A Little History of #Norway (2): #Bergen and the #Fjords Beyond

Stavkirke, originally built in 1150, relocated in 1883, burnt down and then reconstructed

Stavkirke, originally built in 1150, relocated to its current location in 1883, burnt down and then reconstructed

If you are not from Norway or have never visited, what do you know about this country?

Before we visited Norway for the first time, I confess that I did not know a great deal, except perhaps that it was very expensive with a very high quality of living. I also knew that it was a peace loving country and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded there every year.

Then we paid a short visit to Oslo in July 2009 for a very special occasion, I learnt a bit more about this Northern European country.

It is still the most expensive country we have ever been to but there is a good reason behind this. Although the early settlers in Norway dated back over 10,000 years, it was largely a land for hunting, fishing followed by farming. In the Bronze Age, weapons, jewellery and tools were made hence trading started to grow, especially during the time of the Viking expansion. As we know, fast ships were built to allow the Vikings to set sails and raid other nations.

Over the years throughout its history, Norway had unions with the more powerful Denmark (1380-1814) and then Sweden which lasted until early 20th century (1905). So compared to may European nations, Norway as an independent nation is still quite ‘young’.

Fast forward to the 1960s when massive reserves of oil and gas were discovered in the North Sea, especially off the Norwegian coast. The rest, as we see, is history. Norway’s economy had a gigantic boost, and for the last decade or so, Norway has been consistently voted the top country to live in.

John at Oslo Harbour

John at Oslo Harbour

Nobel Peace Centre is Situated in Oslo

Nobel Peace Centre is Situated in Oslo

Oslo, a First-Class Metropolis or the World’s Most Expensive City?

Following Oslo (see above link), Bergen became a natural pick for our second visit to this vast country, not so big in terms of population, only over five million habitants, similar size to that of Scotland, but huge in comparison with our northernly neighbour in terms of land mass, especially the coastline, stretching endlessly North to some 22,000 kilometres, all the way from the sea border of Denmark to the northern tip of Finland up in the Arctic Circle.

On approaching our landing at Bergen, the lovely Norwegian girl next to me said that we were really lucky in visiting that particular week, as Bergen had been suffering from non-stop rain for weeks and months.

Lucky indeed! Of the six days we spent either in Bergen and beyond, we had the bluest skies, sometimes with white clouds, sometimes without, as can be seen from the pictures we took, with iPhones, iPads, cameras. Between John and I, we had six different photographic tools which we made very good use of. Like last week’s post, I am sharing a very small section of our massive collection (nearly 2000 photos we took between us) here with you.

iPad came handy when taking pictures

iPad came handy when taking pictures

Bergen centre is buzzing with tourists and locals alike

Bergen centre is buzzing with tourists and locals alike

The views from above are breathtaking, especially on a bright day

The views from above are breathtaking, especially on a bright day

In Bergen, we visited a number of Art Galleries during the one day when the clouds were low and visibility wasn’t great. On the day before we set exploring further in our hired car, the sun was shining beautifully and we headed towards one of the seven mountains around Bergen. The views were truly stunning and words were not sufficient to do justice, nor cameras, but you get the picture.

In last week’s blog, I shared with you what we did when we visited Ulvik, where we spent time kayaking in fjords and hiking into the mountains in Hardanger, and lovely people we met especially Remco and Hana. This week, I will conclude my Norwegian travel log with a fabulous fjord cruise we experienced on the day before we left Bergen.

Another picture with Remo and Hana, our lovely guides

Another picture with Remo and Hana, our lovely guides

One of many picture breaks we took on our road trip

One of many picture breaks we took on our road trip

The only souvenir I bought from Norway was a cap from the centre of Bergen, near the famed Brygen and Fish Market at the harbour, before we set off on the fjord excursion beneath a hot sun beating relentlessly down. A dash of red against the blue sky and fjords, and green mountains and grass, was a perfect choice, don’t you think?

My Norwegian cap matches the Norwegian glad perfectly

My Norwegian cap matches the Norwegian flag perfectly

More pictures of our fjord cruise on a fine day!

More pictures of our fjord cruise on a fine day!

Thanks to John and his fine photographic skills, and mine of course, our fantastic expedition is forever recorded in the countless images we caught on camera, and in our hearts.

I left a little piece of my loving heart in that awesome land and its waters blessed by Mother Nature!

