The Worst Trip of My Life

So this all happened on a trip to China on business in about 2008. I was part of a team sent to negotiate a contract with a chinese rail company for the manufacture of some rail vehicles for Hong Kong. Looking back I can see the humour, grim though it might be. At the time not so much…

All went according to plan on the way in, we flew to Nanjing, got to our hotel and stashed our gear. It was an interesting hotel, in the basement there was a replica German Beer cellar and below that, in the sub-basement I guess, a chinese brothel. Like I said, interesting.

Well we got the contract signed, and then endured the obligatory banquet and interminable rounds of toasts (luckily I’m ex Navy so can hold my own on both fronts) followed by the visit to the ‘hostess room’ in the aforementioned brothel, at which rather tacky point I said to hell with the cross cultural sensitivities, bailed out and went to bed, at about one AM.

I arose the next morning, feeling very, err, average and packed for the airport, then checked out.  On the drive to the airport I reached for my tickets to check them and… Damn I’d left them in the hotel, and no time to go back.

Of course they were paper tickets rather than E-tickets so I had to buy new ones. Unfortunately I was new to the company so didn’t have a corporate credit card or even a corporate phone so I borrowed one of the other team members cards, went to the China Air desk and bought a new ticket to take me back to Hong Kong. Just made the plane and still feeling average (hangover I thought)…

Got to Hong Kong and of course I’d lost my International carrier tickets as well, so start looking for the Qantas desk, nope not one. So I rang up Amex who gave me the airline desk who handles Qantas ticketing. Amex were their usual helpful selves so after ringing them several times I eventually got my details faxed through to Hong Kong airport and a new set of tickets issued. All this on my personal phone of course, damn straight I ended up with a massive phone bill when I got home. Back to hotel, had a swim and then crashed out.

Oh yes, I was also on standby for my flight out that evening, but of course you have to check out of the hotel booked by the company before going to airport, even though there’s a chance that you might not get onboard. What to do? Checkout and then go back to hotel if you don’t get a seat? More importantly how to pay? Given I didn’t have a company credit card, and was traveling separately from my other team members. And of course corporate travel policy being what it was woe betide you if you deviated from the corporate accommodation. This is the point that I realised that this was a travel plan based on the premise that everything would go right, of course as soon as one thing went wrong …

After putting in a final day of work I checked out of my hotel (on the Kowloon side) and took a taxi to airport, it’s getting late and I’m feeling worse and worse, feverish, strep throat and getting the shakes. You bet it ain’t no hangover, shades of the film Contagion. I got to the check in desk and wow! Looks like there’s two no shows. Five minutes to close of check in I get the nod, hand up my luggage get my boarding pass and am just turning towards the security barrier when I hear running footsteps behind me… Yes that’s right the no shows actually showed up, [unprintable comment]…

At this point I was beyond giving a fig about corporate travel policy so it’s head round the corner and down escalator to the airport hotel, check in using my personal credit card, and then straight to my room. Which was decorated in a style that I cannot describe other than to say that I felt like Oscar Wilde who, when dying, famously remarked of the wall paper in his room, “either it goes or I do…’. Now I was feeling very very ill, and spent the next six hours in, well it wasn’t sleep, let’s just call it an altered state of consciousness.

Got up the next morning running pretty much on will power and homing instinct, checked in and wandered along to the gate only to find that because an Air France connecting flight was delayed my flight was late by half an hour, [unprintable comment about Air France]. Finally we boarded and I got to my seat in what would have to be the oldest 747 I’ve ever seen*. We pushed back, the engines spooled up then wound back down, the skipper came on the intercom and told us that one of the starter motors needed to be replaced, so back to the gate we go and another half an hour delay.

Eventually we lumbered into the air and headed south across the Arafura, I’m now watching the big display feeling rather hallucinatory and weirded out, as you do when your running a high fever and hey! How come our flight path is deviating right off track? The skipper came on the intercom again, ‘excuse me but is there a doctor onboard?’, as it happens yes, then 5 minutes later, ‘Does any passenger have some aspirin?’. OK so it’s probably a heart attack. Yes it is heart problems, the captain confirmed which is why we’re diverted to Darwin, luckily we were over the point of no return or it would have been back to HK.

We landed in Darwin and proceeded to st in un air-conditioned splendor on the tarmac while the paramedics wheel the poor guy off, I did my bit and tried not to sneeze on him as he went by. Then we waited another half an hour as the baggage handlers off loaded his luggage. Now I appreciate security as much as the next guy, but I do think that giving yourself a heart attack is a bit extreme, even for Al Kaiedah!

Finally take off! we’re back in the air and flying throttles to the firewall to get to Sydney before the 10pm curfew, man you could feel the old girl shaking and rattling, or perhaps that was just me… At this point I’ll disclose that I had my car parked in a secure garage that, you guessed it, closed at 10pm. We made it bang on the curfew, and before we’d even got to wheel stop I was on the phone to the garage, the guys were great about it, they stayed open and sent a minivan round to pick up myself and a couple of other passengers.

You’d think that now I was home safe, well not quite. I live in Newcastle so there’s a two and a half hour road trip ahead of me**. I really don’t recommend driving long distances when ill and late at night but I was doing OK until I got to the approaches to Swansea, one of the southern suburbs of Newcastle. Uh oh up ahead on the freeway there’s a police road block. I park and walk up to find that there’s been a bad accident and the road will be blocked for the next hour. My choices; I can wait, or turn around and go back around the south end of the lakes then up the west side and home that way, adding another hour or so of travel time.

In the end I was so beat I decided just to wait, so I leaned the car seat back and tried to get some sleep. After an hour of, not so quality, rest the road block was still there so I got out and went to talk to the highway patrol, “sorry sir, we’ve had to call in ‘other agencies’…”***

So, back in the car and head south and west, driving in the dark on country roads with no idea where I am. Eventually I saw a sky glow and headed towards it. Ended up in the north of the city and drove across town to home, final getting through my front door at three AM in the morning.

Did I sleep in? Yes, yes I did. For the next 10 days in fact I was flat on my back with the scariest flu you can imagine including follow on bacterial pneumonia. As a side note the rest of the team were also laid out by the same bug. One of our Hong Kong resident team members was actually put in isolation because they were afraid it might be SARS, scary in retrospect.

And that, ladies and gentlemen was the worst trip of my life. I hope you got a laugh out of the above comedy of errors and misfortune. :-).

*The Longreach, which a couple of weeks later had a compressed air bottle blow it’s way out through the aircrafts hull, yay! So glad I wasn’t onboard for that one.

**I also stuffed up the e-tolls for the Sydney harbour tunnel as well and got an eight dollar fine next month.

**The coroner.

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