Note: this post was adapted from an earlier article written in Chinese. The original article contains a video showing Carol’s interview with a Chinese media station and is worth a watch!
Americans Brian and Jeanee Linden founded the Linden Centre, a cultural exchange center and boutique hotel, in 2008. Since then, the Lindens have received numerous government officials, artists, scholars, businessmen, and tourists, but finally after 10 years, Brian and Jeanee welcomed the most important person yet to the Centre, Carole Linden, Brian’s mother.
This is 80-year-old Carole Linden’s first time in China, not to mention in Xizhou, the rural town in Yunnan where her son has laid down roots. When Carole first arrived at the Linden Centre, she saw the gorgeous landscaping in the gardens and immediately knew it was Brian who must be responsible. Mr. Linden comes from an American working-class background, and growing up he used to work for a landscaping company with his father. When Carol looks around the Centre she can see the dedication her son has put into every last detail. As a result, Carole is intensely proud of what the Linden Centre has become; she takes joy in every blade of grass, every tree, and every brick.
After traveling the world, Brian and Jeanee Linden came to Xizhou in 2004 with their two sons, their life savings, and their determination to preserve and share Chinese culture. When Brian and Jeanee walked into the abandoned home of Mr. Yang Pinxiang (the original owner of what would become the Linden Centre) for the first time, the grass in the courtyard reached their waists. This was the first time foreigners had rented an old courtyard home to carry out a dream. So how were two Americans able to rent a provincially and nationally protected historical and cultural site? Carole believes the answer lies in her son’s boundless enthusiasm and friendliness. He and Jeanee relied on this to persuade and impress the local government for over two years before they were able to reach a deal.
10 years later, the Linden Centre has become a world-renowned cultural institution and has been awarded many prizes, including the American Business Excellence Award by the U.S. Secretary of State. Just two months ago Mr. Linden received the “Rainbow Cloud Award” from the Yunnan provincial government, the highest honor given to foreign experts for outstanding contributions. As an example of a unique approach to building a business and a life in rural Yunnan, the Lindens’ personal story and the Linden Centre’s business model is entirely worthy of study and imitation.
According to Carole Linden, the three weeks she spent in Xizhou were full of many wonderful experiences and interactions she will never forget. One interaction that stood out to her occurred when she was walking in town and some locals saw her and gave her a bench to sit on while the shop owner next door gave her delicious grapes to snack on. She was impressed by the immeasurable hospitality of Xizhou locals and expressed her doubt that this sort of thing would happen in Beijing or in any other large Chinese, or American, city.
Carole Linden’s experience here was obviously special—her unique connection to the Centre through her son made her stay in Xizhou especially moving. Yet any guest at the Linden Centre could have as touching and intimate a time. That is part of what makes the Linden Centre so special. All of their guests are welcomed as family—the Linden Centre is a home away from home for all who stay. This distinctive experience is the culmination of all of the work Brian and Jeanee Linden have put in over the years. While walking through Xizhou, Brian Linden explains that although the Linden Centre is a first rate hotel, it is not extravagantly decorated. There are no giant windows, no big bathtubs, and few of the fashionable and excessive amenities that cater to tourists. Instead Brian and Jeanee are concerned with giving this traditional Bai home a new soul and life. Guests note that no matter where you look throughout the Centre you’ll see Bai antiques and art; you’ll have the chance to attend Bai celebrations and festivals with local townspeople, and you’ll get interact and create with artists-in-residence. The Linden Centre provides the opportunity for those who stay to make deep connections with local life in Xizhou; yet simultaneously creates an international community and gives guests the chance to interact with people from all over the world.