Unchartered territory

I went to the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s party this week to celebrate Chinese new year. The venue was the Just Oriental restaurant in London’s King Street, where we celebrated the year of the dog.

At the champagne reception, we said goodbye to the HKTB’s Kevin Welch, regional director of Europe, Africa and Middle East, and welcomed Sue Whitehead, currently director of northern Europe, who will take over the reins.

Kevin has been at the HKTB for eight years and is leaving to set up a business as a dealer in antique maps. I hadn’t known about his affection for all things aged, but, something of a distressed antiquity myself, he grew in my admiration in an instant.

Apparently, the oldest map in Kevin’s collection dates back to the 1570s and charts the easily navigable flats of Norfolk. Perhaps he’d be interested in visiting our office here in Dorset, where we’ve had an enormous map covering one wall for the past 26 years.

Of course, the world has changed considerably in that time, and the colours of the empire are all wrong, as are many of the country’s names, so perhaps it would be of socio-political interest. Mind you, if we ever attempted to remove it, I’m pretty certain the wall would come down too, the map having held the plaster together all this time.

But back to the evening in question. The venue for the party was packed. I met up with David Ezra from PR company Saltmarsh Partnership. David made me laugh when he told me some people misspell his name with an ‘s’ meaning that, if read backwards, his name becomes something unmentionable, but this is one switched-on chap who does know his esra from his elbow.

I first met David many years ago on a Travel 2 educational to Australia. On the final night of our stay, the gathered assemblage of industry types turned cabaret artists to entertain each other.

I had a sore throat so I was unable to contribute my touching rendition of My Heart Will Go On, which, generally speaking, has them wiping their eyes on the tablecloths. But David had proved himself a mean guitarist and impressed us all.

Reminding him of this, David told me he’d recently had a birthday (you know, the one where life begins) and as a present, his girlfriend Ros had bought him a mandolin.

It’s quite tricky to master, and in spite of his abilities as a musician, to date he can only play O Sole Mio, or, as you and I might know it, the Cornetto song.

But I digress. Back to the party. It was great to hear that Hong Kong attracted an all-time record number of arrivals from the UK in 2005, as well as welcoming over 23 million visitors globally. It’s a little island with a big heart.

The evening progressed, but I was obliged to hot-foot it to Waterloo for the last train. The HKTB’s Sanjay Chudasama tells me that, although the event was scheduled to end at 8pm, a bit like my rendition of Celine Dion’s Titanic hit, it just went on and on.

Blue and pleasant land

I guess if you’re walking around the streets of Green Park in London, you’re bound to bump into someone you know from an airline. And that’s just what happened to me, when I rounded a corner and recognised Peter Barron of Korean Air.

He told me he’d been saying goodbye to his colleague, Kim, who’d been based in the UK with his wife and family for three years and was returning to Korea.

Kim’s wife and children had returned already and were really missing England, he said, with his wife completely grief stricken at the thought she couldn’t pop to the Bluewater shopping centre at a moment’s notice. It’s funny to hear what makes a nation memorable to some people, isn’t it? Who ever thought that this green and pleasant land would become loved for its blue water?

But I love to hear the stories from folk on the airlines. They always seem to have so much more fun than the rest of us.

Peter told me about his exploits in Pamplona, Spain, famous for its bull run.

Caution there lasts as long as a jug of sangria on a warm summer’s evening.

Peter and eight of his pals from the airline were sharing an apartment built for four. Touring the town in pairs, on account of there being only two keys between the lot of them, all nine men never made it into the apartment together.

Some couldn’t find it on account of the sangria (we’ll call those the clueless); having found it, some couldn’t get in (we’ll call them the keyless);and one claimed he was going to “run with the bulls” and hasn’t been seen since (we’ll call him brainless).

Whatever was lacking on the trip, I’m assured a good time was had by all.

Going out with a smile

It’s good to be happy. I firmly believe a positive outlook makes you live longer and enjoy life to the full.

Take my colleague Rick’s client who was trying to book a trip to Australia to visit his daughter. At 80-plus years of age, and hard of hearing, he’d brought his second daughter along to help.

Half way through the booking, she turned to him and shouted: “What if you pass away while you’re out there? Do you want to be flown home or be buried there?”

Other clients in the shop looked visibly shocked at the matter-of-fact tone. However, the old boy cheerily replied: “It’s up to you. It won’t be my worry, will it? As long as I go with a smile on my face, you can choose the cheapest option.”