Dutch travelers Rogier Bikker and Maren Striker of Brand New China are taking on a remarkable three month journey from China to Holland on the old Silk Road using only Chinese brands—down to the car, laptop, phone, camera, tent and even sunglasses. We spoke with them about their upcoming trip and their past traveling experiences, their time in China, and of course, the inspiration behind Brand New China.
When did you two move to China?
R: I moved to China 5 years ago.
M: In 2006 I moved to China for the first time. Again, and ever since, in the summer of 2007, 7 years ago.
How did it all start?
Back in the autumn of 2010 Rogier was doing a road trip through China with a long-time friend. Passing factories, crossing mountains and sleeping in the car for two weeks. This epic trip could only be surpassed by leaving the borders of China. And so the idea to one day drive back to Holland originated while driving on the dusty roads of rural Shaanxi province. But upon return, friends and family regarded the idea too crazy to happen, so the dream remained just that: a dream.
Meanwhile, Maren was contemplating extraordinary trips as well. Walking the Great Wall of China? Cycling back to the Netherlands? Following the Yangtze river from source to sea? Or take the ‘road well travelled’ into South-East Asia on a shoestring?
It wasn’t until 2 years later that Rogier and Maren met and shared their dreams with each other over food and drinks (drinks, primarily). Enthusiasm was abundant, and it wasn’t until the next day we realised it would require us to quit our jobs, leave our girlfriends for 3 months, and spend all our non-existent savings on one crazy idea.
Luckily, Maren has ‘Planning’ in his job title, and Rogier ‘Strategy’. So we cracked our brains long and hard on how to turn this dream into a plan. Spending our evenings strategizing a masterplan for world domination, or so it felt. We realised that passion is the key driver behind the success of any project. So we turned to the topic we’re both most passionate about: China.
Brand New China was born in the autumn of 2013, turning a dream that was too crazy to happen into a plan.
Can you share some of your most memorable travel experiences with us?
R: One day I was doing a road trip from Shanghai to Inner-Mongolia, we were driving in the mountains when the night fell. We where looking for a place to park our car and sleep (we usually slept in the car) when we saw light burning at a house. We knocked on the door, and a huge Chinese family opened the door: it turned out to be a wedding dinner. We crashed the wedding of some rural family, who very likely never talked to a foreigner before. We where spoiled with food, drinks and even a turtle to eat.
M: in the summer of 2008 I was traveling with a friend in Kyrgyzstan. We rented excellent camping equipment at a community based tourism initiative and set off into the Tian Shan mountains bordering Kyrgyzstan and China. After walking for two days in complete wilderness and desolateness, we needed to cross a pass at 4800 meter. Arriving at the top of the pass felt like an amazing achievement but the weather did not give us any time for enjoyment. An incredible hail/snow/thunder storm came over the mountain and the temperature dropped within minutes till zero degrees Celsius. We were skiing down a rock-bed on our shoes – the actual trail would only slow us down – to get as quickly as possible to lower grounds, away from the lightning. We were contemplating to make ourselves small or keep on walking like two matches that could be lightened any second… minutes seemed hours but eventually the storm passed by. This was for sure my scariest experience in my life but it was worth it. Thirty minutes after the storm was gone, the sun came through, we arrived at a natural hot spring, jumped in, took our bottle of vodka and life was good again.
Tell us more about your itinerary (length, duration, places involved).
We depart on July 25th and we drive for 3 months through 11 countries along the old Silk Road: China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland.
(Website says July 19th and 12 countries, will be updated soon: information above is correct).
What’s the least-known brand you are taking with you?
BRAOS, a sunglasses brand founded by 3 Chinese guys living in Shanghai, inspired by street and skate culture. They’re currently developing a high-end line made from recycled skateboards and high-quality wood.
What’s left to prepare for the trip?
We just got an email from Iran that we can go to the Iranian Consulate on Fuxing Xi Lu and Wulumuqi Lu for our visa. We’ve always wanted to know what’s behind that steel door. Next week we’ll know!
What would you say to people claiming this is just a marketing campaign?
First and foremost we’re just 2 guys with a dream to drive back home: from China to Holland. We’re not a company. But to make our dream come true – and travel around the world for free – we call our trip Brand New China and use Chinese brands only, as it makes for a good story that people are interested in.
How are you planning to promote Chinese brands during your trip?
We shoot a daily photo and weekly video, and share this with media like you. As well as on our own site and our Facebook and Weibo.
What comes after this trip?
We’ll come back to Shanghai. By plane.
At your first public event, someone asked if you guys were only going to eat Chinese food. What’d you say?
Our doctors advised against it 😉
On that note, what’s your favorite Chinese food?
Too cliché, but gong bao ji ding is pretty tasty…
For more updates, tune in to see Maren and Rogier on the ICS channel on Sunday evening June 29th at 7:30 p.m. or visit the Brand New China website and Facebook page.