The online show, follows the adventures of a couple who stepped out of their comfort zone. reports.
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.
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.
“AT THE VERY BEGINNING, WE OFTEN CHALLENGED NATURE ... WE HAVE COME TO REALIZE THAT THE ONLY THING WE CAN CHALLENGE IS OUR OWN LIMITS.”
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.
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Zhang Xinyu, traveler The couple visits Kamchatka, Russia, during their latest adventure on a Harbin Y12 aircraft earlier this year.