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January 9, 2010

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Expo farmhouses offer visitors a taste of village charms

FIVE farm families in two ancient villages are among the city's first suburban households that will host visitors from China and abroad during the World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

Zhonghua and Zhonghong villages in Jinshan District will offer "Expo Farm House" room and board, plus all kinds of fun in the countryside when the six-month Expo opens on May 1. Around 70 million visitors are expected.

Home-stay visitors will live in old stone and brick cottages, get a taste of rural traditions that have all but disappeared and interact with local farmers.

They can enjoy home cooking with organic produce, check out various folk arts, including the famous Jinshan "peasant Picassos," play games, go fishing, pick fruit, make rope out of straw, kick shuttlecocks, harvest produce, go fishing or just hang out and sip green tea.

The farmhouses have been renovated and all have modern toilets, air-conditioning and gas for cooking.

"The World Expo Shanghai is a platform to display the city's development but it's also a window, through which visitors can see the beauty of its villages, the farmers and the amazing folk arts," says Wang Keqi, deputy director of the Jinshan Tourism Bureau.

The home-stay project citywide is expected to somewhat ease the accommodation pressure.

The farming fun project was inspired by the Olympic Home-stay Families during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

"The two old villages have very rich folk art cultural resources, which will definitely be an attraction to visitors," says Wang. "In addition to Shanghai's urban modernity and its beautiful skyline, the city has something more local and original to offer."

The five families keep various rural folk traditions, including snack-making, painting (primitive, charming and definitely on sale) and farming games, as well as well as standard farm chores -- feeding pigs, transplanting rice seedlings and so on.

To qualify as an Expo Farm House, a household must be spacious, over 100 square meters, the house itself must reflect local farming architecture and the owners must practice one or two folk arts. Speaking a little bit of English is preferred.

Zhonghua Village was once known as the district's "Siberia" in the western edge of Langxia Town.

However, it has been revived into an "Oriental Arcadia" after restoration and redecoration by the district government and the Shanghai Jinjiang International Travel Service Co Ltd in 2007.

Because of its remoteness, the village had a backward economy for many years, and many villagers moved to the downtown area to work, leaving their dilapidated houses behind.

To boost the economy and increase farmers' income, the government launched the Zhonghua Farming Fun project three years ago to encourage tourism.

In the project, Jinjiang Travel Co leased houses from farmers, restored them, furnished them and installed toilets, AC and gas for cooking. Every year the farmers get around 18,000 yuan (US$2,647) in rent; they are also employed to make local dishes in kitchens.

Today the village is a popular weekend getaway destination for city dwellers who want to recharge their batteries. They can laze around, pick fruit and vegetables, go fishing, weave cloth or do chores.

Zhonghong Village in Fengjing Town, which dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), is full of history, culture and rural scenery. But what makes it famous is folk art painting. It has become a base for the now highly developed peasant paintings that are widely sold and even given as official gifts to visiting dignitaries.

In the 1970s some farmers decided to make colorful paintings that reflected traditional folk arts, such as paper cutting, paper folding, woodcarving, dying and embroidery.

The subjects are village life: celebrations, ceremonies, harvests, farm chores, birds and animals, even snow scenes.

The village has become a settlement for many folk painters from around China, including Huxian County in Shaanxi Province, Dongfeng in Jilin Province, Huangzhong in Qinghai Province and Qijiang in Chongqing Municipality.

Before the Expo opens, the district government plans to introduce more Chinese farmers' paintings, including those from Jinzhou in Dalian of Liaoning Province, Pizhou in Jiangsu Province, Tengchong in Yunnan Province, Rizhao in Shandong Province, Huangzhou in Hubei Province and Tianjin Municipality.

Visitors can get a complete tour of China's rustic farmers art.


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