While in Dege, Gregor has the brilliant suggestion of calling a counterfeiter to organise a set of fake permits (for myself only). Finding one is not as difficult as you’d imagine. In most Chinese towns and cities I’ve come across, there are phone numbers painted on walls. These are the numbers of counterfeiters who can make fake passports or work permits (Hekou) to allow Chinese to work in other cities. All we need to do is walk around Dege to collect some of these numbers and begin the process.
After a 15 minute walk around Dege, we have a collection of ten numbers to try, so we return to our hotel room to begin calling. After trying the numbers, we have four potential leads, with one quote being a third of the other three (which I consider too expensive for forged papers).
We call the man again, telling him we’ll take one set of forged permits for 200Y (40AUD) and he asks us to show up outside the post office and give him a call. After we call, he asks us to drop the necessary information (Name, Passport #, Passport Photo) into the post office box.
This is where things become a little suspicious. First of all, I’d never heard of anyone needing a passport photo for the permit and secondly, how is the man to remove the documents from the post office box, I highly doubt he works for the post office.
We tell him that this isn’t necessary and that we’d like to meet with him, see some sample documents prior to giving money, he says this isn’t necessary and that he needs the passport details in order to make a permit and that we can give them over the phone.
Nervous that I’m dealing with the PSB (police), I ask to meet him first to see a sample, he declines this request and says he cannot proceed without the information. After much hesitation, we send him a text with my name, passport number, country and d.o.b.
Half an hour later we receive a text that we should wait outside the post office the following morning at 9am and give him a call to pick up the permit.
The following morning, Gregor calls the man and tells him that I will come alone to the post office, inspect the permit and if I find it of acceptable quality, will pay the money for the permit. Since I don’t speak Mandarin, I will simply call him from the post office, which is his signal to meet me.
At this point, I’d found plenty of samples of the permit on the internet (after circumventing China’s great firewall) and was now semi-knowledgeable in the field of Tibet Travel Permits (for travel into Tibet, required for Lhasa and a few areas around it), Alien Traveller’s Permits (for areas outside of Lhasa) and Military Permits (for areas close to the border with India e.g. Mt Kailash). I’d contemplated making my own permits but decided against it.
I arrive at the post office at the required time and call the man, only to hear a reply in Chinese, I tell him (in Mandarin) that I don’t speak Chinese and that I’m calling about Lhasa and Tibet (Xi Zang). He hangs up and I figure he understood. I sit at a spot with several exits, should it turnout that he’s police and I need to make a quick getaway.
After several minutes, he’s sent several text messages. After fifteen minutes, I decide that he isn’t coming and head back to the hotel (taking a route where I know if I’m being followed). Gregor reads the messages and calls the man.
Gregor says the man wants us to pay the money up front by delivering it into the post office box, I laugh and tell him there’s no chance that’s happening, which he’d already told the man. We decide that this number was a scammer and that there’s little chance of getting the permit, so we head out to breakfast.
While out, the man calls again, saying this isn’t America and that this is how business is done in China, money first, then documents. We tell him we’re not giving money until we see the documents and if he can’t handle this, we’re not doing business with him. The man sends several more text messages to the effect of money first then you get the documents, we ignore these and decide that the fake permit is a no-go (the other prices were too high).
On the way back to our hotel, we pass the minivan drivers who offer us a lift to Ganzi/Manigango (where we’d come from). I tell them I want to go to Tibet but have no permit. One of the drivers says he’ll get me past the border checkpoint for 300 Yuan. He’ll fill the van with Tibetan passengers and I’ll hide in the back under their bags. As interesting as this sounds, I tell him I don’t have that kind of money (since I still have to organise my own transport to Lhasa and may still be caught by police). We ask the man about the location of the checkpoints and he tells us that there is only one checkpoint between the border and the first town in Tibet and gives us the distance to the checkpoint.
We thank him for the information and pack our bags for the trip to Sershu, I decide against going into Tibet. I’d heard of one of my former travelling companions (David from Israel) being unable to make the trip disguised as a Tibetan monk.