Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The end of this blog?

 I've just received a notification from Google that I will now have to pay something like $15 a month to keep this website running. It used to be about $40 a year. So sod that, I might try migrate it to a generic blogspot site if I can be arsed ... but that would mean reloading years of content and photos. 

Perhaps it's Google's way of saying that the era of personal blogs about specific nerdy subjects is over. Does anyone still have any interest in the remote China borderland travels of a cranky Austrian-American botanist a century ago? 

Besides, I've retrodden in most of Rock's footsteps, at least the travels he reported on in National Geographic: Muli, Minya Konka, Muti Konka, Choni, Kawakarpo, Konkaling, Ragya  - done 'em all. Perhaps the only bits I would still like to get to are the crags of  Zhagana in Gansu and some of the Yellow River canyons near Amnye Machen.

One thing's for sure - the places I visited in the 1990s and the 2000s have again changed beyond all recognition from the places I saw. Time moves on and in China there is a kind of relentless unsentimental progress that turns quaint remote villages into modern but boring towns of high rise apartments. Look at Dimaluo on Google Earth these days and the log cabins have given way to townhouses.

 So it was nice while it lasted, but all good things come to an end. I'll try keep this blog up and running as long as possible, but otherwise, auf wiedersehn meine Damen und Herren.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Quick recommend: Dengtuzi Outdoors Club

 In contrast to my last post about the hordes of 'influencers' now on Tibetan highways, I would like to recommend a bunch of guys who are doing the real 'hard yards' in the mountains of south-west China: the Dengtuzi hiking club. Don't know much about them but I came across a bunch of their hiking diary videos on ixigua when looking for recent clips about the Kawka Karpo Kora. These guys have really gone off piste! Their site shows some great hikes in the off the beaten track areas around Meili Xueshan in NW Yunnan - not just the usual Outer Kora. (Runner up prize if you want to see a recent video of some Chinese hikers doing the regular kora - here).

These hikers are going into situations that i would be out of my depth in - hiking up snow and ice slopes at 4500 m to get across ridges - and camping out in emergency shelters on slopes where there is no level ground. They also highlight the pitfalls of trying to retreat from a mountain by following streams/creaks through the thick undergrowth of gullies. 

They appear to be based in Yunnan (but registered in Xiamen) and you can also find them on channels such as Weibo and Sohu. Oh, and all their videos are in Chinese only so you might need to get your Pleco translator out for the subtitles! 

 Enjoy ...

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The new Tibet travellers: 'influencer' vloggers raising revenue from livestreaming channels: Are they for real?

 During the last three year pandemic 'exile' from hiking in China I've been doing some armchair travel via video channels, trying to see what the locals are doing in the corners of Yunnan and Sichuan that I used to visit. And what I discovered [as I've already posted about] is a whole new trend for young Chinese travellers to post regular daily video diaries of their Tibet/Qinghai/Yunnan/Sichuan/Gansu/trips on channels such as bilibili and ixigua. But these are not videos of hikers yomping and camping across the forests and mountain passes of South West China, rather they are a rather unique form of road-trip-with-Chinese characteristics. 

Firstly, most of the 'hikers' are literally road bound - they stick to the highways. Secondly, while some post images of bike, car or motorbike trips, many of these video diaries are from people - usually females - who for some reason have decided to pull a trailer or handcart with them to carry their supplies,  and even as a cramped sleeping quarters.

As this blog post [in Chinese] explains, this handcart hiker phenomenon has taken off in China because of the unique arrangement of China's fenced-off internet. Rising prosperity and personal freedom among young people has encouraged travel within China. This has combined with the rise of the 'self media' [Zì méitǐ '自媒体'] business model in which Chinese have aimed to make a fortune by creating their own content on video channels and social media sites. In China, many social media and video sites are structured to incentivise building followers and views - and they have inbuilt payment/funding/sponsorship systems. This has led to a wave of China-based travel livestreamers trying to become influencers or wanghong (网红). Since their content is all in Chinese and almost wholly on Chinese sites such as ixigua/weibo rather than Youtube/Tiktok etc, they are not on the international radar.


Let me give you an example. 'Wandering Wan Wennuan' is a young woman from a small town in Sichuan who has 1.3 million followers on ixigua alone. Her channel has hundreds of daily and weekly updates of her various trips into Tibet and other parts of by road/bike/hitchhiking. The video clips get between 50,000 and 500,000 views each. How much revenue she derives from all this content and views is not clear.

Her most recent mode of transport was a hand pulled cart along the 'Qinghai-Tibet' line. Prior to that she has posted videos of her trip in RVs and a motorcyle and sidecar rig to places such as Hainan. 

She has been posting videos for several years and they appear genuine, depicting the many encounters she has had with other travellers and locals along the way. She talks to restaurant and hotel owners, local cops, truck drivers who give her lifts, local families, Tibetans working in the fields, shopkeepers and a range of other people travelling by motorbike, 4WD etc. Sometimes she hooks up with others and travels with them for a while. At one point she adopt a stray puppy and takes it with her.

Bizarrely, she claims that her hiking is motivated by a desire/compulsion to lose weight, even though she appears throughout to be of normal weight and quite healthy. 

It seems to be for real. It would be hard to fake all the ups and downs of being on the road: tyre punctures, cooking plain meals in the rain, flooded and muddy campsites, not getting to your destination by nightfall - and the worries of being a solo camper when things go 'bump in the night'. It also seems to be posted in real time rather than prerecorded. But you can never tell if there is any outside support or creative editing. Or outside sponsorship and perhaps co-operation from business and local governments, not to mention [self] censorship. Some of the video make reference to [or feature] her 'fans' who greet her or who turn up to assist through contributions. Some just want selfies.

Wen's videos also cover her between-trip interludes in her hometown, where she provides regular updates on her 'real job' as a sausage-making entrepreneur (this stuff is not for the vegans). Wan also occasionally posts videos that give clues to her 'travel influencer' activities and revenue - she has bought four wheel drive 'tanks', motorbikes and a nice apartment.

Wan is just one of hundreds of Chinese travellers who are now posting videos online. Some of these other video travel bloggers are seen in her videos on the road, and the comments suggest that at least some of the are not genuine travellers but people doing it in pursuit of social media/livestreaming fame and fortune. One young woman she meets, for example, claims to have hiked 50km along a Tibet highway in one day - which is further than I do on some of my cycling days. The commenters also point out that she has a soft and fair facial complexion, at odds with the brutal wind and UV burned faces of real travellers.

And this is where 'Wandering Wen' lets the mask slip in one video. In response to similar accusations that she is a fake vlogger with a film support crew and backup truck, she posts footage of what she looks like with the beauty filter turned off - a more realistic vision of reddened, sunburnt and freckled skin and mouth sores!

Well, real or not, it certainly makes for interesting armchair travel viewing and an insight to the unique young Chinese influencer style of travel in the 21st century. 

But there are downsides, without even going into the whole Tibetan politics question. The Chinese blog decrying the rise of the travel vloggers on Tibetan roads points to a more tragic aspect. One such young female called Meimei from Henan was killed in May 2021 when she lost control of her handcart and was crushed.

Is the travel vlogger/livestreamer/influencer phenomenon here to stay? Who knows. I guess my point is that this is the new wave of 'self media' travellers you will encounter on the road in South West China.