OF TOUR GUIDES 

Being a tourist in LA (or anywhere) is a tale of adventures laced with tour guide misadventures. The adventures are a given, but signing up a tour guide is a shot in the dark. It’s partly a boon because you don’t have to do a anything except show up at the appointed time and place; it is a double blessing when the guide is punctual, polite, and knowledgeable. However, it is the exact opposite when your guide’s favorite line is “I don’t know” and functions more of a driver.
Everything was copacetic with Ming, tour guide # 1, my guide for the whole day at Disneyland, Anaheim. He was loquacious and had perfect timing; he knew when to talk and to keep quiet. His bonhomous demeanor was definitely a plus point. 

“Disneyland is the most expensive theme park in California,” said Ming, slipping into work mode. “The one in Anaheim is the first Disneyland to open which was designed by Mr. Walt Disney.”

Speeding down the carpool lane, he continued with his spiel: “The carpool lane is really good. We go faster than other cars. The other and biggest Disneyland in America is in Orlando. There’s also a Disneyland in Paris and Japan. The newest Disneyland is in Shanghai – it opened June 16.”

In between Disneyland facts, he shared a bit of his life. He mentioned he is Vietnamese and has been residing in the US for six years now.

“This time is peak season for the travel agency,” he said when I asked how busy he was. “Then it is slow from September until before the beginning of Spring break. December is also very busy.”

Disneyland was already teeming with visitors from every walk of life brimming with excitement and accessorized with Mickey or Minnie headbands – with bow or lacy veil – when we got there. 

“Today is not very hot,” quipped Ming with a smile, as we waited for the Mickey and Friends tram to pull up.

Continued the lanky tour guide: “There is only one entrance and exit to Disneyland. We meet to the right of exit then we take tram back to this parking lot. Don’t take train because you go different parking lot.”

Meanwhile, Jeff, guide # 2, paled in comparison to Ming. He was polite and punctual, but his tour guide skills left much to be desired. Driver, in fact, would be a better term to describe his function who just dropped you off and collected you later. He wasn’t much of a talker; we – me and two other people – only got to know of the destination we were heading once we got there. 

“This is Beverly Hills,” he announced after we had passed the huge sign.

It took much to not roll my eyes in exasperation and blurt out, “You don’t say.” But patience reared its head and I flashed him a wry smile. He redeemed himself when he cheerfully trumpeted in his monotonic voice we would be heading to the famed Santa Monica pier. This time I didn’t mind him letting us loose and coming back for us again. Then – Jeff’s redemption holding steadfast – he took us to Getty Center for its famed pavilions, gardens, and permanent exhibitions. However, his redemption was short lived. He expected us to be back at the parking lot in 40 minutes. Sacrilegious! Waiting for the tram ride to the arrival plaza already took 15+ minutes; pray tell, where is the enjoyment of viewing the collections in less than 15 minutes? Face palm.

Then there’s Al whose way of saying his name was peculiar. 

“Call me A-L,” he said when I asked for his name that Saturday morning before we set off for Universal Studios Hollywood.

I thought he was being funny but he was dead serious. It was how he introduced himself to the whole tour group. Like Ming, he lived up to his name of tour guide, as he rattled on details about LA: how earthquakes are usual phenomena, how traffic congested is less on the weekends, and that drought has been a problem for five years. 

Finally, there is Angela Lin, the schoolmarm of a tour guide to Las Vegas and Arizona, who slips into Mandarin and English when the needs calls for it. Shepherding a group of 60 people is no easy feat; her job is akin to a teacher escorting her students on a field trip which is a trying situation, to say the least, given the diverse interests, habits, and quirks. But she would brook no interference in her schedule. In her words, “I am sorry if I push you, but I have a schedule. There was this lady who was late and wanted us to wait for her for another 10 minutes. I told her, ‘Sorry’ and left her.”

The Taiwanese has been in the US for 30 years working in the travel industry, ferrying tourists – Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesians et al – around the country. Prior to her US residency, she was a tour guide in Taiwan for 10 years. Compared to her male counterparts, she was convincing (her smile can disarm the most resolved in not spending an extra dime) in control of everything: no missing tourist, no delays, the requisite spiels about Las Vegas and Arizona, the dos and don’ts, the best shows to see in Vegas (she recommends “Ka” and “The Variety Show”), the urgency of buying bottles of water before heading to Vegas, and the location of the popular brands at the Outlets at Barstow and Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

“I come to Vegas on my free time and watch the shows. I earn money, I also spend money,” quipped the Michael Kors fan on the night she escorted the 19 people (me included) to MGM Grand for Cirque du Soleil’s new epic tale,”Ka”. 

On the downside, she keeps forgetting there are non-Mandarin speakers on the group and you have to remind her for the English version of her previous spiel. There’s also this annoying habit of evading questions.

Tour guides come in various shapes and sizes, armed with what they perceive is the best approach to guiding you through your adventures in a foreign land. Some do it badly while others do a better job. Adventure or misadventure, tour guides definitely lend mood and color to the overall experience.

“Signpost With 3d Characters Shows Travelling Or Guidance” image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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