27 October 2016
A tin of mentholated balm is the perfect gift for Egyptian tourist guides. Photo: WSJ
A tin of mentholated balm is the perfect gift for Egyptian tourist guides. Photo: WSJ

What Chinese tourists are tipping in Egypt

Chinese cooling balm is the perfect gift to get around Egypt’s tourist attractions with the help of an eager guide.

That’s what Chinese tourist Ye Sanshi found out when he lost his way among the stone chapels, pylons and pillars in Karnak, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An Egyptian guide gave him directions. To show his gratitude, Ye handed him a small red tin the size of a large coin.

Inside was a cooling mentholated balm that has become a currency for Chinese traveling in Egypt.

Ye brought 50 tins with him on his six-day tour to hand out as tips.

“Before I came to Egypt, the tourism agency told me repeatedly to bring cooling balm as a gift to make the trip easier,” said Ye, a 25-year-old whose family sells Chinese medicine online.

Egyptians, he said, “are very nice to Chinese tourists and they love this little gifts”.

“Chinese tourists like to give this to me, but I really do not know why,” said Younes Mohamed, 34, a cleaner at Serenity Beach resort in Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast.

He rubs the balm on his temples sometimes for headaches but otherwise doesn’t know what to do with it.

“I get a double handful of these on a daily basis,” he said, “most of which I gave to my friends and relatives.”

From the Giza Pyramids to the Red Sea, Chinese tourists pass out the balm — familiar to many Westerners by the Tiger Balm brand — rather than tipping with cash to many they encounter, from hotel staffers and trinket peddlers to customs officers and police with AK-47s.

Egyptians sometimes seem to demand the balm by running a thumb across their foreheads.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJI Weekly Newsletter