Saturday, 21 July 2012

Day 118 - The Incompetency of NAVO: Part 2 - Our sub-par tour guide. (China)

After all our problems with Tracy and NAVO getting us involved with conmen in Urumqi, we had become somewhat more forgiving of Lui and his short fallings. What we realised once we’d resolved all of that nonsense though, is that he never actually got any better at anything, he’d just become the lesser of two evils. As soon as we left Urumqi it was back to directing us the wrong way, not telling us what anything meant, asking us to repeat every question six times and just generally being a very poor tour guide. We’ve never thought he was a bad person, we could even go so far as to say he’s actually shown signs of trying really hard to do his job reasonably, but it is ever so frustrating to have a very expensive guide with you who cannot serve any basic guide purposes. We have had to continuously correct him on interpreting maps, interpretations of parking restriction signs (in Chinese), deciphering menus, and history and facts on every single site we have visited. There are too many examples of all of these things to go into too much detail, but here’s just one example:

Because we’d had all our money from the “agent fees” returned to us in Yuan the day before we left China, we obviously needed to change this into something more useful. We didn’t expect to be able to get Kazakh currency in China, so we were just planning on changing it to US$ which are fairly useful all over, and at least universally exchangeable. But when we told Lui that we’d have to go to the bank in Urumqi to change our money (and explained in much more simple terms, over and over again what I just explained here), he advised us that it would be easier at the border town. Seeing it was already 4:30pm after we’d gotten our visas and stuffed around a little bit, we thought this seemed like a pretty reasonable suggestion, and after a week of bothering with our visas we’d forgotten that we can’t trust anything he says. So we arrived at the border town on Thursday (Day 116) and found our way to a bank, which we had to do by ourselves because he was on the phone to someone. Once we’d arrived at the bank, parked the car and got out, he eventually hung up the phone and informed us that there probably won’t be anywhere in this town to change our money.

Well this just wasn’t on at all – we wanted to do it in Urumqi the previous day and he told us not to! I’m sure any reasonable person can imagine how we felt about this news. It was NAVO’s fault in the first place that we even had this ridiculous amount of Yuan the day we were leaving China. We wanted him to at least ask around for a money exchange, or a different bank, or anywhere, but he was suddenly positive that there was absolutely nowhere and refused to keep looking. We found this pretty hard to believe - this is a border town, there has to be money exchange somewhere.

 And then he turned around and suggested “maybe you can exchange it when you get back to Australia”! This was the most insane part of the whole situation – how could a man who makes a living out of accompanying (I’m not going to bother pretending he guides) foreigners who are driving across several countries, usually at least a couple of continents, and sometimes the majority of the world, not be able to grasp the concept that carrying over $1,200 in useless currency for several months is ridiculous. He didn’t even come up with the idea that we might be able to change it in another country, before we get back to Australia.

But Lui was hungry by now so he explained to us that he would be leaving to get himself some food and would return when he was finished. We decided to look for money exchange ourselves, sure that there must be somewhere, and not willing to trust Lui’s word on anything anymore. So Ben and I went back to the bank to try and find out for ourselves, and sure enough the lady spoke no English, but with some very simple gesturing and writing down of symbols and numbers, we got our money changed into US$. Even more incredulous at Lui’s stupidity, we returned to Tunkles where we found out that a few minutes after leaving to get food, he had returned to inform us that the border was closed now until 4pm. It was almost 2pm at this point, and given we had specifically asked both that morning and the previous evening, whether the border closed in the middle of the day at all and were told no, this had us pretty annoyed again. We could have slept in past 7am, or spent longer at a beautiful lake we thought we didn’t have time to swim in. And now we’d just changed all except for 6 Yuan ($1) because of rounding, into US$, thinking we were heading straight for the border. So Denner went and got out another 100 Yuan which is the minimum amount, so that we could at least eat lunch while we waited for the border to open.

After everything that NAVO has put us through, we were at least under the impression that they knew how to do the border procedures and Customs paperwork properly. Apparently that was a misguided assumption as well. When our “Customs broker” met us on the street in front of a convenience store and then wasn’t allowed into the Customs area, we realised that once again NAVO had gotten us involved with some unlicensed, makeshift “agent” type person. We were a bit amused at how pathetic NAVO was turning out to be, but as long as everything ran smoothly at the border we weren’t overly concerned with this bloke. But it didn’t. We’re not sure whether it was Tracy, Lui or the “broker” that NAVO employed on our behalf, but our myriads of paperwork didn’t match up with each other, the engine numbers and VIN numbers were wrong on several documents, there were documents missing, and Lui kept running off with things when the Custsoms Officials needed to see them. At one point he disappeared for over half an hour, and it turned out he’d left the Customs area to catch a taxi back to the “Customs broker’s office” to fix something. Fortunately we have our own heads screwed on, and the Officials were very reasonable, otherwise I think we’d still be sitting at that booth.

On our very last day in China there were only two things for NAVO to help us with, and they failed at both. The perfect summary to our three weeks in China.

The mistakes that we’re talking about are those that you might make if you were an inexperienced traveller, and even then surely no single person would go through this many issues in such a short time. It’s odd that in this case it was a hired professional working for an internationally renowned company causing these problems, while we battled against NAVO at every turn just to try and get through the trip.

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