FLASH UPDATE: WE ARE IN KASHGAR, CHINA!!!

in Bureaucracy, China by on July 31st, 2010

We got our bikes yesterday and rode 296km from Tashkorgan to Kashgar, where we will be for the next few days. Hopefully no later than Tues as our visa for Tajikistan is only until the 10th of August, plus Sabby needs to make it back to school at some point!

More about our Tashkorgan-Kashgar ride to come…

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Tashkorgan: To laugh or to cry?

in Bureaucracy, China by on July 29th, 2010

There are times in life when you don’t know if you should laugh or cry at the predicament you find yourself in.  Now is one of those for us.  We are currently in Tashkorgan where we have been for the past 3 days waiting for customs clearance of our bike.  Since we arrived, everyday brings its share of unexpected developments.

So let’s start from the beginning.  We arrived in Tashkorgan on the 27th of July, a day earlier than planned as our fixer (let’s call him A) in China was expecting 2 other motorbikes the same day.  When we arrived at immigration at 730pm, A hadn’t arrived, was still 200km away and most probably would not arrive before immigration closed.  So the immigration authorities refused to process our passports, much less the customs officials start the clearance process for our bike.  Luckily, Sabby is fluent in Mandarin (which was going to be a huge asset over the next few days) and was able to persuade the immigration officials to at least let us go to our hotel with our luggage.

A finally showed up at 11.30pm.  The other 2 bikers hadn’t showed up and we didn’t expect them to make it anytime soon.  They were having battery issues when we ran into them at Sost so we figured they must have gotten stuck somewhere along the way.

The next day, we showed up at immigration at 1030 when they opened, got our immigration procedure done and moved on to customs.  And this is where all the fun began.  We mentioned before that it is a complicated (an expensive) process to drive our own vehicle in and out of China.  We are learning exactly how complicated it is.  As A explained to us, his travel agency had to apply with the Kashgar/Urumuqi military authorities for a permit for us to do so more than 2 months ago.  And now, the Tashkorgan customs had to enter this authorization code into the customs systems, then Kashgar customs had to approve it, then Urumuqi customs had to check it before an official declaration of entry could be issued.  Then the customs broker in Kashgar needs to fax this official declaration to our fixer here to show to the Tashkorgan customs before we can leave with the bike.  That’s slightly complicated by the fact that the Tashkorgan customs doesn’t have a fax machine (???!!!) and we have to use the one at the corner shop outside the customs office.

Oh and that’s just the procedure for the bike to enter, we can’t wait for the procedure for the bike to exit.

At customs, our fixer first gets told off for having blank forms (albeit with the proper seal stamped on it).  The customs officer tells him to get a fully-filled in one faxed over from the customs broker.  This takes time and in the meantime, we, especially Sabby, try to butter up the customs officer by telling him all about our trip, showing him photos from Pakistan and telling him how much of a hurry we are in because of our onward visas.  A doesn’t return with the fax until 12.30pm, half an hour before the customs office breaks for lunch until 5pm.  But the fax was still not right, the authorization code is missing one letter in the front.  Also, the customs officer (“customs officer 1”) claimed that we were missing a few documents, one of which A needs to obtain from the Kashgar customs which also breaks for lunch at 1pm and does not resume until 4pm.  Officially, we only needed a properly filled in copy of the first form, the so-called other missing documents was just the customs officer making life difficult for A as there had been bad blood between them in the past.  Great, we just lost a morning.

We return at 5pm, by which time the other 2 bikes had shown up, the reason for which will be a story for another post.  We were missing the document from the Kashgar customs because they refused to release it to us.  Luckily, it was another, younger and less experienced, customs officer (“customs officer 2”) on duty and he entered our authorization codes into the system without question.  An hour later, we got a call from the customs broker: the Kashgar customs still could not find our authorization codes into their system.  So Sabby went back to the customs office with A where customs officer 1 was on duty this time.  She put on her most pathetic face and begged him to check on it.  Turns out that A had filled in the date of import as the day before.  The buttering-up from the morning paid off, Sabby managed to get customs officer 1 to re-enter the authorization codes for both our bike and the other 2 bikes.  She even managed to persuade him to stay in the office until Kashgar customs confirmed receipt of the authorization codes.  What a relief, we thought then that we would be able to get the bikes cleared the next day.

