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Guide To Being A Bad Guide

Guide To Being A Bad Guide

March 30, 2011

When Fun and Frolics go hand in hand with Frustration and Fatigue.

The life of an NRI can come with a lot of perks. You always get star treatment whenever you visit your hometown. Ah! But the star treatment from relatives and friends is always accompanied by some fine print.

It reads something like this:

* Subject to conditions under which the relative/friend hereafter referred to as the Tourist ever enters the country of residence of the NRI hereafter referred to as the Guide, appropriate star treatment and standards must be met by the Guide for the Tourist and his ensemble.

In layman terms
, you are going to take me and my family/friends all around Singapore including all the places the websites did not mention, whether you like it or not...and usually with me the latter applies.

This means there are at least 2-3 yearly trips to the Sentosa Islands, visits to China Town, Little India, the Bird Park, the Zoo and the Night Safari
. All this followed by a mandatory photo shoot in front of the Merlion, a roundup of the hawker centre food-stalls and finally some 'fun' bargaining down at Sim Lim Square, the electronic haven for the technology savvy.

Throw into the mix any number of the following people and you have more or less arrived at the whole picture:

1. An assorted collection of offspring ranging from 0-6 years.

2. One clueless but nevertheless ambitious owner of a new DSLR camera

3. Two or three aged myopic uncles and aunties with weak bladder control who love to trot off to the toilet all the time.

4. One whiny person who refuses to eat anything but Indian vegetarian food.

And to think people do this for a living. Tourist guides spend all their days herding groups of strangers around the city in an orderly and patient manner
. Complete strangers to whom you are not bound by love or obligation or lineage. And still these kindred souls take on the Herculean task of explaining the history of that rock and this pebble, when inside they must be fantasising of lacing your complimentary drink with a touch of cyanide.

I never quite mastered the skill of getting people to take their own detours and then meet at an agreed rendezvous at a specified time. Well without a family feud breaking out, that is.

“Everyone back here at 2:30 pm by the blue tiled fountain” usually ends up being understood as “3:40 pm by the red letter box”.

I said blue fountain, not any red letter box. For crying out loud, there are no there are no red letter boxes in Singapore. This is not England!

“Precisely why we got lost”, pipes in the miffed late-comer. “We had to walk a lot looking for that letter box”.

So yes, I have mentally crossed out being a tourist guide to my list of possible future careers. Too many occupational hazards, such as high-blood pressure or death from over-exposure to Sentosa Islands, if that is possible.

As a newcomer to Singapore, I am sure I was as euphoric and possibly tiresome as the rest of the tourists. It’s only understandable that people want to see and experience their flight tickets worth.

The best guest we had so far was a friend from Melbourne last month. He wanted to do nothing but chill. We talked a lot, ate more and went for long walks. He had no dietary requirements, flushed the toilet, and got along well with the toddler. Now you can’t beat that from a mother’s point of view. 


  • Ansu
    20.08.11 05:32 PM
    I tried to give a shorter comment on this but I cant help ranting my bit too and I completely sympathise with you. I used to aim to be the perfect tour guide by ranting about each and every aspect of the tour we would take our Indian friends/relatives to, but I learnt my lesson quite late, which was to keep my big mouth shut and let them take there umpteen pictures one after the other. And of course the most I hated about was the timing, you take your personal time off to give them the tour but these so called tourists never maintain there time not even of showing up for the tour on time and do they have the decency of letting you know atleast some time before, hey we are likely to be late, no not even in this cell phone era. And about the washington D.C aspect too, the Indian tourists who have this sense that they should complete the whole of washington D.C in a day, well Rome wasn't built in a day! In my naive days I used to think education makes a difference but I realised educated or not, Indian tourists are the same that is my inference so far unless someone corrects me.
  • Maria
    03.04.11 12:30 AM
    @Alfred: first of all, Yaaay we won! And second of all, yes I need that online support group ASAP! :D
  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    02.04.11 04:51 PM
    Poignantly funny piece as usual Maria. As someone living a mere five minutes outside of Wash DC, boy do I feel your pain! And I've been doing this unofficial guide thing for over fifteen years now. Not just for assorted aunts and uncles from my own (hitherto undiscovered) clan but also for older relatives of friends who knew better than to accompany them into town. My personal favourite visiting elder archetype is the uncle/aunt who is the compulsive and jingoistic One Upper, to wit:

    Uncle/Aunt: "Oh, that is just like the clock tower in Gandhi Square in Mysore."

    My Thought Bubble: "You mean the 550 foot Egyptian obelisk in white marble and granite between The Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial? Of course it is! Why didn't I think of that?"

    My Actual Response: [stupefied silence] "Yes Uncle, you're quite right." [more stupefied silence]

    My theory is, coming up with the polite and indulgent response to this sort of thing is the killer.

    Then there was the ultra-vegan aunt who stormed out of the Museum of Natural History because the place was full of stuffed animals! Oh I could go on and on. Do hang in there, you'll develop a rugged knack for it pretty soon. We should start an online support group for people like us, no?

    (Ooooh, Yuvi just got Sangakarra, gotta run! Thanks for the lovely writing, again.)

  • Maria
    02.04.11 04:37 PM
    @Immu: thanks :)
    @dubugu: Yes, we all have been the nightmare of some poor tourist guide in our lifetime ;)
  • dubugu
    01.04.11 04:31 PM
    well narrated.. liked the mix of people and the conditions.. they are very apt !! So I have striked this option too.. The tour guide on our Eastern Canada tour immediately comes to my mind.. poor guy had to bear us for 3 excruciatingly grueling days
  • imu
    31.03.11 11:27 PM
    Simple and entertaining as always!

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