I like traveling across the country, visiting places of historical interest and beautiful scenery, including famous tourist attractions. But I prefer traveling alone to joining a tour group, especially a package tour arranged by a tour agency. I enjoy the freedom of staying long at places that appeal to me and skipping those I find less interesting.
But every time I arrive at a tourist spot, a local resident will accost me with an offer of "guide services", which I usually decline. I do not like the service not because I am unwilling to spend the money but rather because I grudge spending the precious time to listen to his or her garrulous "introduction" of the place.
Last month, I was invited to an academic forum held in Anhui province. The venue naturally prompted me to hit upon an idea of visiting Mount Huangshan, the famous World Natural Heritage site in the province. But I had only one and half day's free time for the sightseeing. The gracious host arranged a package tour for the forum's participants to visit Huangshan as well as the nearby Hongcun and Xidi villages, which are also World Cultural Heritage sites known for their unique architectural styles of ancient times.
At the villages, a local guide herded us from house to house through a labyrinth of alleys, making sure nobody strayed from the group. In each building, the guide, a young woman wearing a headgear with a microphone connected to a speaker hung on her waist, gave detailed explanations about the building's history, the official titles or successful businesses that the former owners had attained and the function of each component on the premises. For every special feature, the guide narrated from a prepared text regardless of the listeners' reactions. The recitation was uttered in an even, insipid tone. What was worse, we had hardly been ushered into an inner room when another group of tourists entered the lobby and their guide's speaker blared out the same recitation on the place.
I felt we were forced to accept the verbal "introduction", which I think was a noisy nuisance rather than an aid for audiences to acquire some understanding of the local "Huizhou culture", as the buildings in the two villages claimed to represent.
In fact, I wanted to watch the details of the embossment on the wall and the woodwork on the eaves; enjoy the paintings and calligraphy works; and shoot photos of the white-walled, black-tiled buildings reflected in the pond in front of the village. There was also the vast field of oilseed rape flower in glorious yellow. But I was left with no time to do so. I felt I was really packed into the package tour. The "guide service" was not the guide accompanying us, but rather us accompanying the guide.
Why does the travel agency not allow tourists more personal time for sightseeing and save the guides from the exhausting babble? The raucous narration could well be replaced by written texts posted on some stands.
I remember the tourist sites I have visited abroad such as those in the United States, Britain, Germany and Switzerland. Most of the places had signboards erected in front of the displayed objects for visitors to read for themselves. Their travel agencies also provided tour guides but they gave only brief explanations when necessary or when asked. They were more like an understanding friend or fellow traveler rather than a guardian and lecturer as their counterparts are in China.
The difference, I think, lies in the culture. Chinese tourist guides strongly believe they are being entrusted with a group of people under their supervision. They tend to act as the protector of the tourists and imparter of knowledge about their locality's attractions. Their Western counterparts, on the other hand, regard themselves as a helper in need and respect the will and freedom of the tourists.
Chinese tourism workers need to change their concept of tourism.
(China Daily 04/14/2010 page8)