The online show, fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of a cou­ple who stepped out of their com­fort zone. re­ports.


China Daily (Hong Kong) - - YOUTH -

Many peo­ple would prob­a­bly ex­pect that 40-year-old Zhang Xinyu and his 38-year-old wife, Liang Hong — hav­ing earned nearly 100 mil­lion yuan ($14.8 mil­lion) and own­ing nine apart­ments in Bei­jing — would be happy to live a com­fort­able life.

How­ever, being com­fort­able is the last thing the cou­ple wanted.

“I for­got how to be happy,” Zhang re­calls, when ex­plain­ing their mo­ti­va­tion for set­ting off on a round-the-world jour­ney about a decade ago. “I thought, ‘What if we changed our life­style?’ ”

So the cou­ple de­cided to travel around the world — but in an ad­ven­tur­ous way.

After tak­ing five years to get the train­ing they wanted — which in­cluded get­ting a pi­lot’s li­cense to fly heli­copters, and div­ing and sail­ing cer­tifi­cates — they set off.

From a refugee camp in So­ma­lia to Ch­er­nobyl, the cou­ple’s itin­er­ary avoided the con­ven­tional tourist des­ti­na­tions.

In Rus­sia’s Oymyakon, which is said to be the cold­est in­hab­ited place in the world, Zhang warmed Liang’s heart by propos­ing to her in 2013.

The cou­ple then spent one and a half years sail­ing a boat to more than 20 coun­tries and fi­nally reached Antarc­tica, where they held their wed­ding in 2014.

They visited many places dur­ing this voyage, in­clud­ing an aban­doned air base on Attu Is­land in Alaska, and Simushir, an un­in­hab­ited is­land in the Kuril Is­lands, which once housed one of the for­mer Soviet Union’s nu­clear sub­ma­rine bases.

Pop­u­lar­ity online

Since 2013, their ex­plo­ration of the world has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tions of a large num­ber of fol­low­ers via the online re­al­ity show On the Road.

“I don’t call the pro­gram a show. It’s more of a doc­u­men­tary that is broad­cast online for free,” says Zhang.

“It’s recorded with­out any or­na­men­ta­tion,” Liang says.

Not ev­ery place they have visited has been pleas­ant. They al­most lost their lives when ap­proach­ing lava at Marum, an ac­tive vol­cano in Van­u­atu.

“At the very be­gin­ning, we of­ten chal­lenged na­ture this way,” Zhang says. “We have come to re­al­ize that the only thing we can chal­lenge is our own lim­its.”

Sim­ply a form of self-ex­pres­sion in the be­gin­ning, Liang says they have taken on more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as their jour­ney has pro­gressed.

For in­stance, the Bamiyan Bud­dhas in Afghanistan had been de­stroyed by the Tal­iban when they ar­rived in 2015, so they helped to cre­ate dig­i­tal im­ages that were pro­jected of the re­mains of the original site at night.

Zhang con­sid­ers the mo­ment when the pro­jec­tor was turned on as one of the most emo­tional mo­ments of the jour­ney.

How­ever, the move — al­though wel­comed by lo­cal peo­ple — prompted the Tal­iban to put a bounty on their lives. The cou­ple had to con­ceal their where­abouts, and their in­ter­net show was sus­pended for months.

The cou­ple’s most re­cent jour­ney can be seen in the new sea­son of On the Road, which pre­miered in April on Ten­cent’s video plat­form. It fol­lows their 80,000-kilo­me­ter aerial trip around the world in a 32-year-old Harbin Y12, a twin-en­gine tur­bo­prop air­craft.

They be­lieve this to be the first round-the-world trip in a madein-China plane.

Zhang ex­plains the rea­son for choos­ing such an old plane was not to de­lib­er­ately cre­ate a thrilling ef­fect for the pro­gram but rather be­cause it was “the only plane we could af­ford”.

The new sea­son has at­tracted about 300 mil­lion clicks online, and its rat­ing on Douban, China’s ma­jor film and TV re­view web­site, is 9.2 points out of 10.

The cou­ple stopped at 45 sta­tions in more than 23 coun­tries dur­ing the trip and recorded their meet­ings with lo­cal peo­ple, in­clud­ing a soc­cer team in Sierra Leone, which com­prised young­sters who had lost their legs in the blood-di­a­mond war, and fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the wall erected on US-Mex­i­can border.

“We take our sto­ries to dif­fer­ent places and bring lo­cal peo­ple’s sto­ries back,” says Zhang.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the cou­ple’s online show means it has also been a hit with spon­sors. In a pub­lic­ity slo­gan for the new sea­son, the show was la­beled as a pro­mo­tion for made-in-China prod­ucts.

As a re­sult, there have been con­cerns that the cou­ple will have to give in to spon­sors’ de­mands and will be un­able to stick to their original style of travel in the fu­ture.

“We of­ten re­mind our­selves that no mat­ter how far we’ve gone, don’t for­get why we set off. We ex­pected that some changes will come after our jour­ney, but we’ ll keep this pro­gram as it is,” says Zhang.

He says On the Road would be de­stroyed if there were de­tailed scripts de­signed for them to show prod­ucts on screen.


Di­a­logues be­tween cul­tures

Leng Song, a me­dia re­searcher at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, says: “There are too many re­al­ity shows with a starry cast and over­whelm­ing en­ter­tain­ment meth­ods. It’s cru­cial to have more celebri­ties like Zhang and Liang, who ex­press pos­i­tive en­ergy.”

Yin Hong, a me­dia pro­fes­sor at Ts­inghua Univer­sity, says the cou­ple has found a way to bet­ter con­vey Chi­nese cul­ture abroad.

“The val­ues con­veyed through their jour­ney can travel all over the world and re­sult in di­a­logues and com­mu­ni­ca­tions among dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” says Yin.

Zhang says that he and his wife still have six un­fin­ished travel plans, but he only re­veals the up­com­ing one.

An ice­breaker has been pur­chased so 150 peo­ple can voyage with them to the least-known is­lands in the world.

“Who gets on board is not de­fined by how much is paid but whether the can­di­dates share our val­ues and world­views,” Liang says.

Other than ful­fill­ing their dreams, what else mo­ti­vates Zhang and Liang to pro­long their jour­ney?

Well, the cou­ple has sold their apart­ments in Bei­jing and they now live in a rented one.

“Bei­jing’s rock­et­ing house prices have en­abled us to go even fur­ther,” Zhang jokes.

A Chi­nese-Amer­i­can doc­u­men­tary film­maker hitch­hikes from Alaska all the way to south­ern Ar­gentina, a jour­ney over 30,000 kilo­me­ters.

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­


Zhang Xinyu, trav­eler The cou­ple vis­its Kam­chatka, Rus­sia, dur­ing their lat­est ad­ven­ture on a Harbin Y12 air­craft ear­lier this year.

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