Bryggen UNESCO World Cultural Heritage

Bryggen UNESCO World Cultural Heritage

Sailing away from Bryggen

Sailing away from Bryggen

One fjord after another, the natural beauty never ends

One fjord after another, the natural beauty stretches endlessly!

Goodbye Norway! We will be back!

Goodbye Norway! We will be back!

 

Finally a short video I made for our previous Oslo trip with fabulous music from Norway’s proud son Edvard Grieg. Enjoy!

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#Norway (1): #Hiking and #Kayaking in Hardanger Fjord

Amazing sights of Norway's fjords and mountains

Amazing sights of Norway’s fjords and mountains

Wow.

One word, that would describe what I saw in Norway perfectly.

Here is another: AWESOME! In capital letters, to distinguish it from the overused expression by the positive yet likely to exaggerate younger Americans.

Last week, John and I flew to Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. A few years ago, we visited the capital city of Oslo, so this time, something a bit different. Variety, for me, is the spice of life.

Thumb ups for Mr Kirk, for the suggestion and thanks to KLM for taking us there. What an enchanting choice for a mini break in the middle of August. Now a week later, we are back home, but Norway and her scenery and soul have stayed with me.

Where shall I begin?

I’ll break my Norway story in two parts and today I’ll share with you some of the highlights of this trip.

Another enlightening choice by John this time was to stay in four different locations, to allow us to see Norway through more perspectives. One of the stops was Ulvik, some 100 miles East of Bergen. In that three hour drive, we feasted our eyes on countless mountains and fjords. Perhaps I should emphasise my eyes, as I was the one sitting on the passenger side and indulging my senses. After the first few ‘wows’ and ‘look at that’, I decided that I should just sit tight for the sake of driver concentration and enjoy the views. I did, however, request the driver to stop from time to time for photo shoots. Fortunately there were not too many cars on the road, and the driver was quite happy to oblige where possible.

Breathtaking views all around

Breathtaking views all around

Don't you have to stop to take this in?

Don’t you have to stop to take this in?

On arriving at our hotel, we were given a little book of free activities. It started with archery, art classes through to bike riding and a nature walk. Being keen outdoor types who like to stay active, we jumped at the opportunity, first kayaking on the fjord right outside our hotel and bang in the middle of Ulvik.

The waters were so calm and soothing, as John and I paddled off in our little kayaks. Had I done more arm exercise before and my arms were not so tired, I would have carried on for much longer. I wanted to get back to it the next day.

It's so peaceful and soothing on the fjord, we had it all to ourselves except two divers

It’s so peaceful and soothing on the fjord, we had it all to ourselves except two divers

It's been recorded!

It’s been recorded!

We have done it!

We have done it!

It was not meant to be, as we booked a nature walk with a guide. Two guides actually. Remco hailed from Holland and his girlfriend Hana was from Czech Republic. With this fine young couple, we went for a hike into the farmlands, mountains with birch trees, mushrooms and edible vegetation. Remco was very knowledgeable about the land even though he was not a local. He picked wild greens and raspberries for us to try and told us the vital nutrition that these plants and fruits provided for us human beings. He even stopped at one scenic spot and offered us tea made from Christmas trees. Check out the pictures below.

Remco gave us a history lesson

Remco gave us a history lesson

We had lots of fun and Hana picked mushrooms for dinner!

We had lots of fun and Hana picked mushrooms for dinner!

During the two and half hour walk (I was a little on the slow side), we talked about a lot of things, culture, history, nature, and you know what, Brexit, naturally! It was such a lovely and memorable experience that I am dedicating this blog post to these two nature-loving extraordinary young people.

Picture time for our guides Remo and Hana, with John on camera, photo taken by me :)

Picture time for our guides Remo and Hana, with John on camera, photo taken by me :)

Thank you, Remco and Hana, for the wonderful walk, and for taking time to show us the land of Ulvik ( which means “Wool Cove” in Norwegian).

14067641_10153617474487172_4476290349320411153_nIf any of my readers ever take a trip to Norway, be sure to visit this beautiful part of the country. I am sure some of the B-Nature members will make you feel very welcome and show you how to enjoy nature and stay active.

Before I end today’s blog, I’ll share with you an advert I saw when entering Norway through Bergen Airport.

Norway, Powered by Nature! I can’t agree more!

Do come back next week for more stunning pictures and stories of this fascinating country.

Be active and be with nature!

Be active and be with nature!

