Discover China: Run-down house finds new life as deluxe hotel

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-03 08:48:17|Editor: Li Xia
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FUZHOU, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Zheng Yangmei, 35, has mixed feelings about working as a receptionist in her childhood home, a 400-year-old country lodge that has been adapted into a luxury hotel in southeast China's Fujian Province.

The new profession gives her a different angle to perceive the beauty of the ancestral house built sustaining Tang Dynasty (618-907) architecture style, as experts marveled.

The restoration is beyond her family clan's imagination, which keeps the historic details of the dilapidated residence as much as possible, while replacing the interior with modern decor suitable for comfortable living.

The place of a stinky hog pen in the yard, which Zheng remembers, is turned into a tea pavilion decorated with a neutral color palette. But the lodge is still roughly what she remembers, wood carvings, stone mills and the grey-tile roofs.

Tucked away in the idyllic village of Banding, an hour's drive north of Fuzhou, the provincial capital, the old house offers a breathtaking view in the backdrop of lush mountains and a vast expanse of paddy fields.

Named "Sanluocuo," or three juxtaposed houses, the wood and stone complex covers an area of 3,000 square meters and consists of over 200 dark shabby rooms, where Zheng spent part of her childhood life bunking with her parents and two siblings in a 25-square-meter room.

Since the mid 16th century, it has been held by the extended Zheng family clan. Zheng remembers that there were over 200 members living in the houses when she was there.

"There was no toilet, no tap water in each house," said Zheng, whose family moved out of the aged buildings when she was 8, as they could no longer fix the house. Instead, they built new two-story brick houses 1,000 meters away.

The old buildings were completely abandoned by all the villagers in the early 2000s, Zheng recalled.

She left the village for college study at the age of 19 and then worked as a vet in several pig farms in more prosperous towns, until 2013 when she got married and returned to the village to raise her kids.

"Villagers seldom went back to the buildings, considering the place pretty spooky, with filthy water, messy electric wires hung in the air like spider webs and cracks on walls," said Zheng, a mother of two daughters.

Elders of the family clan called on the clan members to raise funds to fix leaky roof tiles, control termites, and straighten leaning walls to prevent the ancestral houses from completely collapsing, but nobody would imagine it can be fixed in a way that the hotel developer later did.

With the local government-initiated plan for preserving ancient folk houses, a property company came in investing 150 million yuan (20.98 million U.S. dollars) to rehab the obsolete buildings.

After two years of reconstruction, "Sanluocuo" was turned into a trendy boutique hotel with centuries-old wooden beams, garden-like atriums, earthen walls and contemporary luxury.

The transformative creation of "Sanluocuo" is among the artworks selected for the China Pavilion overseas show at the ongoing Biennale de Curitiba 2019 in Brazil, as a model for "building a future countryside."

"We actually leased the complex from the villagers for the renovation. The old rooms were very small. So we converted the original 200 cramped rooms into 40 guest rooms to make them comfortable for living, but we pay the rents based on 200 rooms to the villagers," said Zhang Yiwen, operations manager of the project.

Targeted at high-flown customers, the hotel rooms in "Sanluocuo" are priced on average at over 600 yuan per night even in the off season.

Visitors can touch the original wood pillars with deep cracks, and decayed rammed-earth walls with weeds, while enjoying hot bath and clean toilets with heated seats inside each room.

The hall that used to house the Zheng family shrine and warehouses have been converted to galleries, restaurants, bars and stores attached to the hotel, which help the village unleash its cultural potential, and once again become a place that villagers like hanging around in leisure time.

The project has triggered an online sensation, after visitors post their travel photos inside the hotel, showing off their cultural and stylish taste on social media.

Zhang said weeks ahead of the National Day holiday, all of the 40 rooms were booked out.

Zheng and 30 other villagers are employed in the hotel, which has also sparked an entrepreneurial enthusiasm in the village. Zhang said the hotel is willing to help villagers open small inns, eateries and stores selling souvenirs and local delicacies, to further improve the village's tourist potential.

Zhang said the real estate developer of "Sanluocuo," Land Shine, has leased two more clusters of such old residence from a neighboring village, as folks bear wishes that their obsolete ancestry complex could shine as well as "Sanluocuo."