Tour guides’ distortions

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Tour guides’ distortions

“The war to help Koreans fight against the Americans (what Chinese call its ‘intervention’ in the 1950-53 Korean War) began after South Korea invaded the North. American occupation of the North was prevented thanks to China’s defeat of the invaders.”

“South Korea insists Goguryeo [37 B.C. - A.D. 668] is part of its history and heritage even though it is clear that the ancient dynasty had been a part of greater China. South Koreans are the best in the world for cooking up history in a favorable light.”

These words do not come from ultra-nationalistic Chinese. They are spoken blatantly in the streets of the Korean capital. The speaker would have been chastised if any Korean passersby understood Chinese. A Korean who was interning at a tourist company after earning a license as a translator for Chinese tourists protested vehemently over these kinds of remarks made by an unlicensed Chinese guide in the same company to his tour group from China. But the guide shrugged off the concerns, saying his job was to please clients and not to educate them on history. The intern quit the company and is looking for somewhere else to work.

He claimed there are a growing number of Chinese who speak Korean, and Chinese working as tour guides without any certification present themselves as Koreans to Chinese visitors. When tourists return home, they may tell their friends that South Koreans admit they invaded North Korea and lied about Goguryeo being theirs.

Chinese tourists constitute the largest share of the Korean and global tourism markets. Chinese tourists to South Korea totaled 3.92 million last year, compared to 2.72 million Japanese tourists and replacing the Japanese as the biggest source of visitors since the country began compiling data in 1961. Tourism, however, is not just a matter of the number of visitors and revenue. It can encourage cultural and human exchanges and connections, and better understanding. It often is deemed to be civilian diplomacy. But Chinese tourism is being used to misrepresent our history.

I was passing by Gyeongbok Palace last weekend. Chinese tourists stepped out of tour buses along the sidewalk. The guide said something and I asked my companion, who knew Chinese, what he was saying. My companion had worked in a travel agency and said the guide had described Gyeongbok Palace as trifling compared with the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City in Beijing and not worth spending too much time looking around. He then hurried the group to move on to the next stop. My companion went on to predict that the group would soon move to Shinchon and shop for ginseng and other health food in a shopping district exclusively for Chinese. He said much time is spent at the shops because the tour guides and companies receive commissions based on the amount Chinese tourists spend. Some unlicensed guides force tourists to make purchases, saying they will go home if the visitors do not buy more than 10 items. Because of the Chinese tradition of not being rude to others, the tourists make purchases to save face for their guides, with whom they spend several days. Such unpleasant experiences are one of the reasons behind the recent survey that showed just 29.7 percent of Chinese tourists said they want to visit South Korea again, compared with 64 percent among Japanese.

The Chinese are stereotyped as heavy shoppers, one tourism expert said. But Chinese people are generally very interested in culture and history. He recommended that travel agencies make more of an effort to develop tour programs and train guides.

Authorities should draw up manuals and guidelines on everything from Korean history to modern lifestyles so anyone can give an in-depth explain about Korea to foreigners. Tourism quality can speak for national dignity and reputation. We must not let low-quality guides ruin our image. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 4, Page 32

Tour guides’ distortions

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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