Bound is the boatless man – (still in Hong Kong)

  Day 2,871 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).

De-escalating the situation

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Afghanistan, seafarers, family, a hostile stranger, unseen parts of Hong Kong, moving forward and a lot more. It’s the Friday Blog.

Last week’s entry: When “how are you doing?” becomes complicated (still in Hong Kong)

Once Upon A Saga has always been “a long game” project. If you went to every country and spent a day in each then it would still be 200 days (6.5 months). And that would be exceptionally fast. The Saga has been blessed with plenty of media attention and the result is often a recap of the Saga’s “best moment”. Sort of like a short description of a book. That has drawn in a lot of people’s attention and most seem to stick around. Yet, some leave after discovering that watching someone reaching every country in the world in an unbroken journey completely without flying is in reality highly tedious. Personally, I find it really hard to convey to people how complicated, stressful and debilitating the entire project is. Fortunately, some people fully understand.

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Anyway, it has now been three years ago since we took the Saga inside Afghanistan entering from Iran and leaving through Turkmenistan. That was one of the riskier periods within the Saga. I recently re-read the blog and I think it delivers a unique perspective on several relevant topics. Of course, it has suddenly become contemporary after the Afghan Taliban swept across the nation and took control of the country. With reference to the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan throughout the 90s it is no wonder that the news has been disheartening to many. In the age of social media there has been no shortage of populistic attention. But also, a great deal of well meaning and informative posts. Within the social media storm, I have found that far too many seem unaware that Afghanistan isn’t a Middle Eastern country (it’s in Central Asia). That makes a big difference. Unrelated, it is an interesting thing when a new identity completely takes over a country. It is not at all like the political shift between two political parties after an election. After an election life goes on pretty much the same as before. Some people live their lives completely unaware of elections. With the Taliban in power, it is a new system all the way down to what you can wear or say. The shift couldn’t possibly go unnoticed. I suspect that for some people the takeover is welcomed with excitement. However, for many it is dreaded, it is fearsome and terrible. The truth is that we do not know what is going to happen next. The world has changed a great deal since the 90s and many of today’s Afghans have grown up with smartphones selfies and social media…that includes Taliban. So, it will be interesting to see if the Taliban of 2021 will fall back into the reign of terror, they held in the 90s or be more moderate and inclusive like they currently say they will. I really hope they will. One could argue that a Taliban rule in Afghanistan is a better alternative than what the last twenty years of armed conflict, kidnappings, drug trade and foreign occupation has been. Taliban can possibly enforce law and order in a country which needs the stability. However, at which cost? On a final note, I will say that I observed the Taliban taking down the black, red and green Afghan flag in a calm and civilized fashion once the entered the Presidential Palace. It wasn’t chaotic. They didn’t light it on fire. There was no celebratory gunfire or laud chants. It was done calmly with what looked like respect. That bodes well for the future. Now let’s see.

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At an allegedly 3,000 year old tree in Herat with Mr. Nourdin Ahmadi. Mr. Ahmadi founded the Red Crescent Secure Psychiatric Institution and was once the branch manager of Afghanistan Red Crescent Society in Herat. A spectacular man whom I have the outmost respect for. 

My goodness we have been in Hong Kong for a long time. A year and seven months out of nearly eight years. Progress is slow in reaching a new country. The sights are still set on Palau and New Zealand. We need a lot of support and paperwork to fall in place before we can reach either destination. A topic I have covered before is that of recognizing, catching and utilizing opportunities vs. missing basically every opportunity possible. Most people, companies, organizations and countries fall into the latter in my experience. The world is full of opportunities and they go missed one by one. My key example used to be the two island nations of Comoros and Mauritius within the Indian Ocean. Comoros is poor although beautiful and has huge potential. Mauritius is doing great and hardly misses an opportunity ever. That is exaggerated but still close enough to the truth. The odd thing is that the two countries are in somewhat close proximity. It will be interesting to see if Palau and New Zealand will be in one or the other category when it comes to helping out the Saga? I doubt New Zealand will be in the latter.

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Sai Kung Town Hall.

The Savagars is my nickname for the wonderful family which hosted me for the first five months while here in Hong Kong. Mother, father and two lovely boys. We on and off see each other when time and occasion permit it. They somehow feel like family to me. After all, we got to know one another quite well while under the same roof and they took good care of me. The Savagars live in Sai Kung which is one of 18 districts within Hong Kong. Probably my favorite district. Earlier this week I was meeting up with Mark and Kristy in Sai Kung, whom I first met about a year ago after staying a couple of complimentary nights at the Ritz Carlton (thank you Hong Kong Tourism Board). Kristy works at the hotel and is married to Mark. We have met up several times since and this week they invited me for lunch in Sai Kung. A couple of their friends joined in whom I had also met before. A really nice couple who just returned to Hong Kong after some time back home in Romania, and then a weeks’ worth of hotel quarantine in Hong Kong. Good people all around. After lunch I headed out to say hi to the Savagars and it was as always really nice to catch up with them. It has recently become a lot easier to travel into Hong Kong with shorter quarantine periods and the borders have even opened up for tourist again. Although very few tourists want to spend the first few weeks of their vacation locked into a hotel room. But it is possible! This means that my family and friends from back home could technically come and visit me now. And furthermore, it means that my wife and I won’t need to go through all the paperwork we did last time, to get her here. The borders are only open for some countries and Denmark is so far on the list. But these are volatile times.

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I went to the movie theater and saw 'Free Guy'. Nice to see the Hong Kong Red Cross advertising for blood donations. I will be able to donate for my second time in Hong Kong in two weeks.

A lot of stuff is keeping me busy but in the big picture this week has been relatively calm. I’ve had time to chill out a bit and watch a few movies. Typically, in the evening before going to bed. So far seven Danish flagged ships have been announced to arrive in Hong Kong this month. And the Danish Seamen’s Church is servicing all of them in one way or the other. The other day when I was shopping in Sham Shui Po (another district) on behalf of a ship, I left a store and crossed a road. While halfway across the pedestrian crossing, I noticed a man shouting angrily behind me. As it turned out it was a seemingly homeless and mentally unbalanced (crazy) man. He appeared quite upset with me and threw an empty plastic bottle in my direction. I ignored him and continued crossing the street but the man followed me, continued to shout and even picked up the bottle so he could throw it at me once more. Needless to say, the man and I were both attracting a lot of attention from people within the busy neighborhood. As I had crossed the street, I now stood waiting for the lights to turn green so that I could cross the adjacent road. The man was now on the middle of the road shouting angrily at me. I find myself fortunate to be  tall as it often intimidates others and I can avoid confrontation. I’m also fortunate to have worked nightshifts for a while at Kirkens Korshærs Herberg (homeless shelter in Copenhagen) during the planning period ahead of Once Upon A Saga. Working at the shelter taught me a lot about dealing with homeless, vulnerable and sometimes criminal and unstable people. Furthermore, I’m grateful for the United Nations training I had during my time in the military. I especially remember an exercise in which my group had to remove a weapon from a man without escalating the situation. In that very moment at an intersection in Sham Shui Po I was able to draw a bit from all of that.

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This was not the man who got upset with me. However, this is a man with tin foil around his head covered by a plastic paper bin.

As the upset man kept picking up the bottle and throwing it in my direction and shouting at me, I caught eye contact with him, raised my right hand and waved at him. Within a split second the man completely changed his behavior. He took his cap off and bowed in my direction. I lifted my right hand and placed it over my heart and gently bowed back. The man then proceeded in my direction, said some things in Cantonese (I presume), and then bowed again. I said: “okay, thank you” and bowed back again. The man then went back to his street corner, the lights turned green and I crossed the road and went on my way. There I was – stuck in Hong Kong (an expression my father doesn’t like) and completely alone. The angry man was no longer angry and far behind me. I was heading towards the nearest MTR station and on my way back to base. The situation had been de-escalated and all was well. I wish more people would aim to de-escalate every situation.

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My heart certainly beats for seafarers. That, and logistics. And within the Danish Seamen's Church we recently received 14 boxes with books from the good ship Susan Maersk.

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14 boxed with books! What to do with that? Fortunately we found out that the good ship Nordborg Maersk (which is a brand new ship) could use the books. Logistics, logistics, logistics ;)

Okay people!! Here we go again. Whatever you read above this paragraph was written while I was sober. What follows is under the influence of a couple of bottles of red wine. I remember visiting Cuba and heading out to see Earnest Hemmingway’s home. I really admire his writing. His home was on display and one could see that his typewriter was on a shelf which meant that he had to stand up while writing. This corresponds with historical records. Hemmingway would write in the morning before he began drinking. His afternoons were something else. I’m no Hemmingway but I understand why he didn’t write while under influence. I definitely find the keys much harder to find. Here’s the explanation: on Thursdays I usually write the Friday Blog so that it is ready Friday morning at 06:00am wherever I am. But here in Hong Kong, Thursdays are also reserved for an evening hike with the boys (Kenneth, Poul, Jesper, Jakob and Thomas). While a two-hour hike is undoubtedly healthy...what follows unlikely is. Well, it might be healthy for camaraderie and the soul. But eating a large meal and drinking a few bottles of wine (each) might not be healthy for the body. It’s a good tradition though and one of the best things about the week at this point.

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On this occasion Christian joined and was a stand-in for Thomas who was quarantined after recently returning from Denmark. In this photo: Kenneth, Poul, Jesper, Jakob and Christian. Urban Viking Hiking.

Well, here we are. At the end of yet another entry. Sean Lock passed away. You may or may not know who he was. Sean lock was a British comedian whom I and many others were fond of. But cancer got him at the age of 58. Yet another reminder that life is finite. I was 34 when I left home and under the impression that I would be home by 38. Now I am 42 and will turn 43 in December. My parents are 73. They are proud of me. Thankfully. Under the best of circumstances, I will be home by the age of 45. My goodness this pandemic is unfair. Careers have been destroyed and people have lost lives because of it. But why are we unable to travel? I really don’t understand it? If I test negative for Covid-19 and I’m willing to quarantine then what is the problem? Nobody seems to have a good answer for that.

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Someone suggested that I should check out West Kowloon Free Space. Good recommendation. 

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While I've been in the area around West Kowloon Free Space I have never been there before. Nice to see something in Hong Kong I haven't seen before.

A few days ago, I came across a Viking proverb which went like this: “Bound is the boatless man”. What an amazing proverb. So absolutely fitting. I am phenomenally tired of being stuck in Hong Kong. But ending on a good note I can clearly see all that we have gained from this unwanted stayover. Experiences, contacts, and new friends. Nothing in life is completely worthless and our time in Hong Kong is proof of that. On a final note, I wonder which type of Viking warrior I might have been? The one who died on the very first battlefield or the one who rose to become a king? Well, what a pointless thing to wonder about. See you next week.

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I was definitely born with sisu!!!

 

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - internally conflicted!!

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

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