By Glacier He
Travel Vlogger Zhang Junqi wants to show people a different way of travelling — making friends with locals.
On December 21, 2020, a 24-year-old travel vlogger Zhang Junqi had a special winter solstice dinner during her trip in Heilongjiang Province, China.
Zhang ate dumplings at a police station with her new friends whom she met on her journey. Eating dumplings is a tradition of winter solstice for most people in northern China.
“I did not expect that my first visit to a police office would be having a meal to celebrate winter solstice with two policemen,” Zhang recalls. “This experience is so magical,” she says.
Zhang encountered one of the police officers on the street when she was taking photos for her vlog. The officer drove close to her and asked whether the police car blocked her view of photo-taking.
“We had a nice conversation and that was how our friendship began…Now we are still in touch,” Zhang says.
“My first visit to a police office would be having a meal to celebrate winter solstice with two policemen.”
Turning Hobby into A Career
Zhang shares her travel experience on Little Red Book, a Chinese social media platform, where she runs an account named Pipi with nearly 200,000 followers.
Growing up in Beijing, Zhang studied communication at the University of Southern California for her undergraduate degree. Influenced by the entrepreneurial atmosphere there, she set up her own photography platform in 2018 during her third year of study.
“Almost everyone around me started a business, so I thought I should start one too,” Zhang says. “But I did not know what I wanted to do and I did not find much pleasure in starting a business (during my undergraduate study),” she adds.
Zhang is now on a gap year of her postgraduate study at Columbia University in New York where she studies risk management.
“(In New York,) the atmosphere encourages people to try something new and that broadens my horizon,” Zhang says.
“I ran into a primary school classmate who is now a food blogger in New York. So, I started to think why can’t I turn my hobby (of travelling around the world) into a career and give it a try,” she says.
On April 10, 2020, Zhang started sharing a set of photos she took online. She did some photo uploads during quarantine after returning to China from the United States. It was her first shot, and it became a hit with over 10,000 likes on Little Red Book, a social media platform used in China, in two days.
Make Friends with Locals During Travel
When choosing travel destinations, Zhang avoids visiting internet-famous tourist attractions and big cities.
“I can see pictures of those tourist attractions online and there is nothing new… Seeing a different kind of lifestyle and digging out something new by myself is my way of travelling,” Zhang says.
“Seeing a different kind of lifestyle and digging out something new by myself is my way of travelling.”
During her trip in Mohe, the northernmost city of China, Zhang chose Beihong Village instead of Beiji Village, which is a much more famous place for Chinese tourists. She found Beiji Village highly developed as a tourist attraction and that was boring in her view.
“(Beihong Village) is undeveloped. I saw many chimneys and people dragging carriages. I think it is so cool,” Zhang says. “It is a small place, but it has distinct characters,” she adds.
Zhang also prefers travelling alone, because she thinks this can help her make friends with locals. “I think the most interesting way of travelling is to get involved into villagers’ lives,” she explains.
“I think the most interesting way of travelling is to get involved into villagers’ lives.”
“You do not need to care about what others think. You can just do what you want to do (if you travel alone),” Zhang says. “And I may not make as many new friends as I do now, if I travel with my own friends. I would have spent more time with my friends,” she says.
For Zhang, being a travel vlogger sometimes can be burdensome while travelling. She has to think about what to film all the time.
“But this also gives me more chances to have unique experiences,” Zhang says. “I made friends with a man who sold candied haws (a traditional Chinese snack) on the street, because I was looking for something to film for my videos,” she recalls.
Zhang still stays in touch with friends she made when travelling. She is also planning to send them some gifts.
Find Your Passion
Though Zhang has experience in travelling alone, sometimes she still finds it challenging.
When trying to film fish catch on Chagan Lake in Jilin Province in winter, she stayed in a freezing environment for several hours. But she accidentally broke her camera and missed the chance to film the moment when the fish were caught.
Zhang was frustrated at first. But luckily she met some fishermen who were happy to lend her gloves and keep her company. One of them even recognized her the next day, after she managed to sort out her emotions and decided to film again.
“Although there are some difficulties along the way, I still find this job (of being a travel vlogger) worthwhile,” Zhang says.
“Although there are some difficulties along the way, I still find this job worthwhile.”
Now Zhang can only travel around China due to COVID-19. She also expresses her strong desire to travel abroad after the pandemic.
“I think I will continue my career as a travel vlogger in the future,” Zhang says. “I just want to show people there is a different way of travelling (during which you can make friends with locals). It’s my passion,” she says.
“We can afford to fail at university. So just be brave and find your passion.”
“I also want to tell other young people that we can afford to fail at university. So just be brave and find your passion,” the young girl who loves to laugh adds.
Edited by Alice Wang & Shell Zhang
Sub-edited by Savoki Zhang