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Gray-haired backpackers

By He Dan | China Daily | Updated: 2011-10-05 11:05
Gray-haired backpackers

Zhang Guangzhu and his wife, Wang Zhongjin, explore pristine Antarctica, one of many stops on their itinerary. Provided to China Daily

Retired pair finds new meaning - and explores far corners of world.

BEIJING - Wang Zhongjin said she "runs around faster than a rabbit" every time she leaves home to travel abroad with her husband.

Traveling has been a new career for this gray-haired couple after retirement.

Wang, 61, boasts of the fact that, knowing a little English, she and her husband, Zhang Guangzhu, 63, have visited about 40 countries and regions as backpackers since 2008.

"Our 7-year-old grandson often teases my husband, saying his English level is not better than a second-grade pupil and I can barely recognize all of the 26 letters," Wang said, laughing.

The language barrier has caused some troubles for the elderly couple in foreign countries, but it has never stopped them from exploring the world.

They choose not to join tour groups, as most Chinese do. Instead, they organize everything for their overseas journeys, including for their trip to the Antarctic in March.

"We can die without any regrets after the Antarctic visit," Wang said, pointing out that only about 300 Chinese people visited there every year.

The 11-day journey was full of incredible new experiences for Wang.

"It was so pure and clean in the Antarctic, we were asked to brush our shoes, including the soles, using sterile water every time we landed on an island," Wang said of their tour aboard a cruise ship.

Wang said she would always remember penguins waving their wings, seals playing nearby and camping out one night.

Wang and her husband had to wait almost three months for a tourist visa for Argentina, which is the launching point for the Antarctic. They paid almost $10,000 for two cruise tickets.

For the couple, traveling is the best way to get along in retirement.

"After both of us retired, we realized that we need to find something to do together otherwise we often quarreled," Wang said.

"How to get along with your partner after retirement is really a challenge for old people like us because you need to face the person almost 24 hours a day."

Wang said traveling has helped her and her husband fall in love again.

"You are awesome" were the words Zhang said to her after she bought food and drinks using only body language while they waited for a ferry in Athens in 2008.

Wang said their most romantic experience was sitting side-by-side preparing grilled potatoes over a fire one starry night in Australia in August.

"We have learned to appreciate and admire each other for tiny things while traveling abroad," Wang said.

The couple's daughter has supported their travel ambitions.

"We finally made up our mind to tell our daughter that we need more spare time to do what we like," said Wang, who spent six years staying at home to help their married daughter raise her child.

Wang said it was necessary because her daughter and son-in-law were too busy at work to take care of a child.

"I hope our experience and stories can encourage more retired people in China to pursue a happy life instead of sacrificing their own happiness for their children," said Wang, who shares travel stories in a book and on the Internet.

Wang said she was thrilled that about 5,000 copies of a guidebook about traveling in Europe that she co-wrote with her husband had been sold since last year.

The couple also shares travel tips and their experiences online. Their microblog on, China's version of Twitter, is called "huajia beibaoke", or gray-haired backpacker, and had attracted more than 56,000 fans by the middle of last month.

"The old couple can overcome so many difficulties to enrich their life and travel around the world, but as a young person just over 20, I don't have the guts and strong will to follow my heart," Net user Lin Xiao wrote on the couple's micro blog. "Your experiences have encouraged me, thank you!"

Wang said the couple was considering Asia or Africa as their next destination, but only after regaining some weight she lost on their last adventure.

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