NEVER TOO OLD: Zhang Guangzhu and his wife Wang Zhongjin take a break while climbing Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle in the United States, in September 2009 (FILE)
Zhang Guangzhu and his wife Wang Zhongjin have set foot on every continent, even Antarctica. In their global escapades they've filled five passports with travel visas and customs stamps from more than 40 countries. They have logged 50 CDs worth of digital videos, along with 30,000 photos from the adventures. Travels of this sort, daunting for even the most seasoned excursionists, require a young heart and youthful vigor—and yet Zhang and Wang are in their 60s, retired and using the most of their free time in their post-career lives.
"My wife and I have been to many astonishing places, from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctica. We have crossed the equator six times. We also climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest at an altitude of 5,200 meters," said 64-year-old Zhang, pointing at a world map on the wall of his apartment.
Zhang and his wife Wang, 62, are gaining widespread popularity in China because of their unusual story of traveling the world as a retired couple. They were invited to attend the 2011 China Trends Awards Ceremony and received an award for traveling around the globe in Beijing last December.
The duo recorded travel logs to share with others. So far, nearly 70,000 fans follow their blogs. The couple sets an example for other senior citizens and has aroused discussion about how to live one's life after retirement.
Like other Chinese senior citizens, Zhang and Wang were committed to their families, rarely finding the time to travel when they were younger. They both worked at Shanxi Academy of Social Sciences in Taiyuan, capital of central China's Shanxi Province, for several decades. Zhang later quit and started his own business. They moved from one city to another before settling in Beijing in 2000 with their daughter.
After retiring in 2007, Zhang decided to capitalize on this newfound opportunity to travel. The couple used their life savings to fund their expedition around the world.
In January 2007, the husband and wife hit the trails of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a deep and beautiful scenic valley in southwest China's Yunnan Province. It was their first experience as backpackers. In a village at the foot of a mountain, they bumped into a foreign tourist who was traveling in China but spoke little Chinese. They were bit by the travel bug and were inspired by the attitude to life of their foreign friend.
"If language barrier does not matter when traveling," Zhang recalled saying to his wife. "Why don't we go abroad?"
His wife agreed.
Days after returning to Beijing, the couple planned out an ambitious trip to Europe. Set for March 2008, the two would take an 88-day journey to 16 European countries.
Despite apt travel preparation, the traveling duo still got lost at the airport in Athens, Greece, upon arriving at their first destination. While the foreigner from Yunnan found traveling easy without being able to communicate in Chinese, the opposite would not be true for the English-less couple as they meandered through Europe. Even so, enthusiasm was high and they were off to travel as strangers in a strange land.
Since their European escapade, the couple has taken up traveling abroad as a hobby. Each year, they spend six months with family in Beijing and the next six traveling.
"We spent a most romantic night when we camped near a bonfire on the wild grass plain in Australia," said Zhang. "I felt like we were the only two people in the world at that moment."
Unlike other retired people who are inexperienced when it comes to today's technological gizmos and gadgets, writing blogs and books are an important part of the Zhang's daily life.
"Hiking, surfing the Internet and other new-fashioned things are not exclusive to young people. We can also handle them," Wang said.
More importantly, the couple rediscovered what happiness really is during traveling. In a book titled The Elderly Backpackers, which was published in February 2012, the couple writes, "Happiness is like the most beautiful scene that you always look for but eventually see it only by overcoming difficulties."
"A person may have a lot of dreams. But putting them into practice is the key. Twenty or 30 years remain in life even starting from the retirement age of 60. Therefore, retired people should make a good plan to spend the rest of their lives," said Zhang.