The Robbery

When I travel, I usually travel alone. I just prefer it that way. I accept that there is an element of risk involved when you’re exploring unfamiliar places. Maybe that’s part of the attraction. But in all my years of travelling I’ve only ever been robbed twice. I count myself lucky in that respect. I know a guy who’s been robbed seven or eight times, mostly in Barcelona. I know. Stop going to Barcelona, right?

The first time I was robbed was in a cafe in Rotterdam, when a group of locals relieved me of my shopping bag when I put it down for a moment to find a seat, and the other time was in my own hometown. That proves you don’t have to travel very far to become a victim of crime. I’m from the south Wales valleys. Some areas can be described as rough. That comes with deprivation. But I never thought I’d get mugged there.

How the incident occurred was unfortunate. A few years ago, one of my closest friends had a stroke. He wasn’t even thirty. A stroke-in-the-young they called it, which is funny because if you say it fast it sounds like you’re saying he was ‘stroking the young,’ which is all kinds of wrong. He recovered, mostly, but is still lacking a little. He forgets things and his speech is slurred, even when he hasn’t been drinking. He also developed a habit of staring at people. I met him for a drink one night when I was home from China, and at the end of the night walked him to the station to make sure he got the last train home.

At the time, I didn’t notice anything amiss. It was late, and I was halfway drunk. He got on the train and I walked off. But as I left the station, three boys followed me out. “Your friend was looking at us,” one of them said. I stopped and tried to explain that he’d had a stroke, was a bit drunk, and didn’t mean any harm. Then one of them asked me if I had any money, and I knew then I was in trouble.

“No,” I said, looking for an escape route but seeing none.

“Where are you going now?”

“I’m going to grab some food and go home.”

“So you do have money?”

That was my cue to get the fuck out of there, but as I turned around one of the three boys jumped on my back and dragged me to the floor in a headlock while the other two waded in with punches and kicks. While I was trying to defend myself, one of them rifled my pockets and nicked my fags, lighter, a £20 note and even a half-empty pack of chewing gum. And then they ran off, leaving me bleeding on the pavement.

I got shakily to my feet and tried to make my legs work enough to give chase. During the assault, which must have lasted less than thirty seconds, I was in a state of shock. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me. But now, I was angry, and I wanted my fags back.

As I hobbled down the pavement, I was aware of some blue flashing lights and a vehicle stopping next to me. It was a paramedic who’d been on his way back from a call when he saw what happened. Those flashing blue lights were probably the reason my assailants ran off so fast. The nice paramedic called the police, then took me to the nearest hospital. I wasn’t badly hurt. I got off with just a few cuts and bruises. But the adventure was just starting.

Now, the police often get a bad rep in the UK. Apart from a few teenage run-ins and the time I got caught going down a one-way street the wrong way, I hadn’t had much to do with them before. I adopted the ‘Leave them alone, and they’ll leave you alone,’ attitude. However, from the moment a detective came to interview me at the hospital and took a statement, I knew they were taking things seriously. As things progressed, the full picture began to emerge.

The trio of boys were on CCTV, so they were easily identified. Two of them were 18 and one was 17. That night, they’d been on something of a crime spree. Kicking in doors, creating general havoc, that kind of thing. Apparently, they were celebrating one of them being released from a Young Offenders institution. Two of the three had multiple convictions for violence, burglary, and a string of other offences, but until then had been treated leniently by the courts because of their age. We have a thing in the UK about rehabilitating people instead of punishing them. Suffice to say they had every chance to turn their lives around but continued down the same path. I don’t think they were good for each other. That night they were encouraging each other and egging each other on. Boys will be boys, etc.

The police explained to me that this was a serious crime. They’d been waiting for something substantial to throw at these guys for years, and this was their chance. They had the CCTV evidence and along with my witness statement it would be enough to send them down for a long time.

