Portrait of Kit Strobl, in the 1st courtyard of the castle
Once I came to Switzerland, I had very few opportunities to use my native language – Mandarin. Then one day, I saw an ad. The castle was looking for a guide who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese. It caught my eye straight away. I applied and began working at Chillon on 1 April 1999. I’ve now been working here for 23 years.
I wear several hats: I manage the ticket office, but I also work in marketing and promote the castle to the Asian markets. I really enjoy my work. Asia is my forte. Whenever I tell an agency about the castle, I explain how, in some ways, we’re almost neighbours. That quickly helps build a strong bond, which I think is great! I also really enjoy working as a guide, because I love that in-person contact with clients. People are generally very surprised when they find out that I can show them around the castle rooms in their native language. I also host what we call ‘familiarisation trips’ to promote the castle. (NB: ‘familiarisation trips’ are what we call preview tours for agencies, tourist offices, tour operators and partner companies.)
I have many! Firstly, the chest room. During my tours, I often compare Chillon’s engraved chests with their Chinese counterparts. There’s also the bathroom and the Bernese Chamber, which contain other interesting everyday items. They help me conjure up images of daily life at the medieval castle and compare this with Chinese habits. The Bernese Chamber is also a huge hit with our visitors, because of its secret passageway.
Kit Strobl presents the castle to the visitors.
It was my first day back from my holidays. The Chinese Embassy had called that same morning to confirm a VIP visit – it was completely unplanned! I had barely stepped into the office when they asked if I could host the tour in question.
The Chinese Embassy then called me directly to confirm my expertise and knowledge of the castle. I told them that I was Chillon’s longest Chinese standing guide. The Federal Police even followed me on the tour route, before the secret visitor arrived. Security was top notch! The police were pleased to see that I was at ease. I explained to them that I treat all of my visitors the same; to me, everyone visitor to the castle is a VIP guest.
They were very thorough in their security questioning, it was great! Then, the Deputy Prime Minister of China arrived – basically number 4 in the top 100 most influential Chinese personalities at the time.
We carried out our tour of the castle surrounded by 10-15 bodyguards. She was so impressive, and very sweet. I even managed to tell her a joke! As we entered the underground rooms, I was telling her all about Lord Byron and I sent her to look for the footsteps trodden by Bonivard, the famous prisoner. She came back and said that, unfortunately, she couldn’t find anything. I explained that, in fact, there weren’t any real footsteps, despite what the poem says. She found that interesting and even laughed – as did the bodyguards.
At the end of the tour, she wanted to climb to the top of the keep. The police officers pulled a funny face, because that hadn’t been part of the planned itinerary. She explained to me that she was old and didn’t know when she would be able to return to Switzerland, so she absolutely had to see the view over Lake Geneva and the Alps. In the end, we all climbed up and she was thrilled.
Just before she left, she gave me a very kind gift, a silk stamp from China, and the Embassy thanked me for my work.
In the end, I was quite relaxed throughout the whole tour. All the more so seeing how humble and down-to-earth she was. I was very pleased I had managed to make her laugh. I have very fond memories of that day!
Silk stamp offered by the VIP at the end of the tour.