500 DAYS IN HONG KONG – Pandemicly stuck and determined
Day 2,801 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).
The world is rarely what it seems to be
In this one we will not only look back at the past week, but also take a look at the pandemic as it unfolded and touch upon a few learnings from the world
Last week’s entry: EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!! – Hong Kong
Four days have now turned into five hundred. If that is not a tribute to persistence and dedication then I don’t know what! Once Upon A Saga is not really about reaching every country in the world. It is really about setting yourself a goal and reaching it. I find that this reality is often lost on people. And why wouldn’t it be. “This man is traveling to every country without flying!” That sounds brilliant!! In reality it has been a lot of work, it has demanded a lot of will power, it has come at a great deal of sacrifice, there have been many clever solutions and it has above all been a group effort. The “journey” part of it all stopped being fun many years ago but that is not to say that there have not been many good moments since then. It should not be news to anyone that I have been wanting to go home since 2015 but the lure of swift progress and a successful completion has had me claw my way this far. And here we are, nine countries from completing a highly ambitious project. Looking back toward January 28th 2020 we have come no further – not logistically that is.
On January 28th 2020 I disembarked the good ship “Kota Hening” and was brought ashore by Pacific International Lines agent Keith Leung. After visiting Hong Kong Immigration, he drove me out to Sai Kung where the Savagar family lives. That was the first time I experienced how green and mountainous Hong Kong really is. In fact, I thought Keith had driven me across the border to Mainland China because how could all the mountains and forests possibly be Hong Kong? When I boarded the good ship there was no talk about any virus outbreaks and I had no idea where Wuhan was. When the ship reached Hong Kong the captain told me to put a mask on. Once in Sai Kung I began to learn more about the possible origins of a new virus which was creating havoc in a city some 1,000km (620mi) from Hong Kong. How could that possibly ever come to affect me? But the outbreak spread and Palau closed its borders to Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China. The celebrations of Chinese New Year were cancelled. Soon the numbers rose rapidly in South Korea. Then in Singapore. People began hoarding toilet paper as the western world looked on and laughed at or with us. It did not take long before parts of Italy were ravaged by the pandemic and soon spread across the globe. We had a head start on the pandemic which had not been announced yet. Now we were laughing at or with the western world as they hoarded toilet paper.
Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. Everyone is wearing a mask.
Hong Kong had dealt with SARS in the beginning of the new millennia. There was an overall theory that the new virus would go away as the temperatures rose because that had seemed to be the case with SARS a few decades earlier. I figured it would take a few months before we would be back on the move. But the virus did not go away as temperatures went up. The mask debate began: wear a mask or don’t wear a mask? That debate is still going now 18 months down the line. WHO declared it a pandemic. The virus was named. Information, misinformation, disinformation… Vaccines were developed. Greed took over. Temperature checks and hand sanitizers have long since become the norm for us in Hong Kong. Earlier today I created a poll on Twitter asking whether or not people thought that the pandemic would soon be over and that life would return to some sense of normal? The poll split nearly down the middle. Vietnam is now struggling! Apparently, they are dealing with a cocktail variant of two variants which is rapidly spreading through the country while everything is being shut down. In Hong Kong numbers remain low. But not low enough. In chasing zero COVID-19 infections, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and others have become trapped within their own success. With new variants becoming still more and more transmissible there will never be zero cases. Here in Hong Kong nearly only foreigners have been vaccinated. Hongkongers have largely opted not to get any jabs.
The ladies are making cabbage and pork dumplings.
Oh well, the past five hundred days have certainly not been wasted within Hong Kong. The notoriety of Once Upon A Saga has reached higher levels which is valued when you have a message to deliver. Take it from a man who has seen more of the world than 99.9999% of anyone else: people are just people and this world is far more quiet, safe and borderline mondaine than most will ever comprehend. The majority of life takes place somewhere behind the cameraman. People fall in love anywhere and everywhere! I have never boarded a bus full of terrorists and I have never been to a country where everyone was sick. In conflicted countries people still enjoy good food, games, sports, music and friendship. You would be surprised to learn how much effort people around the planet put into having the right shoes, a cool belt and great hair. The world is far more peaceful than its reputation and far safer along side of that. From the 194 countries we have reached within the Saga I have met someone kind and helpful in each and everyone of them. Often more than a single person. It is incredibly important that we all understand that while culture, customs and traditions often have us behave separately – the sheer essence of being human connects us globally! Mothers care for their children all around the world. People go to school or work. There is joy in achievement and there is happiness in safety. This is particularly important to remember now as the world is getting remarkably connected through social media. Today you can have news about an event halfway across the world in a matter of seconds. You may even have video footage. For that reason we need to be predisposed to respect for others and view them as our equals with hopes and dreams just like anybody else. Because if not, then misconception, distrust, fear and disgust will quickly flourish. And I guarantee you: countries are nothing but people. And people are just people.
