Quarantining in Hong Kong – what’s next
Day 3,060 since October 10th 2013: 195 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).
Clawing our way forward
I look back at easier times and wonder if they were better times. During my corporate past all I had to do was show up and work the agreed hours. Further back when I was a soldier all I needed to do was follow orders. And as a child I just had to go to school.
Last week’s entry: MV “Kota Ratu” – passenger no. 1 (heading home)
In last week’s entry I opened up about what it might have been like if the Saga had reached Palau before the pandemic broke out. And it ended with departing the brave seafarers on Pacific International Lines (PIL) good ship “Kota Ratu”. People keep asking me why we returned to Hong Kong? I don’t see many options on the table. PIL services the only route between Hong Kong and Palau. The ship goes round and round and round: Hong Kong – Taiwan – Guam – Saipan – Yap – Palau – Hong Kong. All of these destinations were off limits due to COVID-19 restrictions and we were only able to disembark in Palau due to a special agreement made with Palau’s Government. I hold an employment visa and a Hong Kong ID card, which enabled me to reenter Hong Kong. This was something not even the seafarers onboard “Kota Ratu” could do. I was literally the only one to leave the ship. Several of the seafarers were scheduled to sign off and rotate back home. But that did not happen. It was not a coincidence that I had a Hong Kong ID card and a valid employment visa. This was planned. It was not a coincidence that I joined “Kota Ratna” to Palau nor that I returned to Hong Kong on “Kota Ratu”. All of this was planned. The only extra consideration I had was if I should have worked on a solution to disembark “Kota Ratu” in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong. I was planning on meeting the Taiwanese Ambassador in Palau but ran short on time due to the unjust eight-day hotel quarantine I was given. In hindsight I might have prioritized the time I had in Palau differently. I’ll tell you why.
Waving farewell to the good ship "Kota Ratu" and her brave crew.
The first thing I did after closing the door to my 14-day hotel quarantine room was to redecorate a wall with THIS BANNER!! For me it stands for: loyalty, support, hard work, results, and trust. Ross Offshore (today Ross DK) took it upon themselves to support Once Upon A Saga back in 2013 when it all began. And as of today, they have covered close to 80% of the USD 20/day budget. There’s a picture of the banner in each of the 195 countries we’ve reached.
When we reached Hong Kong on February 2020, I had two Danish passports and plenty of free pages. In Denmark you can apply to have a secondary passport which is identical to your ordinary ten-year passport, apart from having a different passport number and only being valid for two years. The secondary passport expired during the pandemic meaning that I lost the usages of the remaining pages. Meanwhile the many visa extensions to remain in Hong Kong filled out most pages in the ordinary ten-year passport. There is no Danish representation in Hong Kong. The Embassy is in Beijing and the Consulate is in Guangzhou. They are supposed to make regular visits to Hong Kong but seem allergic to quarantining. As such the service towards Danish citizens in Hong Kong is at an embarrassing low point. Of the Saga’s remaining eight countries (Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, and Maldives) Denmark is only represented by a Danish foreign mission in Australia. There is a very kind Honorary Consul in New Zealand who can help with passports. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare to get stuck in any of the other remaining pacific island nations and not have enough free pages to continue forward. I could end up getting deported home to Denmark on an airplane. Also, reaching Australia next would be a logistical sound solution for afterwards reaching New Zealand, from where Samoa and Tonga can be reached by existing shipping routes.
Three new videos! Tap on the images to watch. Don't miss the second one!!
Un-edited GoPro footage: kayaking among rock islands. The camera flips on me after 4 minutes.
PIL’s good ship “Kota Lestari” calls Hong Kong and could (technically) bring us to Brisbane in Australia. However, it calls several Chinese ports before reaching Taiwan and then making its way to Brisbane. The captain is required to declare to the China Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) that the ship is not carrying any non-crew members. And I am not a crew member. I am also not in a position to become one which requires much onshore training at special facilities. Perhaps we could request a special permission from MSA to have me onboard. However, we would be dealing with Chinese authorities which doesn’t get my hopes up. It would be far easier to join either “Kota Ratna” or “Kota Ratu” again from Hong Kong to Taiwan, sign off, and then join “Kota Lestari” from Taiwan to Brisbane. Easier, yes – but still highly demanding. Apart from getting approval from PIL we would also need to secure permission to disembark in Taiwan – something which not even the seafarers have been permitted to do for crew change. And this is why it might have been a good idea to liaison with the Taiwanese ambassador in Palau last month. Simply to avoid the Chinese ports all together. Apart from the logistics, we also need to deal with the bureaucrazy of entering Australia as a passenger onboard a containership. Sure, fully vaccinated tourists and travelers have since February 21st been able to FLY in. But arriving onboard a containership requires special permission. I have applied for an eVisa and I’ve tried to reach the Australian Department of Home Affairs, however unsuccessfully. I was falsely told that the restrictions regarding my maritime arrival were regulated by AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) – but having been in touch with AMSA I now know it isn’t within their legislation.
Yeah – you cannot imagine how sick and tired I am of the complex bureaucracy and logistics which goes into moving Once Upon A Saga forward. And it is not just during the pandemic. It was like this many times before across the 195 countries we’ve successfully visited over the past eight years! Palau was a monster of an operation!! We literally had more than a hundred people involved in it. It took a great deal of effort and resources. I am thinly worn. I long for easier times. And they are simply not coming my way. In the best-case scenario Once Upon A Saga could be completed in 1.5 years. Best case. The Danish Embassy in Australia surely has direct links to the Australian government. Unfortunately, in my experience Danish Embassy’s have historically done nothing to further the progress of a Danish citizen making world history. They have however on multiple occasions been happy to stand next to me for a photo once the hard work has been completed. I have been in touch with the Danish Embassy and Consulate in Australia who did not exactly do nothing. They did reply with an email with a number of useless links relating to entry if you are flying as well as links related to New Zealand? To be fair there was also a link to ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for the marine industry’. I’m baffled about the proportions relating to help from foreign ambassadors and consuls versus those appointed by Denmark? Without the support of several foreign Ambassadors, we would not be where we are today. Danish officials are indifferent to the progress of the Saga. The Danish Embassy in Australia is the last Danish embassy of this global project and the last chance for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark to show its colors towards a man who has held the Danish flag high through 195 countries for eight years. I sincerely doubt they will rise to the occasion.
