Stuck in Hong Kong – a logistical challenge
Day 2,318 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).
And the beat goes on
I must admit that when it gets too easy I feel slightly bored. However when it’s really hard I want it easier. I guess I just want those perfect Goldilocks conditions. Don’t we all.
Anyone who thinks I got this far on my own is wrong. I would not have gotten far without the help of people all over the world. I have especially been fortunate to guest many homes and feel like an “uncle” who is passing through. I get my own chair at the table and dine with the family. I play with the children. I have all sorts of conversations with all the family members. I help where I can and often participate in trivial normal life activities when invited. It is in fact a beautiful and quite amazing thing when you are given the trust of a family in such a way. Especially when you were a complete stranger just a few weeks before.
I made a paper boat and paper plane but the boys took it to a new level!! :)
Last week I introduced you to the Savagar’s :) They are a family of four. Cassie (China), James (England) and their two boys Edward (11y) and Harry (9y). There is a saying in relation to house guests which is: “people and fish smell after three days”. I actually lived by that in the past. I have more than once had a stranger come and stay at my home in Denmark for a few days…but after around three days I’ve been happy to get my home back as it was. Now after more than six years of experiencing extraordinary heights of human hospitality and kindness I find myself stuck in Hong Kong. It is a tough spot to be in as each day adds to the pressure of an unbearably heavy load. It is hard to explain to an outsider. However I recently explained it as when building a card house. At the lower layer of the card house you have no worries what so ever. If the cards fall over you simply put them back together. However as you advance towards the top you become infinitely more careful. I am today at the top layer of the card house I have been constructing since 2013 – and a storm is blowing.
LEGO!!! I've spent hours over my own when I was a child. It was interesting to see how Edward and Harry kept themselves occupied for hours with the paper planes and boats? I guess imagination is imagination :)
I have been the houseguest of the Savagar’s for SEVENTEEN days!! Just consider that level of hospitality!! When I arrived I bought a packet with 25 teabags and I have had a cup of tea every morning. The packet is almost empty now. It will be very hard to leave this family. During a few days you can gain some attachment but over several weeks it becomes something else altogether. I know this well. Very well indeed as I have had to say farewell to so many people over the course of time. Far more people than the average human will ever meet. Being in Hong Kong at this particular moment is certainly a stressful element in accomplishing a very complex project. I feel that I am caught between a rock and a hard place. It is difficult to imagine how miserable it might have been if I had to pull through all of it alone? So I am very grateful! And very fortunate! Because the Savagar’s were not even the only ones to offer me a place to stay. But what could beat this?
The Tai Kwun Center for Herritage and Arts is an amazing place in HKG. It was the former Central Police Station and urban prison with the most famous prisoner likely being Ho Chi Minh when he was fighting for Vietnam's freedom. From the begining in 1841 the Chief Magistrate was given the power to arrest, convict and imprison. A one stop approach.
I’ll get to the complications of the Saga’s current position in a moment. But first I’d like to say that Hong Kong is an amazing part of the world! Yeah…it is not perfect for those who live here but which place is? To be a visitor Hong Kong is just brilliant. The city is a treasure trove of activities, sights, shopping opportunities, entertainment and people watching. There isn’t much you wouldn’t be able to get or find in Hong Kong. I’ve had a lot of nice experiences with the locals and I shared that across social media to which a local commented: “Can’t believe someone said Hong Kongers are friendly”. However they have been to me. And while the media rages on about the virus outbreak life goes on. The virus has by the way been given an official name now: COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease discovered in 2019). I don’t think there is any point in describing more about viruses as I have done plenty of that in the last two entries. However it is worthwhile mentioning that life in Hong Kong seems quite calm and normal. That might be the unusual part though. Hong Kong is home to about 7.5 million beating hearts and streets might be full of life under ordinary circumstances. These days taxi drivers have less rides, restaurants are fairly empty, schools are closed and many are working from home. Nearly everyone wears a mask although it is completely uncalled for. However people seem to believe that it is the right approach. It has led to a mask shortage and a black market for masks at outrageous prices. One can’t help other than to wonder what would happen if the authorities raise the level and recommend everyone to wear masks? What would Hong Kong do then given they have already used all of them up? The guidelines are still quite basic with frequent hand wash with soap and covering your mouth/nose while sneezing or coughing being the best form of prevention. Masks should only be used when taking care of a person suspected COVID-19 infection. But hey Hong Kong!! Who cares about directions form health authorities!! ;) An interesting aspect to the mask wearing is that it generates peer pressure for anyone not wearing a mask. Well anyone local at least. Westerners get a pass. I have spoken to more than one Hong Kong’er who does not believe in the mask but wears it anyway because it is easier than dealing with people if you don’t. I recently saw someone suggesting that everyone should be wearing disposable gloves as well. I wonder if he happens to be a disposable glove manufacturer? ;)
James invited me for lunch after I saw the view from his office in the Champions Tower! Great guy! We know each other from North Korea. Fun to be able to say that ;)
Champions Tower, Hong Kong Island.
