I spent years at my previous job planning amazing work trips abroad for colleagues. I was queen of the logistics, booking flight, hotels and co-ordinating some truly impressive looking programmes. I worked with people from across the globe in putting together these expeditions but until last week the furthest I ever travelled through my job was to Yorkshire. Granted this was nice and getting to travel first class on the train was a treat never before enjoyed but it wasn’t really on the same scale as some of the more exotic adventures I planned for others to places such as India, Myanmar, Finland and so on.
However, last week I was given the opportunity to travel to Bangkok to participate in an international staff conference with regional colleagues from around the world. For me this was an exciting travelling adventure, although I accept that for those who frequently jet off here, there and everywhere this might not be as appealing.
Initial excitement about the prospect of the excitingly destined work trip did fade somewhat as we neared departure and the work load prior to the event started to mount up. Add to this the realization that a week away isn’t a week’s holiday, with accompanying elements of rejuvenation, but will nonetheless have the same toll as a week’s vacation whereby you have lots to do before you go and then again when you come back to compensate for that week physically away from the office.
Still, as the day of departure loomed I took great pleasure in packing sandals, t-shirts and other summery clothing in the middle of what was starting to develop into a cold winter in Geneva (and would be so much worse by the time I returned).
The flight was long, sleep-depriving and lacking in space but there was free food (always exciting to someone who most frequently travels with easyjet). There was also the opportunity to catch up on a number of films I’d missed/would-never-have-paid-to-see at the cinema.*
Arriving in the balmy heat of a Bangkok evening was simply wonderful. My not-so-long-ago experience in Cambodia had prepared me for that blast of warm muggy weather that hits you as soon as you leave the artificially temperate airport so this didn’t come as a shock so much as a welcome relief, especially when pitted against the backdrop of Geneva’s increasingly chilly January weather I had left behind a day before.
Checking into the comfortable hotel I delighted in the discovery of the complimentary bathrobe and slippers and snazzy look toiletries in my room. I even checked out the gym before allowing myself to settle down into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The next day the work began, in case you thought I‘d forgotten about that aspect of the trip! Any illusions of a work-light week of sightseeing were quickly dissipated when the initial conference session started.
I was invited to attend in my minionesque status, my role being to minute each meeting. This meant intense concentration required and a vigorous penmanship workout (I prefer to hand-write than type notes) for each 4/5 hour official meeting, with a twenty minute coffee break. There were also a number of informal meetings, which took place outside of the main plenary, so if I’d hoped for hours of free time spent chilling out by the hotel’s pool I was sadly mistaken.
Work was intense and demanding and a few sleepless nights as the body clock struggled to adapt to the new time zone added to the challenge but there was a bit of time at the end of each working day to leave the deceptive coolness of the air-conditioned hotel and enjoy the sultry heat of a Thai evening. And conveniently located in the vicinity of the hotel were a large number of Thai massage parlours (I did spot at least one illegitimate “massage” parlour but I’m fairly confident those I frequented were all above board).
I was tempted to try and claim the cost as a legitimate work expense – seriously after four hours of writing my right hand and supporting body parts definitely needed a little attention. However, I recalled the drama of the parliamentary expenses scandal and thought that claiming for a massage was probably the kind of things that might be as misinterpreted as was expecting the public to foot the bill for upkeep of a duck house.
After the conference I allowed myself the luxury of staying on in Bangkok one extra day so did get to enjoy a day of trawling through the markets, finally having a swim in the pool and enjoying a final massage and Thai meal before my 2am flight home.
The effect of the massage and very late/early flight did help me to sleep for the first part of the journey (there was a stopover in Abu Dhabi) so I was slightly more rested on arrival at Geneva than at Bangkok. However any remaining sleepiness was quickly eradicated as I disembarked the plane in my light summer wear and discovered myself woefully unprepared for the snow falling around me in Switzerland.