People scare easily. Good food, virus outbreaks and more delays | Hong Kong |
Day 2,311 since October 10th 2013: 194 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).
We may be stuck in Hong Kong for a while
Last week I saw a young couple kissing while wearing protective masks. I wish I got a photo of that. I might need to ask a couple to recreate it just for the photo.
I often feel completely indebted to people. Sometimes I feel that I am repaying by keeping Once Upon A Saga alive. But sometimes I just feel like I owe too many people too much. A lot of people take the time to write me and share with me how the Saga inspires and motivates them. That is truly wonderful. This project is a lot more than what some people think of it. And yet a great deal of people who are familiar with the Saga sees and understands it all. What I am getting at is that some people certainly feel like I owe them nothing at all. And yet I feel like I owe so many so much. Lately I have been communicating at great length with people at Pacific International Lines (PIL), Swire Shipping/CNCo, Maersk, Sealand, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Marshall Islands Red Cross, Micronesia Red Cross, Palau Red Cross and a long line of individual people as well. There is a saying which goes “no one mentioned, no one forgotten”. Those are wise words because I’m sure I have forgotten to mention someone. However this is how it must be. All the shipping companies have especially helped out in relation to logistics and the Red Cross chapters have helped me get in touch with the Palau Red Cross Society. Palau is the next country and the sole reason why we had to bring the Saga all the way up to Hong Kong. Once we make it to Palau they will become the 190th country in which the Saga has reached the movement. However my intention in talking to them now is in relation to a strict travel ban for anyone coming from China and Hong Kong. But more about that latter. I really feel indebted to PIL who have facilitated so many ships lately and are trying to organize the ones ahead. Their staff has been phenomenal. And likewise Swire Shipping/CNCo has for the longest time been helping us out on a weekly basis in relation to ships and shipping connections in the Pacific. We will soon be back on board their ships again. If I began to specify names of people who have helped then this would easily fill up pages!! I just want anyone who reads this to know that I am grateful! This truly is a people project.
Welcome letter from the Savagar's.
Let’s start with four amazing people. They are the Savagar’s! Cassie is from China, James is from England and they have two boys which are a lot of fun: Edward (11 years) and Harry (9 years). Cassie and James both work for Maersk in Hong Kong and between the two of them they have 39 years of company experience! Not all of it in Hong Kong though. They have worked around the world and both of them have actually worked in Copenhagen, Denmark, many years ago. I was scheduled to speak at two Maersk offices in Hong Kong however both sessions got cancelled due to the Novel (new) Coronavirus outbreak (read more in last weeks entry here). Looking at the positive side of life, James heard about me because of the scheduled Maersk talks and invited me to stay with him and his family. That was a huge win for me!!! Because I could not be doing any better than this! And the story is quite heart-warming. The Savagar’s were not even in Hong Kong when I arrived more than a week ago. They were all in China for the Chinese New Year. The family left me a key, a welcome letter, an Octopus card for public transport and this legendary TV guide!!! :)
This is the pristine work of Edward's hand!! Love it!! :)
I had their home to myself for a few days which leads to another story but be we return to the Savagar’s shortly. While I was on my own I worked overtime on getting to the bottom of social media responds, emails, interviews and what else had rolled in during the eleven days I spent offline heading to Hong Kong. One comment came from Ulla in Denmark. We used to be classmates in Business School more than twenty years ago. Ulla wrote that a famous Danish journalist named Rasmus Tantholdt happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time as I. Rasmus is one of the all-time greatest reporters our little Kingdom in the High North has. Both Ulla and I reached out to him and soon enough he replied suggesting that we should make a short story for TV2 ECHO in Denmark. Not long after that we were shaking hands and sat down at a bar to get to know each other. Not long after that we were on the balcony of his hotel room filming. Once done we sat down again and were soon joined by Rasmus’ colleague Bent Skjaerstad from TV2 in the great Viking nation of Norway. Both Rasmus and Bent were in Hong Kong to report on the virus outbreak.
Rasmus Tantholdt in action!
It didn’t take these two interesting men long to suggest that the three of us should have dinner together! Bent knew just the place! A small restaurant which has earned a Michelin star for 6 consecutive years. The food was beyond good and the company even better! Rasmus and Bent fly from conflict to conflict around the world hoping to enlighten their viewers. That provided a good base for some solid conversations. And it was remarkable to me how similar our world views were.
Good company. From right to left: Rasmus, Bent and I.
