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Live 'like a pig' at Zhulan Bar
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Li Guoyu, hostess of Zhulan Bar in Xidi village of east China's Anhui Province tells CRI reporters about the inn's history on July 31, 2009. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com] 

An unadvertised and out-of-the-way countryside inn called Zhulan Bar in Xidi village in Anhui Province is attracting many visitors. Although the inn appears to be no different from other dwellings in the village, it offers a distinctive atmosphere.

Li Guoyu, the inn's hostess is an artist from Shanghai who bought the house in 2004. After two years of renovations, the three-story building opened its door to visitors as an inn. Soon it was given the "indelicate" name Zhulan which literally means "pigpen."

"The house had a pigpen in the courtyard before we bought it," Li said. "That's why we named it Zhulan. To our delight, the guests like the name a lot. What's more, we'd like to convey a message by this name that you can have a simple and happy life here for a couple of days. You can live just like a piggy."

Creating a pig's life takes a lot of hard work and careful planning. Although the grey-tiled and white-walled dwelling has kept its original look since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), its hostess has made great changes inside. The traditional wooden armchairs, for instance, have been replaced by cozy sofas and skylight openings have been installed to allow in more sunlight from top.

But Li is most proud of the inn's unique displays.

"For me, it is an artwork, not a business," she said.

Small surprises pop up from time to time as you discover the hotel little by little, and each item on display has an interesting story behind it. A nearby trough, some tree branches, cotton and a rice jar form a bouquet. A light bulb with a bird's cage hangs from a ceiling.

The alterations and decorations do not adhere to any one style, except to make guests more comfortable, Li said. This principle also applies to the service at the inn. Guests do not pay for service and are given maximum freedom to do as they please. For instance, they can help themselves to red wine without permission as long as they inform a waiter and pay for it when they leave.

Healthy meals made with home-grown vegetables are another feature of the inn. Li is quite proud of this, claiming the inn's meals are the best in Xidi village.

Usually Zhulan Bar provides guests with whatever it has in its vegetable garden and customizes dishes according to people's preferences. Strong seasoning is however not used, Li said.

The guests' positive feedback indicates that all Li's efforts have been paid off.

Visitor Liu and her friends from Suzhou indicated their satisfaction upon their arrival at the inn.

"We learned about the hotel via the Internet," Liu said. "It's a very unique place and can provide a different living experience since we have all gotten a little bored staying at regular hotels."

Without any advertisements or even a signboard, the inn is known only by word of mouth and has even become known among foreign tourists.

A British man once brought his bride and friends to Zhulan Bar for their wedding. He knew the place from an American magazine which described it as "an inevitable place for travelling in China."

Li said she does not know who wrote this, because many visitors usually write something after their stay at the inn. As Zhulan Bar's fame has spread widely, the inn has attracted some notable guests.

Juliette Binoche, a French actress, stayed at the hotel in April, Li said.

"She also brought her kids along," Li said. "Many other guests had photos taken with her. She did not speak much but invited me for tea. She loved the hotel and said that even though it looked different from village inns in France, it offered almost the same atmosphere and service."

Zhulan Bar charges higher prices than other family inns in Xidi village. A room with a double bed costs at least 300 yuan ($44) a night. But Li says she does not expect to make a big fortune operating the inn since it has fewer than 10 rooms. The real payoff for her is the sense of satisfaction she gets from knowing that all her work helps people relax here and live in content like pigs.

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