Have someone you would like to nominate? Click here!
I got to my late teens and I wanted to better myself, I’d completed Age of Empires 2 and I’d beaten my friends at Pro Evolution Soccer 4. But something deep down said I was worth more than this, I had more to offer the world. I didn’t know exactly what that was yet, but I felt this unknown offering should go to a country outside the UK. China was quickly chosen – maybe too quickly – and off I went, to teach.
Now this was just slightly before the invention of smartphones and common sense. So I headed off across the globe with no accommodation to go to, no name to look for, no contracted work and no other instructions. All I had was a number to call when I get to a certain location.
What should I care anyway? I was 18, full of life, and I knew stuff*. I had lots to offer the world and nothing was going to get in my way. I felt up until that point I had been misunderstood, and underestimated. I feel there is a certain talent to be found in all of us and it should be shared and embraced. I could show the world what I could become, who I really am. I am not this shy skinny boy from northern England, who had just dropped out of university. I will be someone.
Needless to say after about a week I was a blubbering skinny northern boy who wanted his mum.
Unfortunately for me there was now 6 thousand miles between me and my mum. This wasn’t in the plan, and I’d never had to think on my feet before. I was just a skinny northern English boy, what did I know?
So I hastily headed across southern China to Hong Kong International Airport – the one built on water*. I get to the airport, and my subconscious must of been a little more sceptical of my ambitions prior to leaving for China, as I’d booked a flexi-ticket. Perfect, I can get on any Virgin flight – as long as there is a seat available.
I get to the airport and to the Virgin desk, I explain my situation and they advise me that unfortunately another airline that exclusively flew from Hong Kong to London has just gone bankrupt. Not only that Virgin have offered all of their passengers free seats on Virgin flights.
‘We are fully booked for a month, sir’ she said.
After a brief cry and a pancake, I gathered myself. I remembered I had £500 saved for emergencies – this was an emergency. Naturally no tickets over the counter came close to to £500, so I found some free internet computer hubs – those ones with metal keyboards and a big metal ball as a mouse and Windows 98′. I head over to Expedia.com and find a flight leaving that night for £485 – I’m saved! Hurrah!
I should also note that despite my plight, I obviously hadn’t completely lost the plot. I’d actually seen an earlier flight on a different travel website, but it was £10 more and I’d have to pay £2.50 for using my debit card. Never wanting to miss out on a bargain I took the later flight on Expedia.
There was no printer however, but not to worry I had a pen and a hand. I wrote the relevant numbers on my hand and headed to the nicest restaurant in the airport to spend the £12.50 I’d saved. So that was it, all my money spent and I was well fed before my long journey home.
I get to the check in counter later that night and explain that I don’t have a ‘ticket’ but I do have the numbers they need.
‘We have no record of you on this flight’ she said.
It was the bank. The money. It was in a holding account due to the international payment raising suspicions – bottom line, the money wasn’t available for another week. I was now a shy skinny northern boy, in a country I didn’t know, gently weeping, as the realisation hit that I had no money, no ticket home and no other options.
As I am sat there on a bench weeping an older gentleman walks over to me, he’s wearing a green blazer and cream trousers – very smart. He opens his mouth and I notice his South African accent immediately. He explained that Quantas had lost his luggage, but he had to wait around for a few hours incase they found it. I explained my situation and he listened intently.
He explained that I should remember this moment – remember the low points. That way as you climb the mountain in life, you can look back where you were and how you got to where you are now. He explained that the money I’d lost was not lost, but an investment in my future. It would help me grow in ways I probably won’t understand for a few years. He said you will go back as a man to the place you left only recently as a boy, and you will go back with something no one in your town could ever buy.
He then walked over to the nearest airline counter and asked for one ticket to London Heathrow, and with that, he was gone. No name, no details and no fanfare.
That was a time in my life when I was at my lowest. I had left the UK in what I now know was a deep depression, I was running. And when my issues caught up with me in China I knew. I knew then I had a problem. This man met me at one of the lowest points, mentally, and situationally in my life. He reached out and without any hesitation offered to help. These are the type of people we should celebrate.
As for the end of my story, well after sleeping rough in Hong Kong International Airport for 3 more days I finally got help from my parents and left. I ultimately refused the offer of help from the man, but the gesture was more than enough. Plus I didn’t want him stealing my air miles that sneaky f**ker.
*Check out a picture, it is pretty cool.
P.S I am sure you have plenty of stories yourself of when friends and family have met you at your lowest. I sincerely hope to hear them, and I would love to send one of them a surprise gift as a small thank you on your behalf. Someone reached out to me once, I’d like to reach out to someone else. Pay it forward I think the term is. Click here to nominate someone.