Ren­o­vated home of­fers glimpse of past

Dwelling built dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty and re­fur­bished by ex­pats is now a va­ca­tion rental

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By ZHANG LI in Guilin, Guangxi zhangli@chi­

When Dutch na­tional Maarten Dick­in­son first laid eyes upon Lang­shi vil­lage, in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, he in­stantly fell in love with its Qing Dy­nasty (16441911) cot­tages and dra­matic karst land­scape.

“The vil­lage had a beau­ti­ful har­mony of friendly peo­ple, tra­di­tional houses and amaz­ing scenery along the Li­jiang River, mak­ing me love the place at first sight,” he said.

It was 2012 when Dick­in­son first saw Lang­shi, and the fol­low­ing year he re­turned with an ac­quain­tance from the United States Eric J. Wei­land, who he had met in Shanghai just two weeks be­fore.

“Eric and I both had a good feel­ing about the idea of leav­ing Shanghai and mov­ing to ru­ral China — we just wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence a more au­then­tic part of the coun­try, as I be­lieve most of China’s beauty still lies in the coun­try­side,” Dick­in­son said.

Us­ing the Man­darin he had learned at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shanghai, Dick­in­son man­aged to rent a house in the vil­lage for a good price.

He was plan­ning to open a re­treat for artists and writ­ers to en­joy the peace­ful sur­round­ings, but even­tu­ally set­tled upon turn­ing the place into a guest­house.

“It just hap­pened, like a gift,” Wei­land said. “Nei­ther Maarten nor I had any ren­o­va­tion ex­pe­ri­ence, so it was time­con­sum­ing work— but we got on well with the lo­cals.”

For seven months, the ex­pats car­ried sup­plies to and from the vil­lage as they

I be­lieve tourism is at its best in a nat­u­ral set­ting, where peo­ple can to­tally be them­selves.” Maarten Dick­in­son, who opened a guest house in Lang­shi vil­lage

worked on re­pair­ing the house. At first, the lo­cal farm­ers didn’t un­der­stand why they were spend­ing so much time and money on the ren­o­va­tions, but as the months wore on they be­gan to see a trans­for­ma­tion take place.

One day, while Dick­in­son fo­cused on his work, Su Haibo, a na­tive of the vil­lage, ap­peared at his side and said the one word in English he knew: “Beau­ti­ful.”

Su, who had served as the vil­lage doc­tor since grad­u­at­ing from a med­i­cal school in 2003, was im­pressed with the work the two had done.

He of­fered to help and Dick­in­son, in turn, of­fered to teach him English.

“We were ex­hausted but ev­ery day he was fresh and ready to study. We be­came good friends and he taughtme Chi­nese and the lo­cal cul­ture,” Dick­in­son said.

Af­ter 18 months of study, Su’s English had ad­vanced to the point that Dick­in­son and Wei­land felt com­fort­able enough to of­fer him the job of host at the newly opened guest­house.

Named “Lao­jia”, it has be­come avail­able for book­ings on the va­ca­tion homes list­ing web­site Airbnb since last year.

More than 300 guests from 100 coun­tries have vis­ited so far, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what made Dick­in­son fall in love with the place four years ago.

Domenic, a 20-year-old from Canada who de­clined to give his sur­name, had the op­por­tu­nity to climb a hill with Su’s mother and feed the fam­ily’s goats.

“It’s re­ally im­pressed me to be able to get so close to the lo­cal peo­ple, see ex­actly how they make a liv­ing and feel to­tally en­gaged with their daily lives,” he said.

For Dick­in­son, this is what Lao­jia is all about.

“I be­lieve tourism is at its best in a nat­u­ral set­ting, where peo­ple can to­tally be them­selves,” he said.

“We foster ac­tiv­i­ties be­tween guests and lo­cals cre­at­ing mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ences for both sides with­out be­ing too com­mer­cial or ar­ranged.”

Now that Su is in charge of the day-to-day run­ning of Lao­jia, Dick­in­son and Wei­land have time to look for more vil­lages where sim­i­lar houses can be re­vived.

“By hav­ing out­siders come and stay in these old houses, lo­cals start to ap­pre­ci­ate them more, which is a great way of keep­ing these parts of the lo­cal cul­ture alive in­stead of knock­ing them down”, Dick­in­son said.


Maarten Dick­in­son (left) and Eric J Wei­land on the train to Guilin, the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

The en­trance of a room at the Lao­jia guest­house at Lang­shi vil­lage.

Lang­shi vil­lage in Guilin city fea­tures Qing Dy­nasty res­i­den­tial houses and beau­ti­ful land­scape along the Li­jiang River.

A Lao­jia cus­tomer feeds goats with Su Haibo’s mother on a karst hill near the vil­lage.

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