Hong Kong was ahead of the “game”
Day 2,402 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).
Hindsight is easy…
And we just keep on keeping on.
Why did Hong Kong do so well in our current virus outbreak? Well the answers are multiple and debatable. The results are not. Hong Kong has perhaps managed COVID-19 better than anywhere else on earth. I believe the core of it goes back to the SARS outbreak in 2003. For most of the world it was just a news story but in Hong Kong it was frightening. People were dying fast! The enemy was invisible and merciless. When would it stop? Was it going to kill millions? The numbers rose quickly. Fortunately it only cost Hong Kong 299 lives. Looking back that is nothing out of a 7.5 million population but when you’re in it and don’t know when it will end it is terrifying. After 2003 Hong Kong implemented several initiatives which became a normal part of society all the way up to today. Those initiatives certainly helped ward off COVID-19. Here are some of them:
Temperature checks became mandatory at the airport. By doing so the authorities could catch a potential spread at the gate.
In restaurant one set of chopsticks was increased to two. Traditionally people would use one set to take food from the bowl to the plate. And then eat the delicious food. Post SARS one set has been used to transport food to the plate and second set to transport it from the plate to the mouth. I’ve found the sets to be in two different colours in order of avoiding any confusion.
Elevator buttons were covered with a plastic film which could easily be wiped clean. And following that sanitation increased several times a day. This limited spread of germs.
Day by day the streets are filling up in Hong Kong.
Masks. Oh yes masks. I’ve been quite vigilant in my opinion that they are mostly useless in everyday use among the common population. Masks are obviously an essential part of a larger PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for educated professional healthcare workers etc. but for everyone else? Well...we once thought that our planet was the centre of the universe and it took some convincing to explain that it was actually the sun and only as a small part of our galaxy which is just a small part of our universe. In recent light masks may be more useful than previously thought. I’m no expert and rely on proper expert opinion to form my own opinion. I’ve been following the guidance of the CDC, WHO, the Red Cross Red Crescent, leading epidemiologists and virologists. When I observed that the CDC suddenly announced that US citizens should cover their faces with homemade masks but not with actual masks I scratched the back of my head? Why was the CDC stating as such and not the WHO? Why did they suddenly change their course? Where there any new findings? Was it political? Was it something else? The Hongkongers were never in doubt. They began social distancing and wearing masks back in January 2020 and it was in unison. In Hong Kong it seemed that everyone just believed that mask-wearing was the thing to do. I’m still not sure about what I believe. There is much false correlation in the world and as such the positive results in Hong Kong are not necessary due to the masks. However maybe it has played a larger role than what I believe? I’m no expert as stated earlier. I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me that we have learned a lot about how droplets transfer in conversations compared to what we knew five months ago. So maybe given new scientific data the masks play a large part of Hong Kong’s success? I’m open to change my mind. I do need some more proof though. One thing is for sure: I’m wearing a mask now whenever I move about in public. Mostly because I don’t want a negative confrontation. I’m unlikely to have one in Hong Kong though because after observing people here for months I couldn’t imagine such aggression against this bearded gweilo.
Last weekend Belinda invited me to join her for some dim sum and a hike! :)
There were also some immediate initiatives taken by government from very early on. Schools were closed, many began working from home, museums closed, amusement parks closed and there were several other early initiatives. While people are just people all over the world and most of us live similar lives regarding pleasure, mood, values and interests we do not live in the same social systems. I think a large part of Hong Kong’s success is also due to authoritarian conformity. It’s a lot easier to be a free individual in e.g. Scandinavia or the USA that it is in China or Hong Kong. While not true in all regards is just a lot simpler to follow government guidelines in Hong Kong than in the USA. It would take a lot more writing and explaining to fully express what I mean but I gather that most of you would agree that it’s simply far more likely to find Americans disobeying social distancing and lockdown than it would be to see it in Hong Kong. Or mainland China for that sake. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is not equally distributed across the world. Neither is the pursuit of opportunity or an individual level. What a debate we could start here but that’s not my point. My point is that if you want to stop the spread of a virus in society then you need everyone to take part. And that kind of systemic unison exists in Hong Kong so they take that point as well when it comes to combating COVID-19.
It became my first dim sum in Hong Kong!
There hasn’t been a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 in Hong Kong for more than two weeks. It could just be the virus is contained and that we now are wearing masks for no reason at all? But who wants to make that decision and declaim that everything can go back to normal? Hong Kong is however opening up now. May 8th was the date. Actually May 7th at midnight. The date where everyone could once again enjoy a massage parlour, go to the cinema, parks reopened, BBQ sites reopened, camping sites reopened and gatherings of people went from maximum four people to eight. Schools are announced to open gradually and many offices are again filling up with employees. However I found a new notice at the nearest park which read that the date had been postponed to May 20th. So let’s see.
"Rise up against the odds"
May 7th also marked 100 days in Hong Kong for me. It’s obvious that I would have gotten stuck somewhere given the turn of events. Hong Kong turned out to be the best place. I could easily have ended up on a small pacific island which sounds good for a few weeks but not for 100 days. Or on board a ship being confined even more. What Hong Kong has offered me is freedom and opportunity. Hong Kong was never on lockdown and I was always free to move about. Hong Kong is full of hiking trails, cool neighbourhoods and interesting sites. So when time has allowed for it I had the opportunity. Internet connection is good in Hong Kong and inexpensive. Even free a lot of places public transportation works really well and is inexpensive. People have been kind but that is not unique to Hong Kong. It’s a bonus though. The greatest bonus of all has however been the Savagar’s who took me in to their home and extended their hospitality beyond three months and counting. In two days Hong Kong will hold the Saga’s record for longest stay anywhere in the world. The previous holder was Lebanon with 102 days. It’s still a hundred days of delay though. A very long delay in a project I have wanted to escape since late 2015. While I suck at social media and come nowhere close to portraying the inner workings of this project I believe that those of you who know me or read the blog are fully aware that I invest a lot of time in Once Upon A Saga. From my career within shipping and logistics I have often worked 80 hours a week but the Saga takes the prize. I’ve never before worked this hard in my life and I’m not always sure that the results show. Here in life there is working hard and working smart. I do not always fully master the last. But I am trying my best and my father taught me that nobody can ask for anything more than that. I love my parents. I love my family. I love my fiancée.
When the Savagar's returned from their staycation they brought gifts! :)
Video calls have been plenty full for me here in Hong Kong. I’m more than 6.5 years out of my home country in a project which is long overdue. I have so many wonderful memories and new friends because of the Saga and I have no regrets in embarking on this all-consuming adventure. I understand why people can’t comprehend why it would be so difficult to reach every country without flying. Most people have travelled to some extent and the Saga is essentially that times X. I was surprised too. I was 100% sure that this journey could be completed in far less time. Looking back I still think it could have. However it would have been a much lesser project. I get really defensive if someone says they have done something similar because nobody has. I’m damaged by the Saga. Most would say that I have nothing to defend. I’m accomplished as it is. Yet when someone confuses me for being a tourist I get really defensive. “Relax Thor. Try to enjoy it!” Yeah I know...it’s just not that easy...
I frequent the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) every chance I get. Andrew (Malvern College) joined me for dinner and by chance his cousins photos were on display.
More than six years ago I set out to reach every country in the world without flying and promised not to return home until it was accomplished or if I quit. In the beginning it felt like 80% adventure and 20% work. Over the years it changed to 20% adventure and 80% work. Today it feels like travel has become a side effect of a much larger project. Much of what I do feels like pure obligation and I long for returning home. I have reached 194 of the targeted 203 countries listed within this project. I am only nine countries from completing and from returning home. People look at me and envy my freedom. I look around and see the walls of my prison. Perspective is reality.
I met up with Peter (right) again as he wanted to introduce me to Patrik (left). We had a nice chat on the roof of Feather & Bone. Good people.
The good stuff is however as always present too. It is a roller-coaster of emotions. For now I am focused on the next big and perhaps crazy challenge: The Lantau Trail!! It is a highly challenging 70km (43.5mi) trail across Lantau Island and it holds a total elevation gain of around 4,500m (14,764ft). Brett from The Running Klub and I will meet up on Sunday at 10pm so that we can walk throughout the night. We expect that it will take us 17-20 hours. Especially as there will be no aid stations and we will basically need to carry what we need. We also plan to run the flat bits and some of the down hill areas. I have been training a lot but I’m still nervous. I’m also excited. It will really be an adventure!! I’m sure Brett can pull through. Brett has been a coach for more than ten years and once ran across most of Australia in an extreme ultra! Besides I have received a care package from our friends at Salomon. Bruno and Adrian send their love (which is no small thing when it comes from France)! :) I have received trail shoes, a trail running backpack, water pouches, a running tee and a cap. So as I have jokingly been saying for a few days now: If I do not complete then it will not be due to the lack of equipment! ;) Dehua and Leon were initially planning to join but the set day eventually collided with their plans. It would have been nice to set out with the same team as when we completed the Hong Kong Trail together. Let’s see if they join in for a part of the trail on Sunday. Temperatures will be around 30C (85F) with a humidity of about 85%.
Oh yeah! It is definitely #TimeToPlay ;)
Everybody wants to know when the Saga can continue? Nobody knows anything. We are all in that together. We simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I was sure that all of April had Hong Kong written all over it – and I was right. I think it’s likely that all of May will go the same way. However I have a hope for May which I did not have for April. There is a chance that something will ease up and the Saga moves this month. It is not where I would place my bet but it is not impossible. I have been fortunate to meet up with both Tim Huxley of Mandarin Shipping and Bjorn Hojgaard of Anglo Eastern. Both men hold significant insight into the shipping industry and also land on a “maybe” for May. However who has that magic crystal ball? Nobody knows which way the wind will blow.
Harry's (9y) spectacular drawing which was on my door when I returned late at night! :)
Edward's (11y) ingenious drawing which I found on my bed the same night. Pay attention to the disconnection between Hong Kong and Palau! :)
My days have been busy to the degree where it has been a little too much. I have not had enough “me time” and it is in part my own fault as I have hardly said no to anything. The calendar has been full and the same goes for my head. And as I was going to upload this entry my laptop failed and kept lagging for several hours as I restarted it over, and over, and over again. Is there anything worse that spending excessive time on something which doesn’t require it? I visually saw myself grab the laptop and smash it into the wall over and over again!! Darn it that kind of stuff is frustrating. It’s already 2020. Where are all the flying cars and the perfect IT? Anyway…I got it working late in the afternoon. And on a final note I just want to let you know that lately I have had more good days than bad ones which is a good thing. And while this is May 8th I’ll also wish you all a happy Red Cross Day.
If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga needs funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 2,402 days out of my country.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga