|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/01/05 09:31 北京青年报|
My first Chinese tour guide abroad was in Japan. Unfortunately the young woman, in Japan to learn the language, was as unfamiliar with most of the sites as we were, having never visited them before. It wasn't just her ignorance and shaky Japanese that disturbed us: her meals were all paid for out of our pocket, and she devoted most of her attention to the guests she'd pegged as 'leaders'. Fed up with her behavior, I called the local Japanese tour agency before we left Japan. At Narita Airport, very embarrassed, she returned a few thousand yen to each of us four.
The guide in Norway was a Chinese immigrant, a nice man in his 40s who indeed enhanced the pleasure of our journey. On the morning of our departure he drove us to the airport. It was very early, so I dozed off in the car. Half an hour later I woke up to anxious questions from Mr Deng, my colleague: 'Can this be right? Aren't we headed in the wrong direction?' The puzzled guide had to admit that he'd made a mistake, and turned the car about. 'Good heavens!' I thought. 'What if we miss our flight?' Twenty minutes later we finally saw a sign for the airport: we were on the right track at last. Familiarity with the local roads is something every guide should have, but despite many years in Oslo ours was less able to navigate than Mr Deng, who'd been there all of two days!
In Athens we stayed in the four-star President Hotel. When I asked the Chinese guide if the hotel had internet service he replied with a firm negative, so to transmit a photograph to our Beijing office I had to go to the Chinese embassy and use the internet there. In the evening, having some written material to send, I asked the reception if I could use their fax machine. At 10 euros (90 yuan) per page, the service was not cheap. Annoyed, I asked the reception clerk why the hotel had no internet connection. 'What do you mean?' he replied. 'We have internet service, and it's free so long as you have a laptop,' -- which of course I did, but too late.
The next morning I gave the guide a piece of my mind①. He wasn't in the least abashed: 'They still didn't have it last year,' he retorted as if that got him off the hook②. Last year! At a time when things change in the blink of an eye, the fool was still using last year's calendar! But chiefly I berated myself for believing the guide: Why hadn't I asked at the hotel and gotten the information firsthand?
I think the guide in Paris was the best. We three all wanted to see the show at the Moulin Rouge; our guide immediately secured tickets and also offered to drive. Since the performance was not on our schedule and it was a long way from our hotel, we tried to tip him. 'No need' he said. 'The theater is giving me a commission.' We were impressed with his honesty.
The day we visited the Louvre, however, he said he couldn't legally accompany us because he lacked a guide's license for the museum. As a result we had to make our way through the vast museum by ourselves. Although we found the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Winged Victory of Samothrace, it was not easy to appreciate the thousands of art works; apparently French pride will not tolerate any but French labels in the Louvre -- tough luck for people like us who assume you can travel round the world with English. Later we found some information cards in English, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese on a shelf near the wall, but they were very brief, introducing just four or five items among the hundreds in a gallery. Anyway, it was better than nothing.
This experience reminded me of the guide in Athens. When we went up to the Acropolis, he also turned out not to have a license for it, but he did pull a Greek guide over to give us an introduction. Now why would these people with jobs as guides not have permits to work at the most famous local attractions? The guide in Athens said he had student papers and thus was not legally entitled to work. The guide in Paris said it was extremely difficult to pass the exam for Louvre guides, and who had time to master so much information on so many masterpieces? 'What a lazy fellow!' I thought to myself.
Chinese package tour agencies should get their act together. If they can't find qualified guides, their brochures ought to read not 'We offer local Chinese guides' but 'We offer some Chinese guy who wants to earn some money'.
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