Not long ago China, comfortable hiding behind its wall of isolation, for the most part, closed itself to foreign visitors—and most everything else. In 1949, Mao Zedong, after conquering Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, formed the People’s Republic of China. In the process of socializing the country, foreign investors were kicked out and land owners were forced to redistribute land for communal use by peasants and farmers, yet land ownership was prohibited.
China began to slowly open up in the 1970’s when a number of events brought about evolutionary changes, from the historic visit of US President Nixon to the formal end of the cultural revolution and the death of Mao, China ushered in economic reform policies including the ability of local provinces and municipalities to invest in industry and manufacturing. These reforms paved the path to the further opening of China and the explosive growth that transformed China into the country I’ll be exploring soon.
Soon? I hope so. Though I’m learning that China as open as China has become since Mao, it’s still may not be open enough to let me bring in my bike.
We crated and shipped my motorcycle “Doc” in early April and it arrived in the port of Ningbo (south of Shanghai) on April 27, 2015. Since we shipped the bike QE Productions personnel have struggled with Chinese customs officials and clearing agents to get Doc released. With nearly a month of negotiations behind us, it appears China is open to my visit, but is less open to the temporary visit of my motorcycle..
There is no question that the Chinese require visitors to follow certain procedures, processes and formalities; just as any other country I’ve brought my motorcycle. However in China, the reasons that Doc hasn’t been released to the QE Productions office in Ningbo keep changing. First, we were told that it could not be released until I secured a proper Chinese driver license. International Drivers Licenses are not recognized there. So, I will take a test, in Chinese, upon my arrival in China next week. Next, we were told that the vehicle is too old. At barely ten years old, our executive producer, Randolph Paul Kelman, sighs in disbelief at the hypocrisy of the situation as he looks out the window of his office where he sees old motorcycles and cars zip by every day—many which should have been taken off the road twenty years earlier.
Then customs officials informed us that the bike should have been inspected before shipping to China, yet it is unclear as to where in California I could find a certified inspector
I contacted my friends at BMW North America who connected us with BMW corporate officials from both Germany and China. BMW China worked through no less than three clearing agents who all failed to get authorization to release “Doc” from the port, including a plan to reroute the bike to Yunnan province or Vietnam, and temporarily import the bike from there. This will not work.
A local Israeli expat who owns a Ducati in China found a possible solution that would require us to refuse the shipment at the port and re-route it to Hong Kong where a Chinese company would register and secure the necessary paperwork and permits—at significant cost. Sounds good. So just as we were ready to the pull the trigger and choose this option, we were informed that it would take 35 days to get the bike to Hong Kong (no more than a few hours away by ship), and it would take another 10 days to process and get the bike back to mainland China.
Time is money. And in movie and television production, time is exponentially money. At this point we’re burning it and not getting anywhere.
We are exploring the possibility of borrowing a bike from BMW China, renting a Chinese dual-sport motorcycle (Jialing JH600), or finding a preowned BMW dual-sport that is already legally imported into the country.
So the adventure in China has already started and I’m still sitting in North America.
Hanging in Vancouver, British Columbia
My time in Vancouver has been somewhat productive, however, enjoying great food with the family of co-director and producer Panayioti Yannitsos, cooking Ethiopian food using a recipe from my book “FORKS—A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection” and testing production and motorcycle equipment from the Phantom 2 drone, to SENA communications equipment, and my new custom molded in-ear Westone ES60 earbuds.
But I’d rather be in China—riding and shooting this new television show.
I will. Soon. Stay tuned.