Friday, November 23, 2012

“15 years, 250 tours and 2,484 passengers – 
I hope I’ve passed the apprenticeship!”
     ("Lemon Juice" Bruce, Intrepid Vietnam tour group leader, October 2012)

To celebrate this milestone, the company organized a dinner at Quan Cuc Gach in Saigon's District 3 on Tuesday October 23.  This is an interesting local restaurant dined in by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  As you can see, we had a few other unexpected VIPs join us for our photo shoot - including Karl Marx, Lenin (not John, the other one!), living legend General Giap, no-longer-living legend Le Duan, and none other than the eternal Uncle Ho himself.  I felt very humble in such company!

Now, fully retired and pensioned off, or semi-retired? . . . 
I don't mean me; I am referring to my old green backpack, fondly known as the "Green Monster".  This has been my trusty travelling companion all these years in Viet Nam (and many more besides), but it has now been replaced by a brand new "Blue Draggin'" wheely case, compliments of the company.  I wonder if it will last as long?. . .

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250 trips and 2484 Intrepid travellers

intrepidexpress | real life experiences | Thursday, 22 November 2012 

Bruce McPhie in Vietnam In October, Bruce McPhie clocked up 15 years full-time tour leading with Intrepid, making him the longest-serving Intrepid Group Leader in the world! This means that since 1997, ‘Lemon Juice’ Bruce has led 250 Intrepid trips, and shared the wonders of Vietnam and Cambodia with some 2,484 travellers from all around the world. In his words “I hope I’ve passed the apprenticeship”…

“When I first joined Intrepid I had no idea how long this new adventure would last. Looking back, I am amazed at how quickly the years have passed, how many diverse and interesting people I have met along the way, and how many incredible experiences I have had. It still feels surreal just to be here, still living this amazing life, and I have no wish for it to ever end!

I have had the privilege and opportunity to travel through exotic cultures, tumultuous history and stunningly beautiful landscapes. Every day can still be a learning day, for me and my fellow travellers. There is still so much misinformation and ignorance about Vietnam and Cambodia crying out to be corrected. The whole world can benefit from learning these truths, and discovering the real magic of Indochina.

Many times I have been moved to tears when sharing both the joys and the pains of local people, who so easily become new friends. I have been able to sponsor children through school, relieve friends from crippling debt, assist local charities to help people in genuine need, and help local friends start up small businesses to improve their lives. One cannot be a passive bystander. Such is life in my adopted home of Vietnam.

My previous lives in Australia seem worlds away, as indeed they are. I have been lucky to have been able to follow a somewhat unconventional lifestyle. My first life was in Melbourne where, among other things, I was passionately involved in the peace movement against the war in Vietnam, including resistance to military conscription.

Deciding to ‘drop out’ of teacher training college to work full time for peace, Vietnam obviously made a life-changing impact on my youth. Today, opposing war remains critical for the survival of the planet and the dignity of humanity. This truth is driven home every day when you live and work in a land still suffering from the ongoing effects of past wars.

For my second life, I ‘went bush’ to the beautiful Cassilis Valley in far northeast Victoria for an alternative rural lifestyle experience, where more lifetime friends were made. Vietnam was and is my third life. My fourth life? I have no idea!

Throughout all my lives, I have had an eclectic range of jobs, coincidentally following Uncle Ho’s idea of combining and respecting both mental and physical labour. Sometimes I have worked to live, but mostly I have lived to work, and always I did the things I wanted to do and felt needed to be done.

Fortuitously, this continues in my current life as an Intrepid Group Leader, in a company committed to responsible travel and a better world. For me, there is no real line between work and personal life; it is my lifestyle, and what I do. What a special privilege!

Way back in 1996, I was a novice traveller on Intrepid’s Vietnam Adventure tour, which I thought was just part of my first Asian holiday experience before returning to Australia. However, miraculously, from the moment I arrived in Vietnam I felt completely at home, as if I had been here in some previous life! Less than one year later, I was back in Vietnam with a brand new job – this time working for Intrepid Travel as a Group Leader. Incredibly, Vietnam had dramatically changed my life for a second time!

Intrepid party for Bruce McPhie in Vietnam How much longer? Who knows the future? Hopefully there are many more tours ahead for me with Intrepid, and many more travellers to introduce to ‘my Vietnam’. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Or, as a frog might say, time’s fun when you’re having flies!”

* photos of Bruce on one of his 200+ visits to Halong Bay and a party with the Intrepid Vietnam team in Bruce’s honour.

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From David Mannix, General Manager, PEAK Adventure Travel Vietnam, October 2012:

15 years and still going... the incredible adventures of Bruce McPhie

“15 years, 250 tours and 2,484 passengers – I hope I’ve passed the apprenticeship!” says Mr Bruce, and no one is surprised that he knows to a person exactly how many lucky travellers have joined him during his time as a tour leader in Vietnam. 

