A decade ago, a passion for martial arts brought Daniel Huang from Taiwan to the mainland. He backpacked around Shandong, Henan, Shanxi and many other places in pursuit of his passion, and made Beijing a transit stop of each of his tours. But it was the capital, a city that attracts people from all around the world, that became more of a base four years ago when he founded the Fly By Knight Courtyard Hostel on Dengcao Hutong in the historic Dongcheng district. Huang hopes to spread his martial arts "faith" to his staff, guests and enthusiasts through his hostel.
Why did you name the hostel "Fly by Knight"?
I like the story "Flee by Night" about Lin Chong in the Chinese novel Water Margin. Lin was an instructor of 800,000 imperial guards in the Song dynasty before he fled to become one of the 108 Liangshan outlaw "heroes of the marsh" after he was persecuted by malicious officials. Lin's story reminds me of my travels from one place to another learning martial arts on the mainland - I always arrived at a city at night after a long journey. I thought about naming it "Fly by Night", but that would make people think the business was not reliable, so I twisted it a bit and named it "Knight" as a link to the chivalrous spirit that Lin Chong represented.
Why did Beijing attract you to stay and found this hostel?
I began travelling on the mainland in 1999 when there were no direct flights from Taiwan to many mainland provinces, so I had to transit through Beijing every time. Here, I met many interesting people from all around the world, like the United States, Germany and Spain. And they all came to the mainland for a purpose. Some were photographers, others were crop researchers, and so on. Beijing is a place that gathers different people and different cultures. I like martial arts and I got to know many things about them with Beijing as my starting point. So when I decided to open a hostel, I thought I should start one in Beijing.
What are the reasons for setting up the hostel at a traditional courtyard in Beijing's old alley?
I hoped my guests could experience the real life and living environment of Chinese people. A courtyard house, which has a garden in the middle surrounded by rooms, is the traditional residence of Beijingers. The core of Fly by Knight is martial arts, and the purpose of martial arts practice is a pursuit for people's health in their daily life, so I wanted to provide an environment that ordinary Chinese people experienced every day. In western countries, gardens are located around the house, but for Chinese, who prefer more privacy, the a garden is in a courtyard. In such places, parents taught their children martial arts and other talents. Fly by Knight is a courtyard hostel, our members and guests can experience traditional Chinese life by practicing martial arts in the garden.
How do you promote martial arts through running the hostel?
All staff at Fly by Knight are required to practice martial arts every weekend. Other than permanent staff, we have some short-term staff working in exchange for accommodation. They include young people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Europe. Many young guests from Taiwan have never been to the mainland and know very little about it. Taiwan people's views about the mainland can be extreme. But my idea is that no matter if you like or dislike the mainland, you cannot know nothing about it. So I want to offer them a chance to live in Beijing and experience life here. Staying and working with us, you have to practice martial arts, this is our lifestyle. Our practice attracted international guests, so we invited them to join our practice. Fly by Knight is also a platform for martial arts and for people to exchange their experience, so I would invite masters to come and teach some classes.
How did you start the "work exchange for accommodation" programme?
It wasn't really planned. During the first summer, after Fly by Knight opened in 2011, two Taiwanese girls who were graduate students in architecture contacted me. They had never travelled to other countries but wanted to study classical architecture, so they hoped to come to Beijing. They didn't have money to study overseas so they asked if they could work for me in exchange for lodging. I thought, why not, it's a good idea. They stayed more than a month, and I thought it was a very meaningful experience. They got up very early in the morning and walked around Beijing's hutongs, taking lots of notes. I also invited some friends who were architecture students from Peking University to meet them. I was happy they had lots of topics to talk about and, from their eyes, you could tell how happy they were. I didn't require staff to practice martial arts at that time, but when the girls saw me practice in the garden they wanted to join in, and this attracted other guests and staff. We were all rather sad when it came time for them to leave, but they inspired me to keep going, so that's how the programme started. We also had other guests with special talents like qigong and painting. We welcomed them to come and teach our staff and guests in exchange for lodging.
Why did you open a Fly by Knight hostel last year in Datong?
Beijing is a city that tells the history of China over the past five or six centuries. But if you want to know our history going back 2,000 years, you should go to Xian . And if you want to see the history of 2,500 years, then you must go to Datong, in Shanxi province, the capital during Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties. Many foreign backpackers went to Datong after staying in Beijing, and they told me to go take a look, and hoped that I could open a hostel. I felt overwhelmed by the architecture, temples and other landmarks with such an ancient history. Young people who join our work for lodging programme are required to stay with us for no less than two months and up to six months. Starting this summer, I will arrange it so they spend two-thirds of their time in Beijing and the rest in Datong. I hope they can have the same tremendous experience I felt when I went from Beijing to Datong. However, promoting martial arts remains the main goal. I think the hostels are still at an experimental stage, but this is what makes me stay and lets me know more about life on the mainland. Martial arts education is still my vision. To achieve this, I have to learn more about how Chinese and foreigners see Chinese culture, and how to better communicate with mainland people, although we speak the same language.