When “how are you doing?” becomes complicated (still in Hong Kong)
Day 2,864 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).
Things can always get worse
My mind wanders a lot during a week depending on which information I come across. This week I found out that the famous Lufthansa Heist took place one week before I was born. And that does not relate to finding a way out of Hong Kong. But it was still interesting.
Last week’s entry: There are no stupid questions? (Hong Kong continued)
There is definitely truth to the saying that things can always get worse. I don’t know if that is supposed to cheer us up? Surely things can get worse but do they have to? Three years ago I was fortunate to meet Mrs Fatima Gailani who is one of the most impressive women I have ever come across. She is from Afghanistan which is a country I have been hearing much about in the news as of late. I got in touch with a contact in Herat, the third largest city in Afghanistan, and she told me that the situation was very bad and that they are unable to sleep at night. It is terrible to hear about such a wonderful, beautiful and amazing country regressing. I decided to do a little research on what’s going on and thought that Mrs Fatima Gailani would be a good place to start. In an interview with CNN from April this year, Mrs Gailani said that the withdrawal of US and other international troops did not worry her. She was worried about the withdrawal of troops without peace first being intact. She was also adamant about young Afghani women being both strong and empowered. I then came across this map which illustrates which areas Taliban held prior to May 2021, what they hold now and which areas are under government control. Looking at that I wonder if we could have pulled off what we did back in October 2018 when we took the Saga to Afghanistan? Our visit in 2018 was risky, but today it would have been even more so.
3 years ago we entered at Islam Qala from Iran and took the Saga to Herat. From there we went north to Torghundi and into Turkmenistan. Imagine doing that today?!?
And Ethiopia would also have been troublesome to travel through now. A few days ago I heard that Tigrinyan forces had taken Lalibela. I remember driving past Lalibela on my way back to Addis Ababa (the capital) in early 2017. Would we have been able to move as easily across Ethiopia today? Afghanistan and Ethiopia are not the only two countries which have seen significant change in their political climate after paying them a visit through the Saga. And looking at our final nine countries it’s hard to imagine armed conflict will break out within any of them. So while I am cursing this global pandemic of ours which has had the Saga grounded in Hong Kong since January 2020, I can certainly see that things could have been worse. We managed to travel through some amazing countries during far more peaceful times than what they are experiencing now. Myanmar is another country which appeared blissful to a visitor’s eyes back in February 2019. Imagine crossing Myanmar from India to Thailand today? It is just pure bad luck to see Once Upon A Saga disrupted by a global pandemic so close to the finish line. If the pandemic had struck a year later then the Saga would likely have been successfully completed ahead of it. But thank goodness that countries like Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Myanmar were more peaceful when we were paying our visits. Things can always get worse and I feel so sorry for the people affected. In the mentioned three countries it all comes down to manmade disasters.
On and off people ask me how I am doing. Many years ago, I was working in Windsor in England. I was young and it was a different culture compared to Denmark which was only an hour away by flight. I remember walking down a hallway when a local brit smiled at me and said “how are you doing” in passing. I was confused as I had no chance to answer the man who had long moved past me. In Denmark you usually expect an answer from someone if you ask them how they are doing. And depending on your relationship with that person you might get a superficial answer such as “fine” or the full lecture. The reason why I have been thinking about this is because I do not know how I am doing? A lot of things are going well and some quite fundamental things are not. I once heard a man say that if you have a white wall and a black wall then it is up to you which wall you chose to look at. True. However, if you are looking at the white wall then the black one still exists? And vice versa. Here in Hong Kong I have a loving wife some 8,000km (5,000mi) away, a home, a bed, a job, friends, good health, I eat well and I am free to seek out a variety of activities. Thanks to our financial partners Ross DK and Geoop along with your kind donations, and furthermore the salary from my job, the Saga is well funded while here in Hong Kong. I’m not rolling in money but I have what I need (which isn’t much). So how are you doing Thor? It’s all great!! Except…that all of that relates to the white wall.
