Opposite the unfinished gallery mentioned in my last post is the village of He Ge Zhuang which has become an exemplar of refurbishing villages in traditional style but with contemporary facilities. The project is the work of the couple who run the very tranquil Orchard restaurant in the village and who have set up the YinYang community centre too ( a mixture of Western Psychotherapy practice, Traditional Chinese massage, pilates – somehow very New York and tranquil and chai latte).
The Orchard also runs a charity to support the children of migrant workers in the He Ge Zhuang. Also through a project called REAL LIFE they intended to make some of the renovated traditional houses available to expats. Their publicity blurb goes like this:
Tired of living in a gated compound of luxury villas?
Wondering from the 27th florr of your downtown high-rise apartment whether is possible to live closer to nature?
While expats have traditionally enjoyed a special status in China, some have described the gated community lifestyle as far too removed from the reality of the Middle Kingdom. 'It's so fake,' we often hear people tells us.
In 2007 the Real Life Beijing Co.,Ltd., signed contracts with the local government officials to renovate several courtyards in the village of Hegezhuang in Cuigzhuang Township.
Most importantly, this project seeks to not marginalise the residents of Hegezhuang, but rather to improve the lives of both the villagers and the Real Life clients. Clients sign a long-term lease with the company which in turn provides a fair income to the village landlords. The clients, in turn, have the opportunity to enjoy a lifestyle not readily available to expats in Beijing, and which is protected by the Real Life company with official approval by the village and township governments.
I wish them well but there are murmurs of anxiety in the brochure copy, little nodes of tension not far away: 'a fair income', a lifestyle 'protected', 'official approval'. And the Real Life name sounds like the title of an organisation in some dystopian novel.
The fact the village is surrounded by trees makes it particularly peaceful.
Some of the village houses seem empty awaiting renovation.
It’s quite beautiful and I hope it works out for everyone.