When the boys found out they were wanted, they went on the run. But it didn’t take the law long to catch up with them. I was given regular updates throughout the entire process, and about a year later the case went to Cardiff crown court. The boys were charged with several offences each, the most serious being ‘robbery with violence,’ but were pleading not guilty. As far as them and their defence knew, I’d gone back to work in China and were banking on me not being bothered to come back to testify against them. Wrong. I’d moved to London by then so it was no trouble at all. I just asked for a day off work and got the train down.

I’d never been to court before, not counting a day I went and sat in the public gallery when I was doing court reporting at uni. I was nervous as hell. But the moment the boys got wind of the fact that I’d turned up they changed their pleas to ‘guilty’ and I didn’t even have to testify. Result. One of the three was still under eighteen, but because the two main offenders were legally adults, they could be prosecuted as such and got a 12-month prison sentence each. They probably served half that time, but it was still a result. That kicking they gave me proved pretty expensive in the grand scheme of things. I also got my travel expenses covered and victim compensation so the whole experience, though painful, turned out pretty financially profitable for me. I didn’t suffer much in the way of lasting damage. I don’t like talking about it much, but I wasn’t traumatized, and didn’t turn into a hermit or anything. I try to think of it as a learning experience. I’m a lot more careful now. It was probably the warning shot I needed, and I don’t get as complacent now. Even in my own hometown.

This is a deleted section from my book This is China Part 3: The Wilderness Years, which is out now on Red Dawn Publications

The Chinese Curse

May you live in interesting times…

These words are often attributed to an ‘ancient Chinese curse,’ the clear meaning being that ‘interesting times’ are challenging and often fraught with danger, whereas to live in unintetesting times, would be a blessing by comparison.

However, despite being widely known in English simply as ‘the Chinese Curse,’ and it certainly sounds like something a Chinese person would say in that it is multi-layered and works on several levels, no actual Chinese source for the saying has ever been found. The closest Chinese expression is 寧為太平犬,不做亂世人which translates as, “It is better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos” which can be found in volume 3 of the 1627 short short collection ‘Stories to Awaken the World’ by Feng Meng Long.

Apparently, the first recorded usage of the phrase was in 1936, when a friend of then- British Ambassador to China Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen told him about it before he left. He wrote about it in a memoir published in 1949. Other researchers claim to have traced the ‘curse’ back to 1898, and this line from a speech given by British statesman Joseph Chamberlain:

“I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times. I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also new objects for anxiety.”

My new book, This is China Part 3: The Wilderness Years is out NOW on Red Dawn publishing.

Break-ups and Break-downs

As you may have gathered from my books, for a large chunk of my life, it felt as if I was permanently recovering from a nasty break-up. Let’s face it, break-ups are never fun. They can be debilitating, soul-destroying, and can rob you of your confidence and self-esteem. You’re forced into intense periods of uncomfortable introspection, you question everything, and often have to confront things you never wanted to confront. We’ve all been there, and it ain’t a fun place to be.

In many ways the process you go through after a relationship ends is comparable with the seven stages of grief. The last really bad one I had was in 2011, when I found out my live-in girlfriend of two years, a Chinese teacher, was having it away behind my back with a short order chef from Romania.

I’ve had quite a few lesser break-ups since then. One friend recently asked me why I keep hooking up with shitty women. I said that was unfair. couldn’t be sure if they were always shitty, or if being with me was making them that way. The jury’s still out on that one.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but I’ve learned to cope, and now I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you. It all boils down to the old maxim, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

If it goes tits-up, which, statistics show us, all relationships eventually do one way or another, try not to lose your shit. Retain control, and some modicum of dignity. The aim should be to not do anything you might regret later, so refrain from losing your temper and punching walls (the walls always win), name-calling, and plastering those nudes you have of them all over the internet.

