4 cities, 4 different guides...all deserve a small write up before I actually write anything else on my trip to China.
At the Shanghai airport we were greeted by our very, very cute and stylish guide, Chi. Someone liked her dress, someone her hairstyle and someone else her bag...she personified the saying that Shanghai is the Paris of the Orient.
In the Chinese language it seems that for every alphabet there are 4 or 5 tones. And when she spoke she emphasized on the different tones with fulltoosh facial expressions and hand gestures… sometimes it seemed we were attending some theatre!
She taught us the Chinese numbers using the hand .And the way she taught us, I don’t think I will ever forget. I wish I had recorded it… her hands gestures were soooo illustrative. E.g. 6 is the thumb and index finger pointing like a gun. So Chi says – "six...like a gangster shoot" and her index finger goes to her forehead and she tilts her head as if she is dead...toooo cute.
She spoke non stop giving us an insight into many aspects of Shanghai, whether it was the property prices or generally what the building was or notes on the famous Shanghai husbands. That she loved Shanghai was evident in the way she spoke of the city.
She really wanted us to love the city too and so was willing to take us around late into the night...whether it was to Shin Ten Tee (don’t know if that’s the correct spelling, but that’s the pronunciation as taught by Chi and her hand gestures indicating which word is in high tone and which in neutral tone etc) or a walk along the Bund or the duplicates market.
Often she would discuss her personal life. Guess that came from the loneliness of no siblings as a result of the one child policy in China, and the fact that she lost her mother when she was very young. As she said, ‘I have no one to share my happiness or sorrows with’ one really felt sad.
One of the other things that I liked about her was the fact that unlike the rest of the guides, who used their American names, she had given up her American name and asked us to use her Chinese name, which she simplified for us - Proud to be Chinese.
From Shanghai we went to Guilin. Kathy was the stark opposite of Chi - short with what as kids we called a boy cut, in jeans and keds, she looked like a little boy- absolutely devoid of style. But what she lacked in style she more than made up for in her excellent skills as a guide. Her time management skills were awesome.
In the morning on our way to the cruise, at one place the road had suddenly been made one way by the traffic police. She tried to get the traffic guy to let us through but he wouldn’t agree. Then she’s asking the driver to speed up as we may get late and when he wouldn’t listen to her, you should have seen her. She started stamping her feet and like the Maglev train she took off in high speed Chinese scolding him...toooooo cute. She was really hassled for the next 15 minutes as she was worried that we may miss the cruise, which I would interpret as sincerity towards her job. It wasn’t her fault if we missed the cruise and these things happen on holidays, but only after she was sure that all was OK did she turn to us and start telling us more about Guilin.
In Guilin apart from the Li river cruise, there were 3 other activities that we could do after the cruise from 3 PM onwards – visit to the Pearl Factory, Chinese Foot Massage and a show in the evening. There were various combinations with Uma taking the cake as she wanted to do all three. And Kathy actually managed to organize that. She left one group someplace, and then took the next group someplace else and then returned to the 1st...Absolutely Amazing.
I guess all good things must come to an end... the next guide in Xian, Mary was one helluva a jerk and weirdo. She was supposed to be an MA in English but her pronunciation was tooooooooooooooooooo funny. The way she put the emphasis and stress on words was sure to give everyone a headache especially the way she said Tang and Dynasty.
She came across as one of those extra chaloo ones...whereas Chi and Kathy were flexible and were open to show/do things outside the itinerary, when we asked this one anything she would feign ignorance or pretend that she couldn’t understand the language.
Her communication regarding our onward journey and luggage arrangements were not correct which irritated many of us, so we decided that we wouldn’t tip her. But imagine her guts...she asked Sumitra for the tip!!!
And finally in Beijing we were to get a male guide Mark. But all our hopes of a good looking hunk were dashed.
Soon we were calling him – ‘on your MARK, get set go’, because he would get off the bus and not even wait for all the tour members to get off and start charging...don’t know what hurry he was in. Since he was at the receiving end of all our irritation because of the luggage confusion caused by Mary, I guess he just wanted the trip to end and pack us off. In fact he left us at the airport 4 hrs in advance. Crazy fellow and as Vidya aptly put it – ‘If I see him again, I’ll smack him’