Jun 18, 2011

Multinational tourists and guides

“Meet me at the buffet restaurant,” said our tour guide. “B-U-F-F-E-T”
“Right, P-U-F-F-E-T restaurant” said my friend to her on the phone.
And that’s how, by replacing B with P, we came to look for “Poofett restaurant” for hours in Las Vegas. We should have known right then that this was not going to be an easy trip, and canceled it. When it finally dawned on us that we should look for a “buffet” restaurant, it was too late, and we were away on a 6 day package tour of Western America. When we signed up for the tour, we did not know that half the guidance would be done in Chinese. The majority of the passengers on the trip with us were Chinese, and for their benefit, the guide spoke partly in Chinese and partly in English. Even the English was spoken with a Chinese accent, and we had to listen closely in case we missed vital information (like when we would stop for the next bathroom break). Sometimes we listened for hours on end, and when the guide suddenly sat down with a “Sank You!” we would look at each other bewildered, not having understood a single word.

Our first destination was Las Vegas, where tourists and tour guides were all over the place. People jostled with each other on the sidewalk and spilled all over the roads, blithely ignoring the buses that stood by waiting for their turn to use the road. Our guide was carrying a little yellow flag, and we had found it strange at first. But soon we saw that most tour guides had a flag of some sort so that their clients could see them in the crowd. They held these over these heads and waved them when it was time to go. Of the flags were just made of cloth, but a few guides were holding mini orange tube-lights that blinked, and one held a small glittering blue heart. We were so overwhelmed by these flags that when we saw a guy with a pink umbrella, we thought it was a kind of a guide-flag too. And then we saw a tour guide who did not seem to trust artificial flags and decided to turn herself into a flag. Dressed in a pink tutu, electric pink tights, pink sneakers, and a wig of pink dreadlocks, she was hard to lose in any crowd, especially as she was much older than the group that these outfits are targeted at.

Slave Driver with his flag

Our own guide, though more normal in appearance, was decidedly eccentric in behavior. “You have fifteen minutes” he said the first time he left us alone “and if you don’t come back, you will have to walk three hours back to the hotel.” Day by day, his warnings got more and more dire until they sounded strangely like threats. By the last day, he was telling us that if we didn’t come back in fifteen minutes, we would be stranded for a week and we could only pray for his return as there was no other way out. Every day, as we departed to the hotel, he would warn us “Do not leave any belongings on the bus, and specially do not forget your children and wives.” He soon earned the nickname of slave driver as he made us get up at 4 am every day. He warned us not to be late, as he would make latecomers sing a song. Ladies would sing Michael Jackson and gentlemen would sing Lady Gaga. However, when he himself was late he did not sing anything, and after that we stopped believing him.

Though we toured America, the tour was anything but American as people of the United Nations surrounded us. Most of the passengers were Chinese who did not know any English. Once I happened to ask a question to a middle aged Chinese lady. She giggled and covered her face with her hands, and later peeped out from behind it to see if we were still watching. There were two pretty girls from Germany and Brazil who said they were au-pairs on vacation, and who hastily applied makeup on their faces whenever the guide said “next stop is a picture break.” The Indians would nod and smile at us, and occasionally make light conversation. There was one kuire person who seemed to like the guide very much, and even gave the guide extra tips at the end of the day. We thought it was strange that the slave driver had fans, but later found that the tourist was Spanish and knew no English.

The diversity was present even at our destinations. At Solvang, a model Danish village where the “Viking Garden” restaurant had pure Danish food, the workers were South American. One of the few times that we actually got to associate with a kuire was on San Francisco where we boarded a boat. “Please stay in you seats and do not move”, said a voice that was finally not Chinese. As usual, everybody ignored the voice and walked about on the deck. But the warning was actually not given in vain, as the boat lurched from side to side, sending people struggling for balance. Many people rolled about like drunk on the deck. Their hands and feet flew in different directions, even onto the perfect frames of stranger’s photos, and ruined many a smiling pose.

Struggling for balance at San Francisco

And finally, when I was coming back home and thought I was done with international people, I was taken to a hotel by a Korean driver. I decided to show off my acquaintance with Korea. “I have seen the Korean movie My Sassy Girl” I told him smugly. “WHAT DID YOU SAY? MY SEXY GIRL?” he yelled for everyone in the little van to hear. I have never been so embarrassed in my life.

Note: Shyam Sharma recently informed me that in China, it is bad manners to show your teeth, specially while laughing. This might be a possible explanation for the actions of the Chinese woman who hid her face behind her hands!

Published, yipee


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