Chasing freedom on China’s roads: highs & lows of living in an RV
Hitting the open road, grabbing a saxophone and making a living on talent and wits is the start of many a novel.
But for a 47-year-old Chinese man from northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, neither rich nor famous, casting aside the mundanity of a regular job and home to embark on a journey promising adventure in an RV (recreational vehicle) is a dream that became a reality.
Li Bo is the only man in China to drive an RV while making a living playing the saxophone, experiencing joy and sorrow all the way along the journey.
Growing up in Harbin, where the snow season can last as long as half a year, Li was obsessed with cars as a youngster. In 2010, he saw an RV at an exhibition - and fell in love.
The vision of a life on the road occupied his thoughts from that day on. But his humble income meant it was not easy for him to buy a car, let alone an RV. His dream lingered, and the eventual moment of inspiration came while reading a joke in a magazine:
“There was a Chinese grandma and an American grandma who met up with each other in heaven. The Chinese grandma had been saving money for her whole life, finally bought a house and lived in it for only three days. The American old lady, however, bought a house and lived in it for her whole life and it was only three days before she came here [the heaven] that she finally paid off the loan.”
“The story did enlighten me quite a bit that you’ve got to learn to use the money from tomorrow,” said Li.
It was a big step for Li. He not only remortgaged his house, but also borrowed money from his friends - that’s how he was able to cover the down payment on an RV.
“I can’t describe how much pleasure I had when I drove it home the first day,” recalled Li.
And soon after taking the wheel for the first time in 2010, Li moved on to bigger things - choosing to explore China away from the freezing cold weather.
To reconcile his quest for adventure and freedom with the realities of his finances, Li played the saxophone to earn money as he traveled.
You can live literally anywhere. Home is where you are. At the core, this is what Li’s lifestyle is truly about. “I’m not going back to where I was before.”
Having traveled each and every highway, the RV has taken Li across all of China (except Lhasa). As he has always longed for warmer weather, he found his niche in southernmost China’s Hainan Province.
During the bittersweet days in the warmth, Li has also felt doubts. For all the liberty of unconstrained movement, financial freedom has proved more elusive.
“Yesterday I had no business, two days ago I made 20 yuan and three days ago 40,” said Li. But looking back over the last six years, he still thinks it’s worth it. And the loan should be paid off in another three. “What’s a big deal for another three years?” he said.
“I’m not afraid of stress, and I always believe things will get better. The peak season in Sanya is coming soon during the Lunar Chinese New Year, and I’ll probably make money by then.”
Regrets, Li’s had a few. The biggest is that his mom passed away before he had a chance to take her on the RV and enjoy a journey together.
“I can’t leave any more regrets,” said Li. His 90-year-old dad, who used to bring Li and his siblings for picnics on the banks of the Songhua River in their hometown, has enjoyed more excursions thanks to Li’s RV.
“It’s now my turn to take my dad out and have fun, like he did for us when we were young,” said Li.
Li is determined to drive his RV until he’s 70 – the age until which people in China are allowed to drive. “Even if my RV would be scrapped by then, I’ll leave it somewhere I like, take it as my home and stay in it as always,” said Li.
No matter how bittersweet his experiences have been in recent years, he is determined to keep driving on the road of adventure. It’s the best decision he could have ever made.