Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Reaching the Untouched Wall:
The Kok Shal Tau Climbing Expedition
Summer 2000

Picking a Route through the Bureaucrats

I had been told that dealing with Chinese bureaucracy can be quite ahem, frustrating, given that sometimes no rules exist in their system when it comes to foreigners. This was proven when we tried to catch our next plane to Urumqi, from Peking, Beijing, China. As we approached the check-in counter in the Chinese International Airport, they immediately decided we had too much baggage (our many huge haul bags were the center of attention in this airport), and would not let us take the bags on the plane. This is before they even looked at our tickets. As they were adding up how many thousands of dollars they would take to allow us to take our bags with us, they started to look at our tickets to check us in. Our baggage problem did not matter any more—they told us our tickets had been cancelled due to high volume flights, and we would have to fly standby! Of course, this did not matter, because the woman said with a smile and little English, "No seats, flight full", it would be impossible to fly on this flight. Even though we confirmed our tickets just days before, the 'no rules' rumor of the Chinese system now applied to us. After polite then not so polite haggling over this situation, we were told to leave. Fortunately, one person involved seemed to have some sympathy for us, and rescheduled our flight for two days later. I can only hope this flight is not cancelled.

As I write this, we are waiting out our unexpected two-day delay to fly out to Urumqi, where we are going to meet with our Chinese Military guides. They will lead us to the restricted area of the mountains in which we supposedly have permits to climb and explore the area. It is unbelievably hot and humid in Beijing. While we sit eating in the hotel restaurant, beads of sweat run down the sides of our bodies like little bugs running down our skin, but we're eating like kings. Today we ate whole chickens, whole ducks, and we chewed on the actual heads of the fowl (foul) as the eyes looked at us, whole shrimp, and several unidentified foods. We ate with a local Chinese man in the restaurant, whose lack of English, sense of humor, and beer cheers every five minutes gave rise to uncontrollable laughter throughout the meal.

With our delay, we are burdening our whole schedule with our Military Police liaison officers/guides, so we decided to try and extend our visas while in Beijing so we have enough time for the schedule with the our guides. After five hours in a taxi that costs us more than I would like to say, we found out extending our visas is not possible, you need at least a week to have your visas extended. At least the taxi drive was kind of nice— we were able to drive near the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, where the huge picture of Mao prevails near his mausoleum. We are hoping for better luck with the Chinese in Urumqi, where we will take four wheel drive vehicles to the base of the mountains in which we will explore and climb.

The sky is a dismal gray here and when you get a glimpse of the sun, it looks like a neon-peach full moon—a moon you would see in some alien-science fiction movie. The overcast and polluted skies seem to by fighting to put a damper on our mood, but our optimism is remaining high— the obstacles just add spice to the journey. The unknown aspects that we encounter create an excitement and beauty that can only be found on such adventures. After all, aren't real life experiences the reason we put so much into going on these kind of expeditions?

by Mike Libecki

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