China turned out to be a luxurious and enjoyable trip bar one incident, which spoiled the party so to speak. I was on exhibition duty having to help set-up the stand, demonstrate the equipment my company was selling and organise the packing and stripping down of the stand once the exhibition was over. I'd not be on my own this time. Most of the overseas office from Shanghai and Hong Kong would be present for obvious language reasons. I knew most of these people quite well making it a relaxing environment to work in. The exhibition was taking place in the Chinese capital of Beijing.


I knew I was going to enjoy this trip when the plane took off from Amsterdam. It was half full or half-empty depending upon your point of view. It meant I could spread out taking up an entire middle row near the back of the plane all to myself. Four seats wide ensured a comfortable flight, lying flat out with a couple of blankets over me, my head positioned just right to be able to see the TV screen.

Upon arrival I was met by a chauffeur and transported to the Beijing Hilton in a large black limousine. Very nice indeed! I checked into the hotel early in the morning - that's the way the flight worked out and was met by one of the Hong Kong technicians called Kin. I'd have to share a room with him, but that didn't bother me. Exhibitions always meant room sharing and it was something I was used to.

I took a shower and decided to go straight to the exhibition centre with Kin and the rest of the group. The longer I could stay awake the easier it would be to sleep that night and adjust to the nine-hour time difference.

I lasted until about two in the afternoon, before heading back to the hotel and some sleep. That night I popped a couple of sleeping tablets to make sure I slept during the night. It worked a treat. The next day I felt fresh, my body clock had adjusted nicely.

If you've ever been to an exhibition be it in any industry, you will have been witness to sleek stands, carpeted walkways and no end of equipment being demonstrated as well as being for sale.

Setting up for such exhibitions is however hard work. Prior to any exhibition starting, the setting up of the stands, the installation of the machinery or computer equipment to be demonstrated is normally a chaotic experience. Empty pallets lie everywhere, ripped cardboard boxes are strewn across the walkways, forklift trucks are frantically beeping their horns as they navigate around the tight bends inbetween opposing stands. Then there's the drilling, the sawing, the shouting, and all sorts of commotion taking place until each and every stand has been completely set-up.

The stand next to the one I was working on was also representing an English company, based somewhere in Yorkshire. I got quite friendly with the people on that stand who were also staying in the Hilton hotel.


"Have you been to the Hard Rock Café yet?" they asked - apparently it was just around the corner from the hotel.


"No" I replied cautiously – well it was a strange way of saying hello if you ask me.


"We're going there tonight for a meal if you want to join us."


"Yeah sure" I replied, "mind you I'll be wearing my football top." I always took with me my Sunderland football strip and whenever the occasion was right would wear it and teach those I met about the "red and white" cause. I'd also tell them how "black and white" the colours of Sunderland's rivals - Newcastle United - was evil (I know I've already said words to that affect, I guess I'm merely emphasising the point to you that's all).


"Well if you're wearing your Sunderland top, I'll be wearing my Leeds top," said one of the lads from Yorkshire.

So there we were later that night talking football and arguing about which team has had the greater glory and whose got the best stadium and best supporters and so on - all good natured banter! Instead of a burger I opted for pizza inside the Hard Rock Café before buying a souvenir T-shirt for myself and a teddy bear for my eldest daughter - or was it for my wife? You'll have to ask her as she claimed it when I got back home much to the dismay of my eldest daughter!

Most evening's I'd alternate between eating with the lads from Yorkshire, thus fast food, and my Chinese companions, thus local cuisine and initially I'd have to ask for a knife and fork, as I couldn't master the use of chopsticks. By the end of my stint in China however, I'd become a dab hand at using chopsticks. I had the ability to turn them on the tips of my fingers, like a spinning basketball and could pick up any item of food no matter how big or small or slippery! I love Chinese food, so to taste the real thing was a wonderful experience.

One downside to exhibitions is that you get very little time off. You work non-stop even over weekends, so I never got the chance to visit the Great Wall of China, which was a shame as it was only about twenty minutes away by taxi. I did however get enough time off to go visit Tianeman Square. It's one massive open plaza more recently famous for the attempted Chinese uprising in 1988 and those vivid pictures of the young man standing in front of a tank, an act of determination, conviction and selflessness.

Now however, it's one big tourist attraction, leading you to the Forbidden City, built in the fifteenth century during the Ming Dynasty (the home for the former rulers of this imperial empire). I walked the length of Tianeman before taking a wander around the temples and monuments of the historical emperors' palaces before buying one or two souvenirs!

