By Xinhua writer Gui Tao
BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- Zoo worker Zhang Yizhuo was frolicking with
his one-year-old son on the drawing room rug as his wife played a serenade
nearby on a piano.
This ordinary Beijing family is one of those who have applied to be a
homestay host for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Zhang, who works at the Beijing Zoo, lives in the Anhuili Community near
the "Bird's Nest", the main stadium for the Beijing Olympics. He filed the
application a year ago in hopes that his home would become one of the 1,000
officially designated "Olympic Family Hotels".
The Beijing-bred man was confident: his family has two clean sunlit rooms
and fluent English proficiency.
"I know so much about animals such as pandas and golden monkeys that I can
get along very well with anyone who likes these creatures," he said confidently.
"I can even take my guests to the zoo to see how I work with lovely animals," he
Zhang's wife, a piano teacher, planned to soothe the guests' ears with
Chinese and foreign classics." As animals and music are universal topics among
all people, I am sure that we can have excellent communication with our guests,"
Zhang works as an enrichment specialist at the zoo. He explained that his
job was "creating a comfortable environment to address an animal's psychological
and physical needs."
"Even animals prefer a comfortable living environment, let alone a traveler
newly transplanted into a totally different culture," he said. "I want to make
them feel as if they were at home," he added.
The selection of the homestay families will start in March, according to
the Beijing Tourist Bureau.
Hosts should be able to provide foreign guests with spare rooms, good
ventilation and sanitary conditions in buildings that have good fire fighting
conditions, emergency lighting and so forth, said Xiong Yumei, deputy director
of the bureau.
Beijing is gearing up to accommodate at least 330,000 visitors every day
during the Olympics. About 500,000 foreigners are expected to visit the capital
at some point during the games, along with huge numbers of domestic tourists.
"There will be sufficient beds, with the city's hotels able to accommodate
more than 640,000 people every day," Xiong said.
The cost of each "Olympic Family Hotel" is 50 to 80 dollars per night, only
seventh to a regular hotel room for the Games.
Although the homestay concept is relatively new here, many Chinese are
enthusiastic about hosting foreign visitors during the Olympics.
Zhang said that he would do his utmost to ensure guests were safe and
comfortable, and he had made plans to feed them.
"If my guests want to cook by themselves, I can provide all facilities --
actually I am considering buying a hot plate in case they are not used to gas,"
"But if they want to have a taste of the genuine Beijing flavor, I will
cook for them -- with all the raw materials from quality supermarkets in the
community to ensure food safety," he added.
High on the family's preparation list are such steps as decorating the
rooms with more traditional Chinese crafts, brushing up on their English by
attending classes and visiting the new Olympic venues to familiarize themselves
with the transport routes.
Besides housing, people skills and willingness to serve would also be
considered in the selection, according to the tourism authorities.
"We hope that there would be something beyond a rental relationship between
the host families and their guests," Xiong said. "We hope they can become
Zhang had already gained some experiences by hosting foreign friends. What
was his advice for potential Olympic hosts?
"Do not intrude on their privacy and ask for their salaries and ages as we
do among Chinese," he said seriously.
Zhang attributed his application to his three-month stay with a Sydney
family during the 2000 Olympic Games.
"Compared with living in a hotel, a tourist can have a deeper insight into
the people and culture of a country by living with a common family," he said.
"Meanwhile, it is much cheaper."
He wanted to pass on what he had received.
Zhang said he had been deeply touched when his host family had tailored for
him a route to see city's "musts" and reminded him, like family members, to wear
a helmet when riding a bike.
"I want guests to my family to have a good impression of the Games, the
city and China as a whole by living under my roof," he said.