Bruce is the longest serving tour leader in the history of Intrepid and, to our knowledge, the longest serving leader in the PEAK world. An incredible achievement from one of the most inspiring people you could ever hope to meet.

Bruce’s Vietnam odyssey began way back in 1996. Venturing through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand on his very first holiday to Asia, Bruce then moved on to Vietnam, where he was booked as a passenger on an Intrepid trip. It was that first night in Hanoi that was to change his life forever. 

Wandering on his own through the maze of alleyways near the train station, Bruce immediately felt like he had been here before and that in some strange way, it felt like home. He was moved to the point of tears when the tour left Hanoi and felt this same overwhelming connection in every place he visited in Vietnam. It was an attachment that he had never felt anywhere else travelling the world.
Returning to Australia after the tour, he told his friends that he would be back in Vietnam within the year. The problem was, he had no idea how he was going to get back there! In his mid 40’s, with little money to spare, Bruce considered all his options on how he could return to the country he loved. 

Whilst studying an English teaching course, Bruce applied for a job as a tour leader with Intrepid, having thought as a passenger that his leader had the best job in the world! Believing he had little chance of securing the leading job, Bruce was pleasantly surprised to see that the interview was to be conducted by none other than Jacquie Burnside (who is still with PEAK), who was on Bruce’s Vietnam trip as a leader trainee. 

During the second round interview, Tom Beadle (also still with PEAK) asked Bruce how long he thought he might be a leader for. Bruce replied that he wasn’t sure, it could be 5 months or 5 years, which prompted Tom to tell him that he must be joking because no one ever lasts 5 years as a tour leader! 

True to his word, Bruce returned to Vietnam within the year as promised, making it back just 3 days before his deadline. 

His first training trip with Intrepid happened to coincide with a trip being run by the legendary Intrepid leader Bill Raymond and Bruce had the good fortune of being taken under the wing of Mr Bill on that trip and was shown the ins and outs of running tours in Vietnam – an experience Bruce will never forget. 

Thus began 15 years and counting of living and working in Vietnam. It is obvious to anyone who
has the good fortune to meet Bruce that his affection for this country is at a very deep level. Very few Westerners have the in-depth knowledge of Vietnam’s history, culture and people that Bruce does and his passion for sharing this knowledge with his passengers is what makes Bruce such an outstanding tour leader. 

Bruce remains one of PEAK Vietnam’s top performing leaders and his recent work as our Responsible Travel Co-Coordinator has breathed new life into this role, with a long list of accomplishments aimed at protecting and nurturing the country he calls home.

I was interested to know what it is that keeps Bruce going, what the key was to his success and how he keeps his enthusiasm after 15 years on the road. Bruce responded that he still finds every day challenging. Every trip and every group is different and he tries to put himself in their shoes by looking at each place as if he were experiencing it for the first time. 

For example, this man has been to Halong Bay over 200 times but he still gets a thrill in seeing people so overawed by its beauty. He never gets bored, still feels there is a lot to discover and to this day Bruce refused to go to sleep on a bus or train ride during the day for fear of missing something he hasn’t seen before. 

It’s that natural curiosity, combined with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, that keeps Bruce at the top of his game and just a cursory read of his passenger feedback leaves little doubt that he has changed the lives of many of his passengers too.  

Congratulations Bruce on this incredible milestone. You are an inspiration to myself, the leaders and all the staff of PEAK Vietnam and those that know you from our other offices. We have the utmost respect for your achievements, your incredible work ethic and most of all, your determination to live the life that you want to live. I still reckon you have at least another 15 years in you so we look forward to sharing this journey with you in the years to come.

15 years and still going... the incredible adventures of Bruce McPhie.

To celebrate this monumentous achievement, we took Bruce out to Cuc Gach restaurant in Saigon
with a number of staff, leaders and local guides and a great night was had by all as we reflected
on Bruce’s incredible career. 

Earlier, Bruce was taken out shopping to select a brand new suitcase to replace (in typical Bruce fashion!) an old green backpack that he had purchased back in 1982 and was still using on every trip. It was time to say goodbye to the ‘green monster’ and even though Bruce told us that parting with it felt like chopping off his arm, he does believe that this new suitcase with wheels is a very exciting thing that represents a new way of travel and will make him look less like a backpacker! 
And we can’t ask for anything more than that Bruce.  

From David Mannix, General Manager, PEAK Adventure Travel Vietnam, October 2012.
Intrepid Travel is a proud member of the PEAK Advenure Travel Group Limited, the global leader in delivering outstanding adventure travel experiences. 

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