Wednesday, May 30, 2012

1013. Travels broaden your mind if you know how

1013. Travels broaden your mind if you know how

It is 8.42 am May 30, 2012. I have just returned from a 5day-4night packaged tour to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau on May 29, 2012. Packaged tours are the least expensive way to travel and if you know how, the best way to broaden your mind if you know how to do it.

Shopping till you drop in air-conditioned comfort is a favourite of the Singaporean traveller. I will not be commenting on this retail therapy as I prefer not to visit the shopping malls of other countries if possible.

How to broaden your mind in your travels?

1. Listen more. Listen to your tour guide to gain knowledge of the world.

An experienced guide will provide much local information v. Singapore's situation. For example, my lady tour guide in Hong Kong mentioned that only 20% of the residents get public housing while 80% of Singaporeans get public housing. She was incorrect in the sense that the 20% of Hongkongers are renting public housing at very low subsidised rental rates while 80% of Singaporeans are "owners" of 99-year-leasehold HDB apartments. The statistics mean nothing to the average Singaporean but there is an economic significance. For example, the young Singaporean couple will find it better to buy the HDB flat rather than rent as rental flats, even in Hong Kong, are subject to long waiting lists and prices have had shot up recently.

2. The world is nowadays much more competitive. Speak to your tour guide and know how competitive her job and the travel industry has become over the last two years. Too many travel agencies have been set up and the more successful ones have grown big and can take away the business of the small ones. Success creates success. If you own a small business, like a solo veterinary practice you can see that you will be affected too as the bigger surgeries recruit more vet graduates and attract more Singaporean clientele. The new employees work a year or two and set up their own practices. So, there is an increase in competition for jobs, promotions and mates over the last few years, just like the travel industry has been forced to deal with direct internet bookings by prospective travellers and low budget airlines compete with established airlines like Singapore Airlines which has to compete in the premium business class with Emirates Airlines.

3. More IT-savvy younger generation. These are the ones that select their clients based on the lowest quotation and then the quality of service. In this tour, a group of "seven pretty girls" as the Macau tour guide referred to them in Cantonese, used their handphone to show the guide the itinerary. Not the usual printed paper but from the phone. When the tour guide gave her phone number to them to contact her for travel arrangements the next day, her phone rang immediately. One of the seven said she was the caller. This young generation knows what to do to verify the connection instantly.

4. Develop a sense of humour in life. Learn how the Macau tour guide has the sense of humour in reprimanding the client and yet get laughter. One example would be from paragraph 3. When the Macau tour guide answered her phone as it rang immediately when she gave her phone number, she said, "Shwai loi" in Cantonese. Ii can be translated to "naughty girl" and the group laughed. No ill feelings.

5. Be outstanding if you want attention. One of the seven ladies had a special hair cut. The Macau tour guide called her "Ma Been loi" in Cantonese. "Loi" refers to woman or lady in Cantonese.

"What is the meaning of "Ma Been"? Do you know Cantonese" I asked one of the other 7 ladies. "I am not Cantonese. It is the type of hair-style," her friend or sister said. The "seven pretty women" are sisters and cousins. 

6. Ask if you don't know. Many young ones are afraid to ask as they may reveal their inadequacies and lack of knowledge. Obviously, a young one has less knowledge as the person is young. Don't be afraid to ask. I am 62 years old and though I understand and speak Cantonese, I still asked the tour guide what is the meaning of "Ma Been"? I would guess "Ma" refers to horses. "Been" refers to tail. The Macau tour guide told me the hair-style resembles the tail of the horse. As an ex-racehorse vet, I could see some resemblances. A picture is worth a thousand words and I will show you one.

I never had a chance to talk to the "Ma Been loi" though.

7. Learn to open up by replying with a sense of humour. The Macau tour guide said, "I have 22 female tourists today. You are the only male." I had not been observant of this fact. "Men work hard to make money," I said to her. "Women work hard to spend the money made by men." So, what was I doing as a thorn amongst roses?

