Luck, love and the Hong Kong police

Day 2,633 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). 

What a remarkable week


Within Once Upon A Saga things get done! The overall goal of reaching every country without flying is one thing. And that will hopefully get done. Yet, there are many side projects as well…

Last week’s entry: Hong Kong Viking Hiking, a #MaerskMoment and my new suit!

Did you know I haven’t had a meal at McDonalds since the Saga began? I do not have anything in particular against McDonalds. The overall idea when I left home was that I should do an effort to try the local cuisine within the countries I traveled through. For that reason, it seemed almost insulting to be eating McDonalds hamburgers and I completely avoided it. As the years ran by it kind of became a thing. Now seven years have past without a single McDonalds meal. It is almost a reversed side project as it involves not doing something. In 2013 the Danish Red Cross tasked me with writing an “always present story” for each national society and I started out by visiting the German Red Cross (first country after Denmark) where I wrote a story based on my encounter. Then the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland etc… at this point we can look back at encounters with 189 Red Cross or Red Crescent countries of the 194 countries we have reached. Two national societies were not accessible (Equatorial Guinea and Yemen) and three countries did not have a national society (Vatican, Oman and Nauru). It is a momentous side project which the Danish Red Cross, of which I am a goodwill ambassador of, still has not found a way to utilize. Maybe next year? Ah yes…side projects…the list is long. And the number of projects we have completed within Hong Kong is also not insignificant.


Wong Leng Shan, Hong Kong.

The first one was to reach the peak of Hong Kong’s highest mountain: Tai Mo Shan. That was a half day project and easily done. The next one became the 100km (62mi) MacLehose Trail which I completed over three days by camping along the way. With that I learned of the other three long-distance footpaths. The next goal became to complete all four: done. As the step challenges appeared, I set myself the goal of taking 500,000 steps within a week: done. Then I decided to visit both of Hong Kong’s amusement parks (Ocean Park and Disneyland): done. Within Disneyland I challenged myself to do every ride within a day: done. And most recently I completed the Sydney to Melbourne virtual challenge (1,000km (621mi) in under 100 days) as well as the side goal of getting on top of Hong Kong’s 20 highest peaks: done. Honoring my cousin who works at IKEA, I think I’ll challenge myself to eat Swedish meatballs at all four IKEA’s here in Hong Kong – within a day. Why not? And I’ll probably see if I can do the full length of the MacLehose Trail in less than 24 hours. The IKEA project will be more fun :)


A casual evening with Andrew (left) and Mark (right). Andrew has done every hiking trail in HK. Mark will next year become the first to row a boat through the North Western Passage. Good company.

Have you ever put any thought into how we achieve our goals here in life? Between reaching every country without flying and eating meatballs at IKEA there is a lot of room for more sensible stuff. It wasn’t long ago that twenty-five of us decided to raise money for the Danish Red Cross and aimed for DKK 30,000 (USD 4,924), however ended up raising DKK 68,805 (USD 11,292). The money raised was earmarked for humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable people in the world. A slightly more noble cause than so many others. You might want to finish an education, find a job, loose weight, read a book, save money, travel more, learn a language or something else? How are you going to reach your goal? I’d argue that we first need to come up with the idea, then we need to imagine how it can be obtained and finally we need to go out and get it done. For me, the true personal qualities within getting anything done are: determination and persistence. Make up your mind and stick with it until it is done! Outside factors count opportunity, luck, timing, network, strangers, resources etc. However, without determination and persistence the outside factors won’t get you to where you want to go. Stay strong and focused - and those Swedish meatballs will be yours ;)


At Wong Shen Peak. My final peak of Hong Kong's 20 highest. Total elevation gain: 14,368m (47,139ft).


Thank you Savagars! :)

Throughout the past seven years I have not made any posts related to my birthday as I generally do not celebrate it. My view on birthdays is rather sinister as I find it hard to see the accomplishment. Especially in the early years. It seems far more reasonable to celebrate accomplishments which people have worked hard for. However, for many years I have been looking forward to turning forty-two as the number holds a strong reference in Douglas Adams book: ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy’. And as I shared some posts across the Saga’s social media my birthday was received with a lot of love from all around the world. Thank you so much for all of your kindness and support :)


Once Upon A Saga Facebook - thanks for all the love :)


Once Upon A Saga Instagram - thanks for the love :)

The Savagars invited me to come and spend my birthday with them and cooked a delicious traditional Danish meal for me! It came complete with a lovely chocolate cake and birthday song! Harry (ten years old) even performed a traditional dragon dance for all of us while wearing a colorful mask. The Savagars hosted me for the first five months here in Hong Kong and within that period we got to celebrate the birthday of each and everyone within the household! We even joked that I would have to stay in Hong Kong for so long that it would eventually become my turn. It is no joke anymore. Let’s hope I don’t get to spend two birthdays here – even though this one was particularly lovely.