A good coping strategy I’ve found in the immediate aftermath is to focus on their bad points, because God knows none of us are perfect. So don’t think about how gorgeous they were, or how they made you laugh or brought meaning to your life. Instead, think about the morning breath, that annoying habit they had of picking their toenails, their incomprehensible appreciation of Made in Chelsea. In extreme cases, get that fugly picture you have on your phone of them yawning or having a shit and make it your screensaver. Yeah, bitch.

It might also help if you delete them from your social media. Cancel them. That way, you remove any lingering temptation to go begging for forgiveness even though you might not have done anything worth being forgiven for. Constantly remind yourself that they would hate to see you going about your business without them apparently not giving a fuck. It devalues them and the whole relationship. Even if you’re falling apart inside, keep that shit to yourself and put on a brave face. Nobody wants to see you wallowing in self-pity except them, so don’t give them the satisfaction.

By the way, the absolute best break-up song ever is Bowling For Soup’s Life After Lisa.

If the aforementioned methods don’t work and this person really was perfection personified, you can still find the bright side by reminding yourself how lucky you were to be with them, even if they ended up dropping you like a hot coal when they realized how bang average you were. At least you’re one of the few who got to see them naked. Unless, of course, you really did put those nudes you have of them on the internet in which case everyone has seen them naked and it’s your fault.

It might be difficult, but try not to play the blame game. We’d all like to imagine it’s the other person’s fault, but the truth is nobody is perfect. In all likelihood, you were probably at least partly responsible. Or maybe you just weren’t compatible, in which case it’s nobody’s fault. Not even yours. Think of a relationship as a journey, and all journeys come to an end. You both arrive at your destination ready for a new and exciting adventure. Getting there is half the fun, as they say.

Everything happens for a reason. We are all on this twisty, turny path and none of us is ever quite sure what’s going to happen next. If you love someone, try to treat every moment you have together as if it’s your last. That doesn’t mean going out paragliding every day and shit. Stay in and watch a movie if you want. Just enjoy doing it.

So, speaking as a guy who’s had more broken relationships than he’s had hangovers, my advice is to cherish the moments and make some memories while you can. In the end memories are all any of us will be left with, so they might as well be good ones.

TIC 4 – OUT NOW!

Previous instalments of This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom took a forensic look at the author’s initial move to China back in 2007, his early struggles to overcome culture shock whilst trying to survive the brutal north-Chinese winter and navigate his way through various inter-personal relationships, his wild three-year stint in the entertainment hub of Changsha, and his long-awaited move to London to fulfil his dream of becoming a magazine journalist. There, along with the glamorous, celebrity-schmoozing lifestyle, came gambling addiction, a relapse into substance abuse, and some memorable run-ins with corporate duplicity. Soon, burned out, depressed and disillusioned, he stood at another of life’s crossroads.

After a considerable amount of soul searching he decides on a return to China where he feels he has unfinished business and takes up a teaching position in the booming southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The plan was to be a model professional, keep his head down, live a quiet life and save some money. But as most of us know, things rarely go to plan. The moment he arrives he is faced with a string of situations far more dangerous, depraved, and debauched than he has ever experienced.

And that’s before the entire world is plunged into chaos.

He used to wonder what would happen if dreams came true. Now he wonders what you do when your worst nightmares becomes reality.

This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom Part 4- The Return is out now on ebook and paperback.

This is China 3: The Wilderness Years (Extract)

Chinese women seem to wear sadness like a badge of honour. To them if love doesn’t hurt, it’s not real. I have no doubt that not only do the vast majority of them expect it to be a painful experience, hence all the drama and manufactured arguments, but they actually welcome it. It ties in with the classical Chinese folk tales they grow up reading, where love is usually forbidden, and invariably led to tragic repercussions.

