Public bus is how the young are going all the way in China

money-glitz | Staff reporter 27 Sep 2021

A twentysomething man made what some might consider the ultimate road trip recently: Macau to Beijing.

That may sound possible by car, but Liu Huaqiang made all 5,167 kilometers by public bus in 71 days, interchanging between 226 public buses.

In the process, the freelance videographer drew millions of likes for his posts on short video app Douyin.

Liu gained hundreds of thousands of fans on social media platforms, reflecting an emerging trend in the mainland in which more and more youngsters are preferring what some might consider the snail-like pace of the public bus. He live-streamed the entire trip on Douyin, where audiences can tip those broadcasting virtual gifts.

However, Liu is but part of a phenomenon, with many people posting similar trips on platforms such as Douyin, Kuaishou (1024) and Bilibili (9626).

Cheap and cheerful

Some go on long-distance bus tours that span thousands of kilometers and multiple provinces and cities, while others prefer to document a single city.

Of course, Liu's journey cost only hundreds of yuan, while a flight, China's online travel platform (9961) showed, would have cost over 1,400 yuan (HK$1,685) and revealed none of its myriad local flavors.

That took him to the top of Canton Tower for night views of metropolitan Guangzhou to ground level in Jinding Bay in Shanwei for a spot of sun and sea, to a double-decker bus tour of Xiamen.

Less ambitious was East China University of Science and Technology sophomore Tang Jingxiao, who took a trip from Shanghai to Beijing by bus.

However, even that relative lack of ambition brought him a million views.

Traveling by bus was once frowned upon as a trip for peasants as it only costs a few yuan. However, in perhaps the equivalent of 1970s US road trips, many are not making them in the name of getting back to the land and setting their souls free.

For one bus stalwart, Cui, the point is that although planes, trains and automobiles save time, they only transport people from one concrete jungle to another.

The local dialects and celebrating special festivals in a traditional way is what makes Cui observe his ways.

Naturally, it is no easy task planning such a bus trip. Tang took a week and had to overcome some places that do not have buses at all.

Most bus trip videos are shot in the southeast where the economy is more developed and the landscape is relatively flat, Cui says, who adds that the bus routes in those areas are connected to a larger extent given more investment in the public transportation system.

In recent years, some major cities have launched cross-city buses that charge at intracity levels. More than 300 cities are covered by the national traffic card system, allowing people to catch buses with one Octopus-like card.

National Academy of Economic Strategy associate professor Wei Xiang says people living and working frequently in different cities is driving demand for intercity public transport.

Under planning of urban agglomeration, local governments have boosted construction of roads for buses to cross cities. "With the development of social economy, public buses that can only operate in cities have actually been able to operate across cities and provinces," Liu says in his video.

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