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Having arrived in Beihai, we found a very cheap, big room, hung around a day and set off again, not without having breakfast at McDonald’s where there seems to be the only drinkable and affordable coffee. While I was ordering Mr. Simon was beckoned over by some older expats who gather there every morning. After a brief introduction of our hand and the portrayal of the visa problem, an American retired with a Chinese wife offered to help us to get a visa extension. All right, we wanted to know more about that and and directly went with our new friends to the tourist police (= PSB). There we were assured that we could expect to 90 percent an extension of 90 days. We wanted to think about it one night and agreed to meet with the American-Chinese couple at breakfast the next morning. We thought it over and came to the conclusion that we would have nothing to lose anyway except for our “double-entry” of 30 days with which we can not do anything anyway. The next morning we had not even time for a coffee, because the Chinese already had a tight schedule planned: first to the guesthouse to pick up a however natured receipt, then to the police to register us and get a stamped form and with this register form then to the PSB. At the police station the first delays occurred, after filling out several forms, of which one was in Chinese only, but provided for registering foreigners (?), we were told that we can not get a stamp, as the punch holder was in a meeting. How long that should take, no one knew. So we first went to the PSB to fill out various other forms there, making copies of passports and hand it all in with passport photos. The Chinese posed as our friend and also had to submit passport copy and a statement. Since the couple had already planned going to Nanning at 10 a.m.everything happened very hectic and full of yelling, it all sounded very rude and impatient. We told ourselves that this was probably normal and made our way back to the police station to get our stamp. There, everything went smoothly and without problems, after a short time we received our confirmation and were back again at the PSB to hand in everything. It was 4th March, the processing should take five working days and therefore on 10 March be ready for collection. Our Chinese “friend” said we should fill in the 1st June as our departure date, since we just could get an the extension for each 1st. Now, the PSB staff member said we should fill in 17th June, so we did. Why that was we did not know since the date had nothing logical, but why not? We gave everything in and now had almost a week Beihai ahead of us!
Beihai did not seem to be particularly bad, but also not particularly exciting, it was another big Chinese city, which sees many tourists in summer. An Internet search also showed that we are in the fastest growing city in the world, who would have thought of that? We met our couple-friends again on Monday for breakfast at McDonald’s. Them and the other expats gave us several tips on how we could kill time in Beihai, an advice we took straight in the evening was to go to “Tommy’s” where there is a cheap daily special. The restaurant is owned by an Australian and is visited by the known and some other expats, there we heard about the “Rusty Nail”, another expat meeting place. The bar was also Australian owned and well attended by not only retirees. Many of these younger expats teach English here and noted emphatically that they work only 18 hours a week, I wonder what they’ll do the rest of the week … Beihai is not the worst place to wait for a visa for a week, but the daily routine breakfast at McDonald’s, Internet, pepper steak at Tommy’s, beers in the Rusty Nail bored me after only two days. It seemed as if hardly any of the foreigners living here have an interest in China, because no one went far somewhere if he did not have to. Frankly, it looked like a pretty narrow-minded small-town idyll …
The next morning at breakfast we were surprised by a new member to the Breakfast Club. Another cyclist had managed to make it to Beihai and was forthrightly asked for breakfast on the table. He was on his way to Vietnam and our American friend helped him as well to get a visa.
Then on Thursday we could finally pick up our extension. We went right there in the morning, but were put off until the afternoon. “Come back before 5,” she said. We were lucky to come “back” early at 4 again, because no one had told us beforehand that we had to do a one kilometer round trip to the “Bank of Communications” to pay 160 yuan (≈ € 17) each. They made it really exciting, we still did not know how long the extension would be now! Then with the payment receipt we finally got our passports … and the visa was actually valid until the 17th June! Even 99 days, for whatever reason …
We were really happy, now we could fulfill our plan and head for the mountains and further in the direction to Pakistan! Although it’s actually too cold there, sometimes it is still snowing and roads can be blocked, but now we have a visa that not everyone gets easily and can enjoy the opportunity of a longer route, so we have to endure the cold!
Just the next day we left idyllic Beihai and head for Nanning, by bus, because it was raining continuously for more than a week and did not look as if it would change quickly. We spent the weekend there and watched disco and waltz dancers, GO-players and karaoke singers in the park. Nanning is known for dog, so dog meat, yes, to eat, and so we at least wanted to see that. So we walked around one evening in search of grilled dogs, but found only crocodile kebab.
On Monday at 11 p.m. our flight to Chengdu in Sichuan was scheduled since that was late in the evening and we had nothing to do anyway, we cycled the 35 km to the airport and were still much too early. Since we are lazy we wanted to save the trouble packaging the bicycles in boxes and hoped that the airline would accept them without problems. So we draped boxes around the racks and handle bars and wrapped everything with plastic wrap and packing tape. That was how we went to the check-in and as expected the confusion was great, but by now we knew that a stoic silence usually get the farthest. Never offer solutions, do not react! Just stand there, act as if everything is in order and wait! And soon came another employee and said ok, we only had to pay for the wheels. It was clear to us that there was either a fee for excess baggage or one for the wheels, nothing is free … But that the price was almost as expensive as the flights, we did not expect, but what should we do? At least we could check in the bikes as they were, also with an indifferent feeling, but anyhoe. The airport was very small and there was not much to do. An hour before our flight departure it was indicated as “delayed”, annoying since we would have arrived anyway very late in Chengdu. As an excuse the airline ultimately gave away packs of instant noodles, yummy!
We landed at 2:45 a.m. in Chengdu. Our bikes were on the assembly line and therefore barely escaped a collision with a grid. The tires had been flattened and the valve caps were gone! (I should discover one day later that they were glued to our cardboard wrapping …) We complained. Unfortunately, the lady of the airline, I think, understood no or very little English, but she pretended as if she did so and called someone. Then another woman came and even spoke. She offered us 15 yuan (≈ € 1.60) as compensation for both bikes. That was ridiculous and we reclaimed. But we insisted on the offered free ride to the city center because of the delay, after all the tires were flat. When we came out of the airport the shuttle was already gone, but we were paid for a ride by taxi, at least 80 yuan (≈ € 8,56) value. The wheels were again crammed into a too small trunk, hanging a bit out to the side, so I thought at every barrier we crash it. But again it all went well! By 4 a.m. we arrived at the guesthouse, and after prolonged ringing was opened to us and we even had not to pay for the night.
Chengdu is the sixth largest city in China and a gateway to Tibet, although it is only possible to go there if one is with a tour group. Since we were now here earlier than we had planned it was much colder so we had to buy some more warm equipment. There is even a Decathlon in town where we went first, vis-à-vis there is an IKEA, where we right away had Köttbullar for lunch. There are also H&M and C&A in the city, but we were told that these shops present a rather high price level for Chinese. We had a look at several other outdoor shops of which there are not just a few, not all is good, not all genuine, but if you look around for a while one can find quality at a good price. We also did some sightseeing: the center square is observed by a huge statue of Mao, we took a walk through the Tibetan quarter and even visited a Buddhist temple. On Saturday at the Tianfu Square, the array of police and military could not be overlooked, whether it was because of the anniversary of the Tibetan riots, or in fear of demonstrations as in Beijing and Shanghai, we do not know and apparently nobody here … Two Chinese students explained that since a demonstration against Japan in October 2010 there is more police around, but have not heard of demonstrations in other cities recently. When asked if there are often demonstrations here, we get a ‘no’ to answer, after all demonstrations are forbidden. The flow of information in China as generally known is limited, there is no Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and some Google services like Google Docs don’t work, foreign websites sometimes load painfully slowly, but at least in German, I have the feeling that I have unfiltered access to news sites. In Chinese it looks probably different …