Jean Wang has been a tour guide for more than 40 years and loves sharing to tourists about Singapore’s history and stories.
After 40 years as a tour guide, Jean Wang is still passionate about guiding. It is not just the history of Singapore that she enjoys sharing to visitors but also the stories behind them. In one such tour, the 67-year-old brought a British couple to the Lim Chu Kang area, which was founded by Chinese immigrant from Fujian, Neo Ao Tiew, who was the sheriff of the village.
She showed them the Kranji War Cemetery, where over 4,000 Commonwealth casualties of World War II lie buried, of which more than 800 are unidentified. During the tour, she related what her parents experienced during the Japanese Occupation and described how they lived during that time.
The mother of two also particularly enjoys telling stories of what makes Singapore different from other countries like the story of the Sri Mariamman Temple, which was built by Naraina Pillai, who was the first Indian building contractor here. The temple is associated to the well-known fire walking ceremony, which continues to be performed today by its many devotees and Jean is more than happy to share why the tradition continues to this day on her tour. “I don’t really keep in touch with the tourists when they return home, but I hope that they have retained good memories of their experiences in Singapore through the photos they’ve taken,” she said.
However, with COVID-19, she has been hit badly with few tourists coming into Singapore but that has not stopped her from going out and sharing the history and stories of Singapore to even residents of Singapore. Before the pandemic, she would give as many as 10 half-day tours a week with each half-day tour lasting up to four hours. She is also a tourist guide trainer and has been busy giving training online to aspiring tour guides. She guides in English and in Spanish, and explained that she picked up the language as there was a shortage of Spanish-speaking guides to serve visitors who don’t understand English.
Jean got hooked into the tourism industry tour guiding when after finishing school, she worked at an airline company that offered stopover tours to Singapore. That was how she was introduced to inbound tourist guiding. Initially, she worked with an inbound tour operator. Jean obtained her Singapore Tourist Board (STB) tourist guide licence when she was in her late 20s, after a six-month training programme. In 1988, she chose to become a freelancer giving tours to overseas visitors and became a tourist guide trainer to share her guiding experience and how to meet tourists’ needs.
Sharing her passion, she said: “I really enjoy having an audience to tell stories about Singapore and how we overcame those dark years of World War II to where we are today,” she said. She loves to share to visitors about the different faiths, cultures, traditions, food, and races that make up Singapore, as well as the buildings and monuments showcasing the work of our pioneers. Her favourite buildings are the former Supreme Court and City Hall. “Both have deep historical value. City Hall witnessed the surrender of the Japanese at the end of World War II as well as when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Singapore. Today, they are united as one building housing the National Art Gallery which has the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asia modern art.”
To continue to keep up with the times in Singapore, she looks out for fun facts of Singapore by scouring the various media, listening to talks by experts and joining curators’ tours. Over the years, she has amassed a collection of history books, newspaper articles as well as other publications. Today, she has turned to collecting information online.
Last year, Jean received the award for Tourist Guide Community Partnership at the Tourist Guide Recognition Awards 2021 organised by STB. The award highlights her contributions to serving tourist guides as well as being an active member of the Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore) since its inception 18 years ago.
She hopes she can continue giving tours, even past 70 years old. Jean remarked: “Tour guiding has allowed me to remain physically and mentally active.” Her favourite quote is from former US President Abraham Lincoln – “I will study and get ready, and someday my chance will come”. She said: “This quote has served me well as it reminds me to keep an open mind to new things that may come my way.”
With the opening of Vaccinated Travel Lanes to more countries, Jean looks forward to welcoming visitors once again and entertain them with compelling stories of Singapore.
(** This story was contributed by Ageless Online’s reporter Tan Kok Kay.)