Great Wall Fresh – Chinese living for a foreigner
Organic vegetables and fruits grow in the Chen family's courtyard. [Daniel Byrnes/China.org.cn]
During a downpour in 2006, Great Wall climber Jeremy Goldkorn escaped onto the Chen family farm to seek shelter and food. Four years later, I found myself dodging the rain and intentionally visiting the same farm in search of an authentic experience of rural China.
Chen Yongjiang and his wife live in Chenjiapu, a village located in a valley of Hebei Province, where the Great Wall of China can be seen in clear view from the Chen family's driveway. Goldkorn inspired the Chens to open Great Wall Fresh – a restaurant, guest house and guided tour service.
Great Wall Fresh is most popular among foreigners, though relatively few know about the attraction, making for a peaceful and intimate experience with the centuries-old landmark. Pang Li from China.org.cn interpreted an interview over tea between Mr. Chen, Mrs. Chen, and me.
"They want to see the authentic, primitive Wall," Mr. Chen said. "They want to feel the tranquility of this place. They want to experience how rural families live and eat."
Before opening Great Wall Fresh, the Chens grew and sold vegetables. After their two sons left to attend universities, the job became too physically demanding.
"In this business, we can take a rest when our guests are busy," said Mrs. Chen, who does most of the cooking.
As a guest of Great Wall Fresh, I slept in a comfortable guest house, ate delicious meals prepared by the Chens, and hiked one of three guided tours of wild and scenic parts of the Great Wall. The tours range in difficulty from easy to very demanding.
Mr. Chen led Pang Li and me on the hike called "Hunchback curve," a strenuous trek that included nearly vertical climbs up and down the Great Wall, overgrown with shrubbery and powdered in misty clouds.
After working up an appetite, I was delighted to find out that Goldkorn, who is from South Africa and speaks English and Chinese, helped the Chens develop a bilingual menu containing organically grown fruit and vegetables and signature Chen family dishes.
Mr. Chen and I take a break from hiking Hunchback curve to have our picture taken in a tower of the Great Wall of China that has stood the test of time. [Pang Li/China.org.cn]