For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived as an expat in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing is a megacity of 30 million people. Often abbreviated as CQ, and pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring, Chongqing is located in south-central China on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way from my small hometown located in (pause for effect) … south-central Missouri on the Little Dry Fork Creek. How long? How about 14 time zones-long? CQ is one of the world’s largest cities but I am on a quest for a simple life. I want to “simplify, simplify”, as Hank Thoreau beautifully stated it. Thus, even in the middle of a huge metropolis, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th Floor Homestead.
I am currently working on a new book, The Expat Life. It will deal with expat experiences, lifestyle, and mindset. Welcome to come along for the ride. If you find this invitation intriguing, become a subscriber to my free weekly newsletter at http:/theexpatlife.substack.com. Yes, it’s free and yes, it’s in the form of a weekly email sent directly to your Inbox. Substack also provides an opportunity to leave your comments if you wish. Welcome!
Announcing Torgeir Higraff’s 2023 World Tour…
We interrupt the regularly scheduled, expat-related drivel to declare the start of a series of irregularly periodic reports. Thanks to the technological wonders of our digital era, we can be part of a long-deferred trip by occasional contributor from Norway and certifiable vagabond, Torgeir Higraff. Commencing February 28, he began a 9-country, 7-week adventure. (At least, that is the plan. As we know, plans sometimes go awry.)
Here, in an intriguing combination, will be his philosophical ramblings and practical observations, all submitted in authentic Norwegian English. We will not publish reports every week but only “when I get damn good and ready.” In a series of vignettes, we will get to look over his shoulder. Those of us who have been homebound for several years welcome the opportunity to be part of his trip… but without the altitude sickness.
Will this journal be the basis for the next Around the World in 80 Days? Will this be as thrilling yet metaphysical as the upcoming best-seller, Kon-Tiki2? Inquiring minds want to know.
By Torgeir Higraff
February 26, 2023: Today I woke up in Zagreb in Croatia, and my rental car was covered in snow. Did not expect that. The Croatians are unused to snow so they were driving really slow for once (with summer tires on their cars).
“One day we shall all die. But all the other days we shall be alive”. This quote from the Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist (1934 – 2020) has motivated me to change my routines, at least for the next couple of months. Also Randy has motivated me to take action. People have different opinions on what it means to feel alive. I shared my view with some good friends, among them Pål S. He helped me turn my idea into action, as a sponsor. With motivators like him, it is easy to take risks!
My idea is that every day in my life should be like an adventure. I know how to live that way, but it has been a while. After the Kon-Tiki2 expedition in 2015 – 2016 (book to be released later this year), I have tried to be a normal 8 to 4 worker and family guy. And for five years, I was successful at that in my opinion. During Covid, I had no choice. People who experienced my company (professional and in personal settings) may have other views on that.
Anyway, now I need to do something before I go mad. But what? Not something as drastic as becoming an expat like my friend Randy who moved from the US to China. Not now, at least. But I will change my way of living.
Expedition Important World is about that. Pål S. and I chose that name together. It is based on the fact that our world is important. And for that reason, we need to experience the world. Only a few people really do that. But why is it important, our world? Should not everybody who inhabits this Earth be thinking about that question?
It is a big topic. I need to go almost everywhere to collect all the answers. Maybe the expedition would last many decades. When people I meet start to repeat answers I already have and I get no new interesting answers, the journey is over. Then I should write my conclusions in a book, hopefully with help from Randy if he is still around. Then I can sum up and contribute to modern philosophy, nothing less!
I will start now, traveling to a few places and nine countries. How to prepare for seven weeks traveling on a budget in Europe and Asia? I used to do this a lot. For twenty years, I was traveling on a low budget every year. Some years for several months. Now I will try that again. But when you have a family, everything is different. I must think not only about opportunities but also about risks.
Last summer, I wanted to sail with two friends to Greenland on our 34-foot sailboat without any technology on board. It turned out to be madness. We experienced a terrible storm near the Norwegian coast – the worst place to be in a storm – and we were in big trouble. Almost got smashed onto the cliffs. Now, I have to think again about safety. I am not 25 and single.
Before, I did not do much risk analysis. I teamed up with guys who knew how to do that. But over the years, I have gained some experience. According to Douglas Hubbard, risk management is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability or impact of unfortunate events.
