent. That probably had something to do with that when I signed onboard to the ship I wrote my name and in the blank space next to it for my position I wrote: “superintendent” :) It is highly uncommon for these ships to carry passengers and on more than one occasion I have been noted in the system as “superintendent” or “supernumerary” instead of passenger. Generally I believe it has been to please immigration officers and port officials. So I didn’t think much about it when I wrote “superintendent”. However that tittle made some of the officers slightly uneasy as they thought I was there to check on them. The chief officer joked that he thought I was a spy.

StarWars

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."

That night before going to bed I watched “The Last Jedi” from 2017. Oh I wish I was a Jedi!! May The Forth Be With You! ;)  

 

May 5th 2019 – Sunday

My alarm went off at 07:20, I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. During the night the ship had reached Hong Kong. I could have left the ship for a few hours if I wanted too but why should I? In 2011 I spent a weekend in Hong Kong. It is a great little place which has a lot to offer but a few hours ashore didn’t seem like it was worth it. It is considered a semi-autonomous part of China and has been given the prefix: Special Administrative Region (SAR). Hong Kong was British territory for a hundred years and was handed over to China in 1999. These days I hear that the Chinese government is expanding its influence over the SAR. Some even say that Hong Kong might be fully integrated into China in the future. Nobody seems to believe that Hong Kong will ever be considered a sovereign nation. The cook had received his provisions and there was a can of Sprite on the table for everyone at lunch. A bowl full of bananas was also available along with ice cream in the fridge. Early afternoon as we were departing I went up to the bridge and looked out across the port. Very impressive! I remember passing the port in 2011 and thinking it was the largest port I had ever seen. These days I have seen larger ports. Hong Kong port is still large by any standards though.

HKG

Hong Kong.

Around 4pm the captain announced over the intercom that we were about to disembark. I cannot remember that any of the previous eighteen ships I have been onboard have had that service. I rather liked it except for when it briefly interrupted my sleep in the night. There was however an on/off switch so it was up to me. While on the bridge I briefly spoke with the captain. He’s a really pleasant guy and he too had been onboard the good ship “Pontresina” more than ten times. The mood onboard the ship was really good and I wonder if it might have been because so many of the seamen knew each other well and the vessel as well…sometimes a good mood onboard is generated by having a good captain. So maybe it was both. It was very windy when we left Hong Kong. Our next port was set to be Ho Chi Minh City three days later.

sunset

 

May 6th 2019 – Monday

My alarm went off at 07:20, I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. Routine is a major part of life onboard a working ship so why shouldn’t it be for me too. Well…I’m the only one onboard with no obligations so I could technically sleep until noon. But I prefer to follow the ships rhythm. The good ship “Pontresina” is very likable. The seamen onboard certainly seem to care her. “If we take good care of her then she takes good care of us”. This beautiful lady measures 213m x 32.3m (699ft x 106ft) and can carry 28.270 tons of cargo. She has room for 2,646 twenty foot containers so picture 1,323 trucks on the road. I bet you can’t! ;) If you could then they would cover the distance of more than 21km (13mi) if parked front to back. As a liner vessel she operates somewhat like a bus within a regular route on a fixed schedule. Round and round calling the same ports. A full round takes about 28 days and there are three other ships on the same route so each port gets a call once a week. We are actually following the same path as the good ship “ALS Vesta” which got me from Japan to Taiwan.

bridge view

Retard

When I see the word 'retard'...I still giggle ;)

The good ship “Pontresina” was built in Singapore in 2008 but calls Liberia in West Africa for home. Over the past days she has become my home along with already being the home of 22 seamen of three nationalities: Russian, Filipino and Estonian. It is a really good crew. Everyone seems to be getting along and there is karaoke almost every evening as you might expect with fifteen Filipinos onboard. SeaLand is the charterer and therefore responsible for the cargo onboard. The owner of the ship is a German ship management company called Reederei F. Laeisz GmbH and I am absolutely grateful to both SeaLand and F. Laeisz for accepting my passage onboard for this vital leg of the Saga. This particular day was spent entirely at sea with no sight of land in any direction. At 5:45pm we all met on the bridge for a group photo.  

Crew

Surrounded by great men! The crew of the good ship "Pontresina".

