CHOO May Kuen has always been a guide. Before Covid-19 kept tourists out, she would take groups of them to the many nooks and corners of Kuala Lumpur to savour the local flavours.
Of course, not all that is sampled is agreeable to the foreign palate. “I remember a tourist spat out the durian she tried,” she recounted.
Today, she guides people along a different path. Armed with a deck of Japanese Hanafuda cards, she advises them on how to deal with the spiritual and emotional travails of life in a pandemic-stricken world.
Choo had been a tourist guide for six years when Covid-19 reached Malaysia and led to the first movement control order in March
Her job was to curate tours for European tourists, and that included taking them to places where they could chow down on fare they usually only read about in magazines. That was when one of her guests exhibited her revulsion for the pungent fruit that Malaysians love.
“Tuning in to assess their needs and wants through the questions they asked was important,” she told theSun.
“They had often heard about us and wanted to immerse themselves in our culture. I love to share what makes Malaysia a great destination, so it was great for me.”
Her motto, she said, is simply – they come as tourists but return as locals.
It was also a learning process for Choo. “Through their eyes, I saw our heritage in a new light and learnt to appreciate it.”
She said the fact that English is widely understood in Malaysia made it easier for the tourists to convey their cravings for local cuisine.
Choo said the busy periods were the summer months and Christmas season. “When everyone was out partying, I had to work,” she added.
She was making RM3,000 to RM5,000 a month but her only source of income was lost in an instant.
“When Covid-19 hit us, I felt lost, but I found solace in the Hanafuda cards,” she said.
Even while serving as a tourist guide, Choo had developed an interest in Hanafuda. “I remember being fascinated with these beautiful cards that had motivational quotes.”
She often posted the inspirational and positive messages picked up from the cards on her Facebook page.
“A deck of Hanafuda cards is a set of beautiful Japanese playing cards adorned with plants and animals.
“Its seasonal motifs and combination of designs are considered to be harmonious in Japanese culture,” she said.
For the Hanafuda card reader, the messages contained in the deck can be interpreted to serve as a guide.
After months and no sign of tourists returning, Choo started on a new career path – guiding those hurt by the pandemic through the difficult times.
“People often need clarity before they make decisions on their
career, relationship, finances or health,” she pointed out.
With her friends’ encouragement, she pursued her new interest and has already picked up a lot of interest.
Just like any job, Choo said it can be energy sapping. “I just remind myself that my clients are happy, and that is priceless for me.”
She sees five clients a day now, spending 40 minutes per session. To ensure social distancing, the readings are done through Zoom.
To unwind, she often turns to motivational speaker Brene Brown’s books on how to stay strong and to harness leadership skills.
“It is tough to face uncertainties, but I’ve not looked back. I like helping people. That is the most important thing for me,” she added.