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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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March 2, 2008 3:21 PM

Home away from home

Posted by Daniel Beekman

About 1,000 Chinese households will host foreign tourists during the 2008 Olympic Games. Organizers have suggested that the home-stays could complement Beijing's traditional lodgings - sure to be booked right through August.

"I hope the families can become friends with their guests," Xiong Yumei, deputy director of the Beijing Tourist Bureau, told CNN last month. "They need to introduce the history and culture of Beijing to the foreigners, making them understand and get closer to Beijing and the Olympics."

"China recruits families to act as hosts"
"Beijing families vie to make Olympics guests feel at home"

China's capital expects to accommodate at least 330,000 visitors every day during the Games, more than 500,000 foreigners in all.

None will be staying with Mr. Zhu, however.

Mr. Zhu lives in a poster shop.

So many Beijingers do. Not only poster shops - but beauty parlors, phone booths and convenience stores as well. Real estate prices have soared ahead of the Olympics, pushing city-dwellers into the suburbs and suburbanites onto the streets.

Now that China's New Year celebrations have passed, the search is on for home-stay locations. According to Xiong, each host need provide a well-lit extra room, good ventilation and sanitary conditions. In other words, they must have money. Additionally, each home-stay need include an English-speaker.

Mr. Zhu is friendly, and generous too. He smiles at strangers and bargains half-heartedly. He works in the city. He has a wife and a daughter in school.

Unfortunately, his shop has no space for a German trio or an Argentine couple.

Actually, Mr. Zhu rents a small apartment in Beijing's northern suburbs - a real home. His wife and daughter live there. So does or two days out of seven. He usually treks back, three hours each way, on weekends. Mostly, Mr. Zhu pads down a half flight of wooden stairs at the rear of his shop to a closet-like bed.

He rarely sees his daughter, a high school sophomore. She wakes up every morning at 5am, sleep-walks to class and doesn't return home until 10pm. If she's lucky, the 16-year old spends five hours per night in bed.

She's studying English and testing quite well. Mr. Zhu is quietly proud of his child. Perhaps she'll go to college. Perhaps she'll land a high-paying job, he says. Perhaps she'll move to Shanghai and host a foriegn guest during the 2028 Games.

Or perhaps, a few foreign tourists - sweaty and bothered Olympic fans - will happen upon Mr. Zhu's shop, where they'll dawdle among heaps of black-and-white movie posters and bask in genuine Beijing hospitality.


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