A perfect example of this can be found in Liang Zhu, commonly known as the Butterfly Lovers. Set in the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), the story tells of a girl from a rich family called Zhu Yingtai who goes away to study. During that era girls were not allowed an education, so she disguised herself as a boy. Zhu meets a boy called Liang Shanbo, and the two declare themselves ‘sworn brothers.’ Of course, Zhu falls in love with Liang and is then called back to her family, who have arranged a marriage for her. Months later Liang goes to visit and it is then, in what must have been a classic ‘dude looks like a lady’ moment, he discovers his ‘sworn brother’ is actually a woman. But alas, unable to prevent the wedding, he ends up dying of a broken heart. The wedding procession passes Liang’s grave, which opens up and swallows Zhu. The star-crossed lovers are then transformed into butterflies, and live happily ever after. Or at least, as happily as butterflies who used to be people can live.

There is another, more famous story which illustrates the point even better. Dream of the Red Chamber, written by Cao Xueqin in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), is one of China’s ‘four great novels.’ It’s basically a Chinese Romeo and Juliet. You know how it goes, girl meets boy, they fall in love, the union is forbidden, boy marries someone else, girl drowns herself in a pond, boy turns his back on the world and becomes a monk. Same old, same old. Underlining the fact that almost everything in china has multiple meanings, on the surface it’s your average tragic love story, but on a deeper level it describes the fate of the Qing Dynasty as a whole. The work is so complex there is an academic field of study devoted entirely to it called ‘Redology.’ It wouldn’t be too difficult to devote an entire academic field to Chinese girl’s attitude to love and sex.

This is China Part 3: The Wilderness Years is out now on paperback and ebook via Red Dawn Publications

Let’s Talk About…

I’ll be starting a series on this blog soon called Let’s Talk About…

The idea is every so often, when the mood takes me, I’ll take a long, hard look at various aspects of Chinese culture. I’m not going to preach or anything like that. I might give an opinion, but the main purpose will be to highlight and, well, talk about it. I hope it will generate some discussion, and maybe even help improve people’s understanding. Especially people who have any interest or relationship with China.

So far, topics I am considering are the differences between Chinese and western humour, online dating, dealing with Chinese parents, teaching Chinese kids, the spitting thing, and queuing, or lack of it, as the case may be. If you have any other ideas or topics you’d like to see me tackle, I’d love to hear from you. The whole shebang kicks off soon with a post on racism. More specifically, racism in China. That’ll be fun, right? No. Not fun at all, actually. Which is precisely why we need to talk about it so urgently.

I’m not sure how often I’ll publish new instalments, but when I do I’ll share them to my Facebook page so hopefully they’ll get some coverage.

Please consider signing up for this blog on the homepage and/or giving my posts the occasional ‘like’ or ‘share.’ It really means a lot.

This is China part 1 – Review

A huge thanks to the reader who left the following review of This is China : Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom Part 1: The North on Amazon.

“This guy writes really, really well!

Alex Coverdale tells a compelling, revealing story. He hooks you right away, is fun and funny, and, seemingly, extremely honest.

Through Coverdale relaying his encounters and stumbles during his first couple years in China, an uninitiated Western reader is introduced to many of the unique — and sometimes delightful — quirks of Chinese culture. And some of the ins and outs of a young man romancing young Chinese women.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.”

5/5 stars.

OUT NOW…

After spending over five years in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hunan Province, Part 3 of the acclaimed This is China series sees the author leaves China to pursue his dream of writing for a famous magazine in London. At first it’s everything he expected it to be; glamorous, eventful and fun-packed, and aside from rubbing shoulders with celebs and living the high life in England’s capital, he enjoys decadent sojourns in Magaluf, Bordeaux and several other European hotspots.

However, along with the celebrity-chasing lifestyle came gambling addiction, a relapse into substance abuse, and more heartbreak. He experiences a succession of personal and professional ups and downs, falls foul of office politics and industrial duplicity, and through it all endures the pain of broken connections and a constant yearning for a return to the Middle Kingdom to seek yet more misadventure.

Eventually, the pull proves irresistible.

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.

This is China Part 3: The Wilderness Years is out now on paperback and ebook from Red Dawn publishing.