This gwei-lo is STILL stuck in Hong Kong

Day 2,339 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). 

Should I let you look up ‘gwei-lo’ or tell you?


My situation in Hong Kong was recently compared to that of a prisoner. That sounds harsh. And yet there are similarities. I am certainly not able to leave when I want to. Perhaps house arrest is a more fitting comparison.

In last week’s entry I wrote everything I think you should know about the Novel (new) Coronavirus named COVID-19. Now a week later that darn virus continues to dominate the news. Throughout the past five Friday Blogs I have basically written all I care for about that virus. So here’s a different angle on it: ‘people think they will get the Coronavirus for the same reasons people think they will win the lottery’. I came up with that idea a few days ago and believe it to be true. To back it up I did some research on why people think they will win the lottery. Last year the US Powerball jackpot reached the dazzling amount of USD 192 million!! When the odds are as slim as 1 in 292 million the human brain steps out of the room. It's hard to picture what those chances would even look like. That's because our brains haven't evolved enough to distinguish between 1 in 292 million and a much higher probability like 1 in 100,000. You are likely aware that the probability of getting struck by lightning is incredibly low. However you are unlikely to understand how low. Hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands are quite manageable. However our odds among millions? According to Mike Robinson who’s an assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan University, as soon as we get into the millions, no one knows how to mentally visualize that. The point I’m driving here is that you have no idea how unlikely it is for you to die from COVID-19. It is VERY unlikely. And yet if you feel a sore throat coming on then your first thought might be: CORONAVIRUS!! ;) Having said that…we still need to prevent the spread of the disease. So keep washing your hands with soap and cover your mouth if you need to cough or sneeze. Our objective is to protect senior citizens, healthcare workers and people with comorbidity. They are the most vulnerable people in this outbreak (and highly likely to survive).


Masks and smartphones in the metro.

A few days ago I was having lunch with a man from the world of finance. There is no shortage of such people across Hong Kong. This fellow was nice though. I suggested that there might be some financial motive for certain people to have the press spreading panic. The man leaned back, laughed and said: “definitely!!” A friend of mine told me he had lost hundreds of thousands of USD since the virus broke out. I’m sure there is speculation on whether the virus outbreak was manmade for financial gain. I don’t believe (hope) that is true. It is however not hard to imagine that people are using a virus outbreak to make money. And according to the man from Hong Kong’s financial world, it is very likely that the flame is being fanned in terms of fear filled Coronavirus media. So if you are feeling scared or worried about the virus these days then that is perfectly normal. You might just be meant to be.


Even if some shops ran out of toilet paper for a day or two, Hong Kong never did. Hong Kong is a powerhouse of a place on this planet. Besides if you ran out you could always use water and soap. About four billion people don't use toilet paper ;)

I had my second haircut in Hong Kong since I arrived. That is crazy!! How the heck am I still in Hong Kong?!? The only other place I remember having had more than one haircut was in Lebanon. And Lebanon was the all-time record stay for the Saga with a whopping 102 days. I have come to understand that I am no good at expressing the true side of the Saga through social media. The social media of Once Upon A Saga once in a while sees a “sad face post” but it is mostly cheerful and informative of culture or history. The reality of the Saga is that it is quite lonely. The kind of loneliness people experience when surrounded by people at a party…but somehow still feel lonely. I do not feel lonely all the time. I have plenty of good moments both alone and with people. However the loneliness is certainly noticeable. In addition to that I don’t enjoy most of the things I do. I find that there are many things I do because I feel obligated to do them. Once again I must highlight that I also do many things which I enjoy doing. The bulk of it all however mostly feels like obligation. Those free spirited people who head out into the world usually return home within a year or rarely after 18 months. I have been out here for 77 months. It has been “time to go home” for years now. I do not intend on returning home before the Saga is completed and I do not think I will. Yet waiting it out here in Hong Kong without a sense of real progress is mental torture. For all the gap year backpackers out there I’m sure there’s a limit to how many temples, sunsets and waterfalls they can bare to see. How many people their hearts can manage to meet and part from. How long they can live out of a bag and eat foreign food. And certainly how long they can be on the move. Most people settle down in a place they like. Settling down is a luxury which we cannot afford within the Saga. To accomplish a project of this format one must always hear the whip crack above the head: FORWARD! “Have you made any progress today?” “Can you do more than what you have done?” “What can you do better?” “What have you not thought of?” “Can you do something differently?” All valid questions…why are we still in Hong Kong?


