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Humans of Hong Kong: Trotting the globe with Thor Pedersen

By Localiiz 31 March 2021

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. We weaved in-between high-rises of shipping containers and traipsed across Kam Shan Country Park to speak to Torbjørn C. “Thor” Pedersen, a Danish traveller whose goal is to visit every country in the world without the use of air travel. Join us as he shares tales of his adventure across the globe, his work for the Danish Seaman’s Church in Hong Kong, and how to endure seven years of continuous travelling. 

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”In 2013, I set out to visit every single country in the world in an unbroken journey completely without flying. I have reached 194 countries. I’m only nine countries away from my goal. I have been travelling on-board container ships to reach some of the faraway islands and also go between continents. So I have travelled with 25 container ships so far. I got stuck here in Hong Kong in January 2020 due to the pandemic and been here ever since.

“So the Danish Seaman’s Church, they contacted me, and they said, ‘You know, we have a win-win situation because we need an assistant, someone who can contact the ships before they arrive in Hong Kong and ask if they need anything.’ So we offer them services like printing out newspapers for the ship and we go do some shopping if they need it, like for phones or guitar strings, or a suitcase or something like that.’ And that’s my job now. I liaise with the ships, send them emails, and if they need something, I drive in and out of the container ports and go up to the ship and deliver it.”

“I read this article about people who have been to every country in the world and I found out that no one had ever accomplished it completely without flying. I was deeply fascinated by that because, for the most part, I grew up in a world where I felt that everything has been done. People have been on the highest mountains. They have gone around the planet. Every little corner has been discovered. There’s nothing left. Everything has been done—I’m born too late. And then I found out that no one’s done it without flying. And I decided to do it.”

“A lot of people, they do dream big. They want to be musicians, or they want to be athletes. Most parents would say, ‘That’s not safe. Do you know how few people become successful with that?’ So the parents will say, ‘Stay on the conveyor belt, get your education, get a job, start a family, and then have it as a hobby. And if you’re very, very successful with your hobby, then maybe, who knows, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket.’ And I would say, that’s quite true because very few people do succeed in these very, very unique things. But I think what a lot of people fail to see is that if they want to succeed in something which is different or something, which is important to them, but not important to their parents or not important to their society, then they need to work hard at it.”

“I think Hong Kong offers opportunity. It was far more likely that I would have gotten stuck on-board a ship or on a small island with 20,000 people during the pandemic. I was very lucky to get stuck in Hong Kong. And like most people who arrive here, I had no idea about all the nature. I thought Hong Kong was Hong Kong Island and the city and my jaw dropped when I discovered that Hong Kong is 75 percent nature because I love nature and mountains and beaches and waterfalls and all the different animals and hiking trails. There’s so much going on in Hong Kong that I cannot imagine getting stuck anywhere better. It’s full-on opportunity.”

“Something I find really interesting with Hong Kong is this extreme diversity within the population. So you can stand next to some guy with smart hair and smart shoes and he is looking into his iPhone 1,000 or whatever it’s called today. And he’s texting everyone. And then right next to him, it’s an old woman in more traditional clothing who definitely does not speak English, who is smiling with the four teeth that she has in her mouth and with all the life in her eyes. And those two people that are right next to each other, you know, so I find that truly interesting about Hong Kong.”

“I have truly been through a lot to get this far. I am a little bit afraid of failure. I can be worried about disappointing people, not living up to what people expect of me. People reach out to me and say, ‘You have an amazing project. You must be so free. It must be so wonderful. You’re living your dream. It must be an adventure every day.’ And sometimes I worry that what I do is too mundane. It’s too ordinary, under extraordinary circumstances, but I’m still going to the supermarket to buy milk and I’m still boiling some water for a noodle soup. And I still get on the MTR. It’s not all that extraordinary when you boil it down to the day-to-day basis.

“It becomes a lot less adventurous and a lot more administrative after a few years. When I left home, it was 80 percent adventure and 20 percent work. And then eventually it was 80 percent work and 20 percent adventure. I think most people who head out to travel and explore the world, they come back home after a year or two years, and the reason is not only because they run out of money, but it’s also because they have seen enough waterfalls, met enough people, tried enough exotic food. Their phone book is full of new contacts and they want to go home and digest and sort of look through the photos and remember the good places and maybe start over again. And then after some time, they will go travelling again. You have to remember, I haven’t been home for seven years now.”

Created in partnership with Hong Kong Tourism Board for the Hong Kong Super Fans campaign

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