“Dao Lan Duang”
TV CHANNEL 3, THAILAND
14th – 21st August, 2001
This would have to be by far the worst tour I've ever had! Usually there is stress involved getting things to run smoothly, but this tour was jinxed! Fortunately the Channel 3 clients were lovely to deal with despite the bad fortune on this trip.
First a little background into the bureaucratic joys experienced by drivers and operators...
As a paid driver of a "passenger service vehicle" I need to be licensed accordingly, otherwise, if pulled over by a policeman and discovered, would then be liable to tens of thousands of dollars of fines.
Since it is a passenger service we're talking about here..... someone who makes the rules, in Land Transport, (once called The Ministry of Transport) decided that the rental van I would use was a taxi..... but wait its not really a taxi.... hmm. So in order to get around that one, they decided I need to apply for a "taxi signage exemption certificate" so that I don't need to put a taxi sign on the roof and a pricing schedule in and outside of the van.... however I must still have this:
If you have any complaints
Regarding the operation of this
Service, contact either:
Andrew Boyd 021 997798, or
Land Transport Safety Authority
151-153 Kilmore Street,
Christchurch Tel 3635666
Unique Vehicle Identity Number:
somewhere visible in the front of the van, and also in the back (usually on the left hand side). (Failure = $500 fine)
Because not only must I have a passenger endorsement on my license (formerly referred to as a 'C' class licence) I must have a passenger service operator's licence - or work for someone who does. Which is why my name appears on the complaints notice in the van.
Not only must I have the above, I must also keep a detailed log of all stops and starts each day in the logbook, I must have my ID card with photo also visible from the front of the van (failure = $150), a copy of the taxi signage exemption certificate, and A copy of my passenger service operator licence to show to any police officer who might want to have a look. And last of all, my name, address (suburb only) and telephone number stuck (magnetised stickers) on each front door!
On this particular tour that started for me on the 15th of August, the first sign of trouble began when I arrived at the rental van company to find that they had changed the van, "Because the original van we promised you came back with bald tyres"... Right then, don't panic! Telephone Land Transport and get them to fax over an exemption certificate! That was OK and it arrived within a few minutes. well, I thought, I guess this van will have nice new tyres, so started checking the tyres on it and discovered that its right rear one was also quite bald! So we had to change vans again!! By this time they had run out of clean vans and so had three staff swarming in and out of the third van to get it cleaned up in time (fortunately one of the list of five that I had given land transport a few days prior - so didn't need another faxed exemption certificate).
By this time I'm starting to get real concerned about the arrival time of the clients, as I don't like to keep them waiting! (International arrivals). While it was being cleaned I asked if I could have a spare key to give to the tour group leader to give them easier access to the van. The van rental firm couldn't or wouldn't give me another key, but they did give me its number. So I rang my locksmith, Daniel, later on and left a message with the receptionist with the key serial number and asked if Daniel could cut me one when he got in. He unfortunately didn't get the message. (I rang him later that evening but he was tied up looking after his kid, so I flagged it).
Finally I was given the new van and trailer, shot off to the airport and was just in time to see the last two of the crew of 8, coming through the gates, so that wasn't too bad. We then proceeded to the hotel where we checked in and then proceeded with the afternoon's sightseeing.
The weather was not looking too good for filming, so that was cause for concern. However we went for lunch at the Jade Garden Restaurant, where beautiful sunshine broke through and the rain stopped and things started looking good.
After lunch we headed to the Antigua Boat Sheds for our Punting on The Avon, where the weather immediately closed in again. Finally, over an hour behind schedule, we managed to get on the river and do some filming.
Unfortunately, they only had one punt operator that day, so I had to row the cameraman in a canoe alongside the punt to get the required footage! We didn't fall in.
This meant that our filming of the sunset from the cashmere hills was no longer viable and so we went straight to our next appointment.
Arriving back at the hotel, one of the group suggested it would be a good idea to park the van and trailer behind the hotel so we could load it the next day through the back door qs it was closer to most of the rooms. It seemed like a reasonable suggestion, so I drove the van around the back and in so doing scraped the top left hand side of the roof on a triangular brace part of a purely decorative pergola thingy over the driveway, ("good start" I thought). I couldn't see the damage in the dark.
The next day dawned with my cellphone going 'beep' (I set it on quiet ring mode) at 6:10 am.... "Signature security calling - we have an activation coming through from High street which is going multiple on zone one, I've despatched a security card to attend. Can you attend?"
"No I can't I'm taking a tour group at the moment"
"Is there anyone else involved with The Silk Shop that can help the police ascertain what has been taken and stay there to keep the site secured until the glaziers arrive?" ......
