Foreigner shows love for country he adopted

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Brian Linden, founder of the Linden Centre hotel in Dali, Yunnan province, offers a soda to farmers in July. LIU [Photo/CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

In 1983, a young carpet cleaner in the United States, Brian Linden, saw a notice at a night school saying the Chinese government was offering scholarships for foreign students. Although he thought China would not accept him-a person who was poor and unable to gain admission to a US university-he applied anyway, but with little hope.

Three months later, when he received a call from China informing him that he had been awarded a scholarship to study at Peking University, he was flabbergasted.

"So there is no one else applying for it? I am only a carpet cleaner without any supportive background," Linden remembered saying. The person on the other end of the line laughed and said, "Of course there are many applicants. But you need it the most."

Recalling that life-changing moment, Linden, now 58, said in a choked voice: "China was very poor in 1983, but still wanted to help a poor man in a rich country. I will be grateful for it for my entire lifetime."

That phone call was the start of Linden's long relationship with China, which extends to today. The chance to go to a top university in China created more opportunities, enabling him to play roles in several films, find a job at the CBS network and pursue a doctorate at Stanford University.

In 2004, he "missed China so much" that he sold his house in the US and returned to China to settle down with his wife and two sons. He ultimately chose Xizhou, Yunnan province, a town close to Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain in the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture.

He was attracted by the beautiful landscapes in Dali and an old compound having distinctive features of the Bai ethnic group. The compound was built in 1948 and once belonged to the family of businessman Yang Pinxiang, a trader who had gained great wealth in the early 1900s. The property had fallen into disrepair, though it was put under national protection in 2001.

Linden applied to renovate it using his entire savings of about 4 million yuan ($580,000). He and his wife, Jeanee, created the Linden Centre hotel.

"Restoring old buildings requires more money, time and care than building a new one," he said. "We believe our efforts to preserve the structures would promote China's cultural heritage."

His efforts are well understood by his guests.

"I sat on the wooden bed and looked out the small window, staring at the mountain and farmland from the same angle that its owner did dozens of years ago, and tried to replicate the feeling," a guest commented on TripAdvisor, a major online travel site. "The hotel tries to bring visitors to the old times and arouse people's respect for history and culture."

Linden's efforts have also touched local residents like Zhang Bin. "Linden makes us consider the importance of local culture and the environment, and encourages us to be more confident in cultural communication."

Linden and his wife hope the hotel will provide more than a place to sleep and eat. They'd like it to function as an international communication center. To make that happen, they restored two other old compounds to enlarge the scale with the support of the local government. They worked with many schools in Europe and the US on some projects to enable young foreigners to complete part of their education in China.

"Some of the children were born into political families and may become future politicians. They studied in Xizhou for five months and cried when they left," Linden said. "I know they will not misunderstand China in the future like many current people do. I believe such children's emotional relationship with China will be influential in the future."

Unlike many other homestays, 60 percent of the Linden Centre blends into public spaces, including a library and gym, which are also available for local people to use. Linden employs about 100 locals and provides free opportunities for local students to engage in education projects.

"I may not have much money, but I really would like to lead more local people to live a better life," Linden said.

Zhang said, "Linden has gone deep into our hearts with his respect and tolerance. His smile and passion always touch us."

Linden said he is satisfied with his current life, and is devoted to spreading Chinese culture, which he calls "my most important job".

"It is so attractive that I hope the world will love it through my eyes, and share my passion for China. As a foreigner, I should do that, want to do that, and love to do that. China deserves the world's respect."

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