OPINION> Commentary
Time to smile and welcome the world
By Lisa Carducci (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-08 07:47

I have visited seven Asian countries, including China. Except for Singapore and Japan, they were all developing countries. In each of these countries I found touring so easy that I felt ashamed of China.

In China, where I have been living for 18 years, I have no language problems, but generally speaking, that's not the case for foreign tourists. If they don't have a guide who speaks their language, they can't go anywhere by themselves or talk with local people - one of the most important aspects of traveling. When it comes to public services such as banks, post offices, hospitals, taxis, shopping malls (except those exclusively for tourists), we must admit that the Chinese don't speak English.

Recently in Bali, not only do all Balinese who make a living in tourism (at least half of the island's population) can speak fluent English, but at each tourist site, employees can address visitors in Italian, French, German, Japanese etc.

They provide help and advice without waiting for questions. For instance, when I visited Ulun Danu temple, a young man guided me in Italian: "You better take this path if you want to see the temple also."

I can add that I never once heard a Balinese shouting and I never saw an excessive gesture. They are so kind and mild.

In Thailand, a Tourism Patrol aims to prevent crime and help visitors. More, several information kiosks are easy to find. Staff can answer - politely and patiently - any question including which bus to take, opening times of museums, appropriate clothing for royal and religious palaces, and admission fees. After noticing Thailand people smile spontaneously and sincerely to everyone, when I returned to China I was deeply struck by the rough attitude of my Chinese fellows between themselves and towards strangers.

Traveling in other Asian countries, I noticed how Chinese tourists make themselves at home everywhere and have no respect for their hosts, talking and laughing loudly in temples, museums, restaurants and on the street.

In Nepal, English was also spoken everywhere. Nepalese never let you down by being unable to answer a question. If they can't provide information themselves, they find the person who can help.

In Vietnam, Internet cafs are easy to find and their computers are set for several languages.

Generally, "Sinh Cafs" are associated with travel agencies that offer full and correct information, organize tours, take reservations and sell tickets, and even pick customers up at their hotels for free and drive them to bus departure points. One can buy a ticket, for example, from Hanoi to Ho-Chi-Minh City. Every two hours, the bus stops for 45 minutes and the driver tells passengers what they can visit (temple, museum, park); those who are not interested can rest on the bus or have an excellent coffee. If a passenger decides to stay longer in one of the wonderful cultural, historical or leisure cities along the road, the driver notifies a colleague and the next day, using the same ticket, he reserves his seat on the bus at the local Sinh Caf.

Easy and smooth sightseeing. Also in Vietnam, pedi-cab drivers offer their services, but if you prefer to walk, they still help you find your way and never give false information.

In China, not only are there no information points, but even travel agencies can hardly answer questions about their own services, let alone any other question.

During the Olympics, I asked three or four easy questions to volunteers in the subway, such as which exit I should take to go to Renmin Hospital.

They were unable to answer and only disappeared after the games anyway.

In China, youth still rush and push to get a seat before a pregnant woman or a senior citizen. They occupy the reserved seats and don't move for a needy person. Civility ended with the Games closing ceremony.

I started to travel in China in 1985. It has since developed so much, so there is no reason why it's tourism industry should be so inadequate.

It is urgent that China: 1. Learns to smile; 2. Learns English (at least); 3. Develops information; 4. Practices politeness.

(China Daily 04/08/2009 page9)