After leaving them to deal with that one themselves, I joined the crew for breakfast and then we checked out and headed to our first appointment - The Marae on Pages Road. It was at this time that my cellphone started to complain of not having enough power, its other battery of course going AWOL 2 days prior to the tour. Not a worry I thought, I'll just plug in the cigarette lighter charger I had cleverly thought to bring along. Oh look - the cigarette lighter doesn't work.... That's OK, I have another spare cellphone in the shop, I'll pick that up while I check out what's happened at the shop while the crew spend the morning at the Marae.
I pulled up at the shop back door and raced inside, skinning my knuckle on the back wall in the process. Jane, who works in the shop for me too, had arrived by this time, but couldn't get the front door open as it had become jammed closed at some stage that morning as it had come partially off its tracks. I put it back on and it was fine, started cleaning up a bit of the broken glass, then grabbed the spare phone and left Jane to it.
Since I still had nearly two hours, I thought I'd race back home, not far from The Marae, and pick up the other battery that I thought was in my car, it wasn't. Feeling in my pocket for the van key to go, found the hotel key to the back gate where I'd stored the trailer and van the night before - I had yet to return the gate key! And why couldn't I find the van keys now? It was not long after that that I found where they were!
I then rang the locksmith and asked them to proceed with cutting the new key, whose number I had left with Daniel the night before, I said I'd be there in about 10 minutes to pick it up. I then drove my own car to the locksmiths, who were busy with other customers when I arrived, finally Daniel had time to look at the number and he told me its too high - hi-ace key serial numbers don't go that high!
I then did what I should have done in the first place and rang the AA, who despatched a person to go and help me open the van, in the meantime I dropped into the hotel and dropped off the back gate key, and in the car transferred my GSM simcard into the spare phone.
On my return home, still no AA, my flatmate, Yi-Ming suggested the old coat hanger trick that a friend had shown him, so I said yeah why not? So he went to get an old coat hanger while I took a call to my cellphone from the tour leader "Bee" (on the spare phone that I'd given her that I keep just for tour groups etc.) to say that they were ready!!! Over an hour before schedule! (It would of course, have been the only time on the whole trip !) The second cell phone then cut out, so I rang her back from the house cordless phone and explained the situation to her, at the same time proceeding to try and flick open the van door by sliding the hanger down through a gap in the window rubber seals. Within a minute I had it open !! but not before skinning my knuckle a second time ..... I asked Yi-Ming to cancel that AA call-out .... well ..... Big relief - but now the hanger was jammed in the window!! - I couldn't get it out!! 5 minutes later I was at The Marae with most of the hanger folded inside (even after pulling and tugging at it at every red light). It wasn't until I arrived that it actually came out.
Everything seemed very quiet at The Marae, so I rang Bee, and she was able to say "We've left The Marae -we're down the road a bit to the right of the Marae -" then she was cut out by the phone battery dying again!
I had to assume that she had meant the right being from the viewpoint of standing with your back to The Marae not looking at it from the Road! Fortunately my instincts proved correct and I found them in a coffee shop happily drinking hot chocolates.
We then proceeded to "Big Fresh" supermarket to stock up on goodies to nibble on the trip south. While they were in there, I went next door to the locksmiths, handed over the key and got another cut! While waiting for the shoppers to return, I studied the van's manual and located the fuse box - and found that not only was the lighter fuse missing but so were the two spares! I then looked at what everything else related to and found that the vehicle actually had a circuit that wasn't in use, but still had a fuse, so I pinched that one (also 15 amps) and put it in the lighter circuit and it worked! I also checked the front lights to make sure they still worked. After this the digital clock was working too, which is useful for filling out logbooks, so things were looking up.
After an uneventful trip to Tekapo, Bee pointed out to me just how damaged the van was on its roof - a long black line down the back half! I asked the owner of the motel for some Jif cleaner and a rag. 6:30 The next morning found me hanging off the stairs and scrubbing through about 3 mm of frost to get the black marks off - looked much better after that..... (the van)
Midday found us well on the way to Queenstown, yet somehow we managed to be over an hour behind schedule... Finally we arrived at our first appointment: Coronet Peak Ski Field. We proceeded to the cafeteria where we were to be met by their marketing representative, James. However there was a bizarre whirring/ringing sound that the man who stopped us at the bottom of the stairs informed us was the fire alarm - we couldn't go to the cafeteria. James wasn't answering his cellphone.... we scouted around for someone who knew where he might be, and were led to 'administration', who suggested we go to 'ski school' who suggested we go to 'administration'... Finally a women who had some more clues took charge and took us back down to the ticket office, where we got our free media passes and then to the boot, clothing and ski fitting area where we eventually got kitted out.
About an hour and a half later we finally arrived onto the snow for the big "Ski Lesson" filming was interrupted constantly by gale force winds and whipped up snow, just on 4pm the sun finally shone through a gap in the clouds for a nice interview to take place with the lovely Robyn, the Coronet Peak Ski Instructor.
These gale force winds had of course also meant that our next appointment with Parapenting off Bob's Peak ( = Skyline restaurant area - top of the cable car) was cancelled, with no hope of making it up due to the tight schedule the next day.
Eight thirty next morning found us at the prestigious Millbrook Resort, the weather of course overcast and drizzling, no real filming done there. Next stop: Bungy at the Kawarau Bridge, where our male presenter,Gai, did his jump without much of a hitch, no drizzle, but no sun either.....
Our next appointment: Shotover Jetboat, cancelled due to rain, unlikely to reopen that day. Straight to lunch, then at 2pm onto the Earnslaw for the Walter Peak Farm Visit. On the trip over, Bee and I, rang the owner of Happy Hens in Dunedin, and asked if she would be able to write the name of the owner of Channel 3 on a hen, as his Thai nickname is "Gai" which just so happens to mean 'chicken' in Thai (and Cantonese for that matter) which she was happy to do.
The deer at Walter Peak, were of no interest as there are many deer in Thailand, we listened to the retired farmer give an emotional account of farming and the changes here over the last fifty years, then he took a sheep and ...... crutched it! (Crutching is trimming the belly and bottom of the sheep - not shearing off the whole fleece!)
The meal that night (Saturday) was at the boardwalk cafe - a restaurant that a magazine editor who was accompanying the group, had waxed lyrical about and he wanted to treat us all to dinner at 7:30 pm there, plus another young Thai couple, who were his friends who had just arrived in Queenstown that day. After trying to find a park for about 15 minutes I finally arrived at the restaurant at about 8:45 to find them already seated.
While waiting to order, we arranged with Shotover Jet to try for the next morning as we weren't the only ones who'd been disrupted by the weather we had to make a quick decision take the booking they'd made for us at 9:00 am.
After a lengthy ordering (all interpreted into Thai by the magazine editor) wine was ordered. A bottle of wine appeared and made its way around the table, being finished before all the glasses were poured, after about 5 minutes, I asked the editor if he would like to order another bottle, and was told curtly "I already have! - but the waiter is such a complete asshole that he hasn't bothered to bring it"
"I'll go and ask him what the hold-up is then, I offered"
I approached the bartender and before I could ask him if he knew what the waiter was up to, he told me the waiter had found there was only one bottle left of the wine poured and so he'd gone down to the cellar to get another - he'd be back soon.
Returning to the table I suggested "The bartender says he's gone to the cellar to get another bottle - perhaps he's not such an asshole after all" to which the magazine editor replied, in perfect English with a voice that cut like a knife:
"You weren't here when we first arrived and waited at the bar to be served drinks - that asshole served drinks to three of your kiwis that came in after us before he would serve us - so don't tell me who 'is' and who 'isn't' an asshole!" A shocked silence descended over the table.
So shocked was I at his tirade that I said nothing. On retrospect a comment like "My GOD what a complete asshole" or "Dontcha just hate that?" may have been more appropriate, but as it was I was really tired, totally bored as I don't speak Thai and all I wanted to do was go, which I would have if the others hadn't done a load of shopping and have things for me to load in the van for them AND dinner was already ordered, I stayed there, but left straight after the main (9:30pm) after some kind words from Little Bee. I took a couple of the new travel bags they'd bought back to the van for them. They all walked back to the hotel later.
After a sleepless night (during which I had a ghastly vision of a head-on collision with a big purple truck) next morning dawned with slightly better weather. Our original departure time of 8:00 am of course delayed for the jetboat so we didn't get away until 10 am.
We stopped for a comfort stop at 1 pm at Lawrence (population approx. 1200) where we decided to try and catch a quick meal.... "Look there's a Chinese restaurant" one of the group cried... knowing what we were probably in store for, I did a U-turn and pulled up outside the restaurant.
Dishes were duly ordered, and most were OK although the fried rice with fried wontons and globs of a purpley sweet/sour paste didn't go down too well....
This day I was keeping a wary eye on oncoming traffic wondering if I had ever SEEN a purple truck before... On the trip they were often offering me goodies to eat on the way, and on the winding road after Lawrence, just as I was handed half a peeled orange, a big purple truck - just as I had seen it, came sweeping around the bend! Things like this make me wonder about destiny.......
