Sunday, August 17, 2008

Homestays prove big hit during Games

Living in a traditional courtyard house and becoming a part of a Chinese family were not exactly what Odette Reich had planned when she and her husband Thimo van Riet decided to come to Beijing for the Olympic Games.

A family, at Nanguanfang Hutong near Shichahai Lake, have their dinner August 15, 2008. The family is one of about 600 homestay families chosen for foreign visitors during the Beijing Olympic Games.
Little did they know that the hostel they booked on the Internet would not be able to provide them the promised accommodation and recommend they try an Olympic homestay family instead.

Little did they know that they would get this lucky in a faraway land.

The house where they stayed for a week is a traditional Beijing courtyard house with more than 150 years of history, located in Qianmachang Hutong, not far from Houhai Lake.

Li Xiushi, the 80-year-old owner who inherited it from her mother's family, had the house refurbished in March, and kept aside six rooms for guests, becoming one of the nearly 600 homes to have opened its doors to Olympic guests.

Wang Zhixi, hostess of an Olympic homestay for foreign visitors, talks to two American guests about the traditional Chinese architecture in Beijing August 15, 2008. Wang's home, at Dajinsi Hutong near Shichahai Lake, a tourist attraction in downtown Beijing, is one of about 600 homestay families chosen for foreign visitors during the Beijing Olympic Games.
"I hired an artist who spent two months at my house painting birds, flowers and other traditional patterns on the beams," she said.
She also bought an old rickshaw and a bridal sedan chair and placed them in the courtyard, which has made it a hit with tourists as it offers a perfect backdrop for photos.

The retired doctor prepares tea all day for visitors who drop in at her courtyard. They can either sit around a porcelain table sipping tea in the soothing shade of a grape trellis, or, like US tourists Teresa Quigley and Anne Dalton, sit on an old-style Chinese bed and drink the tea served by Quigley's son in the traditional Chinese way.

Li has also decked out the windowsill with Chinese toys such as diabolo and shuttlecock, which foreigners find fascinating.

Odette Reich said she fell in love with jianzi . "It's fun. I want to take one home and kick it around on the beach."

The host also marks out the locations of nearby restaurants and their special dishes for her foreign guests.

"It's an honor to stay in this unique place," Reich said.

This unique Chinese touch is what makes these traditional courtyards beat star-rated hotels as the first choice for some foreign tourists in Beijing.

Wang Zhixi, who lives with her husband Jing Jichang in a courtyard house in Dajinsi Hutong, said many of their foreign friends stay at their home every time they come to Beijing.

Jacques, a French friend, has stayed there three times in recent years, she said. "The first time he came by himself on holiday. The next year he came back to learn calligraphy, and stayed with us again. This April he brought his wife and grandson along."

Though ordinary Chinese homes are unable to provide the hardware that star-rated hotels do, they provide "a feel of home", said Nicholas Slyger, from New Zealand.

And home, for these tourists, is where the heart is.

Source: China Daily

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