Thursday, March 30, 2006

Moving On...

We are in shanghai now.. staying in a funky servioce apartment.. common grounds are pretty run down but we have a clean and large 2 br apartment and kids love it and have space to move.

shanghai is beautiful.. veryu old and very different from beijing or hong kong.. more later.

i gasped when we got to he hong kong airport and i saw the chinese flag flying. i really forgot. that place does not feel like china.

Who says I hate Disney?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

You want a piece of me?

As some of mou may know but many do not, I have had along-state antagonism towards Disney, thus providing some of my rodent-loving friends and family with great glee and ammunition on this current trip. I knew they were coming. Now here they are:

Aunt Joan writes:
Lucky you!! — But whatever happened to Mr. and Mrs. "we scorn that horrible and disgusting Disneyworld and will NEVER bring our children there!" Oh well, I guess it goes down with buying beer (and everything else) at Costco and bootleg in China.

But 33 headley is not done yet. Uncle Ben needs a piece to. He chimes in:

I feel guilty. It's been a slippery slope since the day Joan and I heard you utter those life-altering words: "Hey Becky, look at the price of this beer!!!"

And now you're prancing around wearing Mickey Mouse ears. So much for those young idealists we used to admire so much. Oh well, it happened to us, so I guess it was inevitable.
Welcome to the bourgeoisie.
Uncle Ben

Big Art also wants a piece of me.. nothing new there.

As this blog goes on..(and on, and on.....;-), I note a change in your narratives. Your journalistic style seems to be transforming from the Rick Steves meets Mike Wallace to something completely different...and quite frankly frighteningly Hunter S. Thompson-ish. Aside from the pictures (which in an off centered and out of focus way are worth 1000 words), I am beginning to have some serious doubts. Please in the future have B sign an attestation to the veracity of the postings. I care about you, man, don't lose it. Is there any chance of homeleave?? You need it.


p.s. you've always been wrong about Disney. Separate the creative from the corporate. It's not hard to just have to believe!!

Believe in what, Art? The power of a rodent? That it is normal for adults to line up in sweltering heat to get an autograph from a cartoon character, protected by a handler or two, who will take you down like Troy Polamalu if you try to engage in conversation? No thanks.

I have no real beef with Disney. We went for day a few years back in Orlando and had fun. I’m all for seeing the kids be happy, and watching them lifht up when they get to see a character is worth a lot. Eli is particularly blown away by that aspect. He almost burst with glee when “that cat from the Aristocats” came to our hotel last night.

Given a choice, I would still rather ride the thunderbolt and eat funnel cake at kennywood, but space Mountian is a good ride. It was also nice here because there were no lines to speak of and the smaller size is more family friendly. You can zip around and come back to a place easily.

I really enjoyed it here. It was fascinating looking at all the Asian folks walking around in wonderment. I figured a good chunk think that American cities really look like main street USA. And I felt pretty proud, honestly not being funny, that we have bee able to export the right to being a goofball which historically on the elite few could indulge inl.

Now, as to your first point – I will have to go back and re-read. I have not made a conscious change in style. Any specific examples? I have homeleave coming up next week… to see my dad after his surgery.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

HK Disney

Wow. what a couple of days... will try to find time to put it all together.. yesterday spent most of the day alone with the kids at OPcean park, an amusement park in HK, right outside of town.. stunning place built into a mountain overlooking HK and the south china Sea. Spent today at Disney, which is small but otherwise very... disney like.

we are at the Hollywood Hotel for second night. i ti snice and felt like a breath of fresh air after two nights crammed into tiny downtown HK hotel rooms... place where if I walked across the street to 7-11 (which are everywhere here), I had to go through a gauntlet of girly bars, with busty women in tight dresses grabbing my arm and saying, "come have a drink."

Those of you who recall my bad attitude towards diseny are welcome to make fun of us. My attitude hasn't changed all that much though it is quite a different feeling swimming in a piono shaped pool at the Hollywood Hotel while the Beach Boys and Elvis play in Hk than it would be in Orlando or Anaheim. i told Becky I felt like a soldier on R&R. And it is interesting looking at the place through the Asian eyes running through the place in wonderment.

overall, I preferred ocean Park really but we had a good day. i'll write more soon and post some of the great pictures I took.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Checking in from Hong Kong

Hong Kong is incredible. Coming here from Beijing is like stepping from the Second World into t e first, leaping from early 20th century to late 21st. I feel like such a country mouse here – “golly, pa, they have iron horses here!”

We came off the high speed train from the airport into the city and as we went up to the street level to get a cab we saw a book store and we all ran in there, like people crossing a desert running to a stream. We all were grabbing books and card games and computer games and throwing them onto the counter. It just makes you realize how much we don’t do have that stuff in Beijing. I can only barely imagine what trips here from BJ must have seemed like 10-15 years ago.

We tooled around the island, went to the Peak, rode the cable car down, ran around th every lovely Hong Kong park.. and ended up going to visit and have dinner with Peter Jefferies, a colleague from the WSJ. They live in a cool neighborhood on the South Shore, on the beach… It feels like you are in italy or something.

