The man behind the smile | Hong Kong day 87
Day 2,388 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).
Still making the best of it
You are unique! You are reading the blog and while the most popular blog has had 38,493 hits, an average one “only” gets around 5,000 over time. Meanwhile social media now counts over 60,000 accounts so you are special! And it is here that the true Saga shows its face.
I’m not going to wallow on my personal state again. Not much anyway. You likely already know that I hardly enjoy being caught within this tunnel of countries which I dedicated myself to in 2013. You probably already know that on a slow week I work around 30 hours and when it’s crazy I work more than a 100! Moving this project forward with everything it entails has been a demanding task. I’d say that while stuck in Hong Kong on day 87 we are probably close to 30 hours of work per week. I had to extend my visa as it will expire in a few days (90 days) but other than that I am currently not chasing visas or organizing logistics. Social media is however quite demanding the way I run it. I keep it updated and answer nearly everyone. But as the social media grows many will simply get a ‘like’ and rarely a comment. I still do a lot of research, a great deal of interviews, I network a lot and I try to stay physically fit. Salomon.com in France is trying their best to assist with a care package for my Lantau Trail (70km/43.5mi) in a day challenge! Brett from the Running Klub is on board and I think Dehua wants to give it a go too. If Leon joins in then the original “Hong Kong Trail team” is back in play! That was 50km (31mi) in a day across mountainous terrain. Why do I challenge myself like that? Why do I keep pushing? Well…I’m not sure. Just like I’m not sure why I fell into sadness again last Saturday? Basically an entire day of feeling sad and with a side dish of negative thoughts. I really needed to be alone. Unfortunately it was a very social day so I just had to toughen up and play along. My friend Mike in Canada once told me that my default setting is smiling. I recognize that as I can always put on a smile although it may not represent my inner state. Managing the Saga is a very stressful. Even moreso today as it is impossible to foresee how much time it will costs me. I know that it will take ten months to reach the final nine countries. That sounds ridiculous until you realize the great distance between the islands, the low frequency which ships pay them a visit, the speed of the vessels and the indirectness of the shipping routes. So ten months to go if the world went back to normal tomorrow…which it most definitely won’t.
I have rarely been drunk within the Saga. It's not my style. However I did treat myself to a Laphroaig.
So while I wouldn’t characterize most days as being “good” I certainly wasn’t as sad last Friday as I was the following day (Saturday). Sunday wasn’t a great day either but not nearly as bad as Saturday was. And Tuesday I was fine. That is the part which annoys me. The sadness isn’t regular sadness. I’ve flirted with depression several times before within this project. It’s like walking down a street where depression lies at the end of it. I cannot chose the direction but I have never reached the end of the street. So I find it insulting to people who are truly depressed if I were to call myself depressed. But I’ve been “near and down the street”. It’s truly an overwhelming sadness. And it would make sense given the situation I am in if not for one thing: it is not consistent. Why was I so sad last Saturday but not last Tuesday? I don’t know and that bothers me. Because I can’t address it without knowing. I’ve been speculating if my baseline may be a state of sadness which I can easily distract myself from? So I can enjoy a conversation and forget about it, work hard and forget about it, challenge myself and forget about it etc. If that is true then I am in trouble! Because how sad would it be to have sadness as the baseline? It doesn’t seem completely unlikely though as I often feel a degree of frustration, irritation or simple sadness. And that is all I have to say about that. Because once again I must ask myself: “who am I to elevate myself in this day and age when so many are experiencing tough times”.
I suspect the paint manufacturer needs a paint job...
On with the show! I have much to tell you but will try to do it as short and concise as I can. Let’s start with Otto in the UK! What a great guy! He is the founder of Lock Cowboy and when I took interest in learning how to pick a lock (my inner MacGyver spoke to me) then he simply sent me a beginners lock pick kit. And it turns out to be quite addictive. So I have been breaking in all over Hong Kong ever since. Nah...didn’t do that but it is addictive though. Sort of like a mash up of Sudoku and a Rubik’s cube. Once I mastered the see-through padlock which came with the set I picked up four regular padlocks which I’m now working on. Thanks Otto!
Great hobby. You'd be surprised! ;)
Then there was the most international quiz I’ve ever attended! Adam Hickman invited me to join 12 other experienced travelers for a zoom call. We were located on six continents and Adam had crafted some great questions in four categories plus a bonus round. My best category was no surprise ‘land borders’. I don’t think I did too well on the other categories. But well done Adam!
Well done Adam! :)
Svend (from the Danish Travelers Club (DBK)) and his wife Ophelia invited me to join the weekly family dinner in Wan Chai. I happy accepted because both Svend and Ophelia have been really kind to me but also because I really haven’t mingled a lot with Hong Kongers. I’ve simply mostly been invited by expats and largely Europeans. So it was a great opportunity to dip my head into a typical apartment and meet a local family. I met up with Svend and Ophelia at Star Ferry at Central Pier on Hong Kong Island and then we followed the promenade to Wan Chai. It was last Sunday so the streets and parks were full of domestic helpers as it was there day off. In 2019 there were 400,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong with Filipinos and Indonesians being the majority split almost 50/50. It was quite a site! And having been to both countries I wasn’t surprised to observe the joyful atmosphere among them. Singing, dancing, chatting, playing, sleeping, fooling about and having a good day.
