APRIL 16 Last Wednesday afternoon Masaaki Wakai, manager of inflight food services for Japan Airlines (JAL), was a very nervous man. His China Southern flight from Guangzhou to Haikou, the capital of Hainan province, had been delayed indefinitely due to a mechanical problem. In broken English and improvised sign language, Mr Wakai explained that he had to get to Haikou. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would be arriving in Haikou the next morning on a JAL charter to attend the Boao Forum for Asia, which its organisers hope will become the region's premier economic forum. Turning an imaginary handle with both hands, Mr Wakai said that he had to be on hand to open the door of the prime minister's plane upon its arrival, and later to oversee the food preparation for Mr Koizumi's return flight to Tokyo. As Mr Wakai struggled to communicate his dilemma to baffled China Southern staff, I had a vision of the Japanese prime minister trapped and starving on the tarmac in Haikou because his doorman-cum-chef was stranded in Guangzhou. Only after Mr Wakai had wandered off did it occur to me that no one can open an aircraft door from the outside. The handle, of course, is on the inside. It was just the first of many bizarre and comic episodes at the Boao Forum for Asia. The meeting - billed as the region's answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos, in particular in discussing Asian development issues - wrapped up its first official conference in Hainan on Saturday. I had the misfortune to be booked on Mr Wakai's flight, which finally left Guangzhou at 7.45pm after a six-hour delay. Upon arriving at Haikou's Meilan International Airport, I and other forum attendees were greeted by - if such a thing is possible - organised chaos. Attendees had to register at the airport before continuing on to the forum venue in Boao, a 1.5-hour drive from Haikou. Confusion reigned as students with English even worse than Mr Wakai's tried to guide exhausted delegates and journalists through the obstacle course the forum's registrars had set up. I lapped up the chaos, giddy with delight at the column copy it would provide. The senior vice-president of international external affairs for a leading New York bank, who had been travelling for 27 hours, was less amused. His face was beet-red as he struggled to contain his rage. An Australian Embassy aide barked at a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official through her mobile phone: 'I cannot tell you how inappropriate it is for the ambassador to have to take a bus to Boao. You have to explain to these people that they must organise a car for him.' I watched all this for 90 minutes before my bus was at last ready to start the journey to Boao. At midnight, 11 hours after leaving my office for the airport in Guangzhou, I finally arrived at the media hotel only to be told: 'We don't have any rooms left. Do you mind changing hotels?' An hour later I finally arrived at the Singapore Garden Hotel. With its peeling wallpaper, cigarette-burned carpets and toilets that wouldn't flush properly, it bore little resemblance to the modern, efficient city-state whose name it had appropriated. 'It's a pretty good hotel, isn't it?' a hapless forum official asked me hopefully. Now as beet-red as the banker I had left behind in Haikou, I gritted my teeth. Sometimes it is better to save one's poison for the print. To be fair, the vehicle sent to take me from my hotel to the forum venue the next morning was fabulous. It was, in fact, a brand new 30-seat coach and I was its only passenger. Personally, I thought it fit for an Australian ambassador. My hotel also did have hot water. By contrast, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, at the forum's five-star hotel, had no running water in his room on arrival. A former deputy prime minister of Malaysia had no hot water for two days. To the horror of Chinese protocol officials, he joked that it reminded him of Malaysia decades earlier. Famously ill-tempered Prime Minister Zhu Rongji delivered a keynote address at the forum and was appalled by the litany of logistical disasters at Boao. At a banquet for forum VIPs, Mr Zhu personally apologised for all the disorder. 'The board's mandate to the secretary-general is to improve logistical arrangements for the next general meeting,' forum board chairman and former Philippines president Fidel Ramos said at a closing press conference. 'Even Premier Zhu Rongji made the observation [that they were inadequate]. And if it's coming from him it's an order.' A senior Hong Kong government official was even more blunt: 'In the context of China's political system Mr Zhu's apology translates as: 'I personally shot the person responsible'.'