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Kelly's Courtyard - Keeping Beijing's traditions alive

Tucked away in one of Beijing's alleyway hutongs, doorways open up to families' traditional courtyard residences. One unmarked door is the same as the other abodes, but hidden behind it is Kelly's Courtyard, a clandestine haven for travelers looking for something different.

Although it is grouped together with other hostels in the listings, Kelly's doesn't quite fit in with the others. A mere nine rooms offer a degree of intimacy unheard of in typical hostels. The warm staff is accordingly small, happy to share information and stories about the city.

Kelly and her husband Zheng don't run this place strictly as a business, but more as a labor of love. They both have day jobs; the Courtyard is their pet project, but one they treat seriously.

Talking with Zheng, it's obvious how much he cares about Beijing and its traditions. Zheng's family's been in the same Beijing courtyard residence for 15 generations, he proudly states. He's big on Beijing history and culture and the preservation of the two. He sighs with resignation when noting how historic hutong residences commonly make way for shopping malls and apartment buildings.

It seems like Zheng has a mission to help people appreciate what he calls "the real charm of Beijing," as can only be shared by a Beijing native." He hopes the hostel itself can help people feel that connection with history.

Upon entering the courtyard, the sound of trickling water accentuates a zen-like tranquility. Sunlight from the sloping glass ceiling washes over the wood and slate floor. Plants and flowing draperies designed by Kelly herself add an organic flow to the space. The guest rooms run the perimeter of the courtyard, giving it a sense of community.

The rooms themselves are more European than Chinese, tastefully decorated with antiques. Each room has its own modern bathroom.

The open and spacious roof area is the ideal place to slowly sip a cup of tea and watch the locals amble past below. Children who spot travelers overcome their shyness to call out "Hello!" Although Kelly's is near a major shopping area, foreigners in this neighborhood are in short supply.

Zheng claims that helping people appreciate Beijing is a bigger priority than making a profit. He then mentions an American student who was terminally ill, with only 2 years left to live. When Zheng learned she had a desire to visit Beijing for a week, Zheng invited her and she stayed free of charge. His words slow down as he speaks. "You want to travel in Beijing. You must experience it. We are Beijingers. We appreciate that. We want to help you."

But Zheng's words seem to encompass all travelers. There's a spirit to Beijing that he, his wife, and the staff can understand, and Kelly's Courtyard is their medium to pass that spirit on to others.


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