On the road

Flouting tradition, a group of young Chinese sell possessions to travel

On the road

She’ll travel the world with Chen and 11 others: actress Zuo Na

While young people in China complain that they lack the money to buy property, Chen Hanbin raised eyebrows by doing the exact opposite. The Beijing-based filmmaker sold all of his possessions, including an apartment and a car, so that he could travel around the world.

Chen is not a fuerdai (a term for the ‘second generation rich’ of privileged families). In an interview with the Qianjiang Evening News, the 29 year-old theatre director explains he just wanted to fulfill his dream. “If you have a dream, you have to realise it while you’re young. So you’ll have no regrets!”

Globetrotting has always been Chen’s dream, and he managed to convince his wife and 10 of his friends to follow suit. All twelve managed to raise Rmb9 million ($1.41 million) between them, some of which was used to buy two recreational vehicles (RVs), which they shipped in from the US.

“Two camper vans, a couple of post-80s (i.e. people who are born after the 1980s), over 60 countries, 200,000 kilometres. Departure: 2012 May. If you understand that, then you should go [too]…” Chen declared on his weibo, under the alias No Turning Back.

The plan is to journey through Southeast Asia first, then into India and through central Asia, before reaching Russia as a final stop.

Chen told reporters that the goal is to make a documentary about their adventures. It certainly helps that there are actors, filmmakers and a film study professor in the group, which has now reached Thailand. They are posting information about their trip on their weibo, which, as of this Monday, had more than 76,000 followers.

The adventurers have attracted admiration and admonishment alike in a country that lacks a ‘road trip’ culture.

“Once youth has passed you can’t get it back. After I started working I came to the realisation how difficult it is to drop everything to travel the world,” one netizen wrote.

“If I were single, I would certainly have this type of courage. But the reality [for me] is I’m a husband and a father and can’t really do what they are doing,” lamented another.

But other netizens were angered at what they saw as “irresponsible” and “excessive” behaviour. Others saw the whole thing as staged by Chen and his teammates as means to generate publicity for their respective careers.

Many also questioned whether Chen had bought his car and apartment with his own money or his parents’. The distinction was an important one: “If they bought their place and their car with money that they earned themselves, then I admire their courage and decisiveness. I feel this is really living,” one netizen wrote. “But if they sold the cars and flats that their parents had bought for them, with money their parents gave them for settling down, then their behaviour will hurt their parents’ feelings and is not so admirable…”

Others wondered what will happen after the adventure: “While it’s very courageous what these people have done to pursue their dreams, I only hope that by the time they come back they don’t have to worry about finding a job…”

So what does Chen think of all the netizen feedback?

“There is no road you can re-travel in this life. Every day we walk on all kinds of different roads, facing life’s choices. I’m someone who doesn’t like regret. Perhaps our trip will have a bad ending but no matter if that is happiness or pain, it’s all a type of life experience. With the choices of life, there is no turning back.”

Spoken like a true philosopher.

Although few young people in China are likely to make a drastic life-choice like Chen’s, they are usually more adventurous than their more conservative parents.

“Travel today has become fashionable for the young generation,” Cai Jinghui, head of Lonely Planet’s Chinese-language editions, told Reuters. “For young people, group travel is not real travel. It is a signal that you don’t have the ability to explore.”

That’s good news for Lonely Planet, publisher of hundreds of guidebooks to exotic spots around the world. The company – founded by a couple who made a lengthy road trip through Asia themselves in 1973 and then wrote a book explaining how they did it – has been publishing Chinese-language editions since 2006. More than half-a-million copies have been sold. But if Chen proves an inspiration to others, those sales volumes could get a boost in future.

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