Laojia was founded in 2013 by Eric and Maarten, two curious foreigners living in China who were in search for 'authenticity' in rapid developing China. Inspired by the beauty that rural China has to offer in terms of its heritage, nature, food and people, they decided to move to the countryside. Spending 2.5 years living in a rural village in Guangxi province, they spent their time learning about China, drinking tea with locals and restoring a traditional house where they hosted family, friends and guests.
The presence of outsiders in a small rural village lead to some interesting developments. Not only did the window into local rural life provide outsiders with a unique opportunity to broaden their perspective on China; moreover, the interest shown by outsiders, broadened the perspective of the local people who started to see their heritage in a different light. This interest in the ancient buildings, local customs, lost craftsmanship, forgotten stories and more, acts as a beautiful way in keeping these pieces of history alive.
“You should find more Laojia’s across China!” was something friends and guests would often say during these first years of hosting. Being immersed in local dialect, recovering from a grueling renovation, and busy changing bed sheets for guests, Maarten and Eric would often smile and nod while hearing ideas like these.
A Shanxi native, but local Guilin friend Yongfa showed deep interest in Laojia’s mission to promote cultural rural China and in some ways recharged Laojia's battery. His inside knowledge combined with countless road-trips in his Jeep, lead to the finding of a new chemistry in a new community, this time in a Yao ethnic village in the mountains north of Guilin, Guangxi. Before he knew it, Maarten was sitting among villagers sipping tea again and talking about the possibility of opening a new Laojia. Papers were signed and friends were made, and after a somewhat more relaxing renovation, a new Laojia was opened exactly two years after hosting it's first guest.
The positive feedback by guests made it clear that they were enjoying a different type of travel experience; one where the barriers between the local communities and themselves were stripped as much as possible, where they feel at home and part of a community. These had been one of Eric and Maarten’s personal motivations from the start, and it seemed they weren’t the only one in their persuit.
With fresh motivation the trips in the jeep continued and in the winter of 2017, Yongfa and Maarten discovered a picturesque village in mountains of Hunan belonging to the Tujia minority and not too far from the famous ‘avator’ mountains of Zhangjiajie. Characteristically of rural China, they were welcomed warmly and found a friendly family to stay at. It seemed that the prophecy made by guests was slowly turning into reality when Yongfa and Maarten decided to partner up with the hosting family and create a new Laojia in this village. At this time there was no turning back, and the prophecy had to be fulfilled…
How can our love for Laojia and Chinese tea not include the mountains of Fujian, a province rich in Chinese culture and steeped in ancient tea tradition? Yongfa asked himself this questions before setting on a journey to the east coast where in the mountains near Xiamen, Fujian he lived and studied with a Daoist tea master for a short time. Well preserved Tulou buildings in a friendly rural community surrounded by tea plantations. This sounded too good to be true, and Maarten decided to follow Yongfa’s lead and pay him a visit. The village had the perfect ingredients for a new Laojia and after a suitable Tulou was found and the lease was signed, it was time for another renovation and at the end of 2018 this Laojia welcomed it's first guests.
Flying didi's, AI Ayi's, VR Travel, global passports! Travel has changed a bit. What hasn’t changed are the endless opportunities for learning about new places and broadening our perspective. Enjoying a fun conversation with a villager over a tea and a fire is timeless and Laojia still continues to find joy in removing the barriers between explorers and rural communities.