Memoirs of a tour guide
2009-10-21 (GMT + 7)
A veteran tour guide in HCM City takes a glance at his 21 years in the profession
Seven years after graduating from the HCM City University of Pedagogy in 1981, when I was teaching English at Phu Nhuan senior high school, I then decided to apply for a tour guide position at Saigontourist.
Tri Dung (L) and one of this VIP tourists.
I made my first outbound trip in April 1989. In those years, tourists desiring to visit Cambodia needed to fly from Vietnam. This situation found me and many of my colleagues shuttling between Saigon and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, bringing big groups of foreigners to the land of pagodas. Such a route lasted till 1991 when Cambodian visas could be granted normally.
It was also the time in Vietnam that the living standards improved remarkably enough to afford Vietnamese’s outbound trips. Beginning in 1993, thousands of Vietnamese groups started to flock to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hongkong and China. My memory is still fresh with memories of shopping plazas in Singapore and the Great Wall in China.
In 1998, I began to shift entirely to serving inbound clients. One Sunday in November 2000, I was called for a special duty. I still consider it the most stressful tour: Guiding Chelsea, U.S. President Clinton’s daughter, on a city tour.
I showed up at the back door of New World Hotel and was instructed to go to the front door. I then found myself at a weapon detector. The president’s family was already on the morning cruise. I learnt I was assigned for a duty in the afternoon but did not know what. I had to wait there for two and a half hours until 1:30 p.m. to see Clinton’s family and the entourage back from a morning working tour. Half an hour later, people rushed around again and an American lady officer came toward me showing me to a smiling girl standing in a round of black suited men. The girl was Chelsea.
The itineraries consisted of visits to the History Museum and Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, driving past the Reunification Conference Hall and Ben Thanh Market with a photo stop at the Opera House plus shopping on Dong Khoi Street. Chelsea, her friend and a black lady photographer sat in the two back rows whilst a secret service agent sat in front with the driver. They all gave me a pride in their way of learning more about my country’s history and people and in thankful smiles, handshakes at the end of the four-hour tour.
Looking back to the past 21 years as a tour guide, I still keep my interest in studying and reproducing reports on and insights into lifestyles, social events, war stories as well as economic reconstruction.
However, what really drives me on (and many other tour guides as well) is a different thing—far from glory and social recognition.
After tours in two decades, I have experienced possibilities and seen some not only sustain but also succeed in featuring Vietnam’s unique key points. That is the long coastline bringing tourists to a vast variety of enjoyment. That is the historic heritage linking Vietnamese and their family to their country. That is the value in supplying “hardship for survival” tours founding solid inner significance in the youth from industrialized societies. Every guide at work should find out what type of clients best suits him or her; and after some years of serving general clients, a senior guide should follow his own path.
On that itinerary, the guide’s efficiency will improve much along with higher clientele’s satisfaction. Vietnam’s tourism industry is now in need of such highly skilled tour guides.