Near London

I often hear people ask English people which city they are from, and nine times out of ten the English person will reply “I’m from near London.” Sometimes they even say it in a fake cockney accent for effect. “LANDAN, MATE!”

I’ve always wondered about this. Especially when the vast majority of these people are from nowhere near London (though comparatively speaking, in a country as small as England nowhere is really very far away from anywhere else). Now, it’s possible to argue that the reason they claim to be from ‘near London’ is because if they told people where they were really from (Milton Keynes, Bath, Reading, Leeds, Beesands in Devon) the odds are anyone who wasn’t British wouldn’t have heard of it so would be none the wiser.

However, let’s be honest here.

We all know the real reason so many people erroneously claim to be from this mysterious, far-reaching neverland called ‘Near London’ is because the place they are really from is shit boring and they want to be associated with somewhere more glamorous instead. There’s a world of difference between telling a hot Ukranian air stewardess you meet in a night club that you’re from London and watching her melt (“I love London soooooo much!”) and telling her you’re from Chipping Norton and then spending the next fifteen minutes trying to explain where it is. As world cities go, London is right up there with Paris and Milan as geographical aphrodisiacs. Chipping Norton, not so much. And when the hot Ukranian air stewardess finds out its nowhere near London she’ll drop you like a hot coal. For as long as the blissful ignorance lasts, you’re in with a shout.

It’s hilarious when their guilt starts to show.

“Oh, you’re from London?”

“No, NEAR London.”

The subtext being: Come on, get it right! Knowing full-well all their friends and family from Chipping Norton would mock them to within inches of their life if they were overheard telling anyone they were from London. NEAR London? Well, there’s some wiggle room there.

I see it as my duty to call them out on their bullshit.

“I’m from near London, bruv!”

“What’s the name of your town?”

“Yeovil.”

“Oh, so about 130-miles near London?”

Conversely, I was discussing this with a Chinese friend recently who said that when foreigners ask her where she’s from, she often does the opposite. And she’s not the only one. It’s a common theme, apparently. It would be easy for Chinese people to say they are from Beijing or Shanghai, probably the only two Chinese cities the vast majority of people unfamiliar with China would recognize, even if they weren’t. But instead, they say they are from Mengzi City in Yunnan Province, or a remote mountain village in northern Guizhou province.

Then, they take great delight studying the foreigner’s reactions. Will they claim to know all about it in an attempt to win favour or avoid a potentially mutually embarrassing situation? Will they show a polite but obviously fake interest? Or will they just be completely bewildered and unable to comprehend the fact that they were talking to a Chinese person who wasn’t from Beijing or Shanghai?

This juxtaposition is fascinating, and a telling reflection of the contrasting social etiquette in east and west, and especially England and China. English people are always trying to elevate themselves above their station and are anxious to be seen as somehow better than what they really are. They think claiming to be from ‘near London’ helps them achieve this. On the other hand you have the naturally modest Chinese who would rather not be associated with a big, glamorous city, thank you very much. They wouldn’t consider themselves to be from ‘near London’ even if they were.

This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom Part 1 – The North (extract)

Shortly after I’d submitted my visa application, the phone rang. On the other end was a very pleasant sounding lady speaking with a choppy Chinese accent who said she was from the Chinese embassy in London, where my visa application was being processed.

“I want to tell you we received your application.”

“Good.”

“Not good. Problem.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I sorry to tell you, we unable to grant you visa to come China.”

“What? Why is that?”

“Application say you are journalist. Journalist need special permission from Chinese government to come China. You have special permission from Chinese government?”

“No.”

“Then no come China.”

I knew Chinese authorities are generally suspicious of overseas journalists. They kept their own journalists on a tight leash, but had no such jurisdiction over foreigners and this being in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing they were being especially vigilant, something that had never even occurred to me. In the face of such officious-sounding bullshit, I began to panic. “But I have a job to go to in China, and I’ve already paid for my flights. The tickets are non-refundable. Is there anything I can do?” I asked, more out of hope than expectation.

“Yes. You do new application. Only this time, say you do different job. No journalist. Understand?”

No, I didn’t understand at all. I thought I did, but I must surely be mistaken. “You want me to… lie?”

“No lie. Just say you do different job. No journalist.”

“But I don’t do a different job. So it’s lying.”

“No lying.”

“But wouldn’t it be illegal?”

“Is okay.”

“Well, if you say so.” I still wasn’t convinced, but didn’t think I had much choice other than to do what this lady was suggesting. Even then, there was another problem. “If I submit another visa application, there won’t be enough time,” I protested. “It would take too long to process. I’d have to get new forms, fill them in, and post them back to you. It would require a few days. Plus, you have my passport, so I can’t even do that until you send my passport back.”

“Okay, first option is we keep passport and you come London, fill out form, submit same day. Pay express fee.”

“Is there a second option?”

Of course. You just ask friend to do it for you.”

“What friend?”

“Any friend. You have friend in London?”

“Yes, but won’t the application need my signature on it?”

“Your friend can do it.”

