The end of an era – the start of a new (more Hong Kong)
Day 2,457 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 which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Time flows in one direction
Another week has passed. I checked out of the five star luxury of the Cordis, Salomon featured the Saga across social media, Andrew joined me for more hiking, we had a distant look at China, James made it to the FCC, every day stuff, a Saga presentation at Anglo-Eastern, Chinese Junks, getting injured, getting old and moving.
Luxury is not an unknown commodity within the Saga. That is noteworthy as the project budget is a mere $20 USD per day covering transportation, visas, meals and accommodation. Misery is however also not an unknown commodity within the Saga. In between you find everything which “just is”. And much in life “just is”. I have slept on the street about five times within the Saga. Once where I suspect I contracted the cerebral malaria I later on suffered under in Ghana. I may have stayed at five star hotels about twenty times since 2013. Always on an invitation and I have never been invoiced for it. I have also had the pleasure of staying in luxurious apartments and I have likewise been dining fine restaurants around the world. It is not uncommon within the Saga but it is far from the norm. Street food and youth hostel dorm rooms remain the norm. So how does a man who has been living out of a duffel bag for nearly seven years manage luxury on a humble budget? Well, my answer to that would be a rather philosophical one as I would simply say: “apparently it is not money, but who we are, which decides where we go in life”.
Intimate wine tasting at Ming Cellar. Served by Edwin, assistant sommelier at Cordis.
It was really nice to see a global player such as Salomon share content about myself and Once Upon A Saga across all their social media platforms. Salomon became a project partner last year and have equipped me with shoes, pants and socks. In addition to that Salomon also sent me a care package with trail running gear for the challenges I have taken upon myself here in Hong Kong. Salomon supplies elite athletes with equipment and I fall far from that category. Well at least physically. Because amazing athletes such as Courtney Dauwalter, Killian Jornet, Mira Rai, Cody Townsend and the legendary Mike Douglas would all run circles around me. And those legends do not even cover the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Salomon affiliations. No…I fall short physically…however I may be considered a “mental athlete within my own category”. And whether they consider me as that or not I am simply happy to have Salomon support the Saga. You can read the article HERE.
Self therapy in the wild. Much better than getting drunk and starting bar fights (trekking with Andrew).
There is much which I love about Hong Kong. The most foremost thing has however got to be opportunity. Because I would have had very little of that stuck on board a ship or small island in the Pacific. Hong Kong is for me a “little big place” which offers an unlimited amount of activity, adventure and opportunity. It has been a privilege to have all the collaborations with schools, institutions, organizations and companies. It has been amazing to discover Hong Kong’s green side which as we all know by now turns out to be far greater than the urban. Oh to heck with it…no harm in mentioning it once more: Hong Kong is 75% nature and 25% urban area. Restaurants, cafes, museums, architecture, colorful neighborhoods, beaches, waterfalls, marinas, sports, gambling…oh boy they like gambling! With 7.5 million beating hearts stacked on top of each other you are highly unlikely to run out of new faces anytime soon. And people are what make a place unique and likable.
Andrew navigating our route (believe it or not he is on the path).
Andrew (Chicago) and I headed out on yet another trail last weekend and it turned out to be a navigational challenge. On a trail like the one we headed out on I have an easier time understanding why some people get lost and find themselves in need of rescue. We managed though. It was the lesser known Yin Ngam & Chau Ma Kong hike which likely hasn’t been maintained this year. In my pursuit of making it to the twenty highest peaks in Hong Kong, Andrew and I ticked off Chau Ma Kong last Sunday. It is 588m (1,929ft) and boasts a view across the border to Mainland China. I have been fortunate with hiking company in Hong Kong. But then again I suppose there are many people to pick from as Hong Kong is full of hiking enthusiasts. Towards the end of the hike Andrew spotted a large Chinese Cobra just ahead of me. In my experience snakes will do whatever they can to get away from humans. This cobra was also on the run and soon disappeared underneath a fence into the forest. I suppose a snake in the wild would scare me up close…however at a distance it just fascinates me. While a bite can turn really nasty there is some comfort to be found in that nobody in Hong Kong has died from a snakebite in over twenty years.
The buildings you can see in the horizon are part of Shenzhen in China.
Being able to pass through the doors of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), next to the members only sign, continues to be a great privilege to me. The legendary journalist club is often an oasis in the time of need. I really like the staff at FCC who help make it a special place and I now have more than a handful friends. The club also serves me well as a meeting point as I am allowed one guest inside. James and I met in North Korea (which is a sentence I try to mention as often as possible). He’s British and he is a real history buff so naturally James enjoyed the historical surroundings of the century old building as well as the club itself. James fell in love with Hong Kong a while ago and deals in real-estate. We’ve met a few times while I have been here but not nearly enough. My workload was for a while immense but I now observe it come back down to a manageable level. I also found myself “socially tired” and tried to avoid any new faces for a while. That culminated with the much sought for stay at the Ritz-Carlton and the Cordis Hotel. I now feel a little better on that front but I’m still not big on all too much socializing. And I prefer meeting up with people I already know.