We rang our 1:30 appointment at Larnach's castle and as we were so behind time decided to combine it with the 6:00 pm meal and Haggis ceremony. John there said "no problem, just come when you're ready" then we contacted Happy Hens and told them we would be late too. Dropped off the trailer at the hotel found most of our rooms had just been redecorated and smelled like a cross between new paint and a dead rat!
On our way around the peninsular I couldn't help noticing how high the tide was - lapping at the floors of all the boat sheds on the way. I rang Happy Hens again and asked how it was there - and they had it up right under the road and up to the front door! About 15 minutes later she greeted us saying that The Penguin Place had rung and wanted to know when we were going to be there! I hadn't realised that we were so far behind that we were even late for THAT appointment too!
Gai was very pleased with his personalised chicken and then we raced off to see the penguins.
Half an hour late for the penguins we were greeted by the comment "we only have 10 minutes because Larnach's Castle want you there at 5:30"
"That's OK" I said, "I've spoken to them just now and they've told us to take our time"
"Oh well that's great, but we do have another problem...."
"The spring tide?"
"We've never seen it this high - The whole beach has been washed away - I've been all day with a shovel maintaining access for them up an 8 foot cliff! it just keeps being washed away!"
Out of the seventy odd birds there we saw three, fortunately were able to film them despite the cloudy conditions and failing light. But the classic sojourn up the beach we were not able to catch.
The Haggis ceremony was interesting, the meal was nice, but Thai people are not very good with pumpkin... we had pumpkin and curry soup which I liked, but in Thai 'pumpkin' is pronounced "Fuck On" and pumpkin soup is called "Soup Fuck on" possibly causing some kind of gastronomical confusion....
The next morning we checked out early for our city tour and left the luggage and shuttle trailer at the hotel. Lunch was at a Thai restaurant in Dunedin, that was not given full marks, so I was given the request for Thai food when we got to Christchurch. We then left Dunedin, just as we were about to hit the main road back to Christchurch, Little Bee pipes up from the back "Andrew - where are we going?"
"To Christchurch I replied"
"We forgot our luggage!"
On the way to Christchurch we stopped at Moeraki to look at the strange boulders on the beach, but as luck would have it the tide was still extremely high, so they could hardly see them!
For dinner in Christchurch I took them to Manee's on Manchester Street which was voted 10 times better than Dunedin's. My clients also caused quite a stir with the staff at the restaurant who came out asking for photos etc. Things were looking good and I began to relax thinking not much more could go wrong between now and their midday flight tomorrow....
After dinner one of the presenters asked me to take her to Star Mart so she could buy some phone cards and fruit, the fruit was OK and finally we tracked down the right kind of phone cards in The Square. The rest had elected to walk back to the hotel as it was so close to the restaurant.
Next morning we checked out and asked if we could store our luggage at the hotel, which was fine and we locked it in storeroom number 4. After some more shopping I then took them back to the hotel where everyone enthusiastically helped load up the trailer.
At the airport, having managed to find a 3 minute park that could fit both van and trailer, I accompanied them in to check-in. Half an hour later once check-in was underway and seemed to be going smoothly, I took my phone back from Little Bee and we all said our goodbyes. I went to return the van, then just as I got home, I got a call from Little Bee, still at the airport "Andy one of the bags in our luggage is not ours - it must be from the storeroom of the hotel!"
"OK I said, leave it with Air New Zealand, and I'll come and get it".
I then rang the hotel to see what they thought about this and they said she'd already rung them and that they'd told her to put it on a taxi pronto as they needed it as soon as possible!
After some telephone pass-the-parcel back at the airport, I finally tracked down someone who knew about this bag and organised for it to be put into a cab and sent to the hotel. At two thirty pm I had another call from the hotel to say they were missing yet another bag and what time was the flight? "It left at two pm" I replied, thinking it might be a very well travelled bag - gone to Bangkok and back. But as it turned out, all their checked in bags were retrieved so I'm not sure where that one went. This is what happens when hotels skimp on bellboys (none to be seen for both nights we stayed there). So looks like Andrew's going to have to pay for that $25 cab fare...
Lets hope the next one goes a bit better. Perhaps an extra day for weather and other hiccups should be a standard feature of these itinararies - it seems a shame for them to come so far and leave nearly empty handed, most of the bill footed by Tourism New Zealand. Granted, a lot of the operators visited do have promotional video material available, but its hard to superimpose the presenters over that kind of thing I guess.