For a country evidently so pre-occupied with following rules and regulations, China seemed to be surprisingly lax in other areas. It didn’t make much sense, but I wasn’t going to question it. I just did what they said and had a friend go to the embassy, fill out another application on my behalf, and forge my signature. Job done. Days later my passport was returned to me boasting a Chinese L visa and couple of weeks after that, I was on a plane to Beijing.

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This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom Part 1 – The North is available now on paperback and ebook.

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This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom Part 1 – The North

British journalist Alex Coverdale has spent over a decade working as an English teacher in China. During that time he has travelled the length and breadth of the country, seeing things he never thought he would see and doing things he never thought he would do, from digging for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert to eating snakes in Hunan Province, and finding himself in a succession of awkward, often hilarious situations along the way.

He soon developed a deep affinity with China and its people, falling in love with the country’s unique culture, colourful history, and vibrant, infectious energy. Being in such a unique position, he wrote about his experiences in a book which quickly became a Number One Amazon Bestseller, but he never told the full story.

Until now.

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This first instalment of This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom covers the author’s initial move to China back in 2007 when the country was hovering on the cusp of seismic change, his first years working at a renowned university in Beijing and several primary schools in Tianjin, and his first tentative forays into ex-pat life and the dating scene.

If you have any interest in China, teaching English abroad, or the dynamics of cross-cultural relationships, these books are for you because… This is China.

Available now on paperback and reduced-price ebook

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Meeting Anna – A Chinese Love Story

One afternoon I was having lunch with a student in the school canteen, when I spotted a girl in a pretty yellow dress. I watched her for a while from a distance. She was fascinating. She was quite tall, slim, and moved with the kind of graceful finesse you only ever see in dancers. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

“What are you looking at?” asked the student I was with.

“That girl,” I replied, wistfully. “She’s beautiful.”

“Which one?” he said, craning his neck. “I don’t see her.”

“She’s right there, in a yellow dress.”

“That one?” he asked, standing up and unashamedly pointing a finger.

“Yes.”

“Not beautiful,” he said, sitting back down. “What’s wrong with you?”

The conventional Chinese idea of beauty is very different to the western idea. To be considered attractive to Chinese guys, girls have to fulfil certain criteria. They should have big eyes, a small nose, high cheekbones, narrow jaw, and fair skin, and there is quite a lot of pressure on girls to tick as many of those boxes as they can. During my time in China, I was faced with more than one girl crying on my shoulder because she thought her eyes were too small.

That said, at least the student knew what he was looking for in a girl. When he asked me to describe my idea of beauty, I had no answer. Instead I just nodded at the girl in the yellow dress and said, “She’s fit.”

“If you like her,” he said, “Go ask her phone number. With face like that, she’s definitely single.”

That was a damning verdict if I ever heard one. It had a lot to do with the language barrier. He was trying gamely to communicate in something other than his native language. But the Chinese in general can be quite abrupt and pragmatic when they want to be. There’s very little room for niceties. The challenge also put me in a bad position as I’d spent the past hour giving the kid a motivational speech about being brave and going after what he wanted in life. I’d left myself no other option but to pull myself together and strut over.

I caught the girl just as she was leaving. Stepping into my confident shoes I introduced myself and asked for her phone number. The girl looked shocked and bewildered. For one awful moment, I thought she was going to run for the door.

“Mine?” she said, looking around.

“Yes. Yours.”

“But I never talk to foreigner before.”

“Cool. I can be your first.”

Her English name was Anna, and she was from Inner Mongolia, studying at a university in Tianjin, a city just north of Beijing. She was in town visiting her friend, and my student had been right, she was single.

We exchanged a few messages over the next couple of days and she came back to Beijing the following weekend, this time to see me. We went for a curry at a restaurant on one of the top levels of the U Centre, a shiny new shopping mall in Wudaokou. It was the first time she’d ever tried Indian food. In fact, it was probably the first time she’d tried anything else other than Chinese food. Anna was blessed with a childlike innocence it was hard not to like, and her enthusiasm knew no bounds. When she looked at me, her eyes would widen and everything I said or did was, “Very interesting!”

At the end of the evening I walked her to her friend’s place where she was staying, thanked her for her time and turned to walk away. Then I heard her call my name and turned around.

“I miss you,” she said.

“You can’t miss me,” I replied, a little confused. “I haven’t even gone yet.”

“I want to see your apartment.”

I tried to do the right thing and dissuade her. Honest. I had plans to meet Phil and Dave, the other foreign teachers, at a nearby bar for a drink that night. But she was adamant. They say it’s the quiet ones you need to watch, and in this case ‘they’ were right. The moment we were through the door, she was tugging at my jeans.

I have a theory about this. I think Chinese society is so restrictive that a lot of people feel they have to rebel against it, though not in an overt way because that would draw attention to them, so they contain themselves until opportunities like this arise. Then, with all the pent-up tension and frustration, all hell breaks loose and they over-compensate. Within minutes, Anna had my cock in her mouth and was slurping at it greedily.

And that was when Phil and Dave decided to call.

I did what anyone else would probably have done, and let the phone ring. Fuck it.

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” asked Anna, through a mouth full of cock.

“It can wait.”

“Answer it.”

I answered it. Then proceeded to have a very awkward conversation with Phil and Dave about why I couldn’t meet them.

“Tell them what I doing to you,” Anna said, looking up at me.

“Are you sure?”

“Tell them.”

“I can’t come out because a girl I met in the canteen is giving me a blow job.”

“Fuck off!”

“Seriously.”

It soon became apparent that Anna wasn’t so innocent, after all. She loved sex, and had a penchant for doing it in public places. The more risqué the better. In the coming weeks we did it in at least two public parks and next to the lake at the Summer Palace, which I’m pretty sure is a crime punishable by death. She just undid my flies, hitched up her dress, and sat on me while I was relaxing on a bench.

One day, she asked me what the worst word in the English language was. I thought about it for a while, then decided ‘cunt’ was about as bad as it gets and told her what it meant. A few weeks later, she sent possibly the most disturbing text message I’ve ever received in my life.

MY HONEY, TODAY I AM NOT FEEL SO GOOD. MY CUNT IS BLEEDING.

Wow.

Extracted from the #1 Amazon Bestseller Yellow Fever: Love & Sex in China, out now on ebook and paperback.

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Interview with Alex Coverdale – Part 4

Last time, we discussed our two favourite topics – sex and women. Now, in the final instalment, we talk about the ‘best’ and ‘worst,’ future projects, and some random shit.

Of all your adventures, what’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever done?

That would be a long list. I couldn’t possibly choose just one thing. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of celebrities in my line of work. I’m almost disappointed at the fact that the vast majority of them are just normal people, except they all have more money than me. As for activities, looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert, which I talk about in Yellow Fever – Love & Sex in China, is right up there, so is taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain to watch people ski off it in Zermatt, Switzerland. Just visiting America is an eye-opening experience. It’s just like being in a TV show. As for specific places to visit, I would recommend Granada in Spain, Pingyao in China, Milan, Italy, and London has a special buzz about it that’s unlike anywhere else in the world.

Where is the best place you’ve ever visited?

I think Beijing just pips London. I lived there for a year during Olympic year in 2008, and there was such an air of excitement. During that time, I learned a lot about China, the media, and the world in general. I loved hanging out in the Hutongs, and being able to visit world-famous places like The Great Wall and Forbidden City whenever I felt like. The only downside is all the people. It’s overcrowded and polluted.

And the worst?

I lived in the St Mary’s district of Southampton for a while when I was a student. That was an experience. It used to be the red light district. The house was falling to bits, and there was a crazy German girl living upstairs. She used to catch mice and keep them in glass jars in her room. Very weird.

So far, you’ve only really written about Asia. Any plans to address some other continents?

Maybe. I’ve been considering writing a book about my younger days when I travelled around Europe more. I spent a lot of time in Spain. The problem is, that was so long ago I can’t really remember much. It doesn’t help that I was wasted most of the time. It would have to be more of a memoir, because any information I could give will be outdated by now.

What do you do when you are NOT writing or travelling?

I write horror fiction under another name. As I explained before, I have different names for different kinds of writing as they generally don’t cross over very well. Other than that, I am a big sports fan. I love football  and MMA. I did karate to a reasonably high level when I was younger. Now I prefer to just read about it, haha.

If you could teleport to another place, right now, where would you go?

It would be a toss-up between Selena Gomez’s bed, or Rio de Janeiro. Probably Rio, I wouldn’t want to freak Selena out too much. She’s far too delicate.

My latest release, Dating Chinese Women – Tips, Tricks & Techniques, is available now on ebook and paperback.

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NEW RELEASE – DATING CHINESE WOMEN

From the #1 Amazon Bestselling author of Yellow Fever: Love & Sex in China and Thailand: 27 Days of Sin comes this MUST HAVE for anyone planning on visiting China, pursuing Chinese women, or those simply interested in the dynamics of cross-cultural or mixed-race relationships.

Chinese women are among the most desirable in the world and their love for Western men is well-documented. Yet for so many, they remain unattainable. Not any more. This indispensable book will teach you all you need to know about dating Chinese women – how to find them, how to approach them, how to get them into bed, how to form lasting relationships, and perhaps most importantly, what they want from you.

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Dating Chinese Women: Tips, Tricks & Techniques. Available in ebook and paperback NOW!

OUT NOW! Yellow Fever: Love & Sex in China

On a quest for enlightenment and adventure, British journalist Alex Coverdale spent almost six years as an English teacher in China. During that time he lived in Beijing, Tianjin, Changsha and Xiangtan, and travelled from inner Mongolia to Hong Kong. Along the way he dug for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert, ate snakes, had dealings with Chinese gangsters, and found himself under room arrest at a Moscow hotel. He saw things he never thought he would see, and did things he never thought he would do, developing a deep affinity for China and its people. Over time, he fell in love with the unique culture, the colourful history, and the country’s vibrant, infectious energy. Most of all, however, he fell in love with the women. This is what he learned.

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This book charts his adventures and misadventures as he explores the Chinese dating scene with surprising and often hilarious results. If you have any interest in China, teaching English abroad, or the dynamics of cross-cultural relationships, this controversial book is for you.

Available now on paperback and ebook.

#1 Amazon Bestseller!