Nice time and night which ended badly when Jacob lost B’s Blackberry at the restaurant (he had been playing games), followed by us searching for an hour with a flashlight while he sobbed, “I’m doomed… I’m grounded forever… I’m sorry… “

It’s late and I need to join the rest of my family in slumber.. these pictures do not begin to capture HK but it’s what I got… We had a great dim sum lunch. Eli loved the fried rice, saying to each shrimp he ate, “I’m sorry but I am going to eat you now.” Jacob was pretty grossed out but fascinated by the fish tanks, which did include several species of marine life I have never seen, notably hairy snail clams, as well as gigantic lobsters.. must have 4 pounds.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tom in town... off to Hong Kong

My friend Tom is here for a few days packing up his stuff and closing down his house. Things are not going well for his wife, Cathy. She is at her parents’ home in Portland and is very sick.

I spent a good chunk of time last night and all of today and tonight with him. It was really nice to see him and made me realize how much I miss him. Of course, it was also difficult to see him. He is in a bad way but doing very well all things considered.

I mostly tried to keep him company and keep his spirits up. When we were alone we spoke about everything and it is really wrenching. But he seemed really happy to spend some time in a group, just having fun. The Aussies across the street have commenced Friday night happy hours now that the weather is warming and an Aussie bloke named Christian who is a teacher at Dulwich has been coming over with his guitar and we have been jamming. (This was the second straight Friday.) Tom really enjoyed that. I think it’s been a long time since he was able to have a beer with friends and relax a little. Temporary diversions are necessary sometimes.

I wish we could spend more time together, but we are all leaving tomorrow for a trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai, for the kids’ spring break. We will be gone for a week. Posting here will slow down big time, though I will try to throw something up here or there.

See you in a week.

Polite pirates

Jacob and Caroline Madden lined up for a relay race last week.

Susan Price writes:

The story about jacob quoting that puppy poem? then laughing? totally sounds like my niece again...sounds like someone might like caroline! one day emma came home from school and tells me on the phone that a boy is being mean to her. i tell her that he probably likes her cause that's what silly boys her age do when they like a girl. i ask if she likes him. she says she likes him but not his personality. and the best? his name is raoul. raoul! too too funny. the pirate ship and the skull and the polite pirate asking if the other wanted gum? these kids kill me!

Oh, Jacob and his friend Edward definitely like Caroline. In fact, I was discussing it with Mrs. C yesterday and she told me that she had been observing them all more closely in the last week since the incident and saw how close they all were.

My mother was concerned that I was endorsing and encouraging Jacob’s hitting. To make it clear, I did not endorse that at all and I was very clear with him that hitting was wrong and he can’t do it. I did not even express to him that I was proud of his standing up for his team, though I was. I want to raise a little Jason Kidd of life, not a Stephon Marbury.

One other funny thing. I was telling Becky about the pirate ship picture last night and Jacob was here. As soon as I started describing it he cracked up and finished the description. He knew it was funny and was in on the joke, which really surprised me and changed my whole perception of the humor.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Should I be proud of Jacob for this one?

Slam Managing Editor Susan Price writes:

Ok, so that girl getting in jacob's face about winning and him hitting her? i know kids shouldn't hit (or adults for that matter) but i love how he fought for his team! love it! i can hear my sister right now reprimanding me, saying that if my niece emma (7) did that, they'd have a sit down. though i bet my brother in law would secretly be smiling in the back.

anyway, just a quick email to say that the blog still rules. and love you guys all dressed up! becky looked beautiful and you looked great.

take care, Susan

Thanks for the kind words and the overall support, Susan.

As for Jacob and the fight, I was proud of him honestly. I tried hard to impress upon him that he can’t settle disputes by hitting, although it is good to stand up for yourself and your team. Of course, I was also sort of proud of Caroline, even though I don’t know her that well. She is the only other real American in the class and both of her parents and tried and true Pburgh natives. I couldn’t help but thinking that they could just s easily have been squaring off at Colfax Elementary (where I went) as at Dulwich college of Beijing It just seemed appropriate in some strange way.

Las tweek, they had poetry day, where the kdis all read poems they either chose or wrote. Caroline read one of her own. It was something like: “Puppies. Soft, cuddly, Cute. I love them.”

A couple of days later, Jacob’s very British friend Edward was over and out of the blues, Jacob goes, “Hey Edward. Puppies. Soft, Cuddly, Cute. I love them.” Then he rolls his eyes and they both crack up. I said nothing, but again was proud in some warped way.

Another funny Jacob thing: their virtue of the week is kindness. All of the kids drew pictures depicting kindness, showing someone “paying it forward.” Jacob drew a huge, fierce-looking pirate ship, complete with a skull head rising from the bow. The boat is huge. I looked at it and thought, “what was he thinking?” and then I saw two tiny figures in the middle of the boat and one pirate is saying to another, “Hey, do youw ant a piece of gum?”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We visited Chaoyang Park on Saturday to celebrate Eli's visit with Dr. Ma, who declared him healed and said he didn’t have to come back unless we saw anything we didn't like. Hip hip hooray! I heard yesterday about a girl at the kids' school who broke her ankle the same way. I need to write an item for the school newsletter warning people off this.