My Birthday dinner at the Savagars! :)

It has been a rather busy week with lots of administrative work and social engagements. Its always somewhat of a balance to pick what to share with you and what to leave out. Sometimes I feel like I’m leaving too much out but that is the nature of things. This week I have felt a lot of love from friends and family. It is amazing how we can connect through web calls regardless of where we are located. This week I also had to say farewell to Brett, Emma and little baby Grace as they left Hong Kong to start a new life in Czechia, Europe. Brett and Emma have had a lot of influence on my time in Hong Kong so I selfishly want them to stay. However, in the long run Czechia and Denmark is only about 800km (500mi) apart so once I return home (someday) I’ll be able to visit relatively easy and check out how Lasvit Tennis and The Running Klub are coming along. As they left, I got to greet others who returned. Pavel (Russia) came back to Hong Kong from Mainland China and is currently enjoying fourteen days of quarantine. Meanwhile Oi Yee (Hongkonger) aka Ophelia is back, and out of quarantine, having spent some time in Denmark. Ophelia’s husband Svend (Denmark), is chairman of the Danish Travelers Club (De Berejstes Klub). Ophelia (and Svend) have been really kind and helpful during my time in Hong Kong and it was a real pleasure to be able to meet up with her for a walk along Bowen Road Fitness Walking Track. The track runs along the hillside just above Wan Chai and offers a really unique perspective of a historical part of Hong Kong. Besides, its always good to see a friendly face.


2020: the year of the mask! Well, the year of the Metal Rat around here but - hey. Enjoying a day with the wonderful Ophelia :)

I also got to do another dance with the super-efficient Hong Kong Immigration. I have lost count of how many times I may have been to the Immigration Tower at this stage? I do however know that I have requested and received five extensions since we arrived on January 28th. On and off people will ask me why I am staying in Hong Kong for this long, not realizing that I have no other option if the Saga is to succeed. Even this far in it doesn’t seem to be clear to everyone which impact the pandemic is having on the world. This time I brought the “big guns” to my meeting with immigration. As such I had printed out the project description along with support letters and handed it all over along with my application. I was never asked a single question. I was told to come back a few hours later which I did. Still no questions. I was simply asked to proceed to another window where I was requested to pay HKD 230 (USD 30) and then my passport was handed back to me with the new extension: 30 days. The first three extensions were 60 days long, the last one was 45 days and this one was 30 days. I see where this is going. Fortunately, the application for my Hong Kong employment is going well and we hope to have it approved long before those 30 days are up, so that I can start working as an assistant at the Danish Seamen’s Church. And once that is approved my immigration status will change to resident and extensions will become a thing of the past.


How many of these photos have I done now?

This has indeed been a year of hiking for me. And fortunately, one without any serious injury. A few scratches now and again and some sunburn has been all. And I have truly had the pleasure of some great hiking company in all shapes and sizes. This week Poul K (Denmark) wanted to test his strength on the Hong Kong Trail which is the shortest of Hong Kong’s long-distance footpaths. It rings in at around 50km (31.07mi) across more or less 1,500m (5,000ft) of elevation gain. It’s not an easy trail to complete within a day, however it is a really good beginners’ route for anyone who wants to try an ultra-distance. The Hong Kong Trail became my first ultra-distance earlier this year together with Brett (Australia), Dehua (China) and Leon (Czechia). Poul and I set out from the trailhead at 06:14am while it was still dark. We were in good spirits and among other things discussed how long it would be before the sun would be up. I was walking a few steps ahead of Poul as we descended Victoria Peak. It was now twilight and all of a sudden, I heard Poul shout in pain followed by the statement: “it is sprained!”. Poul misstepped and was now lying on his back. It all went really fast. The hike had ended before it began. At least for Poul. There was a road 1.2km (0.75mi) from where we were, and with the adrenaline pumping through his body, Poul mustered the strength to limp down to the road from where a taxi could take him home.


Poul - still in high spirits...but on his way home for the day. 

Meanwhile a text message from Kenneth (Denmark) appeared asking if anyone was up for a hike? Poul replied to Kenneth that he could come out and replace him – and so he did. An hour later Kenneth arrived in a taxi which Poul then used to get back home. And off Kenneth and I went! We have since heard from Poul who is doing well although his right foot/leg is swollen and he won’t be dancing anytime soon.


Kenneth and I - probably talking about food :)

Kenneth had a specific strategy for his part of the hike. He was hoping to burn enough calories to be able to sit back and eat and drink without guilt during his upcoming Christmas meals. Brilliant! :) Unfortunately, Kenneth had plans for the afternoon so he could only join me halfway, which was still a solid 22km (13.7mi) for him and a festive Christmas feast could be enjoyed with a clean conscious. I really wanted to quit the trail and leave it for some other day. I didn’t though. I often believe in strengthening myself by doing things I do not want to do rather than taking the easy way out – so I pushed on and ended up running a considerable amount of the remaining trail to cut on time. At 4:36pm I reached trail marker number 100 symbolizing the end of my efforts. And thus, also the third time I completed the Hong Kong Trail. I was tired. And the following day I was really tired! The ordeal helped me burn over 4,000 calories – my Christmas appetite was secured :)


Merry Christmas from my siblings and I.