The fun part - not - was attempting to flag down a taxi to take me back to the hotel. The traffic flies by eight lanes wide in some places. After half an hour I still hadn't managed to get a lift back to the Hilton. I couldn't walk back it was miles away and I had no idea in what direction. I decided to walk to a different spot and try again. No luck. I'd now been trying to get a taxi for over an hour. Then across one of the widest roads I spot a couple of taxis parked up. I hurry across the road.

There is simply no sense or any discipline in the vehicles or the people in China when it comes to the rules of the road (or lack of them). If you manage to avoid the cars, buses and lorries, you then have to avoid the bicycles, whilst attempting not to trip over another person straggling in front of you (there is a lot of people in China you know). By the time I had crossed the road both taxi's had gone. I then spot a "Westerner", who had more or less jumped in the path of an oncoming taxi. It stopped, he hopped in, and away he went. So that's the trick then? You have to play a game of chicken with the traffic? I stood for a while watching a boatload of empty taxi's drive by. I was hoping the stream of traffic would slow down a bit - I wasn't exactly used to playing the game of chicken if you want to know the truth. Finally I built up some courage and jumped out to flag down an oncoming cab. I stepped backwards as it zoomed past almost driving across my feet, the wing mirror missing me by millimeters. This is not going to work I thought. Then by pure luck a taxi pulled up to drop someone off. I darted over and showed the driver the hotel card I carried around with me. He nodded; I got in and finally made my way back to the hotel. I worked out that I'd spent more time trying to get back to the hotel than I did sight seeing.

Half way through the slog of the exhibition is what is known as "open day." This is the time when the public is set loose to roam the exhibition, which until now has been by invitation only. It's a textile exhibition, machinery the average person has never seen, will probably not understand and bares little interest to anyone outside of the industry, but it does not stop the Chinese public from arriving in their thousands.

It's a frustrating time. No one wants to demonstrate or talk to the public. They are not likely to have the equity to purchase equipment worth hundred of thousands of pounds. Instead I prepare for the onslaught of bodies by placing a full batch of brochures in some plastic bags to hand out to those passing by. It keeps them happy. Most people appear to only want to get hold of as many goodies as possible, be it brochures, bags, small gifts, stickers, whatever.

The stand I'm on is quite open, having a small office at one end and a storage room at the other end, normally locked.


It's was getting pretty busy, full of people mainly looking lost, having no idea what it is they are looking at. I disappear for a split second because I desperately needed the toilet. When I return, Christine comes up to me. She was one of the Sales representatives working on the stand from the Hong Kong office.


"Have you seen my handbag?" she asks.


"No", I reply.


"I can't find it"; she says looking slightly distraught. "Well, where was it last?"


"It was in the storage room."


I went over to the storage room. Damn, it wasn't locked. No sign of her handbag as I rummaged through the bits of spare machinery, stationary, jackets and everything else stuffed into this storage area. It was nowhere to be seen. The rest of the stand was searched, but nothing. It must have been stolen. I asked her what was in her handbag and the response I got made me initially think, "typical woman." Inside her handbag had been her purse containing her credit cards, her passport, her flight tickets, and her traveller's cheques. Everything needed to survive in China and everything needed to leave the country was gone. Why is it that women always carry everything with them? Why on earth did she have her flight tickets and passport in her handbag? What was wrong with leaving them safe in the hotel?


As reality sank in that the handbag would not be found, a plan of action was needed for Christine to be able to leave the country without her passport. The lost money and credit cards didn't really matter. They were insured and could be replaced. However, replacing a passport was another matter. For all the authorities could care, she was merely an illegal alien trying to gain entry into Hong Kong. It got sorted out in the end. Her husband in Hong Kong managed to fax through some emergency paperwork to prove she held a Hong Kong passport and was not a Chinese resident.

I felt bad about it all. I was supposed to be looking after the stand. The storage room was supposed to have been locked. I'd fucked up. No one blamed me mind you, but I still felt that I'd accidentally made an error and caused no end of panic and grief for Christine. It spoiled an otherwise pleasing visit to China.

When I returned to the UK, I worked out my expenses. I was not on allowances for this particular trip so had hardly pocketed any money. I therefore decided that I had lost some cash on the to way to China, in Amsterdam airport. The cash was in my pocket one minute and gone the next I would tell the boss. I was certain I wasn't pick-pocketed, I would continue, so the money must have fell out of my pocket at some point, maybe when I bought some food. Naughty me, but what the hell, this place I'd worked for had on many occasions took the piss out of me, forcing me to travel when I did not want too, expecting me to go to certain the countries the week my wife was due to give birth, and they once dared to ask me to cancel my honeymoon to go to Indonesia. Me claiming that I'd lost a "bogus" couple of hundred quid was peanuts really. It was a form of payback for all the ridiculous and irrational demands they had expected.