Anyhow, easy to see why the kids had fun. we went home with three big koy fish. Jacob was doing this fishing thing and they weren’t nibbling at all, despite him practically shoving the breaded hook into their mouths. he got frustrated, put down the road, picked up a net, saying "jigga, jigga!" "this, this") and caught a bunch of fish, much to the ladies' delight.

I would only let them keep three--- which they gave us in an open and very thing bag, like you would get at a little fruit stand. Luckily they made it home. They have been named "popped eye," "goldie" and "tiger." And they are still alive, almost five days later.

This is what looks like around here...

Some people have been asking me to post more picturees of what things look like around here. Yesterday driving home from Anna’s ballet class I had my camera with me so I snapped a few pictures at red lights on Jing Shun Lu, the crazy busy road that runs North south outside our compound. It is a crazy thoroughfare, often packed, with everything from three while motorcycle taxis to huge trucks carrying beer, pigs, lumber and everything else you can think of. Mule-drawn carts are not an unusual site, nor are flocks of sheep, being ended to by a couple of people and a couple of mangy dogs.

The pictures of the ping pong tables are form the place where Anna took the class. That is downstairs, the ballet studio is upstairs. Not sure if the picture captures the feel at all.

Ballet Pictures

Finally got the pictures up... see the post below.

"I have a daughter! She is different than a boy."

Anna was so excited all week about her ballet class with her friend Olivia Moy. These pictures only begin to capture the cuteness. I think it was the first time that it hit me -- "I have a daughter! She is different than a boy."

Sounds dumb I know, but she likes everything the boys did.. trucks, trains, wrestling, basketball, bikes, whatever. But then there's also this whole other thing that goes on.. and this ballet is the beginning of it, along with her love of all things pink and her newfound love of fingernail and toenail polish (thanks to the six years old girls across the street who treat her like a living doll).

The whole thing was only made funnier and cuter by the fact that it was held in a bizarre building, right out of the soviet Union, a huge, paint-peeling structure, set back off a bumpy, dirt road, next to yet another giant construction site. It holds some sort of sports club. I walked in and there a bunch of Chinese kids, about 10 years old, playing ping pong, wearing white and blue matching sweat suits, the kinds kids wear in school here.

I have been trying and trying to post pictures to no avail. Sooner or later...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Mr. Lilo"

We have been using Mr. Leo , one of the Chinese teaching assistants from Eli’s class, to babysit. He is a very sweet man and the kids all love him. Anna calls him Mr. Lilo, as in the cartoon character. She loves having him read her Chinese books and put her to bed.

Last week, we were going out and Brandon Fosh, one of Eli's best friends and our neighbor, came up to me in the afternoon and said, “Is Mr. Leo really coming to your house tonight?’

“Yes, Brandon. He is.”



“Really, in real life, really?”

“Yes, Brandon. Would you like to come see him?”

“Yes! Thank you Mr. Paul!”

So Brandon came over and he and Eli waited for Mr. Leo with the excitement of Dixie Doc awaiting a shipment of trumpets and Louis Armstrong CDs. When he arrived, the greeting was just as enthusiastic.

He has sat for us about three times now and while we still get a phone call or two throughout the night from Jacob and Eli, it is going well. No fits or meltdowns. Jacob makes up reasons to call – “I can’t find my shirt…. My stomach is a little upset.” He is going through an intense phase of not wanting to be alone and always wanting to be with us. he is also being exceptionally loving and well behaved, so all is forgiven.

That rosy report is overlooking the fact that he hit a girl in school two weeks ago. The ‘victim” Caroline Madden is a tough little cookie, both of whose parents are from Pittsburgh. She is the only other real American in Jacob’s class and they have a very intense love/hate relationship.

Jacob refused to apologize or admit any wrongdoing. Apparently, they had played some sort of team game in mandarin class and Caroline’s team won and she got up in their rack about it. “she was a sore winner,” Jacob said. “she kept saying, ‘We won! You lost!’ and some of the kids got really upset.”

So he cast himself as the valiant gladiator, which I’m sure is precisely how he saw himself. Anyhow, other than that incident, he has been really on his best behavior.

So they have these big balls here every few weeks.. the Australian Ball, Irish Ball, German Ball, and on and on. They are all black tie affairs. We went to the Australian Ball a few weeks ago and it was a bit of a flop.

It just felt so wrong to me. I couldn’t get comfortable so I kept drinking until I had drunken so much bad red wine that I felt, smelled, looked and thought like a Thunderbird-swilling wino. That didn’t go over so well and eventually we had a stupid if not lasting fight. I think Becky was having a good time before I starting acting like Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers.