Christmas. It’s a big deal in Denmark where I come from. The religious aspect is in my experience mostly overlooked. In Denmark Christmas is generally about family, having a good time, upholding traditions, sharing good food - and both giving and receiving presents. Looking back over the last seven years Christmas has offered a variety of experiences. The first one (2013) was spent in Edinburgh, Scotland, after a bartender asked me if I wanted to join her? She was having a get-together for a variety of people who had nothing better to do. It was a nice evening with lots of strangers who became friends. In 2014 we had reached Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis, and I spent Christmas alone. In 2015 I was on a boat between São Tomé & Príncipe and Cameroon. We had a Christmas feast and I remember ending the night drinking gin with Christoph (German) and watching an animated cartoon. The following year was in Harar, Ethiopia, and I had a meal alone before exploring the ancient city center and handfeeding hyenas at night. Christmas 2017 was in Beirut, Lebanon, where I was alone, had macaroni & cheese, and watched the Count of Monte Cristo. On December 24th 2018 the Saga had reached Islamabad, Pakistan, and I had a lovely Christmas evening with Bente (Denmark) who back then worked for the Danish Embassy in Pakistan. Last year (2019) I spent Christmas at sea with the brave crew onboard the good ship MV Kota Hakim somewhere in the Northern Pacific. And this year was spent together with the Andersen Clan in Wong Chuk Yeung here in Hong Kong. It was a lovely evening with good food, music, games, conversation and a little bit of red wine ;)


The Andersen Clan Christmas Tree 2020.

My final story will be about the Hong Kong Police Force. They have been a hot topic for many. Keep in mind that I arrived to Hong Kong in late January 2020 after all the demonstrations of 2019 had made their headlines. Time and time again I have heard people tell me that prior to the demonstrations, the Hong Kong Police Force enjoyed a very hard-earned reputation as one of the world’s best police forces. Unfortunately, as one could imagine, when large masses of people take to the streets and the police is commanded to uphold law and order…well, there were some violent clashes between civilians and the police. And even today I hear many who have less favorable opinions about Hong Kong Police. Throughout 2020 I have observed the police in action several times. I have e.g. seen them attend to traffic accidents and quietly patrol metro stations. And here’s a really good story about how they recently helped me! Because after completing the final one of Hong Kong’s twenty highest peaks I came down the mountain really exhausted!! And the bus I was waiting for never arrived. I flagged down a taxi to the nearest metro station and got on the MTR. While on the train I noticed my phone was nowhere to be found!! All my photos, video, all social media, all my emails, all my contacts, google maps, currency converter, online banking, my calendar, appointments, music, what time it was, credit cards and a lot more: MY LIFE!!! Gone! My head was spinning?! Where was it? In the taxi? Could I get it back? What if I couldn’t get it back? How much could I restore on a new phone? How much was lost? How could this happen? I got off at the first station, waited for the next train and headed back. I had lost fifteen minutes…maybe more! I ran to the taxi rank frantically looking for the taxi I had arrived in. They all looked the same and nobody appeared to recognize me!! Oh no?


I saw some security personnel at the station and asked them for help. They guided me to the police who immediately took action. Their first question of course was: “what is your number?” Like another idiot I had no idea. I would be exaggerating if I said I knew a handful of phone numbers between all the people I know. After a brief conversation the police invited me inside their office. There were three of them. They coordinated their efforts and eventually got a hold of the taxi drivers consul. Meanwhile I borrowed a phone off one of the policemen to access the internet as I knew where I could find my number online. Suddenly the senior policeman smiled and said they had found my phone!! Relief!! Two of the policemen then escorted me to the taxi rank where we waited for the driver to return. Meanwhile I had some small talk with the youngest of the policemen who had two young children. He probably had brothers and sisters as well? For a second I pondered on how complex the world is, as a policeman can be instructed to uphold order in a massive crowd, in which a family member could be standing advocating for a cause. We all have family, friends and lives. People are just people. The taxi driver arrived and we walked over to retrieve my phone. I have had so many good experiences with taxi drivers in Hong Kong! The driver handed it over with a smile. I thanked him many times and turned to thank the policemen. The youngest policeman looked at me and said with authority in his voice: “be more careful with your things”. Indeed. That story took place on December 18th. The following day was my birthday and the first message I received from anyone was from the policeman: “happy birthday man” :)

That concludes this entry. And the last one of 2020. Next Friday will be January 1st 2021. I’m so happy that this entry can end on a high note in spite of a year which has been anything but uplifting for so many of us. Looking back at this year, and in particularly the last week, I can once again use these familiar words: a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. Merry Christmas and I hope you will have a happy New Year. I feel like we all deserve one.




I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop


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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - people are just people (thankfully)

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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