Preparations coming to a close…trying Tibet

My last days in Shanghai are slowly passing by. The last Chinese lession is done by running over my travel plans and teaching me place names and other useful vocabulary for on-the-road-use. I will miss the lessons… I ordered my flight ticket to QingDao (Sunday noon with China Eastern), which appeared to be an e-ticket, though I wanted to have a paper ticket. Well, is said to work great, so I don’t worry. I also have a reservation for a Youth Hostel in QingDao.

Yesterday, our cleaning lady has thrown away a brand-new, unread, still wrapped in transparancy foil copy of my weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”. Grrrrr :((( that would have been the last issue I would come by for the next few months. Really, I hate her for that, not having to read any newspaper during breakfast. Instead, I finished Hape Kerkeling’s book “Ich bin dann mal weg” (“I’m just gone then”) about his suddenly decided pilgrim trip to Santiago de Compostella. The book has some few lengthy parts, but otherwise is hugely funny and enlightening to read. It gets better and better towards the end.

There are 2 things in my “plan”, which require a bit of preparation: Tibet and Buthan. Reading internet sources it seems that Tibet, which is at the moment also more pressing as I would like to set out for Tibet in about 2 or 3 weeks, is also the more difficult part. I was surprised to read that there is still a special Tibet Entry Permission necessary on top of the China visa. This is usually not a problem to come by and agencies help you with it while organizing your trip (they are not allowed to just sell the service of getting the permit). And one web site proved wrong saying that the permit would only be issued to Chinese Tourist visa holders, but not to Residence Permit holders like me. So far so good. Another challenge might be to come by train tickets. The new train still seems to be widely popular. But I don’t loose hope so early. We’re in China here, usually everything works out somehow. There are always ways, that’s what I love about this country.

Hence, I visited a Tibet Travel Agency yesterday here in Shanghai, a recommendation of a friend, who had organized her Tibet trip by that agency. It was absolutely contrary to all the great service I am used to here in China (see buying laptops or CDMA cards); in fact, a complete failure:

Birger: I am travelling China alone and also want to pay Tibet a visit.

Travel Agency Consultant, looking like having just enjoyed a sleeping pill: Alone, that is difficult.

Birger: ?

Consultant: There was an incident with four Americans on April-something, demonstrating at the Mount Everest Base camp. For or against the Olypic Games or so.

Birger: Hm, I haven’t heard of such an incident. What does it mean for travelling?

Consultant: Difficult to get a permit for single travellers at the moment. Groups are more likely to be successful.

Birger: Well, that’s fine. I like to join a group. I did that before. Good opportunity to meet people.

Consultant: I don’t know when the next group will go.

And more of such difficulties…whatever I asked, it was always difficult. We eventually looked over a calendar to estimate when I would start my Tibet trip and came up with “the week of June 18”. Before that I would visit QingDai, DaLian, TianJin, and BeiJing.

Consultant: How much time do you want to spend in Tibet?

Birger: Depends on what you can offer me. I certainly want to see Lhasa and then do some hiking. 10 days to 2 weeks probably.

Consultant: 2 weeks??? That’s going to be expensive! You won’t like that!

Birger (thinking): ??? Hello??? I am your potential client, apparently willing to spend money…let that be my problem.

Birger (saying): Well, you don’t necessarily need to organize for all 2 weeks. I can do something on my own or organize there.

Consultant: No, we have to organize your entire trip.

Which is, reading the legislation, actually correct as I knew. That does not prevent many backpackers from doing things on their own anyway as it seems that, once you entered Tibet, nobody really cares any longer about when you leave. The entry permit does not even have a “valid until” date. We got as far as me to put my name, email address, and phone number into a small form for her to keep. I decided to continue with the simple things first, this talk was already a tiny bit frustrating.

Birger: Let’s start with the train. I’d prefer to get to Lhasa by train from Xi’an.

Consultant: That’s difficult, especially from Xi’An.

Birger (thinking): @#$%^&*:(

Consultant: Maybe you have a chance from BeiJing.

Birger: OK, I am flexible (thinking: if you are not…). Then BeiJing. How much in advance would I need to reserve to have a chance? (expecting something like 3 weeks or 2 months or so…)

Consultant: Tickets are sold 10 days in advance. You better check in BeiJing.

Birger (thinking): Hello??? I am still your potential client. You wanna make money with me or what?

Birger (saying): Do you have an office in BeiJing?

Consultant: No.

Birger (waiting a moment for some alternative suggestion, then after some seconds): Any other contact in BeiJing you might want to recommend?

Consultant: Yes, we have a contact in BeiJing.

Wow…that was the first positive answer I got during this entire talk…let’s not forget to get that address at the end of this desaster…maybe they are a bit more eager to sell something.

Only after 3 attempts of asking the consultant finally came up with one possible tour, which I knew from their web pages. It would cross all Tibet, some hiking around the Everest Base Camp (which as far as I know is more interesting to hike around on the Tibet side than around the one on the Nepal side) and end up in Kathmandu, Nepal, with a connecting flight back into China. The fact, that the consultant asked if I have a multi-entry visa let me briefly believe she would now seriously consider the possibility of me travelling to Tibet. But all stayed pretty vague. At least I figured out the price tag of this tour to get an idea of the order of magnitude of the amount of money to spend. Not cheap, but doable.

But beside that I found no more options of continuing this talk, I am not the talkative type anyway. I asked for a business card, usually the first thing you get without even asking. She needed to head back into their offices and only 3 minutes later came out again. In the meantime a colleague, apparently a bit more eager, served me some warm water. Maybe I just got the wrong consultant on the wrong day… I finally got the business card and asked for the BeiJing contact. Oh yea…she ran back into the office again, this time only taking one minute, before she returned with a small piece of paper with a name and a phone number. Well, I could probably not have expect to get the address, too… We parted, assuring each other that we would contact us once a group would build up or I have more details on my plans. I don’t think I will ever hear from her again.

I just searched the web for this April incident. Just google for “Tibet Americans protest demonstration april” and you’ll see yourself. 80% of the links don’t work in China, what a surprise. Well, I have my ways, being part of a world-wide company gives one options. But all sites basically just reported identically that 4 Americans and one Tibet-American unrolled some banners at the Tibet Everest Base camp stating a pro-Tibet slogan, which in style picked up the BeiJing Olympic slogan “One World. One Dream.”

I am not here for political statements. Everyone knows that the status of Tibet Autonomous Region, as its correct Chinese name is, is widely disputed. Everyone knows, that you’d better keep a low profile in China and especially in/on Tibet and other topics if you want to avoid difficulties. And that actions like the above are prohibited and entitle the government to expel you (as they apparently have done). I don’t have a ready opinion on the status of Tibet, not knowing much about its history. But I believe there are similar stories around the globe, just think of North Ireland, or the Basque Region, or…yes…also America’s “Native Americans”. All basically unsolved problems. So there’s first some work to do in front of everybody’s door step as we Germans like to put it.

What did the Americans’ protest achieve? Apparently it failed to raise wide-spread attention, especially where it was supposed to be raised: in China. I am following the news intensively and I had not heard anything about their protest attempt before. As a result China had generally stopped issuing Tibet Entry Permits and travellers were “piling up in ChengDu”, not knowing how and when to continue. Great…that really helps Tibet! I don’t know what the current status is…I will try again in BeiJing.

Categories: Shanghai

Originally Created: 05/31/2007 10:10:19 AM
Last Edited: 05/31/2007

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