People on the beach at Discovery Bay, Hong Kong.


In certain parts of Hong Kong you see less masks and vice versa. In anycase it is hard to eat with a mask on your face ;)

Good luck. Bad luck. For a while in my life I did not believe in luck. However I had to reevaluate that concept as I was lacking a word which could cover over coincidental good or bad fortune. I am a strong believer in that we can limit the need for good luck or the risk of bad luck through proper preparation. However seriously…how could we have avoided getting stuck in Hong Kong due to a potential pandemic? Status Quo is that the borders with China are closed so there is no going overland. And a parade of shipping lines have politely said that they are not taking anybody on board who is not essential to the ship during these crazy times. I must once again contemplate how far I could possibly swim? Last week I met Thomas at Michael and Jin’s dinner party. Thomas is the Director of Tribini Capital, which owns two ships. Unfortunately I just missed my chance to depart with one of them. However Thomas has been super helpful in terms of networking on my behalf. Thomas introduced me to Bjorn who is Chairman for Hong Kong Ship-owner Association. Bjorn and I quickly agreed to meet but he was unfortunately off to Singapore and expected back next week. Bjorn seems like a nice guy and can easily prove to be a solid connection…perhaps also the one to solve this Gordian knot. The amount of dead ends have almost been unbearable. On the bright side I feel lots of support from left and right these days. I really feel that people want the Saga to succeed. And there are also a few “jokers” which may pay off.


It is not easy...

A few days ago I felt like a collective thank you to all the shipping lines which have supported the Saga was fitting. They have throughout the years been thanked individually but there was room for this post too. It has so far reached 22,889 people across the world:



Without these fine companies there is no way that the Saga would ever have reached this far!! Status as of today is 194 countries of the targeted 203.

Throughout the past more than six years I have had the great pleasure of collaborating with a huge amount of kind people from all of these companies.

We are on the home stretch and the Saga is estimated to complete some time during 2021. Logistics, logistics, logistics...and the support from many outstanding people.

Together we have accomplished more than 300,000 km (186,500 mi) completely without flying.

My parents taught me always to say thank you no matter what. Thank you one and all. We will keep on keeping on.

Shipping companies in the order they first assisted:

- Blue Water Shipping / Smyril Line

- Royal Arctic Line

- Maersk

- Columbia Shipmanagement

- Mediterranean Shipping Company

- Sealand

- Pacific International Lines

- Swire Shipping / CNCo

- Neptune Pacific Line

What fine company we are in!! Thank you once more :)


Hong Kong’s beloved Star Ferry began running in 1880. At that time the service from Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui took up to one hour. However if you’re in a hurry then the same journey today takes just 10 minutes.

Indeed fine company. The Saga has been in fine company since we sat out from the Kingdom of Denmark in the High North of Europe. I rarely mention the project partners as they are on every page of the website. However here we go: Kameli makes sure the website is operational, DB Schenker in Copenhagen have many times organized the import and export of small shipments, Salomon takes care of my footwear and pants, the Danish Red Cross made me a goodwill ambassador and then there is Ross DK and GEOOP which by far are the biggest financial contributors within the Saga. Over the past six years Ross and GEOOP have paid for around 38% of the party. That is no small thing. And while the logo depicts a drilling rig there is much more to say about that.