I'm told that it can even get a lot busier than this around downtown on Sundays.
Once we reached the apartment I was introduced Ophelia’s parents (Pak and Bonnie), her brother and his wife (Harold and Elsa) and their children Harvey, Bethany and Melisa. Everyone was super nice and very accommodating. At one point Pak pointed towards some Chinese characters on the door and said: “do you know what that is?” It turned out to be a protection against COVID-19 made by a feng shui master. Not a protection against all evil or every decease. It was specifically against COVID-19. They explained to me that if you want good health then you go to see your doctor. If you want good luck then you see your feng shui master. As the evening progressed I was gradually also shown the protection against evil hanging on the balcony and the Chinese coins in the kitchen meant to attract wealth. There was a lot of laughter at the table and the food was outstanding!! Such a lovely evening.
Amazing people! Amazing food! Simply Hong Kong amazing! :)
This week also offered some really good news from a truly impressive immigration department. While immigration in some countries have announced that visas are automatically extended during the pandemic, the Hong Kong Immigration Department prefers that people come to the Immigration Tower. Hong Kong hardly has any COVID-19 cases and has handled the outbreak unbelievably well so there was no reason to stay away. I’m very impressed with Hong Kong Immigration Department!! My three month visa will expire on April 27th and I couldn’t risk a deportation on account of overstaying. There was plenty of staff in the tower and everyone was really kind and helpful. They took their precautions with temperature checks, hand sanitizer, masks and the staff wore gloves. I firsts headed up to the 5th floor to collect a form and spoke with a kind woman behind the counter. She sent me to the 3rd floor to make some copies. Then I had to go to the ground floor to catch the elevator to the 24th floor where I had a brief interview. My case is now being processed and I’m invited back for an extension interview on May 21st. Between now and then I’m permitted to stay so in JUST 20 MINUTES my visa was effectively extended by 30 days. Let’s hope the Saga continues long before. However it’s good to know that Hong Kong is so accommodating. And I can’t believe I was in and out of the building in just 20 minutes conspiring it included an interview on the 24th floor? Well played Hong Kong….well played.
Very impressed with the efficiency!
That same day I raced out to Disney Land on Lantau Island. For a while I’ve been wanting to share my crazy Disney story with you. It is so crazy that you are bound to smile just a little and it might even add a little light to your heart. It was actually a nice trip. The area around the theme park is kept super neat and offers a nice atmosphere. It was a nice evening in any case and there were very few people present. The birds were chirping, the sky was blue and there was a feeling of summer with an absolute perfect temperature. Well, the story I wanted to share with you got told and I uploaded it to YouTube where you can see it by clicking HERE. It is really a story which defines what kind of crazy I am ;)
There is much more I could tell you. However I think I’ll cut this entry short. I’ll just add a few more things before we close this entry. Social media has seen a sudden increase again. The CNN article ran yesterday and was a huge success. Kate really did a good job. It’s a funny thing. Because the Saga was also featured in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) not long ago as well as in ETV News (South Africa) which are both massive with a large reach. However most people kind of shrug their shoulders. I guess CNN is a different calibre. Almost everyone has heard about CNN. I haven’t had this kind of reaction to an interview since the VICE interview back in late 2016. When that came out the Saga also suddenly received a lot of attention. There was large influx of new followers and a wave of interviews following the VICE interview. Well – welcome everyone new. I’m happy you found the Saga. Since yesterday we have scheduled about ten other interviews with five of them being carried out today. It is nice but also a lot of work. The one Kate wrote for CNN really touched a lot of bases! It’s a solid read. Let’s see how the others will fair.
I filled in all the gaps with work.
Finally I can’t complete this entry without once more mentioning my host family. They are extraordinary. We are now approaching three months together and they haven’t booted me out yet. The boys are a lot of fun and the family synergy seems really high. They form a really lovely family. Cassie is quite the cook and James makes a mean chocolate dessert. As you may remember I now have a club in Hong Kong. I’ve already had so many lunch and dinner appointments at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) where I was given a guest membership a few weeks ago! It’s a ‘members only’ club but I can bring a guest. I REALLY love the place and the sense of belonging. The food is really good and inexpensive. I can’t wear my hat inside which I think is cool. I know my membership is only temporary so I’m trying to get the best out of it. In fact I have invited my host here in Hong Kong for lunch today. About time that I get to give something back :)
The food is always good at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.
So who’s the man behind the smile? Well…he’s driven, tired, smiles a lot on the outside, smiles less on the inside, he’s loyal, he’s ambitious, he’s a little crazy, he’s accomplished and he is not done! Let’s keep on keeping on people. This wouldn’t be Once Upon A Saga without all of you! :)
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - thankful for all the love!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga