Trav­el­ling sto­ry­teller

Tourist guide paints the coun­try in a good light through her guided walks.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - By CH­ESTER CHIN star2@thes­ The Pa­per’s Peo­ple is a weekly col­umn which in­tro­duces Malaysia-based ev­ery­day folk, do­ing what they love. If you have any per­son to rec­om­mend, e-mail us at star2@thes­

I have never had a dull day on the job. I have learned a lot about peo­ple and built tremen­dous friend­ships.

Jane Rai

IT’S a given that one should use the “power of the hand” when cross­ing busy Malaysian roads. But it’s still amus­ing to see tourist guide Jane Rai ex­plain­ing that “road eti­quette” to in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors at the start of a guided her­itage walk in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

“Hold up your hand fac­ing on­com­ing traf­fic and if the cars slow down, only then do you cross,” she ex­plains with a se­ri­ous ex­pres­sion.

“If you do cross, and the cars don’t slow down in time, well ...” she trails off and makes the sign of the cross on her chest, much to the laugh­ter of her au­di­ence.

Jane is one of the many guides with the Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bu­reau at the KL City Hall. One might think what tourist guides do is just show­cas­ing the city’s at­trac­tions and ex­plain­ing their sig­nif­i­cance to cu­ri­ous tourists.

But the way the jovial woman in her 50s sees it; she’s more of a sto­ry­teller – with a bunch of other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in tow.

“As a guide, we have to be very mind­ful of the peo­ple we are with. When you deal with dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, you have to be aware of the lan­guage you use, too ,” she says, adding that guides also have to con­sider the safety of the vis­i­tors.

What does it take to be a good guide then?

“You re­ally have to be peo­ple savvy. You must have the pas­sion to meet peo­ple and be able to work long hours,” she of­fers.

It’s easy to be awestruck by the ex­ten­sive knowl­edge that Jane–as with many other tourist guides–has on the back­ground and his­tory of places of in­ter­est.

“A guide needs to have con­tent. You are ex­pected to know a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing. You have to equip your­self with a lot of knowl­edge and the way to do that is through re­search,” she ex­plains, as she shows me a book fea­tur­ing old black-and­white pho­to­graphs of KL.

While Jane im­mensely loves what she does, the vo­ca­tion ini­tially came about as a sup­ple­ment for her other pas­sion – writ­ing.

“I be­came a tourist guide be­cause I thought that it would give some cred­i­bil­ity to my travel writ­ing,” re­veals the Kuala Pi­lah-born woman who had a short stint as a jour­nal­ist in 1986.

Jane signed up for a course that was held in Kedah in 1988 and hasn’t looked back.

“I have never had a dull day on the job. I have learned a lot about peo­ple and built tremen­dous friend­ships,” she gushes, adding that vis­i­tors she has guided in the past range from pub­lic of­fi­cials to solo back­pack­ers.

She has also man­aged to in­ad­ver­tently change tourists’ per­cep­tion of the coun­try for the bet­ter.

“I of­ten hear from tourists their per­cep­tion and ex­pec­ta­tion of the coun­try. Some­times, it’s the con­tent they read and the peo­ple they meet. But when they talk to you, they hear from you how the com­mu­ni­ties re­ally live,” she says.

The con­ver­sa­tions Jane has with trav­ellers have also made her a bet­ter per­son.

“You be­come more diplo­matic and it’s such a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Jane says she her job as a tourist guide al­lows her to be a sto­ry­teller. — KAMARUL ARIF­FIN/The Star

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