Prescription for Disaster

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Elevator Story

So for a couple of years I was an adventure tour leader in China, Mongolia and S.E. Asia. In that job, you get into loads of awful, strange and embarassing situations - take all the horror stories of travelling and compact them, as you don't actually get to go home for months at a time.

If you've got a weak stomach, stop reading now.

Anyway, I had 3 days in between tours, so the tour company sent me on a "research trip" ( not as great as it sounds. You go to check out a new location or attraction and write a report on it so the company can decide whether or not they want to add it into next year's tour schedule ) I was sent to check out the Sea Turtle Breeding Research Centre in Ping Hai, which is a tiny, tiny fishing villiage a 2 hour bus ride from Shenzhen and about 3 hours from Hong Kong.

I only had three days to get there, see everything there was to see and get back to Hong Kong to meet my newest tour group. I took a night bus down there ( imagine a reasonably flat bunk bed designed for a max height of 4"2 on a rickety bus that reeks of diesel fuel and cigarette smoke, with the loudest karaoke you have ever encountered and having to lay bent in half, as it's the only way you can fit on the bed and still keep your bag strapped on for good measure. Add in a flock of chickens and a group of 7 year olds that are thrilled to talk to you ( scream at you over the blaring karaoke ) but the only English words they know are "hello" and "fat".)

So I got to Ping Hai bus station ( and tried not to touch anything ) and promptly found out that the sea turtle reserach centre was only accessible by a 30 minute motorcycle ride along the beach. ( sounds great, yeah... but how are you supposed to get picky, safety conscious tourists to board motorcycles with no helmets and no roads and drivers with no teeth???

Anyway, after an admitedly very cool and liberating ride down the beach I arrived at the research centre and was greeted by the owner - a short man wearing a full on brown business suit with black shiny shoes and women's socks (Hello Kitty, no less). On the beach in 40 degree heat.  My Chinese wasn't awesome at that point in my life, so after a lot of jarbled Chinese and akward charades I communicated to him that I was there to see the sea turtles and I was researching for a tour group. ( seriously. How the hell do you mime sea turtle??? Not easy )

So off I go armed with my 24Kg backpack, camera and a notepad. I only have that afternoon there to see everything I could, a night in the research centre's hotel (Yeah, I thought that was strange too... ) and I was supposed to be off the next afternoon. I was low on time so I ran around like a maniac, like most research trips tend to go.

The whole time I was out, I didn't find one, single bottle of water.  I kept looking and asking, but nobody had or sold bottled water. Anywhere. Not down in the village ( although they did have snickers... ), not in the restaurant, not in the hotel, nowhere.

So anyway, when I finally got to my hotel room I was completely, completely exhausted. And severely dehydrated. Running around with a heavy backpack in sweltering heat and humidity will do that to you. I was beyond desperate for water. I was so, so thirsty. Alas, in the corner of my room, there was a water dispenser - the kind with the big blue bottle full of cool, glorious water. Oddly, the water was brown. Not just a little brown, but watered down iced tea kind of brown. I convinced myself that the water was fine, just that the bottle must be a bit dusty and old. ( I was seriously dehydrated and quite desperate. It didn't take much to convince myself )

I drank. It tasted horrible. I drank some more. I literally drank a good half litre of the stuff.
Feeling fine, I then peeled off my sneakers and shorts and went to bed.

Holy Crap.

Around 3am I wake up and am viciously ill. Like, exorcist ill. I feel like I've downed 3 bottles of Nyquil and was in a state of delirious stupor. Until I started throwing up. It was EVERYWHERE. In the bed, on the floor, in my shoes, everywhere. Once nothing was left in my system, I tried to get help - but who could I call to help me in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere??? So, banging my shoes together to get most of the sick out of them, I put them on, shoved my stuff into my bag and  crawled out of my hotel room on my hands and knees with my bag in tow. I couldn't lift my bag to save my life, so I had to kick it down the 3 flights of stairs ahead of me.

Once I got to the ground floor, I lay there on my backpack, calling out "jiu ming!" (save my life! ) in Chinese as loud as I could manage. Thankfully, somebody came to my rescue. I needed medical attention. Western medical attention ( as sick as I was, I was sure that if I went to the local hospital I would go in with food poisoning and come out with heptatitis ) So the startled woman woke up the cook who had a motorcycle, and the two of them strapped me and my bag to the back of his bike and off we went down the beach toward the bus station.

I felt my best bet was to make it to the border of Hong Kong, and soon, as at best I felt I only had another 4 or 5 hours of life still in me. We got to the bus station and I had to bribe the driver to let me on. (understandably. If a foreigner was going to be found dead on his bus, it should at least be woth his while) I had the entire back of the bus to myself ( nobody wanted to sit with the crazed, sweating foreigner that was throwing up into shopping bags and throwing them out the window )

Oh, god, it was terrible. I felt like a snake that had just eaten a goat. Whole. And that the goat was trying to get back out.

I got to the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen, but couldn't stand by myself let alone hold my bag. So I paid 2 beggars to carry me and my bag to the border control at Lo Wu. Straight to the bathroom the western women in there took pity on me and set me up with as many western pills and meds they thought I could handle. Oh, I was so grateful. Grateful like a heroin addict after failed rehab. To get my temperature down ( border control anti-SARS temperature sensors coming up ) I splashed myself with cold water, threw on my bag and walked as calmly and collectively as possible to the customs line. One look at me and the Chinese customs guard was more than happy to let me out of their country. I don't even remember her checking my passport. It was more of a "holy crap, just go" kind of exit.

I miraculously made it past the temperature sensors and through Hong Kong customs - with my friend ready to pick me up on the other side. He couldn't believe it when he saw me, it was like death walking. Straight into a taxi and off to the nearest hospital - at which the emergency room nurse responded with a "wow" and a gurney, stat. I was packed with cooling pads, an air mask and was promptly stabbed with 6 needles in my very sensitive bum cheek.

After about half an hour, I was feeling great. Honestly, I was feeling better than I had ever felt in my entire life. ( even better than the morphine trip after my bout with lightening in 2002! ) I may have even been singing show tunes at this point.

Against my friend's better judgement, I went to the Hong Kong to prep for my tour, which was starting in about 2 hours.  I was still feeling absolutely fantastic. I put on my loose tour leading border shorts, threw on my tour t-shirt, grabbed my maps, binders, etc. and headed for the elevator, looking uber professional and cool - and feeling fucking fantastic.

(*now, our company used this hotel a lot, so whenever we started a new tour there, the staff would set up our group members in chairs around the elevator, so when the tour leader came down to meet them it was all very showy and dramatic, etc. blah blah blah)

So anyway, there I was. Riding down in the elevator, wearing loose shorts and feeling awesome. See, the problem with this great western medication, is that it doesn't always completely solve your medical problem, sometimes it just masks it so you don't know what's coming.

The moment the elevator door opened and the concierge introduced me and I took a dramatic step out of the elevator, I shat my pants.

It was everywhere. I was mortified. It was on the floor, on my shoes, everywhere.

I did the only thing I could think of at the time - I leapt back into the elevator and jammed the door close button repeatedly until I was safely inside and hidden away.

Oh my freaking god. And then I had to spend 3 weeks with these people.

As well, I had to change tour routes later, as although I could never bring myself to step foot into that hotel, the Newton Kowloon, ever, ever again  - I couldn't have even if I wanted to.

I was banned.

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