James Kettel (whom I met in North Korea).
Speaking events are however the exception to the rule. I’m pretty much always up for those! It was therefore also a great pleasure to pay Anglo-Eastern a visit. I already had the pleasure of meeting their CEO Bjorn Hojgaard a few times as he is another Danish Viking from the High North of Europe. Anglo-Eastern is a leading global provider of ship management services, who have been working with ship-owners and clients for more than forty years. As such they engage in all areas of ship management, crew management and technical services for all types and sizes of ships. Bjorn is furthermore the Chairman for Hong Kong Ship-owners Association. Bjorn’s assistant (Cammy) set it all up and on arrival to the office at Kowloon Bay I was greeted by both Cammy and Bjorn. Anglo-Eastern recently moved into their new office in Kingston International Centre and it is IMPRESSIVE! I have seen hundreds of offices within my lifetime but this one probably took the prize. They are located on three different floors and the environment was really pleasant.
The "proper photo" with Anglo-Eastern's senior management team.
Bjorn had invited his senior management to come and listen to me and they were pretty much all former Captains and Chief Engineers. Needless to say they took very little interest in my time spent on board ships. They did however pose some super solid questions. For about 90 minutes I spoke about the world as seen through the lens of Once Upon A Saga and I shared my experience of setting a hard to reach target and never giving up on it. For 6.7 years and through 194 countries we always managed to find a solution. We got every visa, crossed every border, passed every checkpoint and found voyage on every ship needed to get this far. Hong Kong long ago overtook Lebanon as the longest stay in one location within the Saga. For more than 150 days we have been stranded here due to the merciless grip of COVID-19. However it has not yet derailed the Saga and so far we are still fighting to keep on keeping on. Needless to say it was a great pleasure to speak at Anglo-Eastern and who knows…with such an audience there may yet be hope for a solution to get us out of here.
The "freestyle photo" with Anglo-Eastern's senior management team. Always my favorite of the two :)
What the heck is a Chinese Junk? Historically they were a type of Chinese sailing ships developed under the Song Dynasty (1,000 years ago). The term “junk” was used in the colonial period to refer to any large to midsize ship. The origin of the word is debated but may originate from China or Java. Todays “Chinese Junk” trips do not take place on traditional ships but more so on modern luxury motor boats. The term “Chinese Junk trip” has therefore become generic and simply means heading out to sea on a boat to have fun. Many have told me that now that I have experienced it I can officially consider myself a Hongkonger. It was Belinda who invited me a month ago for her birthday party – however typhoon warnings had out “Junk trip” postponed again and again. We finally managed it but the honor had sort of shifted to Belinda’s friend Irene whose birthday was now closer. Regardless we all met up and headed out to a cove in Sai Kung. We were about ten people and I only knew Belinda. However everyone was super friendly and it ended up being a really nice day. The overall concept is that the “junk” is hired for six hours which include food and fuel. We also had a speedboat on tow which was used for water-sports once the “junk” was anchored. The “junk” also came with a lot of inflatable accessories like a water-slide, a huge bathing ring and some water sports games I wouldn’t know the name of. Good fun in any case. Some Chine Junk trips are booze cruises and others are family events. Ours was a bit of a mix. I steered clear of any alcohol and generally consider myself on a bit of a break. I’ve never had a time of my life where I drank too much or consistently but I also generally don’t attach drinking to good times. On occasion a glass of red wine, a beer with a friend or some whisky is fine. However there needs to be balance.
Towing the speedboat and leaving the rain behind.
Group photo :)
Casual group photo :)
The speedboat was used for wake-boarding, which for those who do not know, is a water sport that involves strapping something similar to a snowboard to your feet and getting towed behind the boat. I was encouraged to try and went out with the speedboat in the afternoon. I know how to ski and I used to have a handle on snowboarding. I have also tried water-skiing which I found easy. However I had no talent for wake-boarding! I got in position, the speedboat began dragging me. The pressure increased on my legs and arms, water was spraying everywhere, chaos, and then the force grew so big that I had to let go. Then I was ready for my second try?! Same story…on my third attempt I was contemplating that I perhaps had to hold on for a little longer? So I had a really tight grip as I accelerated into even more chaos and ended up getting dragged head first with the board pulling be backwards until I had to let go. It was all over really fast put that third attempt stretched something in my right forearm and rendered my fingers with little energy to hold on to anything. I wanted to get out of the water but the others in the speedboat cheered that I should give it a third go so I did…more saltwater chaos and no progress. I got back in the speedboat and my forearm felt really weird. It was pulling all the way up to my shoulder. Fortunately Novella was on board and she knows Traditional Chinese Medicine. Novella offered me a massage and that actually helped a lot but didn’t fix it. I had another three massages which included pushing pressure points on my stomach. Interesting stuff…
Novella easing my pain. Thanks.