Sabby works her charm and Mandarin at the customs office

This morning rolled around, we weren’t expecting to receive the clearance until noon so we had a lazy breakfast, packed up all our stuff and sorted out our photos.  Still nothing at noon, so we knew we wouldn’t get our bikes until 5.30pm at the earliest when the Tashkorgan customs re-opened after lunch.  So we went to the internet café.  We called A every half hour from 3.30pm to get a status update.  Finally at 5pm, we get an update that our cases were now with Urumuqi customs for the final checking.  Things were looking up.  Sabby went with A to the customs office at 6 in a bid to make sure that the customs officer didn’t leave before our clearance came through.  They got there in the nick of time, he (“customs officer 3” this time) was literally walking out of the office as they arrived.  Again, Sabby worked her Mandarin and pleading look, so he gave his phone number and said to call him when the fax arrived.

3 very sorry-looking motorcycles sit outside the customs office in the rain waiting for their customs clearance

By 7.30pm, no fax had arrived and no way we were leaving today.  A’s story this time: it’s month-end at the Kashgar customs and they would not accept any payments, including ours, until the start of August.  ???!!!  As MJo puts it, it’s like “the dog ate my homework, the Indian customs officer didn’t have an umbrella”.

So here we are, in Tashkorgan for yet another night.  No water tonight though due to some flooding in the area.   Yes, it’s a ???!!! again but at this point, we will try to focus on the positives, we do have electricity and beer after all.  And at least we have 2 other bikers stuck in the same situation and it has been fun hanging out with them, trading stories about our respective journeys.

MJo with fellow rider, Achim – to laugh or to cry?

We will hopefully leave tomorrow around noon.  We have sent A back to Kashgar now to make sure he is ready to deal with the exit clearance process.  In the meantime, Sabby, her Mandarin skills and her determination to leave Tashkorgan, are left in charge to make sure we leave tomorrow, by hook or by crook.

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The day it was supposed to happen

in Bureaucracy, India by on July 20th, 2010

So finally it was actually supposed to happen – I would get to see my bike for the first time since leaving Singapore and drive it home the same evening… or so I thought.

It started with Vijay (head of procurement of a 5 star hotel, whom Oliver the GM of the hotel was kind enough to “to lend” to us for his expertise of dealing with customs) calling me at 10am (nothing really happens in India before noon) telling me that he was at the eye hospital with his mum and would pick me up around noon. I also had to bring along a stack of rupees “just in case”.

At noon I hopped into the car and we were on our way to one of the container ports of Delhi. After driving for an hour, we picked up another gentleman at an overpass who was apparently from the clearing agency. He had a stack of paper in his hands which made me feel better if only in believing that paper could move the process forward.

Another 30mins later, we finally arrived and thousands of containers looked at me as if saying “you think its me that holds your bike”? I trodded behind my two friends, passed a security gate and entered a hall which appeared to be unchanged from the early 1900’s. Thousand of boxes and crates everywhere, no system of any kind and not a single computer in sight. Hmmm, I thought, how are they gonna find which container holds what.

Entering the Intregrated Freight Complex Ghaizah

”]Then the usual “twenty guys speaking at the same time” show unfolded and 10 mins later, I was told to follow a group to one corner of the container yard. The mob stopped in front of a maroon container. A while later, a gentlemen with a huge lock-cutter appeared and opened the seal of the container. As luck would have it, 20 other crates had to be moved before another hour later, our crate appared like a phoenix from the ashes. There it was! I felt a big wave of relief.

Preparing to open the container

Everything else in the container had to be removed before finally reaching our crate at the back of the container

Our baby!!!

It was a good moment but not a great one yet, as it turned out that none of the customs people at this particular site could clear the shipment as the bike’s Carnet needed to be stamped. And that particular stamp which was needed for that paper was only available at the customs office… yes you thought correct…at the airport (an hour and half ride from our location). I was told that “a man with a stamp” would come down in the afternoon to clear the shipment and that we could no longer do anything here. It was a great relief to see the bike, yet without it we left the place.

Good job team! MJo with Vijay (procurement manager of a 5-star hotel in Delhi) and Vijay (representative from the clearing agent)

Vijay was great and took me to his hotel for a meal of real Italian spaghetti (imported obviously), neither of us had any food for the whole day.  After was felt like a feast, I eventually made it back to our hotel were Sabby was busy putting on her high heels… why you ask, she will tell you in a minute.

