Beijing, September 17th: After standing in a long, long waiting-line at the PSB (Police Security Bureau, the place where visa extensions are issued) we get to hear that our visa cannot be extended now. Period (no real reason given, as will turn out to be the “standard” in China). The only information we get is: “You can do it in Xi’an.”
Loss: half day of searching the office, waiting and wondering.
Xi’an, October 1st, 10h00: A phone call of the hostel to the local PSB office confirms us that, despite THE national holiday, the office is open and visa extensions can be demanded for.
Xi’an, October 1st, 14h30: After waiting for 3 hours at the local PSB, because the clerks are apparently eating, a lady who speaks some English finally comes to see us and says: “No, we are not open today, it’s a public holiday. And we will only be able to take care of visa issues on October 8th!”
Losses: Almost a complete day of sitting at an office building, waiting. A year of our life being angry and pissed-off for wasting our time.
October 4th until October 7th: Travel to lesser visited regions within China in order to kill time while waiting for the PSB to open on the 8th.
Loss: Sitting in the rain and cold for 3 days with 1 billion Chinese around us (because of the national holiday that – anybody noticed? – takes 7 (!!!) days…)
Lanzhou, October 8th, 10h00: Visit of the local PSB in probably the most boring and most ugly town of China (where it is also very cold, rainy and gray), which apparently gives out visa extensions within the same day: “Oh, visa extension ok. Now you pay 320 Yuan (32 Euros) and you pick up your passport on the 15th of October.” ??? What?
Lanzhou, October 8th, 10h15: Visa extension arranged for the next day, October 9th 11h00.
Losses: One dead PSB clerk. Another year of our life being angry. x-(
Lanzhou, October 9th, 16h15: Train in the direction of Xining (even more boring, even more north, so even colder, grayer and wetter and with JC suffering of traveler’s diarrhea (yep, that’s what you get of hanging around in bad towns, there is a spell over them), BUT with our passports with visa extension in our pocket ) where we have an appointment the next day with a company called “Tibetan Connections” which guaranteed us over phone AND email (remember this very well while reading further) that “Yes, we can have a train ticket and a permit to Tibet within 3 days!”. Well, finally some good news, let’s go then!
Loss: 2 days of being bored, sick and cold in Lanzhou.
Xining, October 10th, 9h30 (opening of the Tibetan Connection office): “Well, it seems that since yesterday evening there is a problem in Lhasa and so the PSB doesn’t want to issue any permits for Tibet until the 22nd of October. Please come back around noon, so I will have some more information.”
Loss: One dead Tibetan Connections employee (he searched it!!). x-(
Xining, October 10th, 10h30: Confirmation from the Tibetan Connections office: no permits to Tibet until the 22nd.
Xining, October 10th, 11h30-15h00: Decision not to go to Tibet. Search for other solutions, like flying to Kathmandu directly from China (Hongkong or Canton). Lots of phonecalls, internet searches (which aren’t really fast here as most of the websites are blocked x-( ) to find a flight on the 31st of October from Canton to Kathmandu (flight not confirmed yet).
Xining, October 10th, 15h30: Information from the Tibetan Connections office: terms in Lhasa have been loosened up and so it is possible to get a permit within 3 days.
Xining, October 10th, 15h35: Decision to go to Tibet. Copy of passports and payment of 1550 Yuan (155 Euros) to get permits and train seats to Lhasa.
Xining, October 10th, 16h00: Information from the Tibetan Connections office: Permits can be given out, but travel within Tibet will be extremely limited. Everything has to be done with guided tours and every visitor has EVERY DAY to call the local Lhasa office to tell about his whereabouts.
Loss: Another dead Tibetan Connections employee (the other one). We heard the office closed until further notice… Two European travelers with an acute nerve crisis transferred to a local hospital of Xining.
Xining, October 10th, 16h10: Decision not to go to Tibet. Confirmation of the flight from Canton to Kathmandu on the 31st of October.
- Several years of our lives, changing our minds every 20 minutes, deciding what to do (or not). x-(
- Several days of waiting in boring, cold towns for a visa extension and for searching for information trying to make up our minds with a constantly changing information stream.
- Jean-Christophe enjoying China’s local toilets (KFC’s are definitely the best ones! )
- Several train rides from Lanzhou to Xining (3 hours) and then from Xining to Chengdu (28 hours) to get to exactly the same point as 2 weeks ago: no permit for Tibet! (Ok, yeah fine, we got the visa extension, but the sole purpose for getting this extension and going through the hassle, was TO GO TO TIBET…)
Well for today (October 11th) we have been relatively quiet (except for the fact that we wanted to go and pay for our flight to Kathmandu, but they wouldn’t take any credit card and we aren’t able to take that much money out of the bank at once, so that’s another hair-rising problem we still have to solve), until we got an email from a friend living in China and working for a tourist company that said: “Well that’s really strange about the whole permit thing, because in Chengdu (where we currently are) they are still issueing permits!”
Vera (R.I.P.) & Jean-Christophe (R.I.P.)