The “junk” returned to Sai Kung pier around 4pm and we all said farewell. I headed to the bus and soon found myself back at the Savagar’s house. The Savagar’s: my hosts for five months in Hong Kong. I was alone at home. Arlene (domestic helper) had the day off as it was a holiday. James, Cassie and their two boys were on a camping trip. This was my last day in their house. The night before we had our last meal together and enjoyed some ice-cream for dessert. Leaving the Savagar’s house marks the end of an era. Can you believe it has been five months already? When we brought the Saga to Hong Kong we were supposed to connect with another ship to Palau after only four days. Back then the kind Savagar family offered me to stay in their guest room for a few days. That became a month, then two and soon five. What an amazing testament to the Saga’s motto: a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. However five months as a guest in someone’s home is a long time and it has become time to find another solution as COVID-19 continues to keep a firm grip on our pale blue planet. I am astonished that a family I had never before met ended up hosting me for as much as five months. In some ways it resembles the timeline of the Saga. The Saga was supposed to take no longer than four years to complete however that was adjusted to 4.5 years, then 5 years, then 5.3 years and now possibly 7.5 or 8. The Savagar’s hosted me for a while, then a while longer and then even longer. Amazing! However as it currently seems that I’m stuck in Hong Kong for perhaps several more months to come it was only fair for everyone to seek out a new solution. It is reasonable that the Savagar’s get their home back and I also long for more personal freedom. Besides…for five months now I have occupied the guestroom which usually falls to Arlene (domestic helper). So for the past five months Arlene has had to sleep on the floor in the home office. Arlene has been super sweet and understanding about all of this and I’m sure she didn’t mind sleeping on a madras on the floor – I know I wouldn’t mind that. However Arlene also deserves her private space back. In short one could say that if we knew I was going to be stuck for months when I arrived, then we probably would have sought out another solution straight from the beginning. However the way things unfolded it just grew to five months. You do not spend that long with a family without getting closely attached. I am absolutely grateful to the Savagar’s and the extraordinary hospitality they have provided. Besides…we’ll continue to see each other on a casual basis.
My home the past five months. Many blogs have been created at that desk.
My new home is an apartment/house in Fo Tan. I get my own space for a month and if I’m still stuck in Hong Kong by August (which I probably am) then there is already a plan for that as well. All of this has come into play though the kindness of the Danish community here in Hong Kong. It is estimated that somewhere between 300-400 Danes live here and I have met around twenty of them (which seems like a lot). We tend to look out for each other and that has also been the case here. On February 3rd I was invited to make a presentation of the Saga at the Danish Seaman’s Church. That was organized by the Danish Chamber of Commerce (DCC). It was one of the very rare presentations I have made for an almost entirely Danish audience. Within that audience I met Ole (and his son Seb), Thomas, Svend and his wife Ophelia. Little did I know back then how instrumental they would all become to my stay here. Ole introduced me to his friend Jakob last month. You may remember Jakob from the insane step challenge. And Jakob, who wanted to help me find a place to stay in Hong Kong, suggested Thomas’ rental apartment which would be available for a month starting July 1st. So far so good! They in fact worked something out so that I will not have to pay – however I have promised Jakob to speak at his office in Australia when we get that far. Deal! Having stayed at two five star hotels last week had a few people ask how I got away with that for free. My best answer is that it isn’t for free. I have paid with more than six years of my life, the results of my actions within that period and the way I conduct myself. And yet I am still very grateful. Thank you to all the Vikings!
Standing before my new temporary home.
I would like to round this entry up with a few words on aging. Because that wake-boarding adventure has left me with a serious lack of power in both forearms. Especially everything that has to do with using my fingers. I can do easy stuff like type away on my laptop or put on my clothes. But a simple task like opening a jar, pulling our a drawer or carrying a grocery bag becomes momentous. Moving between Sai Kung and Fo Tan meant that I had to pack everything down. And yesterday I wanted to pull my running shoes out of my backpack. The shoes were tightly packed into the bag so it demanded a little effort to pull them out. And I could hardly muster the power to do it. It seemed ridiculous as it was a relatively simple task. However I hardly had the power to make it happen. And then I thought…that will happen to me when I grow old. Someday that will be my permanent state. I will not be able to run fast or far. I will not be able to carry heavy things. I will be weak and get weaker. That really doesn’t sound like a lot of fun! The only light I see is that I would get to grow old with my fiancée and someday wife. She is a few years younger than me and hopefully will be able to open those jars.
P.S.: still no word from the Danish Red Cross after reaching out (four weeks now). And haven't heard from my contact all year. One wonders?
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - trying to keep it together
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga