Please, give me a break (from Hong Kong)
Day 3,004 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).
A few weeks ago, while waiting for a train, I was wondering if I have invented a few words? I’ve been writing ‘bureaucrazy’ instead of bureaucracy for years. And at some point, I began writing ‘pandemically stuck’. But ‘pandemically’ isn’t new.
Last week’s entry: Another Christmas in Hong Kong
Hong Kong, day 703: I was once sent away from an Embassy in Congo, where I was applying for a visa. The reason was that in my passport photo I was wearing a t-shirt style collar and not a shirt style collar. So, I had to put on a polo-shirt, get a few new passport photos done, and return back to the embassy. I halfway expect that kind of nonsense from some countries. I also once entered an embassy and greeted the lady at the reception with a friendly: “Bonjour - ça va” only seconds later to hear the lady say (in French): “Come back when you know how to speak French or bring someone who does”. I turned around on my heal, smiled and said: “merci”. It’s a different matter when the behavior of the United States of America is puzzling. A global beacon of freedom and justice. An ally of my home nation Denmark and arguably the worlds only real superpower. You would suspect such a country and its government offices to make sense. Unfortunately, the very thing which is currently holding the Saga back from reaching Palau as our next country is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). I’ve been informed that they are internally debating whether they should allow me to pass through Guam’s territorial waters onboard Pacific International Lines (PIL) vessel on our way to Palau. They are aware that I hold a valid U.S. B-1/B-2 visa and that I will not disembark the vessel in Guam. Apparently, their main concern is my chosen form of travel. I would like to say that this makes perfect sense to me. But my goodness…when does the madness end?
Last week we were told we could not reenter Hong Kong from a commercial vessel. We got some help from our friends at Anglo Eastern and Modern Terminals Limited and solved the misunderstanding.
At this point we have achieved Government approval from the highest place of Palau. We have ticked all the boxes and received full support from PIL, a world leading shipping company, to board their vessel. And we covered more than 307,000km (190,000mi) in an unbroken journey across 194 countries completely without flying! We are closer than ever before (since the pandemic broke out) to reaching Palau and bringing me one country closer to home. A plan which my friend Roel and I began working on more than six months ago. A plan which has received wide support within a positive and popular global project backed by the Danish Red Cross. The ship leaves from Hong Kong on January 5th 2022. Can you imagine how I feel? (read to end and you’ll find a surprise).
Reverend Rebecca delivering the Christmas church service. The first at the Danish Seamen's Church in two years.
Let’s lighten the mood: CHRISTMAS!! Ah, yes. That crazy celebration which means a lot to the western world and less to the rest. What is it again? Santa Clauses birthday? Can’t remember. But it must have something to do with Coca Cola! Well, nonsense aside I still work at the Danish Seamen’s Church here in Hong Kong and our Reverend Rebecca Holm, who has been at work for less than a month, delivered a world class Christmas service for the Danes in Hong Kong and friends alike. Afterwards we enjoyed some sweets and Danish “hygge” within Danish Room above the chapel. What a nice way to start Christmas. In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on December 24th with friends, food and presents. We bring a tree into our home, we decorate it and dance around it! Yes – the evolution of mankind is going great. Within the U.K. they do the same stuff one day later on December 25th. And with the global influence of the British Empire that idea has spread wide and far in this world. In Hong Kong Christmas isn’t a big deal for most people in the way the westerns world knows it. But it’s still celebrated in shops and decorations go up here and there. In this part of the world Chinese New Year is the big celebration and it isn’t much different from Christmas in the sense that families get together around some good food and have a good time.
Kenneth sure knows how to cook!! Good food is a huge part of a good Christmas! ;)
I was once again invited to spend Christmas up in the mountains at the High Court of the Andersen Clan. Thomas and his son Luis were there but this year Thomas’ daughter Natali spent her Christmas in Norway. We were joined by a lot of the Danish mafia: Anita, Christian and little Victor. Kenneth, Rose and their children Sofie and Anton – and their grandmother, I think. Poul and Amy were there too. A great collection of friends from HK. Kenneth did the cooking so there were no complaints. Santa showed up at one point and we had a good time playing games and hanging out.
You know it's bad when you're riveling Mumbai!! Mumbai is great!! The air quality less so.
The air quality in HK has been strange lately. Sometimes it has been really good (as it normally is) in its low 20ties on the Air Quality Index (AQI). But then the following day it suddenly skyrockets to ‘unhealthy’ in its 150ties! Some days the visibility has been hazy and I have been able to feel the poor air irritate my throat and eyes. Hong Kong is open to the ocean on most sides so you would think this wouldn’t happen? But apparently air pressure changes from the sea are capable of creating a barrier which keeps the air locked in between the mountains. There’s barely any industry left in Hong Kong. It has all moved north across the border to Mainland China. But HK is relatively small and holds some relatively congested roads. Most Hongkongers cannot afford a vehicle (or the parking lot). Others just find it impractical. Those with cars use them a lot and the distribution network across the territory demands a great deal of trucks as well. Home cooking and other reasons are a part of it too. Some say the pollution is blowing in from the factories in Mainland China. Others say it is a result of our own doing.
I love how Phil's tree is decorated HK-style with a taxi and a tram :)
Boxing Day came which is a day that means absolutely nothing to a Viking like me. December 26th is just a date in the calendar. To the Anglo-influenced countries and regions around the world it is an extension of Christmas and another opportunity to eat good food and hang out with friends. It apparently also sometimes resembles ‘Black Friday’ with lots of good offers. This years Boxing Day was special as my friend Phil invited me to spend it with him and his friends in Sai Kung. I got to meet his lovely wife Karen and most of Phil’s Softball Team. I asked if I should bring something and was told: “no – just yourself”. To be safe I brought a bottle of champagne and when I entered Phil’s house his friends had brought guacamole, tabbouleh, cake, apple crumble, cherries and whatnot! Phil and Karen arranged for meat, cheese and everything else. Good times! I got to answer a lot of Saga-questions from the curious crowd. And I even made a contact who might be able to help with the CBP. A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
And then the best Danish written article finally came out! In my opinion at least. There have certainly been some fine journalistic works across the years and I am grateful for all the coverage this little project has had within my home country. Torben Sangild’s writeup for Zetland came out really well! Torben and I spoke for about three hours over the course of two days and he did extensive research on his own. Interviews have long since become routine work for me and more often than not they are superficial and pose the same 8-10 standard questions: how many countries have you been to? (194), What’s your favorite country? (?), How can you afford it? (Ross DK and Geoop), What’s the worst thing that happened to you? (?), Why are you doing it? (!), etc. etc. etc…
Unfortunately not just fog. The AQI was really high when I took this photo.
Well, it was a real pleasure reading the Zetland article. It is very flattering and to some degree oversells me as a kind and positive person. I try to be kind and I try to be positive. But there is a darkness within me too and I get frustrated, I complain and I can be rude. Especially these days, I think. I have often pondered whether I am a bad person trying to be good – or a good person who sometimes missteps? I feel like my privacy has been invaded a bit, I feel overworked, the stress keeps building up, and I need a break. It would be a blessing to go onboard PIL’s good vessel and disconnect for a while. I even welcome ten days of hotel quarantine in Palau. Some “me time” and isolation would be fantastic. I’m by no means famous but I do get recognized on the street now and again and for the most part people are super nice. But I’m not sure I want to give up my anonymity in the public? And the online traffic I need to deal with through emails, social media, and text messages is overwhelming. If you reached out to me and never heard back then I’m sorry. The simple matter of things is that I’m just one man and the day is limited to 24 hours. If the Saga continues to grow in attention (and I suspect it will) then I need to hire some people to take a part of the workload. Fingers crossed we’re getting on that ship! Before I tie the knot on Torben and Zetland I would just like to inform the Danes that Torben also does a really good podcast about stand-up comedy. It’s in Danish and called: “Comedy-kontoret” (The comedy office). I’ve had the pleasure of listening to several episodes while shopping for ships.
Just another day at work.
And shop for ships I do! It has been a great honor to service seafarers arriving to Hong Kong during my time at the Danish Seamen’s Church in Hong Kong. I have gone onboard forty-five containerships this year with anything ranging from toothpaste to 50” flatscreen TV’s! If the seafarers need it then we have procured it! I’ve had help from friends in Hong Kong to locate certain shops but more often than not we have delivered as requested. Seafarers are not permitted to leave the vessel in HK now during the pandemic. Heck! If you are flying in from Denmark then you will need to go through three-weeks of hotel quarantine before you get to enjoy freedom. HK has been strict during the pandemic and as a result I’m not aware of any cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant within the public. To my knowledge all cases have been caught in quarantine. Well, that’s one strategy. Hong Kong's tough new rule requires arrivals from Omicron-hit countries to spend their first week of quarantine in a government camp. QR-scans, hand sanitizer, masks, social distancing, temperature checks and a lot more remain the norm in this part of the world. If you test positive then you’re off to the hospital no matter how you feel followed by quarantine in a government camp. I have a friend in Denmark who just tested positive and he’s at home with his family. What a contrast.
Hiking with the "nutcases" every Thursday will surely be missed.
Perhaps we will be leaving HK soon? The plan is a roundtrip back to HK so it will not be too hard on me at first. But it will eventually be hard to leave the place which has kept me safe throughout this pandemic. The place where I have made more friends than anywhere else on earth (apart from home). The place where I have challenged myself and others to complete physical challenges again and again. A place with more nature than city. A place I know better than Copenhagen in Denmark. But the plan is a round trip back to Hong Kong. If we leave onboard the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ departing HK on January 5th then it would look like this: arrive to Koror, Palau, January 19th. Depart Koror, Palau, February 2nd and arrive back at Hong Kong February 8th. Quarantine until March 1st. What a plan!
This is what we have been waiting for!! Now let's goooooooooooo!
I promised you a good surprise here at the end. During the night between Wednesday and Thursday an email ticked in from the very kind Captain Siddiqui at PIL in Singapore. Guam CBP had approved that I could board PIL’s ship to Palau heading though their territorial waters. You can usually count on the USA to do the right thing in the end. There have been plenty of challenges lately but just as many solutions. Our next challenge is that PIL cannot guarantee my return to Hong Kong. That is fully understandable during these volatile times. People keep asking me when I will reach the next country or when I will return home. How the heck could anyone answer that question while regulations keep changing as mutations roam the world? I can guarantee that I will not see home in 2022 unless I quit the Saga. There is no way we can reach the final nine within a year the way the world looks right now. “Why not?” Because the distances within the Pacific Ocean are great. Because of ship frequencies. Because of indirect shipping routes. Because of speed limitations. But fingers crossed that we will reach Palau on January 19th.
Video call with my mom and one of my two siblings. I have the pleasure of speaking with several friends from back home this week :)
And thank you one and all for all your kindness, your support and your well wishes. 2021 has been a heck of a year for all of us. Stay safe and sane out there. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2022. Together we shall keep on keeping on!
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - finally getting that break!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga