A lot of people ask me what I’ve learned—what skills and lessons I’ve accrued—in my 10 years on the road, living internationally. There are a few simple skills it took a number of years for me to realize as a guide, which can create a wonderful trip out of nothing.
Not only that, but once these skills are honed and mastered, they can change your life. It is the Zen of Guiding, the art of constantly looking at the world as if you’re designing a once-in-a-lifetime trip, of living life as if it were once in a lifetime—which, of course, it is. These skills, much like the Tao Te Ching, or the sayings of Confucius, are simple in form but deep in value. Here, I continue the explanation I started in my post The Zen of Guiding, Part I.
Turn every interaction into an event.
After one week living in Asia, I was given a holiday from my new job because it was what the Chinese deemed “Golden Holiday week.” This was one of three week-long periods throughout the year during which the government required holidays to promote domestic tourism and a healthy economy.
For the holiday I took a train to a small town on the Li River called Yangzhou, a town surrounded by rivers and limestone peaks. It was the real-life setting of Chinese paintings: clouds between peaks and rivers lined with rice patties; it was wonderful. As I walked through this little town I saw a vendor selling bamboo masks that reminded me of a friend back home. I stopped and looked at the mask and the haggling began. I wanted to pay 30 yuan and the shop owner wanted me to pay 35 yuan.
“30!” I would say.
“35!!” he would reply, louder and more sternly. (He was better practiced at this than I).
After I stormed out of the shop, I thought he would come down to my price in order to keep the sale, but alas, he let me walk. I then went back into the shop four or five times throughout the day. I would walk in and exclaim to him and everyone in the shop “30!” to which he’d reply “35!!” Finally, that evening, I was dining with friends a few doors down and after a beer or two, realized the absurdity of not wanting to pay the equivalent of 60 extra cents. So I walked back to the shop and went in. Defeated, I said “35!!”
After I paid, he was putting the mask in a small plastic bag for me, when he put in five yuan, looked at me and said (in English) ”I didn’t want the money.” I was dumbfounded and told him that I had to buy him a beer for the act and the way in which he taught me a wonderful lesson.
We became close friends. He went by the English name William, and he and his wife ended up inviting me and my groups with B&R to dinner at their house for years to come—a wonderful dinner with friends in China.
When you keep your eyes and ears out for the lessons of life, and learn how to see them (or at least learn to ask for help from a few taxi drivers), it makes for quite an adventure.