The next day the Savagar’s had returned from China. Schools were now closed and Maersk was advising its employees to work from home if they could. It was weekend so they would all have been home anyway. During the weekend we found our way to a hiking trail leading up to Ngong Ping which is a viewing point in Sai Kung. Hong Kong is a lot bigger than what I ever thought. My first visit to Hong Kong was as a tourist back in 2011 when I came specifically for Disneyland. Back in April 2007 I was working in an office in Florida, USA. One weekend while there I decided to pay Disney World a visit which is four large amusement parks at one location in Orlando. Once I arrived to Disney World I took a look at the park maps and wondered how long it would take to do EVERY SINGLE RIDE? It turns out that it took 2.5 days. I had to call my manager to tell him I would be coming into the office a day late :) For my Hong Kong visit in 2011 I also gunned for every single ride but Disneyland is much smaller and it didn’t even take a day. Yeah – I guess that is who I am. Back in 2011 I stayed around for about three days and mostly saw the downtown area. This time I have seen forest and mountains and that truly took me by surprise. Hong Kong is actually 1,108 km2 (428 sq mi) compared to Singapore 725.1 km2 (280.0 sq mi) or the Vatican See 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi). However Hong Kong is not a country. It is known as China’s SAR (Special Administrative Region). The region is first known to have been occupied by humans some 6,000 years ago but recent history is far more relevant for its status today. It was a colony known as British Hong Kong from 1841 to 1997 when it was transferred to mainland China. That means that while Hong Kong most definitely has an Asian culture it also has western values. And that has led to several clashes with mainland China. During diplomatic negotiations prior to the handover China guaranteed Hong Kong's economic and political systems for 50 years after the transfer. I find this incredibly interesting. Because China has woken up in recent years and gained far more influence across the world. If China is to gain even more influence across our little pale dot then the clashes we see in miniature between Hong Kong and mainland China may be a prediction to what the western world has in hold for the future. It is just a thought. The world is definitely not a small place but it is more well-connected than ever before.
Plenty of people are still out there on the streets.
The Savager’s are a lovely family. There is plenty of laughter and good food. Their routines are turned upside down now that everyone is home and Cassie and James are taking turns making sure Edward and Harry get their homework done and that the day doesn’t simply pass watching YouTube videos. The family is also very physically active. The boys have after school activities and they all enjoy walking, running and cycling. All of this is of interest for me because I wonder what kind of father I will be and what kind of family we will have? The Savagar’s are doing it right!
At Ngong Ping with the Savagar's :)
Hiking down from Ngong Ping Cassie said that the trail is normally never this busy.
Cassie knows how to cook proper danish food!! Delicious! :)
Playing badminton with Harry. He's good! Lots of extra family time these days.
I have been to Hong Kong Island 3-4 times by now. I take several buses and subways to get there and I observe people. There is NO PANIC! People look incredibly normal apart from the masks they all wear. I’ve done some research and I couldn’t find any health authority which recommends anyone in Hong Kong to wear a mask. The recommendations all say that frequent hand wash with soap and covering your mouth when you sneeze or caught is the way forward. People scare easily. In Denmark we had a political conflict in 1998 which had a journalist ask a prominent food chain manager what would be good to stock up on if food supplies were cut? He innocently replied that it might be good to stock up on yeast so that you could bake your own bread. The Danes heard that and went CRAZY!!! In no time the country was out of yeast and supplies had to be flown in from neighboring countries. People are just people. Here in Hong Kong there have been stories about some people buying ridiculous amounts of toilet paper or rice. The irrational decision to wear masks has also led to a surgical mask shortage which left healthcare workers (who need surgical masks) with a much more serious shortage. Apart from stories like that Hong Kong looks really calm to me. Taxi drivers and restaurants say they have less work as more people are staying at home. The Hong Kong conflicts of 2019-2020 have more or less disappeared.
Vikings never cancel!!! Good company at the Danish Seaman's Church! Thank's for coming! :)
People are friendly though. I was invited to make a presentation of the Saga at the Danish Seaman’s Church in Hong Kong. It was facilitated by the Danish Chamber of Commerce (DCC) and the Danish Traveller’s Club’s (DBK) member coordinator who lives in Hong Kong. People had to pay to join the event and came anyway. So that was super cool. Of the eleven who participated ten spoke Danish so it was a little strange for me having delivered over a hundred talks in English to people not from Denmark. This one was also in English but as I was talking I quickly realized that my standard opening about where Denmark is on the map, Vikings etc. might not have been relevant :) It was nonetheless a great evening with an amazing audience. We had a really good time and before we left to go home I was given a mixed bag of Danish candy and a taxi ride home. I forgot the candy in the taxi though! However the driver found Once Upon A Saga on Instagram and texted me that he had it! People are amazing! And he doesn’t even stand out as the only friendly Hong Kong’er I have crossed paths with.
Let’s talk virus for a moment. Are online communities and media outlets freaking out for no real reason? Well…yes…a little bit. It is just a virus. Approximately 320,000 types of viruses infect mammals alone, according to a study published in 2013. Is this one more dangerous than the others? Yes, it is more lethal than some and less than others. Both rhinoviruses and Coronaviruses are responsible for common colds. Rhinovirus with 10-40% and Coronavirus with about 20%. There are also a lot of viruses that doctors haven't identified. About 20%-30% of colds in adults are caused by these "unknown" bugs. In my opinion there isn’t much to worry about with this new Coronavirus. However it is of course good to be careful until we know more. The 39 year man who passed away in Hong Kong due to Coronavirus was diabetic which some seem to connect the fatality too. Human lives/health is not the same as money however numbers are numbers and putting things in a different perspective is sometimes helpful. I do apologize if the following in any way offends anyone. Please know that it is certainly not my intention. As per February 6th 2020 there have been reported 24 cases of the virus in Hong Kong and one death. Hong Kong is home to more than 7 million people. Now imagine I gave you $7,000,000.00 USD but said that there was a fee of $25.00 USD. You would not care for a second. Again!! People are not money however this does put numbers in perspective. Another horrible thing to do would be to look at the fatality rate on a global scale. Yes I know: I’m a horrible human being. The fatality rate is 3% (which may be high as it is expected that many might not have bothered to say they were sick and simply recovered). It is estimated that we are now 7.8 billion people on earth. If everyone caught the virus (which has never happened for a virus outbreak) then the population would go from 7.8 billion people to 7.5 billion people. Yes – so again…sorry about these horrible examples for comparison. It is just a different way of looking at numbers. Just a final thought: what is this is the virus which we are meant to get for our bodies to be ready for the next one?
I wish that I could fly | Into the sky | So very high | Just like a dragonfly | I'd fly above the trees | Over the seas in all degrees | To anywhere I please.
I would argue that the sickness and occasional fatalities of the virus is not the real concern. The repercussions are of a much greater concern. Apart from the taxi drivers and restaurants losing some income the entry restrictions mandated by countries around the world is causing havoc for the shipping business. Ships which have been to mainland China are in many places under quarantine for fourteen days before they can come alongside. Keep in mind that almost everything around you has been shipped from somewhere. Furthermore China is the great provider of many full container loads. I cannot predict the loss in money but it must be enormous. With the constant pressure from media people are getting paranoid. If they caught then they may wonder if it is the virus although they are more likely to be stuck by lightening. My beautiful fiancée is finishing up her PhD these days. Everything is fine between us although my beard is growing long. She is a medical doctor which these days reminds me that there is something called “medical students' disease” or “second year syndrome”. It is a condition frequently reported in medical students, who perceive themselves to be experiencing the symptoms of a disease that they are studying. The condition is associated with the fear of contracting the disease in question. Isn’t that very much like hearing about a virus and then thinking you got it?
Well…the virus outbreak is bad news for the Saga. On February 5th Palau’s President issued executive order no. 435 “prohibiting entry of all travellers with travel history originating from or transiting through mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days of their arrival to the Republic of Palau”. PIL’s good ship “Kota Hidayah” was supposed to take me to Palau but that voyage “only” takes 12 days. That is a problem…or at least a challenge if you are an optimist.
a) get on board the ship at least 2 days earlier. No: the 14 days count from the ship leaving port.
b) ask for dispensation in Palau. No: I have reached out to The President’s office, the Health Ministry and the Secretary General of the Palau Red Cross. They are not interested in helping.
c) be quarantined on arrival at Palau: No: I will not be permitted to disembark the ship.
d) get on board and hope for a delay. Possible: however relying on luck is not my style.
e) get a health certificate in Hong Kong. No: the virus could be transferred to me after I get tested.
I recently worked out the percentages of the Saga's income from 2013-2020. Huge appreciation to everyone! Especially Ross DK :)
f) I was in the shower when I suddenly had an idea!!! The good ship does not go straight to Palau. It calls four ports on its way: Kaohsiung (Taiwan), Guam & Saipan (US territory) and Yap (Micronesia). So my idea was to have a ship bring me from Hong Kong to Kaohsiung where I could wait for “Kota Hidayah” and join the ship. That way I would not be coming from Hong Kong but from Kaohsiung and I would also have been out of Hong Kong for more than 14 days by the time “Kota Hidayah” reached Palau. Solid solution!! However it turned out that Taiwan had implemented the same travel ban. I have been unable to confirm whether US territories or Yap have implemented such travel bans however it is highly likely at this point. Besides I have been in dialog with PIL which is naturally working overtime because of all of this. They have advised that I remain in Hong Kong while we wait and see what happens.
It sucks. It sucks. It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.
I feel like I have done all which I could. And I don’t want to leave you all with that. So I will round this one up with a picture of Poul, Svend and I. Svend Bergman is a well-travelled man and the member coordinator of the Danish Traveller’s Club (DBK). He invited me out for a traditional Danish meal at The Ugly Duckling. It turns out that Poul who is also Danish opened the restaurant about a year ago. It is apparently the only Danish food restaurant in all of Hong Kong. The food was good and the company even better. Svend is yet another of the many members of DBK which I have met around the world. It is a fine community to be a part of.
Poul on the left and Svend on the right :)
Traditional Danish smørrebrød!! :)
A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - this virus situation SUCKS!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga