As readers here know, Mr Gums and I have just returned from a week in Hong Kong. I did say that my Macau post would be the post to represent that trip – after all, this is primarily a book blog – but have decided that one more won’t push the friendship too much. My subject? The taking of tours.
Now, Mr Gums and I do not take a lot of tours. We generally like to do things on our own, at our own pace, but for some inexplicable-to-me-now reason, we decided to do it differently for our trip to Hong Kong. And so we booked ourselves into 3 tours during our 7 days: Day tour to Lantau Island, half day tour to the New Territories, and a long day tour to Macau.
These tours were all run by the same company, but we had different tour guides for each, different being the operative word:
- Tour guide 1, Kim, was an extrovert. She was vivacious but rather loud with a somewhat raspy penetrating voice, and I think most of our “co-tourers” found her a bit exhausting.
- Tour guide 2, Shirley, was quieter and more serious, but had a funny little speech mannerism involving her saying something like “shm” at the end of most sentences or long phrases. An artefact of speaking in a second language, perhaps? Or, maybe a Chinese version of “um” or “er”?
- Tour guide 3, Cisco (though Patrice was his real name according to his name badge), was the salesman type, style-wise and in actuality, as he had a range of, there’s no other word for it, rather tacky souvenirs to sell. He tended to talk about himself in the third person, as in “Now, Cisco is not one of those guides who …”.
None of this is meant to be particularly critical. They were all very good at their jobs: they knew their stuff, imparted it well, were personable and made sure we saw all we needed to in the time frame given. But this last bit is part of the problem: the time-frame given. We felt rushed through pretty well every sight we saw. Even where we were given time to wander at will, it was such a short time that our very wandering was rushing. So, we have developed some pros and cons about going on tours, and I thought I’d share them with you.
- It’s convenient: You don’t have to worry about transport, tickets, lining up etc. You just follow like sheep and all will be revealed in due course.
- It’s sociable: You get to meet other “tourers”, who will always include congenial spirits that you can enjoy passing the time with.
- It’s informative: You learn a lot that you would probably have to work a lot harder to discover on your own, from, say, the average annual wage in Hong Kong to an insider’s understanding of Chinese Buddhism.
- It’s inflexible: The pace is not your own. You cannot linger at the sight that particularly interests you, and hurry through or omit altogether the ones that don’t.
- It’s bland: You tend to eat at more generic places, of food modified to suit a general tourist palate. Boring…
- It’s generic: You are given the info that the guide thinks is of interest, in the style (humorous, serious, too long, too brief, and so on) of the particular tour guide … of course, this doesn’t apply so much to special interest tours, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
- It’s disorienting: Unless you bring your own map with you, you tend to have no idea where you are in relation to where you’ve been and where you are going. You just herd on and off buses (or whatever) and/or trot behind the guide watching to not lose him/her, rather than taking stock of what’s around you and how you got there.
And so for us, next time, we’ll only do a tour if it’s for something we absolutely would not be able to do otherwise, because, for us, the issue is not fitting in as many sights as possible in the time available, and it’s not eating only to refuel. It’s learning what a place is about. We want to eat what the locals eat, use the transport the locals use, and see what we want to see at the pace we want to see it. We’re with Donald Horne: we want to sight-experience, not simply sight-see.
- The above does not apply to personal guides, such as friends, friends of friends, and relatives, who provide that personal insight that is so invaluable.
- Not all tourists want to tour the way we do. Our cons are of course other people’s pros, and vice versa. Vive la différence!
- There are tours, and there are tours. You have to pick the “type” that suits your needs and purpose.)