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How long must we waiting for?
http://www.sina.com.cn 2003/08/25 10:11  北京青年报


  In mid-July I went to Huangshan and Anhui for an extended weekend trip. Huangshan met my expectations perfectly, and the famous World Heritage villages of Anhui were very beautiful, but one thing about them took me aback. I will explain in a moment.

  My passion for photography had already led me to visit numerous old Chinese villages, and I had discovered Anhui's dwellings through my other passion, cinema (the recent CrouchingTiger, HiddenDragon was shot almost entirely in Anhui, but older movies such as Judou were filmed in these beautiful traditional villages as well). I was fascinated by the architecture and vegetation of the Anhui villages, by their quiet atmosphere and style of life. I was also impressed by how the Yixian county authorities manage tourism: local guides accompany all visitors on a tour that takes over an hour and gives an accurate introduction to the local architecture, and to the interior decoration, geomantic practices and gardening in particular. The three young guides we had in Xidi, Hongcun and Nanping were very amiable and well-trained, answering my questions without hesitation and showing no eagerness to hurry me up when I started taking pictures.

  As I said, however, one thing, one local policy, jarred. I am a Frenchwoman married to a Chinese, and I have traveled extensively throughout China over the past seven years, including trekking to some very remote places. I have encountered many non-Han villagers in these areas who had never seen Chinese tourists, let alone foreign ones. Yet no matter how far \into\ the country I have gone, I have found the central government's decision to abolish dual pricing for foreigners and Chinese in effect everywhere. Transportation and food are still more expensive for me, but locals all around the world try to charge tourists more, and my Chinese husband is quite good at bargaining; this is part of the game,①sometimes tiring but at least I understand the mindset involved and can bear with it.

  In Anhui, in contrast, I was charged 50 extra yuan for entry to the three villages we visited, including the two UNESCO-protected villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I was charged -- my Chinese husband was not. For some reason②this ticket for foreigners only was called a "visa"; is this someone's idea of a sick joke? I would like to know who came up with the silly idea of labeling the visitor's permit a visa, and why only foreigners have to get one. Xidi and Hongcun may be protected by UNESCO, but they definitely lie within Chinese territory, for which I have a valid visa already.

  But the name is a minor matter; it's the discrimination that annoyed me. What irked me even more was that, when I tried to stay overnight in an old house in Xidi, the local police wouldn't allow me to -- again because I was a foreigner. The way this refusal was communicated is especially worth explaining: the owner of the accommodation, a Beijinger who had decided to refurbish an old dwelling and develop it as a tasteful hotel, was eager to have me stay because we share a passion for photography. Accompanied by his employee, a local woman, we three went to the police station to tell them I would be staying. The deputy chief received us -- well, sort of: he was watching TV and we had obviously disturbed his leisure, but he did give his attention for a bit. We had brought my passport and visa, plus our Chinese marriage certificate. The policeman didn't seem very enthusiastic, and kept saying he didn't have the power to decide. He went to look for his boss. Then we waited and waited...and he just never came back! I understood that I had to go back to the soulless county seat③to spend the night instead of staying in Xidi to trade notes on photography with the proprietor of the hotel.

  I was not very happy with this treatment, which definitely put a damper on my trip to Anhui, otherwise very stimulating and refreshing. Why on earth is such a vile policy in force there? To earn more money for the hotels in the uninteresting county town? Or is it that we foreigners do not have right to enjoy a pleasant night amid the beauty and calm of a classically Chinese rural setting? I admire the new policy in Beijing which since June has allowed all hotels to accept foreign guests. How long will we have to wait to see this excellent policy adopted by other localities as well?

  When the preservation of a village is being sponsored by UNESCO, you can be sure that it will draw visitors from all over the world -- and these people will expect things to be done in keeping with normal international practice. No one expects to visit a place in Italy or Mexico or Kenya or Thailand and be told that "Locals can stay, yes, but you foreigners have to decamp for the night"!










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