Saturday, November 26, 2016


When somebody thinks of a traditional Chinese home, one of the most conjured images in the mind is one out in the countryside, of stone construction, with a distinctively shaped roof and tile shingles. You need only to look at Kung-Fu films old and new to get what I’m trying to describe. Such locations can still be found today in the Chinese interior, grouped around village settlements. However such little towns and their old-style houses have been in a spot of trouble in recent decades, brought upon by better opportunities elsewhere. That is, until an enterprising architectural designer / developer and his Chinese wife found potential in these nearly forgotten structures.

As CNN tells it, the village of Beigou in Huairou County has been given a new lease on life from its pitiful past of lacking infrastructure and local brain drain due to its young people and adults moving away for better job opportunities elsewhere. This is where Jim Spear comes in, and he pointed out to the remaining residents and local government that Beigou has one marketable advantage: its location.

See, Beigou sit at the foot of the highlands wherein passes the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, by far China’s most iconic and visited international tourist destination.

It all began in the 1990s Spear and his wife Tang Liang decided to renovate a village house in the Mutianyu area to serve as a rest-house from the work drudge in Beijing, a home they would make their primary residence by 2005 owing to the wonderful landscape. And it inspire in Spear to make the nearby villages realize that their sparsely populated settlements are still prime real estate when it comes to tourism development. In his own words he said, "People didn't really know they had some valuable real estate at first. I was the first guy to kind of 'at the crab', as the Chinese say. But, believe me, they caught on pretty fast."

As a test case of his surprising idea, Spear took a tile factory in the Mutianyu area that has long been shut down but has a traditional Chinese building aesthetic, and renovated it into the boutique hotel Brickyard Retreat. Today it’s a busy and well-patronized establishment by tourists heading for the Wall, and 80% of its employees were lucky souls from the nearby towns. For more private accommodations, Spear went to spruce up over 30 abandoned and decaying stone houses into weekend rural residences for rent to large tourist groups, families, and more affluent travelers.

This re purposing of old traditional domiciles seems to jive with a recent trend in China’s more urban areas, where the wealthy elite have grown tired of western-style houses and began a revival of sorts by embellishing traditional trappings upon modern homes.

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