 

May 7th 2019 – Tuesday

My alarm went off at 07:20, I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. Apparently we were making good time because we were moving ahead really slow. If the ship moves ahead at slow pace for a prolonged period then it can stress the engine. At the same time the faster you go the more bunker (fuel) you consume. So the economical and environmentally friendly thing to do is to move forward at a speed in between. However we went super environmentally friendly. We shut the engine off and drifted for a while. Just imagine that. All that metal carrying all that weight just moving about on the deep blue sea. That is truly something. And so are the seamen onboard. I’ve heard amazing stories. The Chief Engineer was once along side in Aden, Yemen, when war broke out in the early 90s!! Suddenly the ship became safe passage for all sorts of people as they hastily sought refuge at sea. I was also listening to stories from the Electrical Engineer who used to be stationed on Antarctica for a full fourteen months! Stories are plentiful at sea. And lots of good men onboard the good ship. After a while of drifting the engines were started up again and we began to make our way towards the location where the pilot would come onboard (Pilot Station).

waves

The day went on and Vietnam’s coastline appeared on the starboard side (right). Raul who is the ships messman asked if I would come and join a few of them for an evening beer. Of course I would! Four of us sat down and talked about the Saga, about life at sea, about family and about the Philippines. Apart from Raul we were joined by Richard (2nd engineer), Andreas (deck cadet) and Kim who’s an OS (Ordinary Seaman). After enough experience an OS becomes an AB (Able-bodied Seaman). A good ship often comes down to having a good captain onboard. I have not had a lot of opportunity to speak to the captain but I like him and so does the crew. The crew onboard has had a distinct family feel to it which I have not experienced for a very long time Onboard the good ship “Pontresina” the seamen do not only get to work together on several occasions…they even get to have the same cabins when they return (when possible). And as such the ship truly becomes a second home.

 

May 8th 2019 – Wednesday

My alarm went off at 07:20, I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. The pilot was originally scheduled to come onboard at 06:00am but that was pushed until around 2pm. And the crew told me that it would take about four hours from the point where the pilot came onboard until we would reach Ho Chi Minh City. I had decided to make a timelaps video of coming through the relatively narrow canal which was flanked by green mangrove forest and finally reaching the port. It was quite a sight! While I was very excited about going through the Suez Canal last year the voyage leading up to Ho Chi Minh City was far more interesting with its small fishing boats coming along side and the large cargo vessels passing us in the opposite direction. And in addition the endless green, flat forest on either side. Eventually the weather turned from dry to wet and the hot air outside was soon accompanied by thunder and lightning. We reached Ho Chi Minh City as the sun was setting and were instructed to moor the ship in the canal and wait for further instructions. I felt bad for the crew of which many had already paid for their shore pass. They spoke so fondly of the lively streets which lay just across the road from the port. The shore passes would expire at midnight.

approHCMC

Approaching Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

sunset2

Ho Chi Minh City.

I had packed in anticipation that I would disembark on this day. However it was beginning to look unlikely. Kim (the OS) had supplied me with around fifty movies so my evening went with a few of them as I waited. It got late. At around 11:30pm I went on the bridge and found the Captain and 3rd mate of there. It had been a long day for them and it wasn’t over. I asked if there was news and one of them mumbled: “we are standing by”. I said goodnight and decided to get some sleep. However around midnight the Captain announced over the speakers that the crew should stand by. And eventually the engine came on and the ship began shaking. Another late night for a crew at sea. Business as usual. I tried to sleep.

lightning3

I'm pretty happy with this one. It is a snapshot from timelapse video I did. Hope to release it soonish...

 

May 9th 2019 – Thursday

I woke up at 06:33am as the phone rang! It was John, the 3rd officer, calling to say that the agent was onboard and ready to take me. That was a short night! I woke up several times during cargo operations. No breakfast for me. I told John I’d be down with my luggage after ten minutes. And I was. John and the agent greeted me. Five minutes later I was saying farewell to Captain Alexander Sachkov for safely bringing me across the deep blue. A highly competent captain with a competent crew. As I was fairly tired I accidentally called John “Paul” with full confidence. He did not correct me and I only realized my mistake when I was heading down the gangway. Sorry John. But in my defense I love the Beatles ;) And this is where my entry will come to an end. We reached Vietnam in an implausible fashion within a highly implausible journey. And yet here we are. I first visited Vietnam as a backpacker in fifteen years ago and am happy to be back. However even more happy about the kind and gracious support offered to the Saga for this voyage. Thank you Reederei F. Laeisz, thank you SeaLand and thank you Maersk. Let’s keep on keeping on!

Vietnam

And as always I wish the crew: Fair winds and following seas!

