TOORAK GARDENS, SA IN 2005 my wife and I set off for a holiday to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. Our travel agent had arranged for transfers at each airport and the meet-and-greet driver with the Mr & Mrs Jones sign whisked us off to our quaint Beijing hotel where the maintenance man swung out the window on a rope to fix our air-conditioning. We took in the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace, and the old neighbourhoods of hutongs — all wonderful.
Then to Xian, where we were duly met and taken to our modern hotel and to very good markets and of course the famous terracotta army of warriors and horses — all terrific.
At Shanghai airport, we were met by a chap in an immaculate suit holding the usual card; on this occasion our name Jones was joined by McKenzie. The driver took our bags and loaded them into a luxurious Lexus.
‘‘First-class service,’’ my wife murmured. ‘‘They know how to do it here . . . but what about the McKenzies?’’ The driver and his identically dressed co-driver had no English between him. ‘‘I suppose the McKenzies will be OK,’’ I told her. ‘‘No doubt they have a separate car.’’
We pulled up outside a large office block and our bags were swiftly unloaded. ‘‘No, no,’’ I cried. ‘‘This doesn’t look like the Mansions Hotel in the brochure. For a start we are supposed to have a view of the river.’’ Blank stares. Lots of pointing to the office block.
‘‘No,’’ I insisted, ‘‘we are not getting out of the car until we are at the Mansions Hotel.’’
The driver made a series of calls and then handed me his mobile phone. A voice asked me in English, ‘‘Are you McKenzie-Jones the engineer?’’
‘‘No, just Jones the tourist,’’ I replied. ‘‘Then where is McKenzie-Jones?’’ I told him that perhaps he was at the Mansions Hotel enjoying my view of the river.
‘‘OK,’’ he said. ‘‘I will get the drivers to take you there.’’ Arriving at the hotel, the drivers would not release our bags until we paid extra money, which I resisted, resulting in a commotion of pushing and pulling.
Out of the blue our allotted airport meeter-andgreeter arrived. She calmed the drivers, paid them a little extra, and arranged for us to be upgraded to a suite. We loved Shanghai and hope Mr McKenzie-Jones did too. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: travel@ theaustralian.com.au. Published columnists receive a 35cm x 27cm x 4cm Catherine Manuell Laptop Compendium ($79), which also fits iPads and includes a notepad, storage pockets and pen holder. More: catherine manuelldesign.com.