Most people would likely assimilate a drilling rig (like on the logo above) with oil and fossil fuels. Ross DK can manage any drilling operation you desire but the key focus has for many years been to unlock the potential for geothermal activity. Denmark is known for its wind turbines but there is actually also a great potential for geothermal energy. So what is that? Well, there is geothermal activity beneath the surface of the ground. Some places like in Iceland it is found just below the surface. In Denmark I once worked on a project where we found it 2,700m (8,850ft) below the surface. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source which consists of drilling very hot water out of the ground and transferring the heat into energy. A second hole is then drilled to lead the water back so that it can be reheated by the core of our planet. Yeah – so now you know that.


A few nights ago Brett invited me to join him for a podcast interview. His lovely wife Emma prepared a delicious home cooked lasagne and we had a really nice evening. They are both really kind people who love children and animals. They even had a rescue dog named Balu. The podcast went well. It was for the Running Klub which is a new initiative which is about to take off. Our conversation was a solid mix of laughter, serious subjects, perseverance, adventure and humanity. We spoke for well over an hour! Unfortunately the technology failed and only recorded the first 12 minutes. Oh well - we had a nice evening and this fluffy “rat” got to chew on my finger.


A fluffy "rat" ;)

Life continues in Hong Kong. Statistically Hong Kong is now one of the safest countries to be in as there have only been two fatalities and around a hundred confirmed cases of COVID-19. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Hong Kong is a powerhouse! There is an enormous amount of wealth in Hong Kong and while it of course isn’t distributed equally it surely still has set its mark on life. Healthcare is good, education is good, public transportation is good, sanitation is good, business is good, food is good and people are nice. Less people are wearing masks now than a week ago. Some places which have been closed are now opening up again. Among other places the local tennis courts in Sai Kung opened up and I joined James and his two sons Edward and Harry as they played for an hour. James has been to the office a few times while Cassie still works from home. The schools remain closed which puts pressure on families and limits productivity. However it does offer a lot of family time. James told me that people are wearing masks at the nearly empty office. I’ve seen people in their cars wearing masks. People are just people.


James and Harry playing tennis.

10a 10b

Playing with the cameras portrait function. Edward in blue and Harry in white :)

Okay – let’s say that was that. There isn’t much more to tell. I’m definitely still well taken care of by the Savagar’s. It is such a kind and open family. I really like the harmony in the family and how Cassie and James ensures that the boys keep an active life. And I believe we have a new Saga record now? I cannot remember that I at any point within the Saga have stayed with a family for such a long duration of time? I did stay with Zara in Lebanon for about an eternity. However that wasn’t a family so it was different. Oh Lebanon…how I miss you sometimes… Well – I guess only a few of you took the time to Google “gwei-lo”. Some of you might already have known the meaning. As I have crossed through nearly every country in the world I have found that nearly every place has a name for someone like me. I am Scandinavian which makes me European as well. And for centuries Europeans put their mark on this planet. As such “oburoni”, "mzungu", “laowai”, “bule”, “Gaijin”, “Kaivalagi” etc. are all words which ring clear when a foreigner arrives. In Hong Kong someone who looks like me would be called a “gwei-lo” which literally means "ghostly man". It is a well-known term among expats but I can’t say that I have ever heard it in use. I figure that people are simply too polite to say it to my face. My very bearded face these days. So bearded in fact that I now frequently receive compliments from people on the street. So - if things had gone our way then I would have borded the good ship "Maersk Garonne" on February 20th which would have reached Auckland today (Friday March 6th). But that is obviously not how it went. Motivation is a funny thing. Sometimes I'm motivated by what I do for the Red Cross. Sometimes I'm motivated by promoting every country. Sometimes I am motivated by the adventure of it all. Sometimes I am motivated by the end goal. Sometimes I am motivated by all of you. But sometimes I am not motivated by any of that. Sometimes I have no idea why I do not just pack up and go home? recently I have been wondering if the answer is simply that I have found a way to tap into pure determination. Whatelse could it be?

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


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