While this is a humanitarian crisis its impact on the economy will likely overshadow the loss of lives. As the death toll rises (not in Hong Kong) it is still fairly minute in the grand picture. The size of China’s population is unimaginably large. Literally unimaginable. If you woke up tomorrow and a million Chinese people had suddenly disappeared (abducted by aliens or something), then you would never notice. You probably don’t know if China’s population today is 1.386 billion or 1.387 billion people – or something else. It is a crazy thought but the numbers are gigantic. There is the “every life is precious” approach which is beautiful and looks good on a CV. Yet most city people don’t even know their neighbors. Economically a lot of families are currently making less money which makes it hard to feed the children and pay for school. The Chinese New Year celebrations just ended and life was supposed to go back to normal. However this New Year was hardly festive as most people stayed inside wondering what was going on with the virus outbreak? Many Hong Kong'ers live in tiny expensive apartments and cabin fever must be getting to them by now. Within the shipping industry the effects are also seen. From January 1st ships were restricted to use fuel oil with a very low sulphur content under rules brought in by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). This cut in sulphur content has been more than a decade in the planning and almost all shipping around the world is expected to comply or face penalties. A way of complying with the new regulations is to retrofit scrubbers which act as a form of filters to comply with the rules for emission. However right now Chinese shipyards are not in a position to even do the scheduled work, let alone any additional retrofits. Does that then mean the virus is having an effect on the environment too? Virus, virus, virus!! The more we talk about it the more fearful people get. It is arguably more talked about than President Donald Trump (and that is an accomplishment). I don’t mind talking about the virus but I am so tired of all the rumours. And there are plenty of rumours as there are still many unknowns. I decided to spend a couple of hours focusing on some facts and reading up on viruses in general. From their first discovery through every pandemic known to man.
Life goes on. It must...
People argue what the biggest threat to mankind is. Would it possibly be a meteorite with our name on it? Volcanic activity? Atomic war? Global warming? Technological evolution. These risks can be listed in different orders but a deadly pandemic is always listed among them. I discovered something scary when I was doing my research. We never developed a vaccine in time to stop SARS. It just disappeared on its own and has not been seen again since 2004. That sounds like the beginning of a horror movie! A theory is that the SARS virus did not cope well with high temperatures and as April came and temperatures rose, the virus died and disappeared. Many are therefore hoping for the same scenario regarding COVID-19. I just don’t like the “let’s see if we are lucky” approach. The big outbreak people often make reference to was the Spanish Flu in 1918 which costs between 50 million and 100 million lives at a time when there were less than 2 billion people on the planet. Scientists seem to think that could happen again. So I fully understand why people are anxious regarding COVID-19. I just don’t think this outbreak is the one to worry about. If it was, wouldn’t it then have proven much more deadly outside of China by now? Also the discovery, or at least understanding, of viruses was still quite limited back in 1918 and there was furthermore a mass famine and widespread malnutrition across Europe at the time. A final takeaway for you is that the fatality rate is listed as an average. In reality some regions of our planet are inhabited by people who react differently to different viruses. As such the fatality rate could be 1% in Norway and 8% in India. 790 million people are estimated to be without clean and safe drinking water. How will they cope with a deadly pandemic compared to those who live healthier? It is however worth noticing that viruses attack in different ways: in 1918 it was often the ones with the strongest immune system who lost their lives.
Interestingly I learned that restaurants will often give the guests two sets of chopsticks. One set for eating and one for grabbing food with. It is a remnant from the SARS outbreak in 2002/03 avoiding contact.
Oh well…now I ended up writing a lot about viruses anyway. But hopefully it will serve you well for your next conversation when someone else goes off on a rumour based tangent on the topic ;) And COVID-19 is very much at the centre of the Saga’s situation today. Let me give you an overview. In mid-December the Saga had reached Fiji and the arduous task of getting a visa for the USA was quickly becoming a complex soup of bureauCRAZY. The visa wasn’t easy to come by because of all the visits I had made to blacklisted countries around the world. The sole reason for getting the visa was to get permission to be on a ship which was bringing the Saga forward, however had to make a port call in US territory. Such are US regulations: all on board the ship must have a US visa regardless if they stay on the ship or not. We solved that in January 2020 when I got the US visa in Majuro, Marshall Islands. The next ship would take us to FSM (Micronesia). But there was no connection from FSM to Palau, which was scheduled to be our next country. Instead we had to bring the Saga all the way up to Hong Kong which is ridiculously far and out of the way. However it made sense as I could catch a ship from Hong Kong to Palau. Hong Kong immigration was however not too keen on letting a passenger into the country from a container ship and in any case found that boarding another ship in Hong Kong would be impossible for a passenger. However immigration came around and a special permission was given. The Saga reached Hong Kong on January 28th 2020. The onward ship was due on February 5th however the departure date was pushed to January 12th due to the Chinese New Year. And around then the travel bans began to appear. Palau was now stating that any visitors had to have a more than 14 day distance between China/Hong Kong and arriving to Palau due to quarantine. There was no getting around it. Different plans began to form but it was a race against travel bans and quarantine policies. Before January 12th there was not a single port in the vicinity I could disembark at. So getting on board the good ship would have been pointless as I would simply have been along for the ride.
I had a video call with Ross DK who covers 40% of the Saga's budget. They are rocking those geothermal trends forward as they are attending the 4th annual geothermal conference on February 26th. It takes place at the Danish Parliament: Christiansborg. Great talking to the guys! :)
A lot of countries distinguish between China and Hong Kong in their travel bans and quarantine regulations. As should they. If a decease breaks out in Portugal then you wouldn’t avoid Finland. And Europe and China are about the same size. Oh well…as the problems grew, my host Cassie suggested I should take a ship to New Zealand. Ha ha ha I thought. Funny. However it was actually a good idea. Palau was lost at this point. It was either wait for unknown periods of time or make a new plan and return to Palau later. My foremost concern was being able to move. I needed to clear my travel profile of any concerns of the virus outbreak. New Zealand was scheduled to become country no 200 however it could now become no 195. Poor logistics as New Zealand is located 9,406 km (5,845 mi) in a straight line from Hong Kong. A very long way away!! The advantage was that the travel time would exceed 14 days clearing my profile of the quarantine period. And New Zealand at this point was still open to receiving people from Hong Kong as long as they had been out of Hong Kong for more than 14 days. Genius Cassie!! Next move was to locate a ship. Meanwhile I was suppressing anger and disappointment about easily having lost two months by coming to Hong Kong for “nothing” (we will get back to that). I reached out to every shipping company the Saga is friendly with but there was little opportunity in catching a ship from Hong Kong to New Zealand. It seemed that most ships made that route from Singapore. However there were a few. A vessel leaving on February 14th with Japanese NYK and a vessel leaving on the 20th with Maersk. The Saga has had zero activity with NYK throughout the project so it would likely be a time-consuming endeavor engaging with them – especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. However Maersk has been incredibly involved with the Saga since 2014/2015. While not officially affiliated Maersk is what I call the “unofficial partner” and it is a Danish company as well. Unfortunately things tightened up over the next few days and company policy hindered me from joining the ship. I was now stuck in Hong Kong.
- Stay in Hong Kong and ride the storm out. How long and at which cost?
- Find a ship managed under a different company policy and leave?
- Get a Chinese visa and overland it though China to e.g. Laos and continue to Singapore?
Three solutions but not equally good and none of them desirable. A new idea arose after a phone call with Catherine at Maersk Singapore. Singapore and Malaysia had not yet enforced any travel bans or quarantine periods in relation to COVID-19. However that could quickly change. So if I could get from Hong Kong to Singapore then I would be in the clear to reach New Zealand. From New Zealand I could travel with a container ship to Fiji and the Saga would technically be logistically back on track however with Palau outstanding. And what a detour it would be!!! However the Saga already has some history in that regard (St. Kitts and Nevis to Dominican Republic via Venezuela! / Mauritius to Burundi via South Africa! / Cyprus to Lebanon via Egypt AND Turkey! / Syria to Jordan via Egypt! / Mongolia to Pakistan via Iran!). Well it was something to work on. Mentally I wasn’t feeling blue. I felt motivated and hopeful. I generally recover well and swiftly. Just a few days earlier I was feeling distressed. It was hopeless. I had lost control. What to do? What could I do? Who to blame – a virus?
The MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong.
A few months back it all looked so good! Then suddenly BureauCRAZY, logistics, immigration, Chinese New Year, virus outbreak and now travel bans. I wasn’t sure what to do? Whenever I feel like that I try to seek out a miniature project which I believe I can accomplish. Not too easy but not too hard. Before Cassie came up with the idea of heading to New Zealand I felt like I had lost control. I did a little research and found out that Tai Mo Shan is the highest peak in Hong Kong with an elevation of 957 m (3,134 ft). So I made that my project! It took about eight hours of my day including five hours in public transport. The hike itself was about three hours (12 km / 7.5 mi).
I love a good hike...fresh air, elevation and being physically active.
Although Hong Kong is super modern and developed you'll still find cows walking about freely in the countryside and even wild boar! Pretty cool!
I felt better when I returned “home” that evening. I felt like I was more in control. Not as in control as these guys though! I'll stick to my Salomons ;)
A thought entered my mind: has the entire “coming to Hong Kong” thing been a huge disaster? Well, not the way I look at it today. My answer may have been different a few days ago though. However in a classic pros and cons style it would look like this:
- I’m fed up and want it all to end. A delay does not help.
- Risk of being associated with the virus.
- Costly in time.
- Bad for morale and motivation.
- I have made new friends.
- Costs have been low due to hospitality.
- I have replaced the crippled phone with a new one.
- Hong Kong is in itself amazing.
- Excellent media coverage locally and in Denmark.
- Fond memories with the Savagar’s.
- My network has grown.
- Expanded knowledge on viruses.
- Expanded knowledge on Hong Kong.
- Hiking and running opportunities (fitness).
- A clear timestamp for the Saga (COVID-19).
Within the cons the 'loss of time' is a big one. A very big one! Yet I find that the pros win in the end. A lot of people argue that it “is just time”. However someone else might argue that time is all we have. And I am not sure if I am willing to spend more time on completing Once Upon A Saga versus returning home, being with those I love, spending time with friends, relieving myself of the stress of reaching a difficult goal, starting a family and leading a “normal” life. Possibly you can’t understand because you already have what I want. But I assure you: you do not want what I have ;)
The public transportation in HKG is amazingly efficient and even subsidizes government! every day 12.9 million journeys are made!!! Buying and owning a vehicle is expensive so when you see a super car or a Tesla (of which there are many) then you know the owner is loaded.
Media coverage has been really good lately. I did yet another radio interview with the wonderful team at Eye Dubai in UAE, then I had a really good talk with Kate at South China Morning Post, Richard called me from Radio Television Hong Kong, Jan-Aake from Syre in Sweden, Leah from Al Jazeera, on the Danish front I spoke with Mette from Midtjyllands Avis, Mathias at BT, Louise at TV2 Oestjylland, Rasmus at BT, Charlotte from Radio Classic FM, the evening news at TV2 Denmark and of course TV2 Echo after meeting with Danish star reporter Rasmus Tantholdt in Hong Kong. That is a lot of media!! Particularly on the Danish front which has been really quiet for a while. It appears that the interest for the novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) in Denmark is massive. So I guess the media back home in the great Viking Kingdom of Denmark in the High North of Europe needed some new material. My attitude to the outbreak has been quite relaxed and rational in my own humble opinion. So I suppose that was a new angle…they also had an angle to speak about the Saga getting stuck of course. As of today I have never said no to an interview no matter how big or how small and the Saga has been in the media in some +140 countries. Crazy!
And that brings us to today. What does the future hold? Well that is famously hard to predict. All the travel bans and quarantines might just drop and everything will go back to normal. Surely that will happen but not this week or the next. Capt. Sudhanshu from MSC in Cyprus offered that I could come on board their ship from Hong Kong leaving on the 23rd but calling multiple Chinese ports and not arriving in Singapore until March 12th. It’s an option but the HKG-Singapore route can be done in 4-5 days on another ship so let’s see what’s possible. MSC has also been helpful more than a few times in the past. It is not about how hard you fall – right? It is all about how soon you get back up. Around here we simply keep on keeping on (no matter how crazy it gets).
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - amazingly...we have been through worse.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga