Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tourist hell

Once they said it was the Americans. Those in the know in Europe always said it was the Germans. But I am starting to think that the Singaporeans have become the worst tourists in the world today.
Certainly this was the impression of an entire boatload of people this week, cruising the fragile Coorong ecosystem in South Australia.
The first sign was when the boat had to wait at dock and delay departure. The busload of Singaporeans was late because, reported the bus driver, they had made an en route loo stop and the Singaporeans had just gone off and taken their time re-boarding the bus.
When their bus pulled in to the dock, the Singaporeans scattered again and had to be rounded up. One small boy spotted a pair of ducks grazing on the grass and charged at them, waving his arms and screaming. We all called out to leave the ducks alone, but he made repeated charges until they had made a series of defensive flights to the edge of the dock. A grey-haired man looked as if he was coming after the boy and we thought, "oh, good, a parent". But the man indulgently watched as the boy made a last screaming affront on the ducks and forced them to fly out into the water. The man then put his arm around the boy and they meandered amid their tour pack onto the boat. Not just one small boy but more and more...a large group of boys aged between 7 and 11.
If only they had all had IPods or gameboys! If ever children needed them, this was the time.
At the sight of this rowdy bunch, we quickly escaped to the exposed upper deck. Bad luck. Within minutes they had followed us. They shouted, wriggled, fought, yelled, jumped, wrestled...
We asked them to quieten down. They cared not a hoot, although they spoke good English. I tried a warning in Malay. They understood this, too, and were amused by it, but not impressed.
No sign of parents. Just a teenage girl who seemed to be in charge. A Singaporean nanny who took care, kept company, but did not discipline the kids.
And thus, as the parents sat comfortably downstairs with the other adults in their group, did the quiet eco journey of bird-watching become a noisy riot of stomping and screaming.
Repeatedly we told the children to hush so we could hear the guide's commentary on the locations. Repeatedly we received defiant stares or laughs.
The parents popped up once or twice to look approvingly upon their young. They were indifferent to our general misery and annoyance.
When we moored to walk across the dunes, the boys raced up the sanddunes screaming and proceeded to make landslides for the fun of it. I could only walk away at this point. Where were their parents? Oh well, I don't suppose they really understand environmental degradation. Singapore is hardly an eco site. Was this trip meant to edify the young on this issue? Or, had they thought it was some sort of a leisure cruise?
I was hoping the long trek across the sandhills to the open ocean may have tired those kids from hell. But no. They returned bouncy and noisy, the horror boy with his nose running badly. And ugly site. We turned away. "Go blow your nose," snapped Ben.
The wrestling and shouting resumed as the boat chugged quietly back upstream, pausing to look at massed swans and pelicans.

It was not until this worst of the children held a coke can over the side of the boat threatening to throw it in the protected waters of the reserve that we really exploded. "Don't even think about it". "Do not do that!" This pleased him and he threw the can in.
That was it. Four of us turned hissing with fury. "You can't throw rubbish in your country, how dare you thow it in ours," bellowed Ben.
"In your country you would get 20 lashes for that", shouted Bruce.

At last, something was said to cow that horror child. He retreated to the nanny. The others joined him and they sat in a huddle looking grim - and then, at last, they withdrew to the lower deck and their doting parents.

We had, at last, some peace on the trip - half an hour from home on a four and a half hour trip.

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