Chen drives the vehicle to 113 countries . Photo: Li Hao/GT
When Chen Hanbin returned to Beijing in September from his four-year trip around the world, he had to start all over again. And the first thing this 33 year old did was rent an apartment and a car.
Four years ago, Chen was still a homeowner. To make the trip possible, he sold his apartment for about 8 million yuan ($1.15 million). The apartment, located in the CBD area on the Third Ring Road in Beijing, is now valued at about 21 million yuan.
“I have never regretted it, not once,” he told the Global Times in an interview from his vehicle, now parked outside of the Fifth Ring Road, where parking fees are cheaper.
Surrounded by local residents’ cars, the caravan stands out, not only because of its size, but also because it is covered in the names of the 113 countries that Chen and his team have been to in the last 1,588 days, as well as the name of his team: “Don’t U Turn.”
Decision of a lifetime
Chen began his global adventure on May 19, 2012.
He bought two vehicles and recruited a team of 12 people, mostly friends. During the trip, some members dropped out due to health, family or work issues, so they sold one vehicle. A number of strangers also joined them on their adventure along the way.
Chen’s decision to pour his savings and real estate into a world trip was a strange one to the public, especially in a country where housing prices have risen rapidly over the last decade.
Upon his return, people still asked how he had the courage to sell his house – a result of sensible investment from his parents, and the profits made from a small acting agency he set up and had run since his college days.
According to Chen, the reason was simple: he wanted to see the world.
“We did helicopter riding, diving, sky diving, safaris on the African savanna, good local food, tourist spots – I wanted to try everything. I never thought I should keep this money,” he said.
“We met so many interesting people – backpackers, customs officers, police officers, Chinese living in the area and local people.
Some even gave us food, advice, and some invited us to their homes.”
Before that, Chen had little experience in traveling abroad. But sightseeing was not what he wanted to do.
“We want to do much more than just traveling. We want adventure,” he said. “Sure I was ill, and injured, and ended up in vehicle accidents. But it proved to be anything but boring. Every day was different.”
The vehicle is home to Chen Hanbin and his team members for four years. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Life and death
Before leaving, Chen thought to himself that the trip would be pretty boring if they didn’t go through any life-and-death situations.
“But I didn’t expect that there would be so many of them – a tire blowout, brake failure, getting trapped in the rainforest, getting lost in no man’s land, having guns pointed at my back,” he said.
The most dangerous moment happened when the team went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to see silverback gorillas. There were many different soldiers in the country, either from rebel or peacekeeping forces. At one of the checks, they got into a misunderstanding with a soldier, who became very angry.
“I was pinned down by two soldiers who had their guns on my back,” Chen said.
But a much more terrifying experience was in store for him at the seldom-traveled North Cape in Norway, a northern point inside the Arctic Circle.
Chen drove up to his destination, enjoying the feeling of being at the northern tip of the European continent, battling sea winds and spindrifts. But he found that to the north across the sea there was another place that could only be reached by foot.
Driven by an adventurer’s desire, Chen and his team decided to hike nine kilometers across an uninhabited area around the gulf to the cliff, despite having little experience in hiking, let alone in such extreme weather.
On their way back, they got lost. It soon became dark, and the team was hungry, freezing, and soaking wet from the sweat. Many sprained their ankles on the rocks and brooks.
All they could do was keep walking in the darkness in what they believed was the right direction. Fortunately, they eventually saw the headlights of a truck in the distance, and the drivers had noticed the team waving their flashlights.
“In retrospect, I am thankful that nobody said that we could have died here, so we were able to keep walking. But inside, it was all I could think about – the life I have had and what note to leave the family,” he said.
In the moment
While China’s economy has expanded, there has been a growing sentiment in modern Chinese society for seeking an escape from the pressures of daily life.
Over the years, a number of memes and popular phrases have circulated on the Internet promoting the idea of living in the moment, such as “You’ve got to have a dream in case it comes true.” Another came from a high school teacher’s resignation letter, which read “The world is big and I want to go and see it,” and also went viral.
“Many people dream of traveling the world, but few actually do it, because they don’t know how to face life after they come back,” Chen said.
He attributes his different attitude to his upbringing. “I grew up not wanting to excel at things. I just wanted to do what I liked.”
When people ask him the meaning behind his actions, he says he doesn’t think it’s meaningful at all.
“People advised me to do it ‘for a cause,’ such as AIDS patients, or for children in poverty,” he said. But for the trip, Chen actually turned down all the companies that offered to sponsor him.
“I just always wanted to do this,” he said. “However, many things happened along the trip and I realized that I do make a difference.”
With so much media coverage and feedback from the project’s Sina Weibo account, Chen wants to inspire more people to go on their own adventures.
On top of a book and a documentary he is working on, Chen has a bigger plan for later this year.
“I will drive this caravan to the South Pole,” he said.
Newspaper headline: The road home