For myself and the bike, well you guessed it right again, the man with a stamp from the airport never showed up to clear the bike. Am told that today the stamp should now really arrive and the bike would be delivered to a Honda service center by today afternoon. You are free to take bets if that will actually happen…

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FLASH UPDATE

in Bureaucracy, India by on July 20th, 2010

SCOTTY TO CAPTAIN KIRK: WE HAVE A VISUAL OF OUR BIKE!

That’s our baby in its packing crate!!

More details of MJo’s customs visit yesterday to follow in a separate post…all that needs to happen now is for the customs guy from the airport to go to the customs area to clear the bike.  We will keep you posted…

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Incredible India: Shipping a bike to India a good idea?

in Bureaucracy, India by on July 16th, 2010

If there is one advice I would give other bikers out there so far, it is do NOT import your bike into India. The excess time it takes to import the bike here is simply ludicrous.  Nothing moves without paying everyone along the way. We have now been waiting almost 3 weeks for our bike to arrive and get released by customs. The excuses why “still not here” would make for a full evening reality TV program.

First there was a backlog at the Mumbai port that prevented the ship with our bike to berth,  then a nationwide strike (as so-called Bandh) prevented the transfer of the container from the ship onto the train for Delhi.  Then the bike had to make it from the train station to the customs area but certain types of trucks are not allowed into Delhi during certain hours… and just to add a bit of complexity to it all, when the monsoon comes down the place turns into something resembling more like Lake Como and all work stops. So now it just needs to somehow make it to us!  Per the latest feedback, “it should get released in the next few days”.

For every step you need to appoint an “agent” to deal with the Indian bureaucracy, which seems has not changed since the beginning of the century. And to think that half the worlds’ outsourced IT services are to India, the insanity of this contrast couldn’t be greater. So far we have made well over 100 phone calls to different agencies regarding the release of the bike, double that amount in SMS’s. I had to involve business contacts just to get answers on when “possibly” the bike will reappear.

As an eternal optimist, MJo keeps dealing with the authorities several times a day, and then repeats the process the next day. Let’s hope that his persistence and local contacts will eventually perservere, as all our onward visas are dependent on keeping to a certain schedule. Once missed everything else falls over.

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From the frontline in Delhi!

in Bureaucracy, India by on July 3rd, 2010

Halleluia, we have both made it to Delhi!  Not without some drama along the way though…

Our bike also made it to India, but due to a huge back log at Mumbai port, the vessel was only able to berth yesterday and it will take “at least” another week to get it to Delhi.  Note to people shipping bikes to India – aside from a shipping agent, you will also need a customs clearing agent to help you get the bike out.  That is another lesson we learnt recently and will update you when we find one who doesn’t try to screw us on the price.

So in the meantime, we are going to rent a Royal Enfield to ride up to Ladakh and then fly back to Delhi to pick up our own bike.  Check out this bike, apparently from the 1950’s, its hard to believe that this bike can travel up several 5000+ meter passes, but we hope to live to tell the tale next week!

The Royal Enfield lacked a bit of the royal feeling though

Regarding other things that made it to India, all our stuff somehow made it too – jerry cans, new bike seat, sleeping bags, tents, new windscreen, first aid kit, helmets, motorcycle gear etc etc.  Lots of cross-continental “schlepping” involved in all of this (MJo alone had 43kg of “hand luggage” with him on board).  Through hours of trial and error, we’ve managed to pack most of the things onto the Royal Enfield.

Sabby infront of our "fully loaded" Royal Enfield from the 1950's

And last but not least, there was much drama at the Delhi airport last night when Sabby flew in.  As a Singaporean, she is entitled to apply for a visa on arrival.  But she thought a Pakistan visa would be enough proof of intent to exit so she didn’t have a return air ticket, which of course in hindsight seems a little silly. So she spent three hours at the airport last night (12am-3am) buying a new ticket, changing money (another note: the visa-on-arrival counter only takes USD or Indian rupees, no euros nor pounds).   She finally made it to the hotel at 4am, to be greeted by a rather inebriated MJo who also had an adventure of an evening, but let’s save that tale for another time.

And so here we are…off to Ladakh tomorrow!

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