Chinese households open up for Olympic guests

July 17th, 2008 - 9:38 am ICT by IANS  

By Xinhua Lou Chen and Ji Shaoting
Beijing, July 17 (Xinhua) Zhu Baohua beamed proudly as he showed a group of American visitors a century-old wooden bed in his house. Zhu, in his 50s, is the owner of a ’siheyuan’, a traditional home with a courtyard in downtown Beijing. He is among 598 Beijing homeowners selected as Olympic hosts by the tourism administration.

The administration initiated the homestay programme in April, offering overseas visitors a chance to experience the Chinese lifestyle and get to the heart of the Beijing life.

As a supplement to the city’s hotels, these households could offer 726 rooms for more than 1,000 visitors, said Xiong Yumei, deputy director of Beijing Tourism Administration.

Most of the families lived near major stadiums, trunk roads, cultural sites and ‘hutongs’, or alleys, making it easy for visitors to experience the capital, Xiong said.

Before selecting the families, officials inspected ventilation, lighting, fire safety and sanitation to make sure they met requirements.

Officials recommended $60 to $80 for a bed per night, but said individual rates could be negotiated between the visitors and the landlords.

For Beijing natives like Zhu, hosting overseas tourists is not only a chance to make a little money, but also a chance to share his culture.

Zhu’s house was bought by his family in the early 1900s. In 2004, he spent more than four million yuan ($580) on renovations - “westernizing” the toilet, installing air conditioning and high-definition televisions.

“The whole family is learning the history of siheyuan and hutong. We are professional tour guides now,” Zhu said.

He also invited his nephews, nieces and their friends who speak English to act as interpreters when the visitors come.

The Zhus received dozens of foreign tourists who come to see the home.

“Although our cultures are different, we do have a lot in common,” Zhu’s nephew, Zhao Dongyan, told some US visitors, pointing to a red Chinese character “Fu”, which translates to blessing or happiness.

“I’m improving my English, so that I can explain better when more visitors come during the Olympics,” said Zhao, a new college graduate.

Like the Zhu family, other hosts are preparing to receive guests.

Wang Zhixi, in her 50s, owns a smaller siheyuan near Zhu’s. She and her husband are seizing every chance to learn English so that they can tell foreigners about siheyuan.

“My guests ask a lot of questions about siheyuan. For example, they ask why homes were built in all four directions in such crowded spaces,” she said.

“I told them Chinese families like to live together and it’s a way of seeking calm and tranquility in a noisy world.”

Wang also had experience hosting overseas visitors. She is currently hosting a French reporter with her 11-month-old son and her mother.

“I try to take care of my guests the way I take care of my son, who now works in Canada. I hope they feel the warmth and kindness of the Chinese people,” she said.

Beijing’s tourism authority said travel agencies from Japan, the United States, Canada, Chile and Singapore had considered renting rooms from these families during the Games.

But due to the short marketing time, visa problems and transportation, most of the homestay guests would probably be Asians, said Zhao Xin, director of the Olympic programme of the China International Travel Service.

Those interested could apply at their home travel agencies, he added.

The city expects to see more than 500,000 overseas visitors over the Olympics, and hotel prices have soared four times over the usual for the time of year.

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