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Singaporean tour guides

“In the eight years I was flying to Singapore two to three times in a year, I also met so many other guides.

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I was originally going to name this piece after my tour guide friend in Singapore, but I decided not to. If she happens to read this, she would be embarrassed by the attention.

In Singapore, I’ve developed friendships with the tour guides I’ve met there because I flew there frequently for work during the 2000s.

If I remember right, I first met freelance tour guide Wee Tee Wong on a Christmas light-up of Orchard Road.

The Singapore Tourism Board organizes annual themed displays around city streets for Christmas as an add-on experience for foreign travelers.

The first time I attended the launch, Orchard Road had a Nutcracker theme. Toy soldiers lined the roads as music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet blared loudly from speakers hung up in the trees. At some corners, a life-sized doll of Clara, encased in a glass box, would do a little dance.

Another year the theme was candy. Every so often candy would rain down on pedestrians from the trees. That was also the year when the Christmas display was extended to the streets around City Hall and the Esplanade.

I remember Wee Tee most because, on that first trip, there was just two of us going around the city. On the four days I was there, we bonded easily. I also picked up enough Singlish to speak like a local from chatting with her. (Of course, I’d conveniently forget all that when I return to Manila.)

The first thing Wee Tee asked me as I had my first lunch in the Lion City — and believe me, I was well fed on every STB trip I attended — was what I had done and seen in the city before. She went through the itinerary with me and we took out everything that I no longer feel like doing.

“Do you still want to do the pump boat ride? I thought so,” she said.

(What I heard her say was “bump boat,” but things were cleared up when I got a hold of the IT.)
By that afternoon, between us, we managed to trim down my trip to the essentials — press conferences, interviews, sponsored lunches and dinner. Of course, it was all hush-hush, and this is the first time I’m sharing this publicly.

It also meant I had more time to go shopping!
“You Filipinos, I know you need your personal time,” she declared. How can you not love her?
Wee Tee will always be a sweetheart because of that.

On another trip to attend the Sun Festival and visit museums and exhibits, I was with a friend. You can just imagine my joy when I saw Wee Tee at the arrival area.
I told my friend we were in good hands.

True enough, my friend enjoyed her first trip to the Lion City. I entrusted her into Wee Tee’s hands, and they hit it off. They spent all the time we managed to save exploring Takashimaya, the department store that is the favorite of shoppers. And yes, they crossed over to Paragon, which was just across the street.

That’s why on some trips that were not STB-organized, I would meet up with her for lunch and we would talk about Singapore stuff, stories about the difficult guests she had the misfortune of working with. I also brought her pasalubong from the Philippines all the time, and I would give her her stash — chicharon, dried mango, T-shirts, eco bags and even an inabel blanket. And she would hand over all the souvenir stuff she accumulated in the months since we last met that were left behind by the guests she was taking around the island.

That exchange gift got me brownie points from a group of educators I was traveling with one time. We were on a familiarization trip of Singapore as the education hub of southeast Asia. One morning over breakfast, I brought down all the trinkets Wee Tee gave me. Even before I had helped myself to breakfast, all those keychains, pins and stickers were gone.
One teacher commented that I saved her money having to buy gifts for all her officemates.

That pasalubong thing didn’t go well with a foreign guest. Apparently, she had the idea of asking her guide to give her pasalubong to take home. The guide had a hard time explaining to her it was a cultural thing, that it was something Filipino guests did all the time.

Of course, in the eight years I was flying to Singapore two to three times in a year, I also met so many other guides. They all know each other — apparently the same group of guides were sub-contracted by the Board. If it were an STB thing, there was a big chance I would bump into Wee Tee in one of the events.

With the Covid pandemic, I wonder how Wee Tee is doing now. We’ve lost touch through the years. I wonder how all the tour guides in Singapore who I know are doing. Considering how efficient their government is, I am sure they are well taken care of.

 

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