Mon | Sep 21, 2020

‘Young Professor’ - Chinese Garden tour guide converts job into the chance of a lifetime

Published:Friday | November 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Christopher Creary inside the Chinese Garden.
In this May 2018 file photo, Christopher Creary (left) shows the touring party, led by Ambassador of The People’s Republic of China to Jamaica Tian Qi (second left), and Lady Allen (centre), an African tulip that is found in the Chinese Garden. The liquid from the tulip can be used as an eyewash, especially for pink eye.

Christopher Creary had no idea that the knowledge gained from studying trees at the Hope Botanical Gardens while working as a security guard would allow him to impress so many persons from so many walks of life.

But impress he did, with his admirers including a professor, who offered him an opportunity to study at the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica, who gave him a gift of an all-expense-paid three-week trip to China.

Creary started out as a night security guard at the historic venue and was promoted to being a tour guide in 2012.

He said the move gave him an opportunity to share his insight about trees when persons visit the Chinese Garden, which was where he had his first date with his wife before its transformation.

"I meet a lot of people. People who I probably would have never met on the road or normally would not walk into," Creary told The Sunday Gleaner.

These individuals include diplomats, parliamentarians, prominent business persons, media personalities, and students of all ages from across the island.

Creary said he was told about the planned May 13 visit of the Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica Tian Qi and the wife of Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Lady Allen.

This was the third Chinese ambassador he was going to provide tour services for, and in a bid to break the ice, Creary greeted the diplomat with a phrase in Mandarin.

Creary pointed out some of the 30 exotic trees from across the world in the space, including the red sandalwood, which is native to China. He told the group that among the elements of the Chinese Garden which were imported from China were the slate, marble, glazed clay, and white and black pebbles.

The ambassador was very impressed with Creary's use of the language, and after the tour he offered the Jamaican an opportunity to visit China.

Creary, who had been studying Mandarin online before the visit of the diplomats, was excited when he received an email days later with an itinerary and instructions on how to get his Chinese visa.

Late May, Creary travelled 14 hours to China along with several government officials to attend a conference looking at the culture, history and economy of the Asian country, an experience which he animatedly described as "awesome".

The father of eight went to several historical locations, including the Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Central Museum.

Now Creary continues to enjoy his job, showing patrons the wonders of the Chinese Botanical Garden and sharing elements of the Chinese culture.

"I provide just a really awesome exciting tour, because in the tour I will speak of the trees; none of the trees are native. I am able to tell them if they are national trees and what this tree can do," said Creary.

Because of his wealth of knowledge about historical events and natural herbs, the tour guide was dubbed, 'Young Professor' by his friends in the 1980s.

"If he gives six tours for the day, it is six different tours," said fellow tour guide, Adalyn Collins.

"He is fantastic," declared Christine Wright, who Creary is now training to be a tour guide.

"I have learnt so much from him. Just the way he does the tours, he is simple. He is knowledgeable about a lot of things that we would take for granted," added Wright.

During a tour of the Gardens in 2017, director and lecturer at the Confucius Institute at UWI, Dr Courtney Hogarth, was so impressed with Creary that he extended an invitation to him to study at UWI, Mona, free of cost.

Creary has completed one semester, but had to put his studies on hold because of medical issues involving his wife. He is looking forward to resuming classes come January, but for now he is enjoying his role of being the tour guide for the Chinese Garden.