8. Create a lasting impression by telling stories of your personal experiences. The Hong Kong and Macau tour guides are ladies and experienced. They could communicate very well and so created a good impression. That is because they don't stop chattering. Unfortunately, they use Cantonese often and for me, it was home ground as my mum spoke Cantonese to me while I was younger.

Singaporeans seldom speak Cantonese but Mandarin nowadays and so they feel left out, in my opinion. The guides do speak English and Mandarin but most of the time, it was Cantonese. No Tagalong for the two Filipino women joining the tour in Macau. However, the younger generation of Macau and Hong Kong residents learn more Mandarin but they prefer not to be tour guides. I guess the money is not there.

9. Walk the streets to know the real life of the residents. Hot and humid. Showers. Why not just stay in air-conditioning shopping malls?

Unfortunately, you will miss much gaining knowledge if you just prefer to be in air-conditioned places as the vast majority of residents in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau don't have this luxury. Too smelly in wet markets. I went to one in Hong Kong and it was a street photographer's dream site. Will show some pictures. The blood, the gore and the foul smell puts off most of the younger Singaporeans. Our wet markets are well ventilated and all pork must be sold in air-conditioned fridges in wet markets. Our enforcement officers against pork sellers in this wet market will net them a gold mine as pork sellers display their trotters and ham hanging up in open air. Our bureaucrats think of ways of making food safe for the public and drafting more regulations to control the type of trade. Then they wonder why the cost of living goes up with the years. See my pictures of the vast competition in this wet market. It was like survival in the jungle as there are more fish sellers with live fishes seen in this market than any wet market in Singapore.    

10. Don't put your backup discs in the same laptop bag.  I left my laptop in Hong Kong International Airport as I was busy taking pictures inside the airport. Practice makes perfect pictures. I put the two back up discs in my camera bag, not the laptop bag. So, I don't lose my precious memories of my travel from May 26 - 29, 2012. I phoned Hong Kong Airport at 9.30 pm. "No such laptop," the reply came and I left my phone number. So, no hope. Fortunately I had my two backup hard discs with me.

11. Excellent Service Provider from Cathay Pacific. At 10.30 pm, the Hong Kong Airport  officer phoned me to say they found it. I doubt any airport lost luggage will bother with me. On May 30, 2012, I phoned Cathay Pacific HK at 8.10 am thinking they have not started work (as like most offices in Singapore), I got a fast response from HK and I would get my laptop back from CX 739 reaching Singapore at 3 pm today. This is incredible service from Hong Kong and there is much my veterinary practice has to learn from them.  

12. Survey to get feedback from customers. The HKIA (Hongkong International Airport) girl asked me to do a survey. When she checked that my last country of travel was Cambodia which was not on his survey list, she said thanks. On Cathay Pacific CX711, an Indian steward supervisor in red silk blouse asked me if I could fill up a survey form. Survey is always good to check on staff. Overall, I rated their services as No. 1 and that was before I discovered that I had left my laptop at the HKIA. Feedback surveys are important and keeps staff on their toes. I do my own direct survey of the performance of my vets and staff by asking about the case outcome and being at the reception table and answering phone calls some days. No other way to ensure a high standard of care and service nowadays.

13. Don't complain about inconveniences or mistakes of service providers. On May 26, I checked into L'Hotel at Lina Towers and was given a beautiful room 61-12 facing the lifts. I was surprised there was a wooden bench inside the bathroom and the toilet bowl was higher than usual. The sinks were much smaller than normal. The shower rail was lower. Why is there a bench inside a bathroom? I thought it was a sauna bathroom. You just sit on the bench and sweat it out. Since I was not into sauna baths, I did not bother. Actually, this was a handicapped room. The hotel receptionist phoned later to ask if I wanted a normal room but this was OK for one night. The 4th night I returned back to the hotel, I was much surprised to be given the suite room. This room was at least three times in floor area compared to the normal room, had a bath tub, separate shower and toilet bowl. There was a marble table for four, a big dressing table, a foyer. The view of the harbour was around 180 degrees from inside the room. I would not book such a room as it would be costly.

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