hong kong foodie tasting tours - wifey booked it. It was brilliant! Our guide was Yammy!
Five hundred days of Hong Kong has taught me much which I didn’t know. First and foremost, I was awestruck about how much nature Hong Kong possesses. Even more when I discovered that 75% of Hong Kong is nature. Beaches, reservoirs, waterfalls, mountains, streams, forests, and an exotic wildlife was certainly not what I expected. Hong Kong’s highest peaks are as much as four times higher than those of Denmark with Tai Mo Shan reaching nearly 1,000m (3,200ft). In addition to that I was surprised to learn that Tai Mo Shan is an old volcano. I never thought of Hong Kong as a volcanic place. Much like many other places around the world I find Hongkongers really nice and pleasant right up until the moment they get behind the steering wheel of a car. That is when they transform into egocentric maniacs!! Some people write it off as city traffic – but I definitely find it more aggressive here than many other places. The food in Hong Kong is really good, the city is full of museums, there’s plenty of WWII memorabilia, there are many gorgeous islands, many amazing beaches, you can buy just about anything in Hong Kong and at large – I still haven’t seen everything. However, I do feel like I’m getting close.
Many Hongkongers are political and in the past Hong Kong has seen some more than impressive demonstrations with above a million people in the streets. Since I arrived in January 2020 there haven’t been any demonstrations. Nothing of that magnitude for sure. Hong Kong is different from Mainland China in that it is a part of China but certain freedoms have been extended to the region. While Hongkongers prides themselves in being different than mainlanders you could easily ask yourself…what is a mainlander like? Because China is a country with 1.3 billion people and a lot of different cultures. Anyway, while Hongkongers can be political then it is often something which takes place in silence these days. Even more so since the National Security Law was passed. In my opinion most people who are content dislike change. Hongkongers are no different although they have been living on a trajectory of change for more than two decades. As Hong Kong’s government largely represents Mainland China you will find that there is some reluctance towards doing anything the government suggests. It would be the easiest thing for any Hongkonger to go out and get vaccinated against COVID-19. In Honk Kong people can even chose between Sinovac and BioNTech. However, since it is not mandatory and since there is a serious lack of incentive, Hongkongers have pretty much unilaterally decided not to get vaccinated. The 15% who have been vaccinated are nearly all westerners or “gweilo’s” as we are called.
Early morning just before sunrise.
Hong Kong has been good to me. I don’t want to be here. But given that I’m sort of without a choice it’s probably the best place the Saga could “overwinter” the pandemic. Hong Kong is a very efficient part of the world when it comes to a number of different things. The government can clean-up the city in a matter of no time after it has been hit by a violent typhoon. Government offices are magnificently efficient as long as you do everything exactly by the book. Hong Kong Immigration has been very helpful and so has the Danish community when their turn came. The Danes in Hong Kong might not dominate in sheer numbers as we are likely no more than 3-400 in a region with 7.5 million people. However, the Danes in Hong Kong are highly resourceful, well connected and very inclusive! Since December 2020 I have been on the payroll of DSUK in Denmark as the assistant to Chaplain with the Danish Seamen’s Church in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, there is no Chaplain to assists but there is fortunately a highly dedicated and helpful church council which I can lean on when needed. The employment has stabilized my immigration status in Hong Kong as it justifies my presence. And the job has also been a different doorway into Hong Kong compared to what I had experienced prior to it. I like to think that I also play my part in keeping the Danish Seamen’s Church relevant during these strange times.
My wife! This photo was a part of a wedding present from the Savagars. The photographer is a nice guy named Andy Mahan.
There is little more than a week left before wifey returns home to Denmark. Her office has called her back and we are grateful for the time we have had together in Hong Kong. Wifey has grown very fond of Hong Kong and all which it has to offer. On Monday we will be checking into the Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott Hotel. Monday is also the day of Hong Kong’s annual Dragon Boat Festival but most races have been postponed due to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Zero tolerance is a tall order! When wifey boards that airplane I will be returning to a very empty apartment. There will be nobody across from me at the table when I eat. The bed will be empty at night. My toothbrush will stand alone. I will shop for groceries by myself. It will be lonely as time slowly fills in the void. During a recent “Oscar Night” event wifey borrowed a dress from our friend Anita. She looked stunning!! The following day she was out trekking 100km (62mi) heading across one mountain after the next. And she graduated as a medical doctor, before completing her PhD, prior to landing the job at the pharmaceutical company, which employs her now. Beautiful, tough and smart. Lucky me.
At DCC's Oscar Night. The premier of "Another Round" (Druk).
"Another Round" (Druk) is a Danish movie which won an Oscar this year.
Completing the MacLehose Trail together as a couple was here idea. She had no idea what she was getting herself into at the time and completely underestimated the accomplishment long ahead of time. But she pulled through and there is nothing easy about clocking a distance such as that. On flat terrain 100km (62mi) is known within the military as a “Death March” and must typically be completed in less than 24 hours. Many 20-year-olds are unable to do so. We were not aiming for 24 hours. We were hoping to do it in about 30-31 hours but it was more about the overall completion. Earlier this year I did it together with Kenneth and Poul in less than 20 hours. But that involved running. Wifey and I were not planning on running. There is an advantage to completing it as fast as possible. One advantage is being less sleep deprived well another advantage consists of spending less time being physically active. As such it can be argued that the ones that cross the finish line after 40 hours have dealt with a completely different type of toughness. However, altogether a toughness one way or the other.
It's always hard...in this case hot as well. "Nobody" does the full MacLehose this time of the year.
Well done Ultra-Wifey ;)
Sleep well Ultra-Wifey.
The rain only came after our 28 hours on the trail. Bliss!!
The night was long and full of animals. We saw wild boar, East Asian Porcupines, spiders, snakes, Macaque monkeys, centipedes and a walking stick. At one point we could hear a very large snake moving in the leaves next to our path. But we couldn’t see it. The night is often darkest just before daybreak and wifey did seem quite tired as we got to that point. We had put 62% of the trail behind us and had three demanding mountains ahead of us. But as the sun rose and a new day filled the world with light, we managed to find new energy and soldier on. After competing the eights of the ten sections we were both dealing with fatigue. We had a meal, filled up our water bottles and off we went. The pain within my feet had grown to severe proportions but we were not backing down now. It was completely voluntary so we could have backed down at any point. Once you reach the stage where another ten steps become a battle, an additional 30,000 steps seem improbable. The mindpower that one must muster to take another step beyond that point should be revered. Wifey clocked another 20km (12mi) after reaching that point! In little less than 28 hours we had walked from Sai Kung to Tuen Mun across several mountains and ridges. Wifey’s first 100k-ultra-distance. Congratulations Ultra-Wifey.
Ultra-Wifey and Tribini-Thomas hanging out at the bar. He treated us dinner as a wedding present. Good man.
Tribini-Thomas is soon departing Hong Kong and wanted to treat wifey and I for a meal. Thomas is one of the most interesting people I know within Hong Kong and he has certainly lived a rich and full life. Our paths have crossed several times and it is always lots of fun. We started out with a drink before finding our way to an Italian restaurant for dinner. That then lead us to a few bars before we ended up in Wan Chai. Thomas is astonishing when it comes to Hong Kong’s well-hidden gems. This was not the first time he introduced me to truly interesting bars/nightlife venues which I had no idea about.
For 41-years nobody has seen this wine cork. None other than my friends Kenneth, Jakob, Jesper, Poul and I. That means something to me.
And that’s all which I will leave you with for now. I have a rather depressing outlook on where this pandemic is heading and no real hope that things will soon resolve and that the Saga will once again be on its way. As such we will most definitely reach 501 days in Hong Kong and probably much more than that. If my story of persistence in achieving a hard-to-reach goal in life is of value for you then it is my honor to serve as some sort of inspiration. So far, I live to fight another day…
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - pretty persistent!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga