Zhibo: Live Streaming is the Future of Travel Blogging


You know, I don’t really have a good sense of how facepalm-ingly obvious some of my streaming *discoveries* are, but I’ve got a particularly self-evident one for y’all this week: live streaming is the future of travel blogging.

See, when I’m not moonlighting as rejected Marvel Hero Captain Obvious, I try to spend as much time as possible traveling – my hope perhaps being that enough *likes* on my my newest Facebook photo album will somehow vindicate my refusal to just come home and get a real job. Last week I was in Nepal and at time of writing I’m up in northern Michigan – subtle changes in scenery be damned.


Pictured: a study in contrast

So naturally – this being the first time I’ve left China since my life started revolving around monologuing at my phone – I’ve been trying to zhibo as much as possible to see what kind of abroad potential Yingke has.

Short answer? Lots.

(Of course, I didn’t get into live streaming to practice my brevity.)

Zhibo – to steal from Christopher Nolan – is the travel blogging solution not that China needs, but perhaps the one it deserves. Without wishing to sound too much like the curmudgeonly old man who thinks things were better when people used to “really talk to each other,” there’s no question that the 21st century attention span is not what it once was. If you’re living in a Chinese city today, you are a) really goddamn busy and b) bombarded by a million things all competing for your attention every second of every day. When it comes to practical ways people actually absorb interesting new information, 10 minutes with a smartphone on the subway takes the gold.

Enter live streaming.

One of the top five questions that I get asked over and over and over again while streaming is “这是在哪里?” or “where are you/where is this?” The answer has always been “Beijing” up until now, but I’m finding quickly that Yingke’s audience is very interested in seeing streamers broadcast from outside of China. When I started streaming from the Beijing airport last week, I quickly found myself on the *hot door* – front page – of the app with tens of thousands of people all wanting to know about my (really not that interesting) travel plans. While in Nepal, the few times my WiFi connection was strong enough to stream successfully all resulted in great numbers and surprisingly varied conversations that – for once – were less about my peculiarities as a foreigner and more about the strange *not China* place that I was currently broadcasting from.

Now that I’m in America, the interest is unsurprisingly even higher. Love it or hate it (and it’s usually closer to the “love” end of the spectrum) most Chinese people are interested in seeing what America is really like – and not just because it’s a faraway/exotic/rich land. Chinese media is absolutely saturated with all things American – movies, fashion, politics, and ads for just about every product you could think of — and yet most people in China have never had a chance to go see the place for themselves. I may condescendingly roll my eyes at people drawing broad conclusions about America based on the two square inches of background from my live stream, but it’s worth stepping back and considering that for most of the people I’m chatting with, this is literally the first view of America they’ve ever had that wasn’t being pushed in their faces for commercial purposes.

So for the last few days, I’ve just been showing my audience around the charming exotic land of Traverse City for 20 to 30 minutes at a time – sand dunes, the lakes, walks in the woods, and perhaps most importantly, just sitting at little coffee places showing off the truly bizarre sight of a cute little lakeside town in America going about its daily existence. Again, the idea that thousands of people would be interested in watching Suttons Bay or Traverse City simply exist may seem odd – until you remember that the millions of hours of worldwide mundanity immortalized on Facebook and YouTube are not, in fact, available to the Chinese public.

As I mentioned last week, China has a desperately underserved need for interaction with foreigners – not particularly deep interaction or with particularly special foreigners, just more opportunities to chat with people from other places. By extension, there’s a similarly underserved need to travel abroad. *Underserved* might seem like a strange word to describe the country with the fastest-growing tourism sector on earth, but there’s still hundreds of millions of Chinese people who a) have smartphones and an internet connection and b) have never had the chance to leave the country. Considering how few good sources of travel info the average PRC citizen has access to (between the heavily censored internet, lack of friends with relevant experience, and depressingly few well-translated travel guides that seem to appear in bookstores, deciding to travel abroad can be a pretty daunting decision), it couldn’t possibly hurt to have a few more foreigners regularly available to answer some straightforward questions about weather, transportation, cultural differences, etc.

So if you’re studying Chinese and are interested in zhibo-ing (side note: pretty amazing that I made it to week 6 before offering any kind of actual advice in this column) from abroad, here’s your chance to get some fun (and some cash) into your language practice! Food, local geography, landmarks, public transit – as long as you’re willing to sell a kidney or two for the data, there’s no end to the everyday things that millions of Chinese people would like to know more about before making big travel plans.

Just don’t eat any bananas.

Zhibo Column Archive |

Taylor Hartwell
Taylor has been living in China since 2014 on the basis that he's already sunk too much into studying Chinese and can't stop now. When not staring at himself on his phone, he can be found writing, teaching and consulting at various schools and companies in Beijing. His Zhibo column runs every Monday on Radii. He tweets @TaylorJHartwell

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