My first stops are Croatia, Austria, and The Emirates. I really struggle to identify risks in Europe. I try not to lose my mobile phone or my passport. Not get drunk in bad company. But in Vienna, even if I lose everything, I can meet some person and ask for a loan. “Please give me 1000 Euro. I promise to pay you back when safely at home with my family!”. That would do. Actually, this is no joke. I have been lucky to meet people I don’t know who put everything aside to help me. This is among the best aspects of being a Norwegian in Europe. Also in Mexico, a situation like that really happened to me.
In the Emirates, I just want to see the desert. I have seen Sinai and the Peruvian desert. I love the desert. It reminds me of the sea. But with a phone connected to 5G, not much bad can happen to you in a filthy rich desert state where most men don’t drink. I will find a cab driver I trust, and go around with him.
My fourth stop of this trip is the longest one. Three weeks of trekking in Nepal, far away from infrastructure. Even this part is easy, I think. Most trekkers who visit Nepal buy a package from a company. That is safe, but expensive. And boring. The fun part is to be depending on your own preparations. I want to be independent. He travels fastest, who travels alone. To travel in a group is horrible I think. The slowest person decides our speed, and we all have to eat in expensive restaurants to make the trip profitable for the locals and our guide who get percentages. I am a terrible tourist. Spend almost no money. But I like the company of someone I trust. So, my friend Esteban and I teamed up. We decided to do risk management analysis.
First, I write down possible risks. Then some examples of those risks. Next, I suggest some efforts to prevent trouble and how to deal with any problems that occur.
Transportation in places like Nepal is always a risk. Think about a taxi in Kathmandu! Solution: Choose driver and car carefully. Or stay away from automobile traffic.
Mount Everest is our goal… but not to stand on the top. We want to see it from many different views. To do trekking 180 degrees around Mount Everest, you need to make a flight to Lukla. What can happen? According to sources, Lukla Airport is considered the most dangerous in the world and has been for many years. While Lukla is known as the gateway to Mount Everest, the famous ascent of which has killed hundreds of trekkers over the years, the danger actually starts at the airport. Over 50 people have died by take-offs and landings at the airport due to its perpetually poor weather and inadequate navigation systems.
Except for dying in a crash, what else can go wrong? The flight can be weather-delayed several hours. That makes our first day of trekking shorter. What can happen then? We don’t reach the village Namche where we can sleep inside a room on some kind of a bed. What to do then? Sleep in our sleeping bag outdoors. Challenge: Stay warm and get some sleep. Solution: Bring a sleeping bag that is comfortable in minus ten degrees or colder. Use a winter hat and three layers of wool clothing. And a self-inflatable mattress with no sharp rocks underneath.
What else can go wrong? A big snowfall. Fog. Strong winds. White-out. For those cases, we have special clothing in our backpacks. Gore-tex, woolen sweater, balaclava. Inside my trekking shoes, I put musk ox fur that I got in Greenland. Never freeze your feet! Also, we have to check each other regularly; check face and skin for frost damage. With a primus stove, we can boil water. To get enough energy to stay alive, we add the boiling water to a prepared mixture of fatty baby food, oatmeal, dry milk, and sugar. Don’t get wet while hiking! Don’t stress! Keep calm and carry on!
If we reach the village after nine or ten hours hiking, it is because we have very strong headlights. We can see the path and the signs. And if the bad weather continues, we just stay there and wait for better days.
In addition to stomach problems because of indigestion from the food, mild altitude sickness is very likely. From Kathmandu, we travel by plane from 1400m to 2800m above sea level. Then we plan to walk for eight hours to Namche which is 3440m. Between sleeps, we increase the height by 2000m. That is way too much. But I have done it many times before. Day 3, we go another 900 meters higher in altitude to Dingbuche at 4330m. This is also more than recommended increase in sleeping height. One or both of us may experience altitude sickness.
Solution? Drink plenty of water. Above 2,500 it is recommended not to increase the sleeping height by more than 600 meters per day. An extra night should be spent for every 600 to 1200 meters of ascent. Mild altitude sickness is treated by stopping the ascent and allowing further acclimatization to the altitude reached. This can take from 12 hours up to 2 – 3 days. Physical exertion should be avoided. Acetazolamide, 125 – 250 mg, twice daily improves acclimatization and limits the symptoms of altitude sickness. Promethazine or metoclopramide is also good to have in our first aid kit. Diamox, Decadron, or Ibuprofen. If we bring powerful drugs like this, they should only be used in an emergency, and they are not a substitute for descent if necessary.
As you see, to go hiking in Nepal can be done without a lot of money. You only have to do the same job as those guides most people hire. And go by yourself.
My next stop after Nepal would be India. There I want to meet some Buddhist people, to find more answers to my question: Why is the world important?