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Enjoy Hostelling in China
One day in the early 20th century, a German teacher named Richard Schirman took his pupils on an outing, but an unexpected heavy rain ruined their day…

“Oh, Jesus Christ, look at the rain! What shall we do to spend the day?”

“Mr. Shirman, maybe we should find a hotel or something?”

“Oh, you wish! How can we afford the cost? I should have let them to bring more money with them. How stupid I was! If one day I were rich, I would build a hotel only for poor young travel-lovers like us! And I’ll name it International Youth Hostel!”

In 1912, the first youth hostel in the world was established in an ancient castle. The hostel was funded by public donations and government investment, and it offered services mainly for young people. Soon, many youth hostels were set up worldwide and became popular among young travelers. The hostels in many countries united and established the International Youth Hostel Federation, or IYHF in short, which has developed into the world’s biggest hostel network, providing more than 30 million beds in 65 countries and serving 10 million guests per day.

Guangdong Province in South China led the nation by opening three International hostels for students in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, Zhuhai and Zhaoqing in late 1998. At present China has over 30 hostels, nine of them are located in Guangdong. The rest are in such popular tourism destinations as Beijing, Shanghai, Yangshuo, Kunming, Guilin, Lijiang and Dalian. It is learned that youth hostels are also planned in a dozen other Chinese cities, including Xi’an, Chengdu, Sanya, Hangzhou and Huangshan, as well as northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. There are now six youth hostels in Beijing, offering over 500 beds all together.

Youth hostels are among the most simply equipped hotels in the world: no television sets in the guestroom, no private bathrooms, and you clean your own room, boil your own water, wash your own clothes, and do your own cooking. You provide your own articles for daily use, such as toothpaste and toothbrushes. Of course, youth hostels charge much less than hotels. According to the standard instituted by the IYHF, the charge per day for one guest should be equivalent to the price of a fast-food meal. The youth hostels in China charge 60 to 80 Yuan per day, one sixth of cost of a room in a three-star hotel.

Hu Xinyue is the manager of Beijing Zhaolong International Youth Hostel. He says the hostel was originally set up for Chinese college-student travelers, but it turned out to be more popular among foreign backpackers:

“We targeted on domestic market when we established this youth hostel on May 19, 2000 due to the increasing number of Chinese college travel-lovers at that time. But later we found out that the idea of hostelling is better accepted and more popular among foreign tourist. So generally you may find more foreign guests living here. ”

Although the Chinese market is not very mature, Hu Xinyue said the business is quite thriving, especially during traveling peaks like the two week-long vacations of May and October in the country: “Our renting rate is increasing steadily. More than 95% of beds are taken, and sometimes we have to arrange extra beds for our guests. According to my knowledge, the youth hostels in other cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Kunmin are also doing great job. I think the main reason of such popularity is because of its reasonable cost. You know our guests are largely young people who can hardly afford expensive hotels.”

Liang Jing works for Zhaolong Youth Hostel as a receptionist. She gave us a clearer picture of this hostel with some basic information and features:

“The hostel has 35 rooms, with two to six beds in each room. It’s facilitated with air conditioning, 24-hour hot water, self-catering dining room, laundry room, TV rooms, internet bars and reading rooms. The hostel is under the management of the four-star Zhaolong Hotel, and is located behind it. So residents may use the heath center and other amenities at the Zhaolong Hotel. Inexpensive and quickly prepared meals are available for about 20 yuan, or less than US $3 dollars at the Zhaolong Hotel. Moreover, Beijing's popular Sanlitun Bar Street, the Lufthansa shopping center and other tourist spots are within easy walking distance of the hostel. ”

In fact, there’s even a message board in the hall, which makes the hostel more like a college dormitory. Liang Jiang told us the youthful atmosphere makes her working here more joyous.

Genie is from England and her one-year-long world tour brings her to China. We met her at the Beijing International Youth Hostel, which is conveniently situated in the heart of Beijing beside Chang’an boulevard. She said Beijing’s youth hostels are very much the same as the youth hostel in other countries.

“They are the same as youth hostels wherever you’re in the world, although it’s cheaper than most hostels in Beijing. People here are friendly and share a lot of advice and travel stories. (And the hostel is) clean, (provide) useful service, (and have) lots and lots of information about places you can visit, and ideas for tours.

But, what impressed her the most? She said: “Perhaps separating men and women. I’ve always shared mixed accommodation, and I’ve always been very happy to do that until last night when I realized how wonderful it is just have women only, because no one snores.”

Genie also told us her impression of Beijing, and an unforgettable moment happened on her way back to Wuhan from Yunnan.

“I traveled in Yunnan on my own for four weeks. And I had really wonderful experience. I met so many wonderful wonderful people. I traveled or 45 hours, hard seat, from Kunming to Wuhan on a very slow train for 45 hours and a hard seat. The Chinese people I met were really surprised to see a foreigner traveling so cheaply. And they asked me why I didn’t fly? And I said because I have no money, and so they gave me lunch. And these people had very very little food. It was Spring Festival, and they were traveling because they were expected to, not because they had money. And they had very little to give, and yet they still managed to find a meal for their western guest, just because we were sharing an area. And I thought that was so kind.”

(China Radio International July 12, 2002)

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