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Olympic homestays open door to Beijing life
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"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 fifties, 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 asked 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 good care of my guests in the way that I care for my son, who now works in Canada. I hope they feel the warmth and kindness of the Chinese people," she said.

Apartment onwers are also ready to share: making Jiaozi, introducing guests to local delicacies, explaining why the elderly like to keep grasshoppers and birds, or expounding complex theories like Fengshui.

"The accommodations don't have the luxury of a hotel, but they are sure part of genuine Beijing life," said Ron Rice, from Washington D.C..

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 Program 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 hotels prices are up to four times higher than usual for the time of year.

The city has a total of 660,000 visitor beds. By Friday, about 78 percent of the five-star hotels were booked, but less than half of hotels with four stars or fewer were reserved, said the tourism administration.

Staff with the www.Chinahomestay.org, which plans to recruit 350 host families for a four-week period surrounding the Olympics, said they had been seeing an increase in demand.

"Many visitors who come to China don't want to live alone, and they want to communicate with the local people," said a woman at Chinahomestay.org who gave her name as Chen.

(Xinhua News Agency July 14, 2008)


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