I’m not proud of this in any way. I’m just being honest. The whole thing just felt so stilted and colonial. I can’t really defend this comparison, but it reminded of the horrible memorable scene in The Invisible Man when the bright young high school grad gets invited to the black tie ball by all the town’s swells. He thinks he is going to get a scholarship and give a speech, which eh rehearses, only to arrive and find out that he is to take place in a last-man-standing fight with other ‘colored boys.” Last one standing gets the scholarship.

He is filled with rage and horror and looks out from the ring at the smiling, porcine faces of all the town’s prominent citizens and captains of industry, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and whooping and hollering as the boys pounded each other into submission.

I couldn’t help but think of that and feel that that’s what we must have looked like to the Chinese wait staff. Maybe that’s just liberal guilt run amok. Maybe it’s just a desperate rationalization for my own boorish behavior. You decide.

Here is an invitation to the next big affair. It seems ghoulish to me. We will not be attending.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

More column response


Sorry to hear about your unsettling incident. In '94, I felt far safer in Chinese streets than most here, except late at night in crowds in Nanjing, when our Chinese
tour guide advised us not to go out alone. Even then I would probably have
felt safer at night there than in a big city of similar size here.

What I really found unsettling when leaving the US once was Victoria, Canada -
not for it's insecurity, but for it's far SAFER feel and comfort factor almost in our
own back yard. Like China, that country reminded me of when I was a
kid here in the Midwest. It was as safe here then as it is in Victoria now to be out alone or in your house with the doors unlocked. If you had ventured to predict then that US grocery stores would eventually be staffed full time with armed policemen or guards, folks would have chuckled at your active imagination. We have surrendered something precious and life enhancing. I miss it and feel a bit ashamed to admit how we capitulated.

Chuck Bealke


Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

Frankly, one of the reasons the murder shook everyone ere so deeply is it made us reevaluate how we live which is very much like we all used to in America - kids playing aloe in front of the house, doors unlocked, friends coming and going. we don't ant to give that up. it has been an unexpected advantage of living here.

Again, thanks for reading. The column runs every other Thursday.

Alan Paul

Hi Alan:

Your article is actually chilling! At the end of the day a democratic society is much better than a more economically open society. I am forced to draw comparison with my country India – the other country that promises as much economic growth.

In India, the local police is strong and so is the judicial system. More importantly there is very strong media that is getting more active.

Just sharing a few thoughts.

Warm regards,



Friday, March 17, 2006

Early response to the column

I hope I can bother you with a couple of questions on expat housing in Beijing.

Are the "housing compounds" you refer to only for Westerners, or do rich Beijingers live there to?

If the above answer is rich locals, too, then this question probably
doesn't matter: Is non-gated housing too hopelessly run down to live in?

Since you want to get the most immersion from your experience possible (I would, too, though not everyone), wouldn't it be better to truly live in a community of locals?

Thanks for your weekly reports!


Carol May
Los Angeles


Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

There are plenty of fine apartment housing options downtown. It is not an option for us, as we live in a company-owned house. Also, all of the international schools are out here so either you have to commute or your kids do. There are quite a few rich Beijingers here and also a lot of Chinese nationals who lived in the US or Canada for a long time and have now returned.

Again, thanks for reading.


Alan Paul

Perhaps if & when you find out how that poor soul was murdered you can start a move to ban whatever inanimate object killed her.

It seems to be working with guns over there.

- Guy Rosa

I did not bother to respond to this anti-gun-control zealot. I can't imagine if this country were armed...

Today's column

Expat Life:

A Murder in Beijing Sparks
Soul-Searching on Security

Our little expat world has been rocked by a murder. An American “trailing spouse” of an energy company executive here in Beijing was killed in her home in the middle of the day. She lived in a nice housing compound just a few miles north of us. Because no one knows precisely what happened except that she was found in a pool of blood, rumors quickly began flying: Some said she was stabbed, others that she was clubbed to death.

This murder immediately became conversation topic A, with most expats simultaneously feeling an intense sadness for the victim and her family and a distinct chill at the possibility that maybe our little gated communities are not quite as secure as they seem. A similar crime would similarly terrify and obsess any upper-middle-class suburban community in America, but I think the unease here was more acute for a couple of reasons.

Most foreign residents of Beijing really don't fear violent crime, in part because gun control is stringently enforced. You worry about the pollution, about driving on the crowded, crazy roads, about the lack of sanitary awareness and about contracting bird flu. But not about being robbed or having your kids abducted. One friend told me that whenever her family goes home to the U.S. in the summer, she has to remind her six-year-old to stay by her side in grocery stores or malls because the girl is so accustomed to running freely up and down the aisles.

The murder also forced many of us to really ponder the way we interact with locals. Anyone with a shred of sensitivity lives in one of Beijing's many gated compounds harboring at least a tiny sense of guilt. You have to question just how much the locals resent your presence on what was farmland not too long ago. The income disparity is just too glaring to ignore. The young, fresh-off-the-farm guards at these complexes are generally paid less in a month than we spend on a couple of weekly trips to the grocery store. It doesn’t take a terribly overactive imagination to picture them accepting a payoff or running in the other direction if an angry mob ever descended on the place.

