File this in the “just when you think things couldn’t get more surreal” folder.
ORANGE COUNTY, China — An hour’s drive north of Beijing, on an icy country road lined by fields and populated by trucks and sheep, the landscape is a far cry from palm-ringed golf courses and “Surfin’ USA.”
But wait. There is Sun City, a half-built gated community with echoes of the desert. Then the tidy homes of Orange County come into view. Finally, you drive through a stone portal, past advertisements showing men fly-fishing in cowboy hats, pulling up before the impressive mansions of Watermark-Longbeach, the epicenter of faux L.A. in China.
“I liked it immediately – it is just like a house in California,” exulted Nasha Wei, a former army doctor turned businesswoman, sitting on a white suede banquette in the four-bedroom home in Orange County (China) she moved into this year.
Bits of American geography are popping up all over Beijing, the latest fashion in real estate marketing and sales. Soho, Central Park, Palm Springs and Manhattan Gardens are among recent developments.
In many instances, the name is just an American location tacked on to typical upmarket Chinese apartments. But at Orange County and Longbeach, developers have promised clients the real deal – so long as they can afford the minimum half million-dollar price tag.
Houses are replicas of Southern California homes, designed by Southern California architects, with model homes decorated by Los Angeles interior designers. The basement pool tables are American. The appliances are imported. The tiles, wood siding and wall sconces are from the United States, too.