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Beijingers make room for guests
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Zhu Youyi (left) and his sister Zhu Rongjing paste paper-cuttings as window decorations for their home. Their family has been selected as one of the 598 households to host foreign guests during the upcoming Olympic Games.

Zuo Jun's daily routine includes sipping tea at a stone table in the shade of a grapevine trellis and practicing calligraphy with a huge brush on the ground of his courtyard.

Now, the 61-year-old Beijing resident and his wife are preparing to open the siheyuan (courtyard house) he inherited from Zuo's father to foreign Olympic guests to help them understand Beijing life.

The couple is among the 598 "Olympic Home-stay Families" carefully selected from more than 1,100 applicants according to the conditions of their houses and foreign-language skills.

During the Games, overseas visitors can choose to live with such host families rather than in the city's 5,790 hotels.

The host families will offer a total of 726 rooms for at least 1,000 Olympic visitors, Xiong Yumei, spokeswoman for the Beijing Tourism Administration, told a press conference on Friday.

All home-stay guests should live in groups, and travel agencies from the United States, Japan, Canada and Chile have shown strong interest in the program, she said.

A retired accountant, Zuo has prepared four guestrooms in his 508-sq-m, 14-room courtyard home near Shichahai, the most popular area for experiencing "Old Beijing".

"I have a room with separate beds for elderly couples and another room for newlyweds decorated in the traditional way for the wedding night," Zuo said.

He has also equipped every guestroom with an air conditioner, TV and clean sheets.

"I didn't decorate the rooms to look like hotel rooms, but I did paint the walls and cleaned them up. I want my guests to both feel at home and taste real Beijing life," he said.

To help his guests make the most of their Beijing experience, he plans to take them for morning strolls around Shichahai, during which he would share with them the history of the lake - once the starting point of the ancient Beijing-Hangzhou canal.

Because Zuo's English is rudimentary - he can only say basic words, such as "hello" and "goodbye" - he has recruited his son's fiance, who speaks English well, to help translate.

It is estimated Beijing will receive more than 400,000 foreign tourists next month, in addition to about 50,000 Olympic officials, athletes and journalists.

By the end of June, more than 78 percent of rooms in five-star hotels had been booked, while the booking rate for four-star hotels increased 3 percent to reach 48.5 percent.

(China Daily July 14, 2008)


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