A friend of mine recently commented that I have been living in suspended animation for the better part of two years now. While Hong Kong is great it is not where I want to be. I would like to see some geographical progress within Once Upon A Saga so that I can feel closer to home. I would like to feel closer to the goal which we set out to accomplish back in October 2013. I want to be relieved of the stress which comes with having an unaccomplished task at hand. I want to wake up next to my wife and lead a life of my own choice. I want to start a family before it is too late. I want to see friends and family which I haven’t seen for years. I want Once Upon A Saga to be a success and I want to complete it properly. And most of all of that is out of my hands. I don’t want to be a quitter. That choice is however completely within my grasp. So, how are you doing Thor? Not well at all. I often feel sad or frustrated. I feel misunderstood by many. I know that many have it worse than me and I know that things could be much worse than what they are. And where does that leave us? I guess I’m right between the two walls…
While it may not be my dream job - it certainly is my great honor to service seafarers!
This beautiful lady is Hedy Sparre whom I had the pleasure of meeting onboard the good ship Eleonora Maersk. Hedy has been working as a chief cook for 20 years. She is 73 years old and nothing but amazing! We spoke for a while and she has an incredible view of life and has experienced more than most. We would be lucky if she someday wrote a book and shared her stories with us. Hedy is from Denmark.
While my job at the Danish Seamen’s Church is a good job – it isn’t the job of my dreams. Once Upon A Saga is already a full time job and the work at the church has always been a means to an end. It is beneficiary for both the church and myself and I am good at my job. But there is low satisfaction in being good at something which is simple. And most tasks within my job at the Seamen’s Church are really simple – yet very time consuming. And time isn’t a finite commodity for me. To explain myself, I have suggested others, that they might be good at handling a paper route but that the satisfaction is less within doing that, compared to what they are trained and educated to do. It is humbling though. On a weekly basis I am washing the floor where I stood as a speaker nearly two year ago.
Life teaching me to be humble...
There are a lot of great Danes in Hong Kong an I feel like I might have met a considerable amount of them by now. And it is good to be able to take part in social events which have been coordinated between the Danish Seamen’s Church and the Danish Chamber of Commerce. Last weekend we organized an event for those who wanted to see the handball finale between France and Denmark during the Tokyo Olympics. ‘Danish Room’ is fitted with a large screen and a projector making it ideal for such social events. The match wasn’t as late as the European Championships were a month ago and it became a calm family event compared to last months late night Viking parties! France barely beat Denmark earning them gold and Denmark won silver. On a personal note, I have always preferred silver as a precious metal over gold. But I prefer being number one over number two. I did not find time to dive deep into the Olympics this year but I hear that the Japanese did a great job managing the event and that the facilities were fantastic. I did however watch a short 4-minute clip of the female skateboarders which was absolutely amazing!! Apart from their skills it was heartwarming to see the spirit they competed within. High-fiving and hugging the competitors. See, that is humanity at its best.
Watching the Olympic handball match between France and Denmark. The game was so interesting that it even caught my attention!
I don’t know if there’s much else I’d like to enter this time around. I certainly have a lot on my plate. Roel (our Dutch friend in Palau) is doing everything within his power to help us get an official invitation to enter Palau. New Zealand just announced they are keeping their borders shut throughout 2021. But hey – we’ve done what people said could not be done a few times before. But I’m certainly no Nostradamus. Here’s something I wrote almost exactly three years ago:
“If you wonder how often I ask myself if I should just quit and go home then the answer is daily! However I don’t think I will fold and go home. I think I will host the Saga until we reach the very last country in the world. Hopefully around January 22nd 2020 as calculated. I have many fond memories to look back at. I have many new friends because of this project. I’m in many ways a richer man but I do really doubt that the output matches the input on a personal level…so I hope the Saga benefits you. It’s bound to get easier – right?”
Can you believe that seafarers are not a priority in the vaccination programs across the world? 828 people voted and the result was quite clear. OF COURSE seafarers should be considered as key workers!! What are the authorities waiting for?
Finally, I can tell you that everything I wrote above this was written while I was sober. And what I am writing you now is influenced by several bottles of red wine with some good friends. While I might be suffering on a personal level, I do want to leave all of you with hope and on a good note. I really doubt that I would still be fighting to complete Once Upon A Saga if it had not been for all the good people I have met in Hong Kong. That started out with the amazing Savagars whom hosted me for the first five months and since last night I can report I am blessed with good friends such as Kenneth. Poul, Thomas, Jesper and Jakob, whom I regularly meet up with on Thursdays to hike for a few hours and then sit down and solve the world situation over a meal and some red wine. If you have family or friends then remember to treat them well. People are far more valuable than silver and gold.
Ending a Thursday night with Kenneth and Poul. The white side of the wall.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - thank goodness for red wine.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga