How complex is the Saga? And: golf, Hakka + a birthday / Hong Kong
Day 2,752 since October 10th 2013: 194 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(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).
Maybe you know – maybe you don’t?
Every so often I feel I need to remind people that the Saga isn’t a holiday, a gap-year or anything of the sort. And I’m sure most of you “longtimers” are fully aware already. But nonetheless, here we go :)
Last Week’s entry: The Hong Kong “to do list” and normal life
The situation is very serious. We really don’t have a lot of options to move on to any new countries. While there are several countries around the world which are open to tourism or preparing to open up…Hong Kong isn’t in that category. And neither are several of our remaining countries. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. One country two systems. These days a lot of people focus on the ‘two systems’ element of it. The first part is however really important to remember: ‘one country’. Last year we were possibly at risk of seeing Once Upon A Saga come to an end through a potential deportation via the airport. Just one flight is all it would take to cancel this project. Before it came that far, we were able to solve the pending issue by getting a job and altering my personal immigration situation. While I consider Once Upon A Saga a “we project” it undeniably hinges on “me”. If I’m out of the game then the project and everything it entails is over. I now hold a Hong Kong ID-card and I am a temporary resident. And even after all of that I am still not able to travel into Mainland China. Think about that? It is not possible for me to apply for a visa. And it’s not even a different country. Just a different system. That is where we are at today. Covid-19 cases remain low in Hong Kong and starting next week anyone above the age of sixteen can sign up to get vaccinated. I hear that only 8-9% have been vaccinated in Hong Kong in spite of the government having secured more than enough vaccines for everyone. Anyway, Macau is also a SAR of China and only about 60km (37mi) from Hong Kong. The ferry service was suspended in February 2020 and still hasn’t resumed. The bridge/tunnel to Macau is also closed. Meanwhile Hong Kong Immigration and the local maritime authorities have decided that anyone who doesn’t hold a seaman book cannot embark on a working vessel for the time being. And it is not possible to obtain such a book without the proper training which I cannot get in Hong Kong. So, what are our options? Get on a sailboat?
Enjoying some freshly made noodles.
Well, looking apart from the fact that most of our remaining countries are as closed as Hong Kong, and yes – you have not been able to enter Hong Kong as a tourist for more than a year now, we are dealing with some incredible distances. So even if we managed to find a sailboat, and even if we managed to reach one of the remaining countries – then we wouldn’t get permission to enter. We would be stuck at sea. And the vast distances are a real issue. We would need to secure enough water and food for several months at sea. We would need to navigate monsoon-storms and typhoons. And never mind the fact that I have next to no experience with sailboats. You would think it was needless to say that this would be a risky alternative. But on and off I hear from people who are questioning why we do not secure a sailboat and head into the big blue. It would be a great adventure – yes for sure! Personally, I evaluate that the risk is way to high. Here are the distances by sea from Hong Kong to our remaining nine countries:
HK - Palau: 2,734km (1,699mi)
HK - Vanuatu: 7,110km (4,418mi)
HK - Tonga: 9,050km (5,623mi)
HK - Samoa: 8,969km (5,537mi)
HK - Tuvalu: 7,637km (4,745mi)
HK - New Zealand: 9,432km (5,861mi)
HK - Australia: 4,271km (2,654mi)
HK - Sri Lanka: 6,332km (3,935mi)
HK - The Maldives: 7,315km (4,545mi)
The average speed of a cruising sailboat is 4-6 knots (7.2-11.3 kph or 4.5-7 mph). So, a journey to e.g. Palau would take at least ten days under optimal conditions. Containerships are a lot faster though but call several ports along the way. And here’s a fun fact while we are at it: the longest distance ever swum without flippers in open sea is 225km (139.8mi) by Veljko Rogošić from Croatia. I know you guys…someone will suggest that I buy a pair of flippers ;) I have great trust in our partners and contacts. I am sure that when there is a way to get out of Hong Kong then we will know about it within the Saga. Another element in all of this is what happens if we reach a new country? Will we then just be stuck there for several months and is it worthwhile trading Hong Kong in for that? You know what you have but you don't know what you will get. Over the past plus 400 days we have built up something great here in Hong Kong. Why would we risk trading that in for something uncertain and possibly worse? Whichever countries will open their borders tomorrow will also be open in a few months. If not, then it was the right decision not to go for them. It is as simple as that. And I now finally have my wife by my side after nineteen months apart. Naturally it is a priority for us to spend some time together while we can. Why would I throw that away? I wouldn’t. We really don’t know what is about to happen next. New Zealand and Australia has recently opened up a travel bubble. It is a fragile thing. It may be closed by next week or stay open in perpetuity. Can you tell me which it will be? This time which we are all living through is highly unpredictable, which is a large part of the frustrations for many. Reportedly there are still 200,000 seafarers stuck at sea. Did you know that?
Once Upon A Saga has always been complicated. There is a huge discrepancy between ‘travel by any means’ and ‘flightless travel’. I’m in awe of many travellers. My friend Gunnar Garfors has been to every country twice! And he has a new book out right now! My friend Tony Giles has been to more than 130 countries, all seven continents, all fifty states in the USA and he is completely blind and 80% deaf without his hearing aids!! There are many more. I have been fortunate to meet many great travellers and I have been in touch with many more. I also love many of those past travellers who lived their lives long before I was born. Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Battut (Ibn Battuta) is my favourite. It is hard to say, but about 300 people (perhaps less) have been to every country in the world. While many of them did so through individual styles it can be said for all of them that they flew at one point or the other. Some of them hardly did anything but fly. Flying doesn’t always make it easy but you can be sure that it’s harder without the flights! Not always but often enough. My go to example is Iran. As a Dane I am offered a visa on arrival at four different Iranian airports. But the process of obtaining an Iranian visa for an overland crossing was slow and packed with red tape. When it comes to island nations it should be obvious to all that flightless travel becomes severely more complicated.
We dropped in on the Space Museum. Worth a visit.
The Saga has a few other rules apart from the nonflight element. We must observe more than twenty-four hours in each nation and we cannot return home until the final nation has been reached, or in the case that I quit. Quitting is always an option. Quitting is never an option. The twenty-four-hour rule has been such a headache at times!! Some visas were nearly impossible to obtain and you certainly need a visa if you are planning on spending more than twenty-four hours across the border. Without that rule you can just step over the border and back again for a highly technical visit. There are several countries which require that a visa must be obtained within the applicant’s resident country. That makes the ‘no return home until the end’ rule highly problematic. However, we have managed it so far. Once Upon A Saga is a highly successful project which over the years has brought me a great deal of personal pleasure as well as pain. How the heck do you get a visa in a foreign country when the authorities ruthlessly demand you need to be a resident?!? Well, on one occasion we “simply” became a resident! On another occasion we met with the ambassador and explained the project. There has always been a way. We have never paid a bribe. It’s often about being prepared, kind and humble. More often than not it’s also about being determined and openminded. If the “only” goal was to reach every country in an unbroken journey without flying, then that would already be a full-time job. But that, as you probably know, is not all Once Upon A Saga is about. Far from it.
Happy birthday Hanna!!! She turned half a century and Le and I were invited to join the celebration on Lamma Island. Those Swedes know how to party!! - responsibly of course ;)
This project has so often been carried forward by kind and supporting people of every shape and size. Why the heck would I care if you are blue, stripped, have crooked teeth, are overweight, look like an angel, pray to a God, have children, are unemployed, have won the lottery or are young or old? In my experience you are HUMAN and borders and rules are simply manmade. People are just people and those who give up in life usually never get what they want. I like Hong Kong and its Hongkongers. I have made some really good friends in Hong Kong and they will be dearly missed the day the Saga moves on. And the Saga will surely move on because we have not finished what we set out to do. But I assume we will be in Hong Kong at least until the end of May and perhaps a little longer. We have survived malaria, bureaucrats, terrifying checkpoints, storms and three of the ships we have travelled onboard are now at the bottom of the sea. A global pandemic is NOT going to be the end of the Saga. And with that we are now ready to move on to this weeks Hong Kong experience :)
Last Friday we went golfing!! Do I know how to golf? No not at all. Did we have fun? We sure did! It was Mardelaina of Learn x Travel who touched base with me after more than a year. Mardelaina and I met up for the first time back in February 2020 and went for a small hike together. We have since then stayed in touch and even bumped into each other in Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) which services more than 4 million people every day. Mindboggling how two people can randomly meet under such circumstances. Somehow it happens a lot more than you would think. Mardelaina is really nice and laughs a lot which I find to be a really good quality in people. Except if you laugh too much – then you might need a straightjacket ;)
There are six golf clubs in Hong Kong and ten golf courses. And while I have virtually no real golfing experience, I’m fairly sure that The Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course must have one of the worlds most gorgeous locations. It is out in Sai Kung and the views were just stunning! Mardelaina organized everything for wifey and I and the three of us met up at the pier in Sai Kung to take the ferry to Kau Sai Chau island. It was a crazy good offer!! For only HKD 165 (USD 21) we got to use the driving range, had dinner, and it included the ferry both ways. Mardelaina had tried before and knew a bit about technique while Le (wifey) and I just did our best to punish the golf balls. For a moment I thought I had it down and looked like a pro…but then I saw some video footage of my posture and immediately realized I have a lot of work ahead of me before signing up for the PGA.
Wifey punishing a golf ball!! Well done sweetie! :)
All in all, a fun afternoon and a new experience within Hong Kong. Man!! I really feel like I have seen and done a lot around here. It’s always nice to discover that there is more. Mardelaina is by the way a very well-travelled woman and has been to about forty countries. She blogs about her experiences and has also been to Tibet which is a really interesting read. It was good to catch up with her again.
Patrik and Phoebe.
Another fun encounter from this week was seeing Patrik and Phoebe again. I had not seen them for a while in spite of several efforts on both parts. It is truly ridiculous how many people I have been fortunate to meet in Hong Kong and it is often hard to keep up. What a luxury problem! Patrik is an insanely talented Hungarian photographer and filmmaker and Phoebe is a super kind teacher at a design school. They got married on one of Hong Kong’s trams which I used to think was an odd place given that Hong Kong has so much splendid nature. But I have really come to like the originality of the idea.
Lai Chi Wo village is a walled Hakka village.
Phoebe, Patrik, Le and I met up for an easy paced hike in the northeast New Territories of Hong Kong. Our target was to explore a Hakka village called Lai Chi Wo which has more than 300 years of history to boast from. To put that in perspective, Great Britain only acquired Hong Kong Island in 1842. The Handover to China took place in 1997. Hong Kong is packed with history and I have lately been wondering if the key to unlock a greater understanding of this place is like a treasure hunt for pieces to a grand puzzle. Such a piece within the puzzle could be paying a Hakka village a visit. I tried to do some research on what a Hakka village is but I got lost down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. There’s simply too much I don’t know and the overall subject quickly became too complex to grasp. But now I know more than before. In an oversimplified way I can briefly say that the Hakka are a Han Chinese subgroup. That already leads to research on the Han Chinese and what might distinguish the Hakka from any other subgroup? In any case I can tell you that I really value visiting such tiny villages within Hong Kong, which is mainly known for its spectacular skyline and tall concrete buildings. And which better way to explore the calmer side of Hong Kong, than to do it with friends.
That’s all folks! Perhaps except that I would like you to know that I appreciate you all and all the support. Once Upon A Saga is by far the most ambitious thing I have ever done with my life and I often find myself learning while doing. There’s a tremendous amount of repetition and experience too. I think we have finally got a handle on social media. More than 100,000 accounts are now connected to Saga social media and that is a lot of traffic!! As the numbers continue to grow, we can also observe that there are many new opinions to be heard. That is fine by me and everyone is welcome. I’m not trying to generate clickbait or sensational happenings. The Saga is not full of giveaways and travel tips. Once Upon A Saga is a real project with real people and I try to keep it honest. Sometimes some people suggest it gets too honest. Others will proclaim that it isn’t honest enough. We live in a confusing world with a lot of liberty for most. Personally, I find that this long grinding project has driven me tired and more apathetic. But I do see the good sides of life as well and I still care about some things – just not about everything. And for now, I am simply happy that I get to wake up next to my wife every morning. We haven’t really had a honeymoon and are looking forward to two nights at The Hari, a luxurious new hotel in Wan Chai, which is hosting us early next month. See you next week. Stay safe and sane.
Oh yeah...and these guys ;)
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - determined
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga