We arrived at the final destination Wembley Plaza Hotel, London around 16:00 hrs, not in an intact convoy but individually. It seemed ironic that the convoy was able to remain intact through all the cities of China, Central Asia and Europe, but we couldn’t remain intact in London. Even the GPS didn’t help so navigation to Wembley was by stopping and asking the pedestrians.
Anyway, we got to Wembley and I got a message from the Rotary Club of Wembley-Willesden that they were hosting dinner for us and we should be ready by 18:00 hrs. We were there at 18:00 hrs. Unfortunately, there was a small misunderstanding and some convoy members were prevented entry to the banquet hall for being “improperly dressed.” The Brits were expecting us to be in coat and tie. I was busy in my room preparing the PowerPoint presentation of the journey as I was the Guest Speaker for the night. Fortunately, I got down early enough to sort out the misunderstanding about dress code. We were, by the way, dressed in our Convoy uniform. So that problem got sorted amicably.
President Miriam Specterman of RC Wembley-Willesden had arranged for an intercity meeting and she had some 60 Rotarians from 12 North London clubs attending. They were mostly 60+ in age, very British and loved their pre-dinner drinks at the Bar. Our convoy members were already hungry and probably angry that the sit-down dinner hadn’t started. But these Brits continued with their drinking and chatting among themselves. They were not very sociable and our Malaysians also kept to themselves. Having got my notebook PC hooked up to the LCD projector, I was making small talk with the Mayor and DGE 2006-07 when I was informed that the Convoy Leader had walked out with the Management Team and their wives in tow.
I chased after them and tried to persuade them to come back as the function was due to start soon. But the Convoy Leader was adamant to stay out and go for dinner elsewhere. I later learned that he was displeased that the brief notes on the tables with the map of our journey paid tributes to me as Chef-de-Mission rather than him as the Convoy Leader.
Fortunately about half the convoy didn’t join the walkout. They made small talk, waited patiently through all the Rotary formalities and had their dinner, which, by the way, they had already paid for. So there was quite a lot of unconsumed food that night. Understandably the Rotary Club only paid for my dinner as I was the Guest Speaker. But I was deeply embarrassed and found it difficult to explain to my host why some of the tables were empty. Anyway, in my speech I did pay tribute to the Convoy Leader for having led us — 35 souls and 15 cars — safely from KL to London in the planned time of 61 days.
The next day, after their return from Southampton delivering the cars for shipping back to Malaysia, I took the opportunity to say farewell to them in a matter-of-fact manner, last nights’ insult still hurting. The wives however, were extremely nice and decent. They remembered that Zaki’s birthday was the next day 13 Oct and gave him hugs and presents. That soften my heart and acknowledged that they were after all “good wives.”
So ended a two months journey over two continents, several deserts, plains and mountains, rivers, seas and oceans, multiples cultures and three major religions and civilizations that I was fortunate to experience first hand. I told myself “I’ll do this again” and sure enough I have been all over the world since this trip in 2005.