Living the American dream

By Alywin Chew ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-04-11 08:18:35

Living the American dream

Get-together with the locals.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Linden's passion for a country that is not his own may seem unusual to many people, especially Westerners, but it is something that stems from a fascinating tale of luck, grit and a blind leap of faith, one that began when he was a young adult back in the United States.

Born in a lower middle class family in Chicago where he attended community college, Linden moved to Washington when he was in his late teens to work as an intern in the State Department. Often strapped for cash, Linden would gate-crash functions to freeload on the food and drinks. Little did he expect that he would one day score the biggest freebie of his life - a scholarship to study in Beijing - when he snuck into a Chinese embassy event and found himself reaping the reward of helping officials look for staff housing in the city.

"That changed my whole life. I went from cleaning carpets and never even having heard of Chairman Mao to studying in a Beijing university ... China has been my only mentor in life. Everything I do is a way of showing respect for the opportunities that this country has given me," he says.

Life in China began in 1984 and it proved to be incredibly eventful. Apart from getting arrested more than a dozen times for wandering into restricted areas, Linden also met his wife Jeanee Quan and even starred in a movie. He eventually returned to the US where he married Quan and worked as a coordinator for education projects around the world. The couple later opened a gallery in Wisconsin dealing with Asian antiques and became parents to two boys.

But though life was moving along smoothly in America, Linden's heart was always with China. After much deliberation, the couple decided in 2004 that they would embark on a special project to open a unique rural-based platform for intellectual exchange in China.

In 2007, the Lindens sold their home before ploughing their life savings of more than US$300,000 into the restoration of a derelict mansion in Xizhou that later became Linden Center. For now and the foreseeable future, Linden has no intention of retiring and returning to the US. He is still madly passionate about sharing the beauty of Chinese culture and he aims to open five to six more similar hotels around Yunnan in the next decade.

"I'm here for a reason. I was lost back in the US. I was supposedly in a country where you could find yourself and have dreams but somehow i ended up finding my dream in China," he says.

"China has one of the longest cultural traditions in humanity and it's just a shame that this is not what the outside world sees. I love China and I take it very personally when people say it is nothing but a factory," he adds.

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