Mandarin-Speaking Australian Tour Guide: “Chinese history and culture need to be known by more people”

By Haotian Zheng (People's Daily Online) 14:30, April 27, 2022

As an Australian citizen, Justin Steele has long served as a tour guide who has kept a strong connection with China, Chinese tourists and Chinese culture. “It was a choice in following my destiny to select Chinese as second language because I expected to help more people learn about China's rich history and its diverse cuisines,” he said.

Steele, who also has a Chinese name, Hailin Wen, has been a tour guide in Sydney for many years now. The Australian man, who speaks fluent Chinese, has a great passion for Chinese culture and offers guide services for tourists in Mandarin Chinese. Through the years, he has helped many Chinese visitors to enjoy a wonderful journey in Sydney, Australia, by offering his Mandarin-speaking tours.

“There are a lot of people in Sydney and in Australia with a Chinese background, and I think those people are really important in building relationships. So this Chinatown tour that I’ve launched is focused on telling the story of Chinese-Australians and to celebrate the contributions that the Chinese people have made to Australia over the last 200 years,” said Steele. 

Steele used to work as a corporate lawyer until one day he finally decided to quit his job and pursue a happier career as a tour guide and travel consultant. He noted that the most exciting thing about this job is to show people different places and bring people together to experience historical stories.

In 2018, Steele founded AussieYou Travel (now called Local Sauce), a travel agency that offers small group tour services for tourists worldwide. Its Walking Sydney's Chinatown tour has been among the most popular options for Chinese tourists. This tour was designed to give visitors a chance to learn more about the Chinese communities residing in Australia. During the two-hour tour, Steele usually takes the visitors to Chinatown, tasting authentic Chinese snacks and exploring the early history and development of the community.

“When people talk about Chinese food, they may only know Sichuan, Shanghai and Cantonese cuisine, but they don't know what Rou Jia Mo and lamb kebabs are, so I want more people to taste special snacks from different parts of China,” said the man.

Actually, Steele personally knows many of the Chinese restaurant owners there. He would always give them a warm hello every time he passes by. “These restaurants have lost so much business over the past two years because of COVID. So I want to help them in this way,” he said.

Other than Chinese cuisine, Steele also takes the time to introduce the history behind some of the different Chinese communities in Australia. He takes the visitors to places such as the Australian Chinese Ex-Services Monument and the Golden Water Mouth Tree, a feng shui-stylized treasure tree covered in 23-karat gold leaf at the entranceway to the local Chinatown. 

To encourage the tourists to learn more about how the local Chinese community has contributed to the development of Sydney, Steele even designed an educational game, where participants are divided into different teams and then compete to find nine Chinese-Australians and list their contributions to society. 

Steele’s interest in China began all the way back when he was in primary school. At that time, he was living with his family whose home was located in the Chinese community of Brisbane. With the influence of many Chinese and Asian classmates, he chose Chinese as a second language to study as a young pupil. This learning experience then accompanied him through his high school and university years. 

“China has been a big part of my life and I made many Chinese friends both in Australia and China,” he said.

At the age of 16, Steele went to Guilin for an exchange study trip where he received a Chinese name from his host family. During this exchange trip, he visited Shanghai, Beijing, and many other places in China. After graduating from high school, the young man went on to study at Nanjing University, where he spent a great deal of vocational time traveling everywhere around the country as a student. No matter where he went, he would always do his best to taste the local food and learn about local culture, “this is the best way to understand the diversity of China.”

Nowadays, Chinese tourists have become an important group for Steele’s business in Australia. More than 50 percent of his clients are Chinese, having seen overall a 40 percent increase in his total number of clients from 2018 to 2019. This number was expected to double by 2020, but the business was met with its most severe challenge to date over the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even so, Steele remains optimistic about his career. He never regretted entering into the tourism industry. He is also really looking forward to welcoming more tourists to Australia after the pandemic is over. “I hope my little tours can play a part to help in improving relations and improving people’s knowledge in recognition of the importance of the China-Australia relationship through tourism,” he said. 

(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)