Isn't this the view to die for, or shall we say to live for?

Isn’t this the view to die for, or shall we say to live for? – Photo by John Kirk

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An Illegal #Immigrant’s Passage to #LandOfHope

Book III of Journey to the West

Book III of Journey to the West

SSBFTOLEXCERPT

 

Nothing left but despair.

Only one way out of that mess – the snakeheads, gang masters, agents, or whatever name people used to label them. They were the only ones who could ‘help’ me and my family, and seemingly saving my debt-ridden arse.

“Go to Europe, go to the UK. We guarantee that you’ll make a fortune.”

The word had been out for years. Local snakeheads had grand and imposing mansions and posh cars to demonstrate what they preached. Sensible people knew that their riches came from heartless exploitation of those poor souls desperate to get work and get rich overseas; yet who, in their right mind, could resist the allure of fortune in the land of hope and glory, a promised land, with streets paved with gold, waiting for us?

The situation at home was so dire and hopeless that poor sods like me would do anything for a glimpse of hope, no matter how slim and distant.

Although I could not articulate it, I knew about hope, and it was everything when you had nothing else worthwhile. Hope sold; it did not matter where and how – just look at those of us stupid bastards who gambled at casinos or bought lotteries using up our last pound coin. It was hope that had kept us going, and ultimately was keeping us alive, no matter how miserable that life had turned out to be.

Deserted Village in Southern China where young people go overseas

Deserted Village in Southern China where young people go overseas

Land where hope is like a beautiful rainbow

Land where hope is like a beautiful rainbow

No guarantee of safe journey or human loss was ever offered or needed. Smuggling humans was a risky adventure, and everyone knew the score: if you were leaving your country of your own free will, illegally, you should be prepared to pay whatever price that would cost you and your family. Human loss was part of this chess game, and in this world, only the fittest survive. Who could argue with that timeless, indisputable theory? Certainly not a half-witted, semi-illiterate idiot like me.

What lies on the other side of the world, few immigrants knew

What truly lies on the other side of the world, few immigrants knew

The going rate for smuggling had been astronomical for many, and the more costly the option, the easier the passage. Even the cheapest option was huge, as it was only reasonable for the snakeheads to charge an arrangement fee, which would include paying bribery to government officials, forging passports and visas, and paying for the international networking and facilitation among the gang masters, not to mention the profits necessary to build and maintain their massive mansions and associated luxuries.

My family, like thousands of families in my village and other villages, believed in the Promised Land. So many people pinned their hope for a better future on distant shores. Europe, Japan, USA, Australia: take your pick. They have been the hottest destinations for Chinese economic migrants, with great prospects and greater returns.

Like the modern-day gold rush, you heard stories that your neighbour went and made good, so what do you do? I followed suit.

Soon enough, though, the ‘wonder drugs’ wore off and you woke up, feeling the after effect.

It did not take long for me to discover that the promised ‘grand prospects’ were in stark contrast with the grim reality. My ‘safe passage’ from China to the UK lasted six months, with numerous stops en route, many of which had remained unknown or meaningless to me and my fellow travellers.

We were packed in boats, trains, coaches, and in the back of container lorries; even walked long distances at night, for days on end, climbing mountains, which were exhausting. I had seen people passing out and being abandoned en route: left to die, sometimes. I still have hardened blisters and scars to remind me of that horrendous journey.

Will life be better than being a fisherman back home?

Will life be better than being a fisherman back home?

“Was it true that you were in Russia for three months before you went to Holland?” the Home Office Presenting Officer had asked me during my appeal hearing for asylum in the beginning of 2001.

“I don’t know which country I was in. Nobody told us, and I didn’t speak any local languages,” I had answered, truthfully.

The moment I decided to use a snakehead, I became a puppet, my life and death in their hands. I was instructed never to ask questions. I remembered once when I was in the back of a lorry for ‘God-only-knows-how-long’; I nearly passed out before I was eventually allowed out. For my ever-shrinking belly, I was given inedible, dried bread and no water to wash it down with. I was so thirsty that I thought that my lips would dry out completely, or I would bleed to death from the split lips.

Nor could I complain. How dare I? To whom?

“You can make your own way back to your fucking village,” could hardly be construed as an empty threat. Few things were worse than that. I would have no face to show and nowhere to hide if I went back home empty-handed, and never, ever be able to pay the debts. The outcome would have been too horrible to even contemplate.

