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Tourists enjoy Beijing quintessence in Olympic homestay
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Olympic homestays have pleased hundreds of foreign tourists - and have been like a honeypot for copy hungry journalists, looking for something 'typically Chinese'.

'Ni hao! Hello! Salut!' a mynah in an ancient siheyuan, or typical Beijing courtyard home, greeted the lodgers in Chinese, English and French, which he had learned from those visitors.

The yard's 23-year-old young host, Wang Heng, said his home currently hosted guests from Sweden, Spain, Holland, France and New Zealand, and jammed with reporters from every corner of the country as well as the world. All wanted to file copy on something that seemed quintessentially Chinese, even though many siheyuan have been torn down and now only a small number of people live in such historic homes.

'Except for the countless local newspaper reporters, we have seen others from China Central Television (CCTV), Associated Press (AP), Agence France Presse (AFP) and Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) from Japan,' Wang Heng said.

'They have trained me to be a good talker,' said Wang Kejun, Wang Heng's mother and 56-year-old owner of the yard. She said she used to be a shy librarian, but now she could speak fluently in front of the cameras.

'I think the journalists are all attracted by the traditional Chinese flavor here, just like me,' said Oihane Chourraut, 27-year-old Spanish tourist.

'I love the whole space,' she said.

Chourraut put on her blue dress with traditional Chinese pattern in the early morning and got ready for shopping. 'We are going to buy some whistles and glo-sticks to cheer my 25-year-old sister Maialen. She is competing in the kayaking,' Chourraut said.

'My family had all followed her here. My father lives in another hotel while I prefer the ancient siheyuan. When I fist came here I said 'Wow', it was so beautiful,' she said.

Her boyfriend, Igor Andres, said he was asked to live here by Chourraut and he has started to love the yard and the people. 'I'm here to meet people,' he said.

People do meet people here.

China announced 598 homestays in Beijing for better communication between Olympic tourists and local residents in July. The 'Olympic homestays' program, which was created in April, aims at offering foreign visitors a chance to experience the real lives of a few of Beijing citizens.

A batch of 20-something visitors from New Zealand, including four men and a woman, always cheer people up in the small yard.

They banter in the evenings with the host and other foreigners. Two boys even had invited a Swedish girl to climb the Great Wall together.

However, the most important thing is watching the Olympic Games.

They get up early every morning and wrap themselves up in their national flags to watch the Games.

'We had more than 100 tickets. We like tennis, kayak and many other games. None would be missed,' said 26-year-old Lauren Kane.

As well as watching in the venues, they also like to watch TV together.

Wang Heng said the New Zealand friends were impressed by the Chinese volleyball players. One of them said China would definitely win. 'It has no suspense at all. The Chinese athletes are too skilled,' they said, watching games with others in the public sitting room.

Kane said they had brought their bicycles from New Zealand to China as they had been planning to experience the real local lives in Beijing by bicycling around.

To better serve the customers, Wang Heng's mother and grandmother had all learned a little bit of English.

'But they don't need us that much. They helped themselves to drink water, have meals and even tidy up their rooms,' the 80-year-old grandma named Li Xiushi said.

'I had been always planning to make fried balsam pear and egg for my foreign friends as the balsam pears in my yard are ripe, but I'm afraid they may not be used to the food, so I haven't done it,' the grandma said.

'We should keep our hospitality at an appropriate level,' she said.

Sometimes they even help the journalists away from their guests. 'We often told the reporters to come late and leave early to avoid troubling my guests,' said Wang Kejun. They do not accept interviews in the evenings, she added.

However, some lodgers love to be 'bothered', such as a 40-year-old Phimo Van and 42-year-old Oddette Reich, a couple from Holland.

'We like to talk to the boys and the girl from New Zealand, as well as the journalists. They all brought us different cultures,' Lauren Kane said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2008)


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