The sense of unease was not lifted by unconfirmed press reports that the police initially told the management of her compound to inform residents that the victim died of a heart attack. With solid information so hard to come by, various stories were circulating, with one constant: the victim had a lot of cash in the house. That would not be so unusual here, where credit-card acceptance is very low, but people filled in the information vacuum with their own fears. In the days following the murder, rumors abounded. One such rumor: The victim was buying furniture that day and was killed by someone who knew she had the money on hand.

I wondered how much the ubiquitous ayis, or housekeepers, were discussing this situation and what stories they had heard. With the help of my Chinese teacher, I asked our ayi, Yoo Ying, if she had heard about the crime. “Yes, it's horrible," she said, blaming it on "Beijing people." Not surprisingly, Yoo Ying is from Anhui province, many hundreds of miles south of Beijing. But her theory was not the only one to reflect deeply held qualms. The stories being passed around our world just as surely illustrate where our fears lie.

It is not clear when or if we will find out what really happened. We called the local branch of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Public Security. A policeman there told us, "The entire criminal investigation team is working on this case and local police are strengthening the guard in that area." He also noted that murder cases are very rare in the area, “which is noted for its good security as many expatriates live there.” He wouldn't discuss the process of the investigation, but said, "Once the case is cracked, we'll immediately inform the neighborhood."

We aren't holding our breath. Nabbing a suspect or even finding the person guilty won't erase the fears, because there is little faith in the judicial system's ability to find and convict the right person. Also, the fright unleashed here is not that there is a lone, crazed murderer on the loose, but that perhaps our whole sense of security is misplaced.

The generally unspoken thought is that we are protected by an invisible force field because any Chinese national messing with a foreigner would face stiff and immediate retribution. The government clearly does care about our safety; they want and need the many expat businesspeople here. And China is reputed by Amnesty International to carry out more executions than the rest of the world combined. Although it is quite discomfiting to be protected by something you find abhorrent, the prospect of not being protected by it is, frankly, even more unsettling.

Since the murder, there has been a lot of talk of becoming more vigilant, being more careful with what you say around your ayis or other workers, checking to be sure windows and doors are locked and keeping your cash and any impending purchases low key. One friend told me she has been having nightmares and got her landlord to install a new, more-secure storm door.

Most of the compounds seem to have tightened security. Ours certainly has. Guests who used to appear at our door are now held up at the gate while we are called. Jacob's teacher, who lives in a compound across the street, has been barred from cutting through our grounds on the way to school, an example of security overcompensation.

As for myself, I'm disturbed but not stirred to action. I regard this as a sad aberration and am not doing anything different aside from being a little extra careful that the doors and windows are locked at night. We live in enough of a bubble and my goal remains breaking it down, not securing its perimeter.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Interview with Pres. of NBA China

This will be in the April issue of That's Beijing. In retrospect I certainly could have had some better questions prepared.

Five Questions with Mark Fischer, Vice President, NBA China.

•The NBA in China really took off in 2002, when Yao joined the league. How much are the two directly related? If he had never appeared, where would the NBA be now?
It’s really hard to say. Yao is a tremendous guy and personality and he has added tremendously to the NBA’s presence here. He has put a Chinese identity on the league and you can’t quantify that. And he is a great individual as well as a great player, which makes him a perfect ambassador for the two nations as well as the game of basketball.

But the sport was already on the way up here. Yao Ming grew up watching NBA games on CCTV. Hakeem Olajuwon was his favorite player and that’s who he patterned his game after. We would still have had growth without Yao, and it’s impossible to know how much. The real turning point for the NBA here was when we started broadcasting games on CCTV in 1989.

•How do you deal with the fact that while you have a great product which people desire, it’s 6,000 miles away.
It is certainly a challenge to meet the demands of the great fans we have here in China for more NBA content. The way we’ve been doing that is twofold. First, the NBA is on the cutting edge of technology, so we are getting the game out on television more than any other sports league. We’re getting the game out on China with scores and stats and info and we’re getting info out to mobile phones and now we are getting NBA games onto broadband, via a new partnership with Nusports. Through all of these means, we’re getting NBA games into people’s living rooms, offices and phones.

And the other thing is our associations with leading brands, which we are really expanding and strengthening Two and half years ago when we really started to focus on the China market -- when I was repurposed to focus full time on China -- we had two or three active partners. Now we have 15. We also have greatly expanded our grassroots events all over the country. Through all of this, we are starting to meet the demand for NBA games, but we have a lot of work to do. With a billion-plus people, demand is fairly insatiable and continued expansion is really in the cards.

•It’s not hard to imagine the Nu Sports site taking off in America were it offered in English. Do you foresee things you are doing here taking the lead for the NBA worldwide?
China is definitely ahead of the U.S. in some areas of new media. I am not the expert on this area, but what you are suggesting is certainly possible. With the NBA becoming so global there’s no reason we should not be learning from our partners all over the world. European players have helped teach American players some of their better ways of doing things and I think the same will prove to be true of some areas of technology and marketing

•How many employees does the NBA have in China?

