June 08, 2006 GMT

I left Iwataki on June 1st at around nine and rode my motorbike all the way to Takaoka where I arrived seven hours later. I met the representative of FKK who was very helpful. He told me that I could park my motorbike in front of their building for the night.

I came back the next day at around noon and again the guy from FKK helped me by showing me the way to customs and by taking care of the paper work. I then followed him to the ferry at Fushiki and went directly to my cabin. The crossing went fine and on Sunday morning the vessel was in view of Vladivostok. Customs clearance went slowly and before leaving the ferry I decided that I would stay another night on board. At $16, it was much cheaper than anything I could find in town. I tried to call Shustrik, from the Horizons Unlimited Community, but couldn’t get in touch with him before late in the evening. I went back to the ferry to spend the night.

Early on Monday morning I tried to get my motorbike. This is when it started to get a bit complicated. Although I had asked many times on board to have the Bill of lading before reaching Vladivostok, I was told that I could only get it after disembarking. I went from one office to the next before ending at Bisintour Service (BIS) which told me that it would coast me $150 to get my bike with all the documents. It was a take it or leave it offer. I took it.

The Bill of lading, konosignment in Russian, is the document that you absolutely need if you want to save some money and do the processing by yourself. I didn’t have it. I had no choice but pay and hope for the best. I also had to buy for $30 a third party insurance for six months. It was already too late to do anything today regarding the motorbike and I was told to come back the next day.

I also needed to have my visa registered. I tried a few travel agencies but I had to wait one day or two and they weren’t sure if they could do it. Finally I went to the Primorye hotel near the station where I managed to get a room for 1000R half the price of what it was supposed to be. I could also use their business center where Internet was cheaper than any other places I had tried so far.

Tuesday morning at ten I was at BIS. Went to different places until noon and went back at five. More offices, a few more signatures and we ended up at the warehouse where my bike was. It was now past six o’clock. A custom officer checked if all the numbers on the Bill of lading were matching those on the motorbike and… one number didn’t. Back to the main office where nothing can be done. Rules are rules and numbers have to match. Too late to do anything else today. Please, come back tomorrow. Back to Shustrik’s apartment where I spend my first night.

Wednesday morning at nine. Same buildings. Same offices. I now have to produce some pictures of my bike which I fortunately have. More signatures. Pay 3000R for storage. Go back to the warehouse where I can finally take possession of my bike. Get on, start the engine and realize that something is very wrong with the gears.

Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 02:27 AM GMT
June 18, 2006 GMT
Entering China

The problem on the bike wasn’t serious. Shustrik fixed it in no time. We even replaced my battery with a new Chinese one. The weather in Vladivostok was awful during the ten days I remained there.

After asking around during several days how to enter China with my bike, the answer finally came on June 11th. A German biker had successfully made it a few months ago but the people who helped him weren’t ready to take the risks they had taken at the time and told me that I would need to do it by myself.

On the 13th I left Vladivostok early in the morning and drove to the nearest border at Suifenhe. The day was a bit chilly and the temperature on the thermometer never went above 14°. I stopped only once to fill up the bike and encountered no problem at all along the way except being held at a police check post for more than an hour supposedly because my visa had not been registered properly in Vladivostok. But finally they let me go and at around three o’clock I was at the border.

The first Russian officer I talked to didn’t know what to do and called his superior who arrived shortly after. He was extremely polite and told me that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike between the two borders. However, they would help me put it in a truck to go through. There wasn’t much traffic. A minibus showed up but was too small for the bike. Finally a truck followed some twenty minutes later and with the help of some people we put the bike on the open platform. I suggested that it would probably be better to put the bike inside a truck where it couldn’t be seen by Chinese customs but I was told that as soon as I reach the Chinese side it would be perfectly all right for me to ride it again.

Clearing the Russian customs didn’t take long and we slowly drove the five kilometers to the border where the first check post let us through. At the second the truck driver was asked to whom the motorbike belonged but then again they let us pass. At the third one we had to get off to have our passports checked. At that point they told me that I would have to wait a few minutes regarding my bike. I had already been admitted into China by having my passport stamped and I thought that everything was fine. It wasn’t. I waited for about an hour and finally was informed that I couldn’t go through with my motorbike. I had two choices: go back to Russia with the motorbike or proceed into China but without it.

I suggested that my bike could just transit though the country by train to the Mongolian border where I was heading but again I was informed that the rules were clear: it was impossible for me to bring my bike in China unless I go with a group accompanied by a certified Chinese guide. To do that, I first had to leave the country and apply through the proper channels.

During all the discussions that lasted more than two hours, all the custom officers were very courteous and very sympathetic to my cause but the rules were the rules and there was nothing which could be done. My bike was carried on the same truck and escorted by a custom officer to the nearest storage facility. On that evening I was invited to a Korean restaurant by half a dozen custom officers and they helped me find a hotel as well.

The next morning I went back to the storage facility to fill up some papers and was informed that I had one year to come back and pick up my bike.

I have decided to stick to my original plan which is to follow on the footsteps of a woman who went from Beijing to Moscow through Mongolia in 1862 on horseback. She was supposedly the first European woman to have accomplished such a journey. I was planning to do it by motorbike but will now do it by some other means. After crossing Mongolia and reaching Russia, I’m planning to go back where my motorbike is, bring it back to Russia, and drive it from there to Ulan Ude or Irkutsk where I will pick up on that woman’s track again.

For those who are absolutely determined to enter China with a motorbike, and possibly from the same border, I suggest that you put your bike inside a truck and very well hidden from the outside.

Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 05:12 AM GMT
June 25, 2006 GMT

After saying farewell to my bike at the Chinese border, I took a bus on June 16th in the morning to Mudanjiang, 150 km from Suifenhe, to board the night train to Beijing in the afternoon. The road was in perfect condition and was probably part of the new highway which was to be opened two days later between Haerbin in China and Vladivostok in Russia. Road signs in both Chinese and English could be seen as well as a few in Russian.

The next morning just before noon I got off the train in Beijing. The capital had changed a lot since the last time I was here ten years ago: new buildings, new roads, new shops, and new people from the old countryside, as well as fewer bicycles and more vehicles. Here again the roads are in excellent conditions and well marked with signs and can be compared with the ones in the most advanced industrialized countries. What a change with what I had seen in and around Vladivostok in Russia.

During the nine days I stayed in the Chinese capital I saw many motorbikes. I had been told that in Beijing, as well as Shanghai, motorbikes were not allowed. It seems like in that case as for crossing the Chinese border with a motorbike, it’s legally forbidden but practically possible. I even saw quite a few foreigners riding motorbike, some with sidecars and a few without a helmet. I talked to some expats who had been leaving in China for years and they were not aware of any restrictions regarding motorbikes in Beijing. Furthermore, because Chinese administration was becoming really complicated about registering a motorbike, more and more foreigners were riding their bikes without any documents. No one had ever heard of a foreigner having had his or her bike impounded.

Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 11:31 AM GMT

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