Returning home: the house of tolerance and diversity

By Kou Jie (People's Daily Online) 15:13, June 10, 2022

Photo shows Liu Yan’s guest house which serves as her very own mountain utopia. (Photo provided by Liu Yan)

Surrounded by lush mountains and limpid creeks, a small guesthouse glows under the setting sun. Through its glass windows, the sky is flushed in vivid crimson, from which verdant forests roll away in varying tones of emerald. It is May, and the air is warm and fresh, while wood smoke and lavender exquisitely mingle with the subtle odors of delicate gourmet foods.

The HansheHuitang guesthouse is always crowded in the evenings. It’s hard to find a spot where you can escape the eyes of those within, with the owner of the house and her family extending their arms of hospitality to the influx of visitors.

Thirty-two-year-old Liu Yan, a Chinese woman who had spent the majority of her life in Italy, returned to Wencheng County in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, in 2018, with the hope of establishing a career at home. Following the ecotourism promotion strategies of the local government, she and her husband founded the HansheHuitang guesthouse. Its name means "return to my modest home."

"Here, guests can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and breathe in the verdant scenery. Our guesthouse is an inclusive utopia where individuals from various backgrounds can feel at ease, and I'm really proud of it," said Liu, now the guesthouse's owner.

Returning home

Photo shows Liu Yan with her children. After living in Italy for most of her life, Liu finally returned home to China in 2018 and soon afterwards became the mother of two kids. (Photo provided by Liu Yan)

Moving to Rome with her family at the age of eleven and living abroad for many years has made Liu an excellent speaker of Italian, but this was never enough to make her feel at home there.

“The first years when I was in Italy, the locals were generally friendly and nice to foreigners. The culture shock and the language barrier weren’t the most difficult things to deal with. It was the feeling of not belonging anywhere,” said Liu.

With Italy suffering from an economic downturn in recent years, life for Chinese-Italians became even harder. Liu’s younger sister was bullied by her Italian classmates simply because she could not speak perfect Italian, while Liu and her family also faced discrimination when doing business with the locals.

“There was one time I went to a market in Rome to rent a stall, but the owners rejected my application, saying that they wouldn’t rent anything to a Chinese person like me, even if I had been living here for most of my life,” said Liu.

Homesickness and an urge to find new business opportunities prompted Liu to visit her hometown in 2016, when she realized that her husband’s ancestral house could be transformed into a boutique guesthouse, in line with the local development strategy of promoting ecotourism.

“After suffering from discrimination, I preferred to build a tolerant sanctuary for those toiled souls, and I hoped that it could combine both Chinese and Italian styles to show my respect for diversity,”said Liu.

Photo shows plum cheese pork, a dish created by Liu herself, which combines both Chinese and Western flavors in the hope of expressing her desire for diversity and inclusiveness. (Photo provided by Liu Yan)

The decorative wooden walls of her guesthouse are made from over 2,000 panels from the demolished ancestral house, while the stone jars used to make pickles have been converted into potted plants. Liu has made full use of her skills as a cook, creating dishes and beverages combining Chinese and European flavors, such as plum cheese pork, Chinese yam cappuccinos and Chinese mocha tiramisu. Her husband has designed a number of creative products, such as puzzles depicting the guesthouse’s beautiful views, hiring bands to perform beside the swimming pool, and throwing themed parties catering to their guests’ needs.

In spite of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, her income has increased significantly over the past three years, attracting a large number of tourists coming from all across China. She hopes that once the pandemic is over, her international guests will also be able to make a return trip to the guesthouse,bringing with them even more intriguing ideas and tales.

The right to a diverse and inclusive society

Photo shows the guest house, which has now become a calling card for local ecotourism in Wencheng County of Wenzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province. (Photo provided by Liu Yan)

In addition to her business success, Liu's new joy in life is being a mother to two children. In 2018, the year she returned to China, her son was born, followed by her daughter in 2020.

"Living in a diverse and inclusive society is essential to human rights. What matters to me is that there is no discrimination and everyone has the same right to a happy family life," said Liu.

In her spare time, Liu, along with foreigners and overseas Chinese residing in her hometown, creates video programs in multiple languages to help the world better comprehend China and introduce the Chinese countryside to the world.

"Learning from each other and embracing each other's culture is truly remarkable," said Liu, who added that she is teaching her children both Chinese and Italian in the hope that they will serve as a bridge between the two countries.

"I've never regretted my decision to return, and what I have now is what I've always sought," she said. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Hongyu)


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