Truth be told, I was considered lucky. At least I did not drown in the river, or freeze or choke to death in stinking containers on the back of a lorry, as some poor sods did. I even knew one of the families whose son died on that ill-fated crossing to Dover. My mother spoke to his mother after the tragedy made news in the West, eventually making it through word of mouth to local attention. As a result of the son’s death and the ever-mounting debt, the family had to borrow more money to send his younger sister overseas. God knows what she would have to do to pay back both her own debts and that of her brother’s.

enslaved

Despite incredible hardships during my journey to the West, I made it to my destination. I was definitely lucky – I was not packed off to a secret location to pick fruits in the fields, or collect cockles in the freezing, unpredictable sea: another tragic story which would be etched in the memory of many Fujianese for years to come.

Lucky me, I was dumped by the agent in China Town.

“Go and find yourself a job. When you get caught, apply for asylum. They can’t throw you out.” Standard advice they gave to nameless ‘ghosts’ like me.

I did, and sure enough I soon got lost in the masses of thousands of illegal immigrants scattered around this wonderful country they call the United Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 11.08.17 IMG_1851

Author’s Note: This character in Land of Hope was based on a real person, one of the first illegal immigrants I interpreted for. I got to know his life story well due to the sustained period of time I worked with different UK organisations in dealing with his case, Psychiatrist, consultant, mental care nurses, Social Worker, solicitors and so on and so forth. His tragic life was one of the reasons that inspired to write the story.

In the post Brexit Britain, it is important that we understand what motivates ordinary people to migrate; what kind of desperate situations push them, what risks they take and what sacrifices they have to take to make the often exhausting and hazardous journey.

If Brits are emigrating to the South of France and Spain for the sun and sandy beach, what is wrong with people seeking a better life for themselves and their families?!

UK has more immigrants overseas than other European countries

UK has more immigrants overseas than other European countries

There are actually more serious issues than immigration, such as human trafficking and slavery of 21st century which need to be on government agenda and tackled. 

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#Music Monday: #AmazingGrace & #Mama by #IlDivo to #ThankYou

13933365_10153596803477172_964337949_nLast Thursday on WeChat, my Brother Brad’s update suddenly caught my eye and my breath: It went something like this in Chinese: Mother fell ill all of a sudden, I’m rushing to Chengdu to keep her company. At the famous Western China Hospital, where patients queue to be seen by doctors…Busy and Chaotic!

I called my brother straight away to find out what was wrong. It turned out that my mother, who is 83, had blood bursts in her thyroid, causing her neck to grow quickly. She had thyroid problems for many years but apart from her ever expanding neck size, it had been benign. But this time, it turned nasty. It grew by 12 centimetres overnight and had caused her massive pain and difficulty in breathing. It also made the blood supply to her brain problematic.

They had to go to two different hospitals in Chengdu to get diagnosis and expert opinion as to what to do. I can only imagine how traumatic and stressful it must have been for my two bothers who rushed to Mum’s side from a different city, as well as mum’s nanny and relatives in the city who watched her suffer in pain and in peril.

I went into a little panic when I realised how dangerous the situation my mother was in. Given her old age and other complications, with her heart problem, her high blood pressure and so on and so forth, operations may very well endanger her life.

In my distress and fear for Mum’s safety and health, I posted messages on my Facebook and WeChat, sharing my worry and requesting for prayers from friends. Immoderately my friends near and far, from all corners of the earth, poured their love, concern, support and sincere prayers for mum, someone they do not know. Even strangers whom I don’t know, when they saw my friends posting sympathetic messages to me, they joined in and prayed for my mum and my family. I was deeply touched and overwhelmed by this outpour of love and offering of kindness and prayers. It is testing times like this one truly sees who her friends are and who truly care.

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There are so many that it is not possible for me to list everyone who sent me good wishes, except what you can see from the screenshots from these SM messages I posted. I would like to thank them all with a few YouTube music videos I selected, to express just how much I value their friendship, their fellowship and their love.

May God bless you all!

Thanks to all the prayers, Mum’s little surgery to suck out some of the blood has been a great success and relief for my family over the weekend. She is having another prognosis today, to decide what other treatments will need. I continue to pray for my mum, and I thank you for yours too!

I wish all my friends everywhere a most wonderful week! I wish my mum a speedy recovery and continue to be an inspiration!

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 18.09.27Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 18.09.59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To all my friends in this global village

To all my friends in this global village

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