About 30 in China and another 20 in our Hong Kong and Taipei offices dedicated to growing the game across greater China. We have more than doubled each year for the last two years. I don’t think we’re going to double in the next year but we probably will in the next two years. It’s just the way things are going. The sky’s the limit.

•In the summer of 2004, the Sacramento King and Yao’s Houston Rockets came to China for exhibition games in Shanghai and Beijing. How much impact did you see from that?
That was a big breakthrough for us because it showed fans here the real NBA game and everything that really goes on around a game. They had never seen anything like that before in China, for any event. Friends in the entertainment business here that have told us it was not only the best sporting event they had ever seen in China but the best event, period. Obviously, that was very gratifying after all the work we put in. The games made things real not only for the fans but also for the business and marketing partners we were trying to reach. They came to the games and said, “Wow. The NBA is where I want to go.” It’s self-propelling.

Sometimes Chinese class makes me want to...

... scratch my eyeballs out.

I am tempted to throw in the towel and spend my time doing other things. But I'm not ready to do that yet.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Recent photos

Check out Anna getting ready to go to her first ballet class yesterday with Olivia Moy. I promise tutu pictures within two weeks.

Last Saturday we went to the amusement park in Chaoyang Park downtown. We got there late on a frigid day with Eric Rosenblum and family and could only do a couple of things. One was Space Explorer, an almost exact ripoff of Space Mountain, which I thought was pretty good. We got in there and Jacob and Eli were terrified.. wouldn’t do it.. they wanted me to go first.. so I did.

And I rode it completely alone.. really wild experience, riding Space Mountain alone, in dead silence. I came out smiling and then the boys piled in and we rode it again.

The other thing they did was this crazy shooting game, which is pictured here. You can imagine how thrilled they were. It was really a very creepy game since the goal was to nail these little cartoon kids in the forehead. They loved it. Jacob was basically dropping and rolling all the way through the thing, which involved climbing up a fake tree, navigating swinging bridges and other cool stuff. Eli was just wandering around getting shot, and firing his gun in the air. I was trying to capture it all, largely unsuccessfully.

We actually went to his park one of the very first days we were here, with Kathy and her kids. It was the first day we met Ding, who met up with us there. Seems like an eon ago. It is bigger and nicer than I had remembered and right across the street from Eric and tit’s fabulous new apartment. We will certainly be back as the weather warms. (Today was glorious by the way.)

Jacob's Big Day, Eli's Big Fit

Pictured here are Eli's traps for us.. not sure how well you can see the evil genius at work here.

So Jacob had a great time yesterday. Last night we went to a dinner with the Newspaper Editors where I was widely introduced as “Jacob’s father.” Marty Baron of the Boston Globe was a particular fan.

Jacob came back with a used-up disposable camera, a pack of Summer palace postcards, a multi-color Olympics-adorned pen and a replica of a Mongol axe. Eli had a hard time accepting all of this.

The hospital pickup went fine and Eli’s leg is much, much better. I was surprised to note that it is still pretty swollen. It has been five weeks, I think. The kid really took a beating. But he is very close to a full recovery. He is still pretty much refusing to wear regular shoes, which he could easily do. He is still wearing one shoe and one sandal, while complaining that people are staring at him or making fun of him for having two different shoes. Chinese people do seem to be particularly amused by this and I have in fact seen several pointing and laughing, or commenting to me. I’m sure he does hear it all the time.

Anyhow, we trekked over to the Intercontinental Hotel in far West Beijing for this cocktail hour and dinner last night and it was worth it. We had a nice time. Jim Pensiero is great, interesting company. Also there was Charlotte Hall. She is the editor of the Orlando Sentinel and was formerly the editor of Newsday, when Becky was there. She was really nice and very proud of Becky.

Midway through dinner, we began receiving the usual phone calls from Jacob and eli. Jacob wasn’t too bad. He accepted that he was going to bed, but kept calling with various questions and excuses… “where is my shirt?” “I have diarrhea.. I think I need to stay up for a while..” “OK, I am going to sleep in your bed.. don’t move me when you get here. Just go to sleep.. ok?”

Eli, on the other hand, was getting more and more enraged… He demanded we come home rgiht away. “Wli,” I said. “we are far away. We could leave right now and not be home for an hour. It’s bedtime so go to sleep with Ding. We will be there.”

At one point, he was carrying on and I said, “Eli just go to bed. If you go to sleep right now, we can get ice cream tomorrow on the way home from school.” [Sometimes raw bribery is called for.]

“No way!” he screamed. “I am not going to school tomorrow! Jacob didn’t go today so I’m not going tomorrow.”

I think that was the last thing said.

We got home pretty early, about 11 pm, and Ding was waiting up. She was laughing. She took us to the stairs and pointed and said, “Eli did this.. and he say, ‘Do not take this home. It for my mommy and daddy.”

He had boobytrapped the stairs, a la Home Alone (Art was right about us being wary of dropping flower pots.) Each stair was carefully loaded with pencils and tiny pointy hair clips. The bottom stair was filled with hard plastic Pokemon characters. We had a good laugh about this.

In the morning, he initially denied having set the traps, then said, “It’s because you were so far away!” I wasn’t quite clear if he meant that because we were so far away, he needed to protect the house, or he was so mad that we were so far away, he wanted to punish us. I think it was the latter.

He did go to school this morning after some carrying on.

Sopranos! Big ups to Steve goldberg

I couldn't even begin to describe how the whole thing works, but my IT guy Steve Goldberg hooked me up big time. After a 17-hour download (!), I was able to watch the Sopranos episode from Sunday night. It was great as most of you know and I am happy. Thanks Steve.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Jacob grows wings

These darn kids can keep on surprising you. There is a big meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Beijing right now. 50 or so big time American editors here for a gathering of the tribe. Jim Pensiero, an Assistant ME of the Journal is among them. Last night he and Becky were talking and he said that today they were heading for a tour of the Summer Palace, one of the big destinations here, where I went with my in-laws but no one else in the family has been yet. Jacob listed it the other day as the place he most wants to visit..

“Oh., I haven’t been there yet,” Becky said. “But we have to go. Jacob is obsessed with seeing it.”
“Why doesn’t he come with us?” Jim asked. “I’d love to take care of him.”
Last night, we asked Jacob if he’d like to go.
“Instead of school you mean?’
“Oh yeah! I’m going.”
“Jacob you won’t know anyone there. You will be the only kid with a large group of adults and neither of us will be there. Our fried will take care of you, so you’ll be fine… but do you understand?”
“Yeah. I want to go.”

I double checked again this morning and he kept saying, “yeah, yeah. Jim will take care of me.”
So I said, “Jacob, do you realize that it is not Olivia’s dad, Jim?” [I had a strong gut instinct that he thought it was Jim Yardley, whom he knows pretty well.]
“Oh, it’s not? I thought it was.”
Short pause… “I still want to go.”

So Mr. Lu picked Becky and Jacob up at 7:15 this morning and they set of for the far-away Intercontinental Hotel. I was a little worried that they would get there and he would grab Becky’s leg and not want to go, but no. Apparently, after a tiny bit of shyness, he shook hands with Jim and bounded onto the bus. We packed him a lunch and put his sketch pad into his backpack and gave him some money to buy a disposable camera and snacks.

I stopped by his class this morning when dropping off eli and picked up his homework and filled in his teacher on his absence. She thought it was great and said he would get extra credit if he gives a report on his experience to the class tomorrow. Yet another reason Jacqui Cameron is a great second grade teacher.

Here are some of the emails between Becky. Jim and me that ensued this afternoon.

Hi Jim,
If you get a chance, please tell Jacob that his teacher is very excited that he is doing this. She thinks it sounds very cool -- and she said to tell him that he will get a merit if he comes back tomorrow and gives a report.

Rebecca: Will pass this along. We're at the palace now and we're having a great time. He has a camera and summer palace book and has warmed up and is charming all the editors. Jim

Thanks for escorting jacob. Have fun and please let us know if any columns are to be written about him.

Alan: We're having a great time. Checking out the fish at the restaurant (sturgeon, carp and catfish in a tank). The Chinese love him, and want to have their pictures taen with him. All best. Jim

We've just got back at the hotel from the palace. Jacob and are seeking out a soda before bus leaves here at 2.30 for the China Daily.

Alan, I'm so proud of him.. I was telling him not to burp on the way over!

I am also very proud of him. It feels like a landmark moment to me.

And so it goes. I discussed this with Dixie last night and he said, “Well, sooner or later they wave good bye, turn their back and walk away. It happens at different times for different kids.” It happed today for Jacob, for the first time. Interestingly, he has been extremely cuddly and loving with both of us lately.

Becky is picking him up at the China Daily [English language propganda paper, where the editors are going] and escorting him to me at the hospital, where I am taking Eli this afternoon for his final wound cleaning. It is almost totally healed. Saturday, we see Dr. Ma for a final checkup and I anticipate being given a clean bill of health. It has been hell of a month with him.

Saturday, March 11, 2006




Amid Growth, Waiting for Reform
March 11, 2006; Page A2

On Tuesday, China's Premier Wen Jiabao will hold a rare news conference to mark the closing of the annual session of the National People's Congress. His remarks will come after nearly 3,000 delegates of the national legislature gather in the Great Hall of the People to cast their votes on a plan for China's economic development over the next five years, among other measures.

Here's a safe prediction: The final tally will be nearly unanimous -- a sign China's political system is still changing far more slowly than its economy.

China is now estimated to be the world's fourth-largest economy. Last year, its 9.9% economic growth, plus a revision of earlier figures, pushed the size of its economy past those of Italy and France -- and maybe beyond that of the United Kingdom.

Such leaps are rare in history, and no other country has grown so fast for so long. The economy of the world's most populous nation now stands behind only those of Germany, Japan and the U.S. China also is playing an increasingly prominent global role in a broad range of areas. It has achieved this feat by unleashing market forces on its formerly state-run economy, starting a quarter century ago under Deng Xiaoping.