 

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - always tired. However tired and accomplished ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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Taiwan is such an underrated country. Oops! The secret is out ;)

Day 2,031 since October 10th 2013: 179 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country  

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).

Statistically you probably don’t care.

Pano

Will I after another 24 countries become the first in history to visit every country without flying? A group of people support me and say I will. Another group says no and argues that it has been done before. The largest group of all however, is the one that doesn’t care. Is Taiwan a country? A group of people say yes. A group of people say no. The largest group of them all is however…

In that perspective you might always want to take a step back and get some perspective. When you are fighting for something which is important to you it helps to have the big picture. Do other people care? Is it of importance for many or for few? Is it really important? What in life is important? Oh well…if we wander too far down that path then we will never get anything done. A much more fun debate is the one which involves a seemingly simple question: “how many countries are there in the world?” That is a great conversation starter and a solid debate on the topic requires time. My short answer is that it is really up to you. It depends largely on how you define a country. The United Nations (UN) is not a definition of what a country is. The UN is a club and it has 193 members. It also has two observatory states which are a part of the club but with limited membership. 201 countries in the world are recognized by at least one UN member state. The Olympics have 206 countries competing against each other. There are between 204-207 De Facto Sovereign States (self declared countries). FIFA has 211 countries eligible for the World Cup and finally there are 249 country codes in the ISO standard list. So good luck agreeing on a number. The Saga is 203 countries by the way.

Kirkevej

My childhood home. Photo credit: Poul Lubbert.

Did you know that my parents divorced when I was fifteen years old? I have two siblings and they moved out of our childhood home and into a new one with my mother. My father and I stayed in the house until it was sold. I had my own room in that house. I knew all the rooms of that house. My parents bought it but it was “my house”. I would come home after school and play in the backyard. I would eat dinner with my family. I would sleep in my bed. My house. That was 25 years ago. A few days ago a childhood friend of mine (Poul) sent me a picture of that house. I recognize it but it is no longer my house. I have not entered the garden and much less the house for 25 years. I have no idea what my former room looks like today or what the living room smells like? It was once my house but that was long ago. I think you see where I’m going with this?

cafe

Anyway, just to enforce my point. Greenland is an autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. The population up there counts around 56,000 people. The country is the size of Algeria (Africa’s largest country). In other words there is a lot of space for the inhabitants. The Kingdom of Denmark needs to ensure sovereignty over the vast land masses and does that by having the navy patrol the shorelines and the Sirius Patrol (dog sledge) cross the landmasses. In other words there is a frequent presence and that ensures that nobody suddenly claims a part of it. The two China’s of the world are not like the two Sudan’s or the two Congo’s. When South Sudan was created in 2011 it became the world’s youngest nation and received UN status. (North) Sudan kept its UN status and they are both UN members today. Sudan means “black” in Arabic. Likewise the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo are two separate countries which both hold membership with the UN. The name Congo stems from the Bakongo, a Bantu tribe that populates the area. Taiwan is an island nation with a long standing history of settlements and colonization. The situation which exists today began when there was internal strife within mainland China about who should be the legitimate power. Civil war followed and so did some intervention from Japan under their pursuit of increasing the size of their empire at the time. It is all a little complicated but in broad terms one side, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), took control over Beijing while the other side, Republic of China (ROC), retreated to Taiwan (1949), an island which was under Japanese control from 1895-1945. Both claimed to be the legitimate government of China. To begin with the UN backed ROC in Taiwan and ROC held the UN membership. However in 1971 the UN began backing PRC. Today Taiwan (ROC) is recognized as a sovereign entity by the Holy See as well as 19 member states of the UN. It maintains diplomatic relations with 57 other member states of the UN, although they are unofficial. Taiwan is, and has since its beginning in 2013, been counted as a country within the Saga.

FuckOff

Sometimes I feel like that too...

All of the above is super simplified but should still give you some idea about how complicated the situation is. You should also know a few more things. Within Taiwan, which is a democracy, there are various political voices. Some say that mainland China (PRC) should gain more influence over Taiwan. Others say that ROC is still the legitimate government of all of China, although that voice is pretty quiet now this many decades after the separation. A voice also speaks of recognition as a sovereign nation on the large international stage. Wouldn’t it just be easy if Taiwan became a UN country? Well…while some want that to happen others do not. Mainland China (PRC) is a powerful member of the UN and can veto such a decision…and I hear that they would. Another layer to all of this is trade and regional power. There are a few very powerful countries in the world: USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China are the most powerful in my experience. Those four dominate the countries which surround them through military might, population and trade. In broad terms any of those four countries can take what they want or bully surrounding countries to follow the sound of their pipe. So look at these numbers for Taiwan’s export: China: 28.8%, Hong Kong (special administrative region of China): 12.4%, USA: 11.8%, Japan: 6.9%, Singapore: 5.2% and South Korea: 4.8%. The same numbers represent power and if you want to accumulate power then you only need to look at who can become your ally. So when push comes to shove I bet that most Taiwanese simply want the situation they enjoy today to remain unaltered. You know what you have…you don’t know what you will get.

Firefly

I managed this photo with my iPhone SE from 2016. "I wish that I could fly, just like a firefly..."

So what is Taiwan like? Before reaching Taiwan I was told different things. Someone said that if I liked the food in Japan then I would love the food in Taiwan! Someone cheeky said that Taiwan is like China…but nice. Now just to be clear I love the food in Japan and I am very fascinated by China. Don’t shoot the messenger ;) I heard another version which went something like this: “China and Taiwan is like a married couple where the wife wants a divorce but the husband won’t allow it so now they live separately and hardly speak”. It was a Taiwanese woman who told me that a few countries ago. Here’s my own version after a week of observing and thinking about Taiwan: take a pot and add water. Lots of water. Then add some China. Add some Japan too. Sprinkle a dash of USA on top of it. Let it boil for a while with occasionally stirring. Don’t forget to add some sea salt and a lot of island mentality too. Serve with a bunch of colonial interference and plenty of tropical fruit. Enjoy! ;)

Iris Lee MSK

Iris is the General Manager for Maersk Taiwan. Lovely woman. Amazing staff :)

I can’t believe that a day only holds twenty-four hours?!? It’s simply not possible considering everything I’ve done since I arrived last Friday? And last Friday feels like a month ago! I was collected in Kaohsiung, by Joey, for an early morning disembarkation of the good ship “ALS Vesta”, and was brought through customs and immigration before Joey put me on a train to Taipei. In Taipei I was brought to Maersk’s office where I met Iris and her team. I made a presentation and then we had lunch. The office also helped me print some new Saga cards which I could collect the following Tuesday. Then I said farewell to Maersk and found a café where I could "quickly" get the Friday Blog online. However the café had poor internet and I needed to race off to find another café. I found one with a solid connection but couldn’t connect my laptop to the power outlet. Twenty minutes later I solved that and got the blog online after some three hours. Then I sent a message to my host saying that I would be a little late as I was meeting a friend. Bjarke and I were shipping trainees together a few decades ago. He eventually settled in Singapore but we stayed in touch. He just so happened to be in Taipei meeting with a client but would be flying out the following morning. So this was our chance to reunite. Bjarke sent me to a place called ‘In House Café’. I was told I could find it near Taipei 101 next to ‘Breeze nanshan atre’. I jumped into an Uber and raced into the night. A while later I walked into ‘In House” near Taipei 101. I was tired, my beard was bushy, my hat was on my head and my luggage on my back. It was a fancy café and a man in a tight dress with makeup on he’s clean shaven face approached me with a smile: “are you looking for someone?” I replied that I was meeting with a friend. “Man or woman?” I replied man and saw his/her smile get bigger. Then I walked through the café and noticed that a lot of the guests appeared same sex oriented. I was at a café for homosexuals. Interesting.

Bjarke

Bjarke!! I will see you "soon" ;)

Taipei101

Taipei 101 was officially classified as the world's tallest from its opening in 2004 until 2010. Bold move to build that in an earthquake prone zone.

My mistake was quickly discovered as I explained to the waiter/waitress that I was looking for ‘In House café’ and was told that I was at ‘In House’. However fortunately in the same neighbourhood so it did not take long before I reunited with Bjarke. We rejoiced and began talking about the good old days. Then we followed up on new affairs. Bjarke got married just two weeks ago - so once again congratulations! We left the café after a while and headed up into a very tall building and sat down in a very fancy restaurant. Bjarke’s treat! The view was spectacular and so was the food and company. At one point I visited the men’s room and found three urinals facing a large window with a view of the city below. What a view for a urinal! Beats staring into a wall. It was just brilliant seeing Bjarke again and I look forward to seeing him once more when the Saga reaches Singapore. That should be sometime around June 20th. My next stop was at the doorstep of Chris and Kitty’s home. They live on the first floor in an apartment building and have been married for 26 years. Chris found the Saga several years ago and has been an active follower ever since. He once wrote me that I had a home once I reached Taiwan. And that I had! It was pretty late before I arrived but they were still up and ready to greet me. After a few handshakes and polite fraises I was shown to my room which had all sorts of accessories. Kitty and Chris had made the bed for me and left two towels for me. On the nightstand there was a note with the wifi password, earplugs in case the neighbourhood was noisy, a set of keys for their home and a charged card for using the public transportation. WOW! Then we sat down and spoke over a cold beer before heading to bed.

KittyChris

A stranger is a friend you've never met before! ;)

Kitty was born and raised in Taiwan while Chris comes from California, USA, and has been attached to Taiwan since the 90s. Chris is quite well travelled himself and has been to 78 countries with hopes of someday reaching a hundred. They speak both English and Mandarin and made for some excellent hosts while I stayed with them. But I figure you gathered that from my welcome ;) Kitty works for an insurance company while Chris makes various translations and works from home. Chris just so happened to have translated a guidebook about tourism in the New Taipei region so that became our very first stop the following day. However we first paid a visit to a shoe repair shop as my Salomon boots seem to be struggling more and more. The shoemaker said he could fix them but required weeks. That was a big surprise for me now that I am used to having repairs made in minutes on the side of the road. However Chris ensured me that this guy was really good. As I did not have weeks the shoemaker reluctantly suggested to make some minor repairs for $13 USD. I found that to be a bit more expensive than what I had thought it would be but I was there and had my shoes with me. We were told to come back after the weekend. Then we went sightseeing. I cannot possibly go into detail regarding all the things I managed to do with Chris and Kitty over the week. We were very busy! However here is a list of what we managed: Shoe repair, sightseeing at Tamsui (historic area), visit at Little Longshan temple, visit at Red Fort (Spanish Fort), visit at George Lesley Mackey residence and his dental clinic, visit at the University which was founded upon the college Lesley Mackey created, visit to Hobe fort, had Agei (local dish), strolled down Fisherman’s wharf, took the ferry-bus, strolled on the promenade, went out for noodles walked around in Ximending (lively gay neighborhood) and visited red house (old market turned theatre). That was the first day!!

Tamsui historic area

Food1

MRT

food2

Fort San Domingo spanish Fort

Agei

Taiwan is safe, friendly, economical, easy going, interesting and a great altrernative to many other countries. Why I didn't see more western tourist is beyond me?

The following day we went hiking, we took a few metros (MRT) before taking the Gondal up to Zhinan temple, hiked about for a few hours and nearly saw the sunset which disappeared behind the clouds. We then had chicken and dry noodles at a favourite restaurant of theirs before returning home. That evening I had a $3.24 USD haircut which I was happy with. The price suited me well and so did the quality. Interestingly the hairdresser vacuum cleaned my head afterwards?

RC1

Getting jiggy with it at Taiwan Red Cross: "One, two, cha cha cha!"

The next day Chris joined me for a quick visit at Taipei’s well known Longshan temple. The temple was built in Taipei in 1738 by settlers from Fujian during Qing rule in honor of Guanyin. It served as a place of worship and a gathering place for the Chinese settlers. Traditionally incense is burned but Longshan Temple has quite remarkably moved away from that practice in a realization that it is bad for the air quality. Amazing! The world is constantly changing. A stone throw away from there I met with the Taiwan Red Cross which made Taiwan the 175th country in which I have had the pleasure of meeting either the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Taiwan is accident prone as it lies where two tectonic plates meet which causes plenty of earthquakes. Taiwan is also mountainous and packed with volcanos of which some are still active today. However not violently. Flooding is however an issue. Especially when the typhoons hit, which they do every year. It was however an aerobics class for the elderly which became my first meeting with the Taiwan Red Cross.

RC2

We are "clearly" making hearts! Because that is the kind of country Taiwan is ;)

Taiwan Red Cross has a rather impressive engagement on the humanitarian scene both nationally and internationally. Within Taiwan you find them active within disaster prevention, disaster risk reduction and disaster response. They are also guarding the beaches making water sports safe, offering first aid courses, supporting and activating the elder community and much more. Since 1999 they have been highly active on the international stage. Taiwan Red Cross has been present in the relief of major natural disasters all over the world: Haiti, Iran, Japan, China…you name it. Quite impressive I must say. Taiwan is a country of “only” 23 million people however is the largest economy which is not a member of the United Nations. And the nation has a large heart. As such Taiwan Red Cross enjoys national support on a very large scale. They have an excellent webpage which I encourage you to visit if you would like to learn more: Taiwan Red Cross Website  

food3 

This is a mushroom! It is called Lion's mane. Uhm good!

That night ended late with a delicious vegetarian dinner and I have hardly had more mushrooms in a single meal than I had that night. However it was spectacular and I doubt that I would have guessed that some of it was made of mushrooms if I wasn’t told. Taiwan and good food is something absolutely synonymous.

Chris waste

I AM VERY HAPPY ABOUT WHAT CHRIS DID!!! Kitty and Chris invited me for another short hike in Taiwan’s beautiful nature. I noticed Chris began picking up litter right from the beginning. Within a few hours he managed to fill a bag and brought it with us to a place where he could sort it into recycling. You da man Chris!!! I’ve been to enough countries to realize that plastic is a serious problem on earth. Why ANYONE would throw it on the ground is beyond me?!? Good job Chris!! Let’s keep Taiwan beautiful :)

 The Next day Chris, Kitty and I went hiking again as we followed the Pingding old trail, then we stopped by the world class National Palace Museum which was far too large for me to get a good overview of. Our visit mainly focussed on a few historical periods along with seeing the jade and porcelain displays. Apparently the story goes that the museum houses over 690,000 artefacts! All of it was evacuated from the Forbidden City in Beijing to Taiwan in 1948 amidst the panic of the Chinese Civil War. As such the collection provides an in-depth view of the beauty of Chinese history from the Neolithic to the modern era. Thankfully for me Kitty was there and has a profound interest in antiques and could give me a background story on some of the pieces we saw. Because frankly I was not impressed with the information offered by the museum. Often an item on display would simply read something like: “plate, Ming dynasty, 1471 CE”. Once you’ve seen enough plates you kind of want more info.

Ming bowl

This bowl is very rare and from the Ming Dynasty. One just like this was sold for $32,345,850 USD!!

Listen…we did so much that I can’t go into to detail on it all. Chris and I also visited Taipei Zoo, we picked up my shoes, the three of us visited one of Taipei’s famous night markets, stumbled upon a 1,060th birthday, drove up to the north coast, visited the unique Laomei Algal Reef and dropped in for a view of the calla lilies at Zhuzihu (Bamboo Lake). Meanwhile I had to manage emails, logistics, bureaucrazy, research, preparations, interviews, long distance relationship and so much more. There MUST be more than 24 hours in a day?!? Most of my nights ended between 02-03:00am as I would work late nights to make ends meet. And in reality I could have said no to hiking, visiting the night market or something else but that is maybe my problem in general: I want it all! I want a full and reach project to be delivered to those who care and want it. I want to see and discover. I want to be a good fiancé. I want to promote the Red Cross. I want to do public speaking. I want to meet strangers. I want to make friends. I want, I want, I want. Maybe I should get better at saying no…or simply say no to more. But it all worked out although I am exhausted and really need what is coming next!!

new video

 Click HERE or on the picture to see video.

 

Zoo

Taipei Zoo.

StinkyTofu

I tried stinky tofu. It is not for me although I can eat it if there is nothing else. Why would they even make it? I also tried bubble tea. Also not my favorite. So strange to find things like that in a country with sooooooooo good food ;)

DuckTongue

Duck tungue is not uncommon in Taiwan.

SevenEleven

7-11 convenience stores are everywhere, and they are basically open all night with various amenities. These stores are owned by a Japanese company. In these stores, you can print a document, call a taxi, send a parcel, pay your bills, buy train tickets and do much more.

TCPtired 

What’s next is another voyage onboard another containership. SeaLand has helped out again and as a Maersk company I am grateful to both. I boarded the good ship “Pontresina” last night after saying farewell to Chris and Kitty, two strangers who became friends, then taking the fast train back to Kaohsiung, getting this entry online and meeting up with Joey again. Joey brought me back through customs and immigration and onboard the good ship. And that is where I will be when you read this. This entry was incidentally written at a café at Kaohsiung train station. In exotic terms “the world is my office” but in reality I often struggle with getting these things done from the seat of a bus, in a noisy hostel or riding a train. But they get done. Because we keep on keeping on. Enjoy, I wrote it all for you ;)

Calla lilly

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - I care!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

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Once Upon A Saga

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Once Upon a Saga
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