Couple at home on the road
Updated: 2011-07-13 07:26
By Zhang Xiaomin (China Daily)
DALIAN, Liaoning - Zhang Zhiwu and his wife Hou Yingqian, both 63, have become local celebrities since their return from a nine-month multi-country roadtrip in their motor home.
Zhang Zhiwu and his wife Hou Yingqian, from Dalian, Liaoning province, surf the Internet from the mobile home they used to travel throughout China and four other countries. Zhang Xiaomin / China Daily
The pair clocked up more than 23,500 kilometers during their adventure and took in 15 provincial regions within China and the Southeast Asian countries of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Their neighbors in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, love dropping by to marvel at their air-conditioned recreational vehicle (RV) that is fully equipped with a kitchen, desk, sofa, TV and double bed as well as a solar generator.
And they enjoy hearing tales about the journey that is recorded on the back door of their RV on a map that shows the many places the pair visited.
Mostly, their neighbors are incredulous that Zhang, who didn't even know how to drive three years ago when he retired from his work as a lawyer, made his long-held ambition come true.
"Traveling around the world was my childhood dream," he said. "But there was never enough time when I had the money or money when I had the time."
He said he finally seemed to have enough of both when he retired in 2008.
"Besides, my wife and I were still in good health and we decided to go for it and start traveling and enjoying our lives."
He had first seen motor homes - or RVs - in 2000 at an auto show in Dalian.
"I was fascinated by them immediately although they were far beyond my reach in terms of price," he remembers.
He ended up going online and finding a secondhand one for a little more than 100,000 yuan ($15,470).
Zhang next needed to get himself a driving license.
After a few months of intensive training, he passed and, two months later, successfully drove his caravan home from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.
His wife remembers that the journey was a watershed moment.
"I wondered if we would make it, but when he got us home safely I knew I did not need to worry any more," said Hou.
After modifying the RV to meet their needs and testing it on trips close to Dalian, they decided to hit the road.
"Life in our RV is similar to life at home," Zhang said. "We bought food at the market and made meals in our small kitchen."
They could even watch their favorite shows via a satellite TV and browse the Internet.
"But the thing that is different is the landscape that flows past outside the window," Zhang said. "It is a fabulous experience to drive through the fascinating scenery, trudge among vast fields and communicate with different people in different places.
"The most frequently used words we used throughout our journey were 'thank you'."
The only serious obstacle the couple faced was the language barrier.
Zhang said they would ask embassy clerks to translate daily expressions before visiting a foreign country.
It helped, but sometimes communication with body language was also necessary.
"Anyway, we survived," Zhang said, smiling.
Other problems on the road included finding parking spaces, maintaining a supply of water and charging up their battery.
He said China still has relatively few RV parks compared to other places such as North America and Europe where such travel is more common.
The couple went to an RV park only once on their epic roadtrip, in Beijing on June 11, where they met 24 like-minded travelers in 12 motor homes who had driven all the way from Italy.
"I was surprised to learn that I was the same age as the youngest among them. If they can drive from Europe to China, why I can't I drive to Europe?" he said.
Looking back on their experience, Zhang said they made their dream come true because they simply went for it.
"There are always problems when you just think and do not act. If you keep worrying, you'll never step out. But if you step out, everything becomes easier to handle," Zhang said.
Having got their adventures off to a good start, the couple has no plans to stop. After another week or so of rest at home, they plan to hit the open road once more.
"Some day, we might even drive to Europe," Zhang said with a smile.