About

As I walk the streets and roam the web of China, I share snapshots from my fieldwork on Bytes of China. My list of longer thought pieces can be found on my Writing Page

I am currently living in China, following students and migrants as they process information and desire, remaking cities and rural areas. I investigate media and memes in their collisions with markets, governments, and local thugs.   [More about Bytes of China.]

Here's a video of the most recent talk I gave about my research at LIFT in Geneva, Switzerland, "Dancing with Handcuffs: The Geography of Trust in Social Networks". In this talk, I analyze the changing conceptions of trust through the story of a college student who threw shoes and eggs at the government official who oversees internet censorship in China. 

Read more about my research. My analysis of culture and technology can be found on Cultural Bytes. And my personal blog is Hi Tricia.

The views expressed on this blog do not in any way reflect the position of any of my funders, past employers, the Chinese government, the US government or the Fulbright program. 

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Saturday
Jun112011

Using 驴友 BBS Message Boards to Find Travel Friends

I met a young, college student at a bus stop while I was waiting for a bus with a friend.

He is from Jiangxi Provence and is in Wuhan studying to be a train operator. His father was also a train operator.

He is going to catch a night train to Changsha in Hunan Provence.

After he shared with me where he was going, I asked him why he was going to Changsha all by himself at 11pm in the middle of the night. He explained that he needed a break from his girlfriend. She was being difficult and he couldn't rest, so he just decided to get up and leave, hoping that it would make him feel better.

He seemed visibly frustrated, constantly checking his phone.

Him and his girlfriend have been together for 1 year and its the first relationship for both of them. She is a college student and he is going to have a very safe job inside the state-run train company. They already broke up once, but then they got back together.

But recently, she's been ignoring his calls. A week before she suggested that they take a break, but he didn't agree to it. Just a few hours ago, he called her and she answered the phone but she said that she was out with friends at KTV and then hung up on him. He could hear several people laughing in the background.

I asked him for more details about their relationship. He said that he wants to marry her and that both of their parents approve of the relationship. He can give her a stable life. I then asked if he felt this was the right decision even though it was only their first relationship and she already seems to want to take a break. He responded, "Does it matter? The point is that I can take care of her and we can be together. We are a good match for each other. What's the point of a break? We rarely see each other."

He lost his virginity to her. He was 21 years old. The first girl he had ever kissed, the first girl he had ever slept with, and the only girl he wants to be with forever. Even though they live in the same city, they only see each other once or twice every month because they both go to different universities.

I then asked why he was constantly looking at his phone, he said that he was hoping she would call and tell him that she wanted to see him.

I then asked about where he got his current phone. He said it was his third phone this year. The first was a Nokia smartphone that was stolen out of his dormitory while he was sleeping last summer. Someone stole phones that were being charged while students were sleeping. He replaced it with another Nokia smartphone but then that was stolen on a bus. Then he bought this used Shanzai phone for 50RMB. He can't get online with this latest phone but he can do simple apps like QQ. He keeps all his contact info on his QQ address book.

He then explained that he uses a vacationing BBS (驴友bbs) site where strangers organize meet-ups in cities around China. After his girlfriend hung up on him, he turned to the vacationing BBS and found several people who were going to Changsha. He made contact with them, exchanged cellphone numbers, and agreed to meet up at a hostel in Changsha the next morning. After meeting up, they would go as a group to a travel agency to buy tickets for local touristic sites.

I asked if he only travels when he's upset, he said no. He used to travel more often when he was single. He prefers to travel alone to a new city because it's more convenient to coordinate with strangers than friends. He found traveling with friends to be too complicated because he had to consider their needs, negotiate where to go, and to make compromises. With strangers he found that he could do what he wanted without feeling guilty.  He could tell them that he was going to a museum and then meet up with them in the afternoon. With a friend, he couldn't do that; they would have to stick together the entire time.

I asked what he hoped would happen after he came back from his Changsha vacation. He plans to call her when he returns and hopes that his girlfriend realizes how much she missed him.

He doesn't really keep in touch with people he meets on these trips. He doesn't have any plans to travel with the same people again unless they bump into each other on the BBS again and just so happen to be going to the same city.

This student comes from at least a lower-middle class family. His family had enough connections to get him into the training program based off of his father's employment. He uses the internet as a place for finding random connections for temporary activities. He isn't using it to create lasting relationships. He believes that he is already in one, but it appears from his story that his girlfriend may not be on the same page with him.

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Reader Comments (2)

Interesting story of people you met. I think this is a great experience for you. Maybe the best in your entire life. Cazare Praid

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

It's amazing what people will tell you if you just ask. I talk to a lot of the workers at the foot massage place and they have a lot of the same experience where they are in a relationship but they only see each other a few time a month. Never knew about the random trip site, but that actually sounds like fun. Did you ever consider giving that a try? I might when I come back next time.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

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