Trip report: a two week Asian odyssey

I sit here in the less than luxurious surroundings of the United business lounge in Tokyo Narita airport awaiting the eleventh and last flight of the past 11 days. As always on these trips, I’m totally exhausted, but I can’t pretend I haven’t enjoyed myself (for the most part). Confirmation, if I needed it, that I really do have the best job in the world.

First stop on the trip was Guangzhou, China. It’s a town I’ve visited before and not one I like much. Bad memories of a mad dash back to the US due to a family emergency, and a culture of hard drinking have ensured it’s not on the top of my list of places to visit. The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Guangzhou is lovely though. I recommend it if you are ever passing through.

So first stop Guangzhou. Or at least that was the plan. President Vladimir Putin had other ideas though, inconveniently visiting Shanghai at the same time that I passed through. What was meant to be a 3hr connection in Shanghai ended up being 10hrs. “Weather delay” was the official explanation, but my local team were certain it was due to restricted airspace because of the Russian delegation in town. I finally arrived in Guangzhou at 3am having missed the event I was going there to host. At least I got 5hrs sleep in a real before heading back to the airport and on to my next Chinese city.

In the morning I met up with our local Chinese ambassador, Kavin. He’s a great guy and always good to see him and catch up. He’s just become a dad for the first time. Bravo!

Next stop was the city of Shantou, a short 1hr flight north from Guangzhou. My first time visiting, but as always no time to explore. The usual drill: airport, taxi, hotel, taxi, event, taxi, hotel, taxi, airport. This time the local interest came in the form of a rally driving taxi driver with a death wish. Total maniac! The event, if you are interested, was fairly standard stuff. A Chinese banquet paired with the full brand range, with yours truly trying to entertain and inform the crowd through the filter of a translator. Certainly a skill one has to learn. I’ll post some food porn pictures later if I can find them.

Day 3 saw Kavin and me on the move again, this time north again to the city of Jinan, but not before a connection in the dreaded Guangzhou airport. Traveling around Asia in the rainy season is always hit or miss. This time we made it with only a delay of 2hrs. We used the time wisely, indulging in a 1hr session on the airport massage chairs. My back can still attest to the fact that Chinese massage chairs are set at about level 100 vs western variants!

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Jinan is a little more developed than Shantou, but still decades behind the bright lights of Shanghai or even Beijing. The hotel was nice, a Sofitel, but I was disappointed that the view was totally ruined by a thick fog of pollution, the likes of which I have never seen before. Sadly (or scarily) this would become a constant theme during my time in China. It’s a problem the whole world needs to be concerned with. Visible evidence of our disgraceful disrespect of the planet we all call home.

The final stop on my China itinerary was Shanghai. A city I’ve come to really enjoy visiting, and one that my family has a long association with. My great grandfather was a senior police officer in Shanghai, in the British concession, and my dear grandmother Ruth was born and raised in Shanghai until she was 14. Growing up we used to call her “Shanghai Lil”. I can still here her chuckle. She was an amazing woman, who by her early teens had seen more of the world than I have managed. And all in the days before air travel.

My great grandfather left an unusual legacy to the people of China. It was he who introduced the first vehicle licensing and safety inspection program, in response to the many gruesome accidents cased by illegally extended motor vehicles being used as public buses. Often the modification was made by simply welding two halves of a car to either end of iron girders!

The Grand Hyatt, Shanghai affords amazing views of the entire city and it’s surroundings. Or at least it should. Unfortunately I was unable to see the buildings closest to us, due to the smog. Breathtaking in more ways than one.

Sunday in Shanghai was a day off for me, and I was delighted to catch up with a very old friend from the UK in the morning and in the afternoon, meet up with “Mr Whisky China”, Stephen Notman. We started off at the Shanghai Whisky Club before grabbing dinner at a Uyghur restaurant. After dinner I treated myself to an hour long foot massage. The perfect cure for Uyghur cuisine meat sweats!

Monday morning was onto Hong Kong, a place that feels strangely familiar, what with the legacy British road signs and driving inclination. Fun times again, with back to back tastings and Chinese banquets paired with whisky. Abalone is a favorite of mine and always done very well in Asia. The accompanying goose foot (complete with web) was not so delicious…

Thursday saw me in the air again. Cathay Pacific to Taipei, Taiwan. Many old friends here. Always great to see our local ambassadors, Murphy and Alvin.

It seems that when I go to Taiwan they always want me to talk exclusively about our Islay malt. This time was no different, with back to back smoky dinners followed by a spectacular Saturday event to celebrate the “Day”.

I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it! Over 1000 people turned up to pay tribute to “the smokiest one”. I ended up on stage, dancing with two Taiwanese internet celebrities, before playing a game of “Peatbog football” against them. Wild!

As I write this, in the United lounge at Tokyo Narita airport, I can reflect on another successful trip. Great to see old friends and to make some new along the way.

Mostly though, I just want to get home to my wonderful wife and daughter. Two weeks away from them feels like an age.

A toast to being home soon. Oh, wait, the whisky selection in the lounge really sucks. Guess it’s going to have to be a glass of wine then!

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About Cask Life

Life on the road as a global whisky ambassador
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