The food is mostly good and comes three times daily.
Unfortunately meals generate A LOT of plastic waste. 3 meals x 14 days = 42 times what you see here.
No, unfortunately I am currently not seeing any support in high places which could open the doors for our next country. The immense support I do see stems from the tens of thousand of supporters who follow the Saga. Love you guys!! It is not within the Saga’s budget to cover an expensive hotel quarantine in Hong Kong. It was however not something I needed to worry myself with as fifty-six people came forward with donations covering the entire stay!!! An abundance of generosity from all but especially from Mr. Ciaran Collins who donated USD 723 stating: “The remaining payment for your hotel in HK. Want to help in whatever little way I can so that you can achieve this crazy wonderful dream”. And Mr. Collins does not stand alone. I’ve been in touch with travel blogger Megan Jerrard who lives in Australia and has been a friend for years. And Jenny Ruffell from Swire who hosted me for a bit in the Solomon Islands – also in Australia now. And Luke Gowlett from Australia whom I met in Somalia long ago. My friend Cam Brookes who’s in Melbourne with his wife and children. Craig Lyon (Maersk) from New Zealand living in Australia – he and his wife hosted me in Papua New Guinea. They are all trying to help. Frank, Bjorn, Thomas, and Thue are all shipping experts living in Hong Kong, who are helping to the best of their abilities (and that is no small thing). Furthermore, the past week while in quarantine I have been reaching out to ministries, ministers, influencers and what not, trying to make a breakthrough. The truth about success is often that you fail a lot on the long road getting there. The workload is immense. But the goal is clear.
How I spend most of my day. I haven't watched more than a few movies and I haven't read as much as I hoped. There has on the other hand been a lot of work.
Let’s round this up with a few words on the hotel quarantine. I really don’t mind it. While I found the quarantine in Palau to be unjust, I view the compulsory quarantine in Hong Kong to be just. Everyone who arrives to Hong Kong (except for Nicole Kidman who’s from Australia?) must quarantine at a hotel for 14-days. And my hotel room is as good a place to be as anywhere, since I after all need to be somewhere. The first week back in Hong Kong it has been raining a lot and the temperature outside has been around 8 degrees Celsius (46.4F). Furthermore, most of Hong Kong is shut down trying to cope with getting Omicron under control during a strict zero-tolerance strategy. Anyone who tests positive in Hong Kong is brought to the hospital no matter if they need hospitalization or not. That was possible when Hong Kong only had relatively few COVID-19 cases, but with Omicron in play that is a serious challenge. Good luck with that. While in my hotel quarantine I have been tested again, and again, and again. I will need to test negative TEN TIMES before I’m completely free. The last two after leaving the hotel. What I do mind, is not having a plan in place for reaching Australia once I can leave the quarantine.
I've lost count of the nasal and throat swabs I've been given by now.
It's a great hotel. Taking hot showers is my favorite activity!
Nah – I’m not bothered by the hotel quarantine; I have what I need. The bed is good, the pillows are good, it’s peaceful, I have a work desk and strong WIFI-internet which is nice, I do 10km (6.2mi) fast passed walking on Thomas of the Andersen Clan’s treadmill everyday (I’ve promised the hotel not to run to prevent noise), food is delivered three times daily and is mostly good, and the highlight of the day is taking a shower! The water pressure is strong, the temperature goes high and the shampoo and shower gels make me smell great. The treadmill is not only for staying in shape. It is just as much to get some movement through my body as a quarantine generally consists of sitting or lying down. There isn’t much need for movement when you’re stuck in a room. The quarantine itself is of course unnecessary given that the crew and I were isolated at sea for 16-days before coming to Hong Kong. But rules are rules and I knew it would be like this long before I left Hong Kong.
I've done 70km (43.5mi) so far. I know Roel in Palau also enjoys doing 10km/day, Jakob does it too, Jesper does it and the nutcases meet up to do approx. 10km every Thursday.
Some sad news here towards the end is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What a horrible, horrible thing that is. I have been to Ukraine twice and to Russia three times. I have only been met by kindness on both sides of the borders. And the countries are furthermore closely connected like the Nordic countries are, like Spain and Portugal are, like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are…it’s very sad. And unfortunately, it is yet another proxy war within a political power play. This time in Europe. A human made disaster. They are the worst. Manmade disasters are terrible because we have everything we need to prevent them. So, so sad.
Day six cheer-up package from the hotel.
And I ordered some milk, chocolate, salted nuts, tea and electronics! While many, many friends have offered to stop by with something - I'm fully covered already :)
I don’t want to leave you in a sad place so I will finalize this entry with something spectacular. Friends and family came together to create a video in which they welcomed me back to Hong Kong. The masterminds behind it were to the best of my knowledge Jessi and Thomas. Great stuff! It features several of my friends in Denmark, both my parents, ultra-wifey, the nutcases here in Hong Kong and many more. What a nice way to be welcomed back to Hong Kong. Undoubtedly my second home. Thanks a lot!! Now let’s get me out of here and home to Denmark through the final eight. Let’s keep on keeping on.
Thanks for the group video! :)
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - I love my wife.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga