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Great Wall conversion

Updated: 2012-12-03 15:05

"When I first moved to China it was not nearly as economically developed as it is today," he says.

"Society was much more closed and there were a lot of restrictions on where foreigners could travel and live. So I always wanted a place in the countryside but I did not think it would be possible. But this is a wonderful country, and it turns out that lots of things are possible."

So, in 1994, as Spear was visiting the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, he met a villager selling souvenirs.

"I said I didn't want to buy anything but (told him) you are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. I told him, as a foreigner, my dream has always been to have a house at the Great Wall."

The souvenir seller, Li Lianting, surprisingly turned out to have a property to lease, which became a weekend retreat for Spear and his family.

Now Li owns a company that provides services for Spear's hospitality business. "Both of us prospered," Spear comments.

Spear started a trading and business advisory company, was cofounder of a wine distribution company, and worked at a US medical company for 10 years, until he quit in 2005 to start his own business with another couple, leasing an abandoned primary school in Mutianyu village, turning it into a hotel called the Schoolhouse.

It has become a popular destination for Chinese and foreign tourists alike.

"I heard of the place from my friends. It's a nice place and the food is especially good," says Ben Mitchell, from Australia.

Spear says his business philosophy is "sustainability".

"We hire local people, grow our own food if at all possible, and we use existing buildings. This is part of what sustainability means to us."

In 2010 Spear leased a polluting brick and roof tile factory in the neighboring Beigou village and transformed it into another hotel.

"We have fully supported Spear and other foreigners in the village with their business ideas," says Wang Quan, head of Beigou village. "Spear has contributed a lot to Beigou village. He always has the villagers in mind and all of us respect him very much."

Spear responds: "We are part of the local community, and we want to create a destinationwhere people from all over the world can come to have a taste of true rural life in China, suchas its beautiful villages and craftsmanship," Spear says.

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By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)


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