Many in the West assumed that as capitalism opened up unprecedented opportunities in China, democracy would soon follow. But that hasn't happened.

China's failure to implement any significant political reforms remains a sore spot in U.S.-China relations. In its annual report on human rights last week, the U.S. State Department blasted China on a range of concerns, from political suppression to torture and censorship.

Many inside and outside China had hoped President Hu Jintao and Mr. Wen would push for more political liberalization. But with so many urgent social needs -- and growing signs of unrest among China's 800 million farmers and others left behind amid a growing wealth gap -- the government simply cannot afford the luxury of political reform at this time, says Shi Yinhong, a professor of International relations at People's University of China.

"Political reform in China is totally different from what the Western world wants us to do," says Mr. Shi. "It does not mean Western-style elections, it does not mean Western-style general elections, it does not mean Western-style freedom of the press."

There are a few signs of progress, if faint by Western standards. Democratic elections are happening at the grassroots levels. Millions of Chinese are moving to the middle class and enjoying freedoms they once only imagined. Even though the legislature still puts on a supportive face for the Communist Party's agenda, observers say the debate behind closed doors often is heated.

The political changes some demand of China may take another 10 to 20 years, says Dan Rosen, principal of New York-based China Strategic Advisory, which advises U.S. firms on China issues. But, he says, to suggest political reform "hasn't begun belies a dangerous ignorance and severe lack of historical vision."

Write to Rebecca Blumenstein at

Friday, March 10, 2006

Things change so fast here

This is a picture of some typical migrant housing. They throw this up at any big constructions site and the workers live there. They all come from far-away, rural, poor places.

It’s really remarkable how fast things change here. We’ve only been here six months and I already see t e landscape around our compound changing radically. It’s funny how you take for granted that whatever is there when you arrive is how it has always been, which is, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, it’s a highly subjective and ever-changing concept.

For instance, I am sitting right now in Starbucks in Pinnacle Plaza, a little strip mall a few miles from our house and right around the corner from River Garden, where we lived the first month of our arrival. In fact, I am sitting at the every table where I spent hours in our early weeks and wrote most of my early blog entries and feeling a little sentimental.

Last week, on the way to the Australian ball, I was speaking with this woman Kathy, who works for the IMF and has been here for three and half years. She said, “Man, it was so exciting when Pinnacle Plaza opened. The first year we were here it was such a tease. We kept driving by this construction site with a ‘Starbucks coming soon’ sign and waiting and waiting.”

Really, nothing about this place (the whole mall, not Starbucks specifically) seems brand new. I figured it had been here 8-10 years, like River Garden and Riviera, two of the older compounds.

Out here, it is a mix of compounds and a few Western-oriented places like this and cornfields and many little dusty Chinese shops and some light industrial places. You can still see flocks of sheep walking down the side of the very busy Jing shun Lu, but the cornfields are becoming less and less prevalent, right in front of our eyee. There are huge developments going up on both sides of the corner of the street where you turn off to come here, off of Jing shun Lu. On one side, they are building a few luxury high-rise apartment buildings. On the other, I’m told, a convention center and hotel is going up.

Just slightly North on Jing shun Lu to the left, several high rise buildings are rising. I don’t know what they are. Back down near our place, right around the corner from Riviera, a huge new, Chinese courtyard-style compound called Cathay View has gone up mostly since we arrived. The first stage was finished just as we got here (that is where I played softball, actually), but now the whole thing is done. It is a huge compound. It used to be all farmland.

The road that runs alongside the compound was a little dusty thing when we got here. There was a metal gate thing at one end and you had to squeeze through it to drive down the road. Our Jeep just made it. So no trucks or large vehicles could pass. It felt like a country road, filled mostly with bikes and people walking. It is an important connector road for us, going down to Jenny Lou’s the Western-style supermarket (which has only been there about 2 years though life without it seems unthinkable) and Annie’s a pizza restaurant that is a family favorite, and also is less than two. Months ago, while we were still at River Garden, we took a cab over to Annie’s one night. We got there and the road was closed. Blocked off with sheet metal… we figured out how to go around the long way.

When we moved into Riviera, it was still like that. I could still ride my bike down there, to softball and the grocery store and I did so quite often. One day, I went zipping down there and suddenly fell six inches, landing on some bumpy, rocky ground – the road was gone. I didn’t fall and pushed on, proceeding carefully.

Over the next couple of weeks, I watched the road be widened and turned into a real road… I watched them dig a huge ditch alongside it, pushing into the field.. it was maybe 10-15 feet deep and 10 feet across.. it was dug by hand… I saw them lay pipe in there and put bricks over it and fill it back in. I saw huge piles of bricks lined up and wondered what they were doing.. I rode my bike by and watched armies of migrant workers making a brick wall…

I watched the wall rise and rise, then get covered in stucco and have ornamental posts put up until it looked really quite nice – and quite old. Someone who moved in the next day would never have guessed the wall was brand new or the road used to be country lane. My frame of reference happened to just predate these developments. All of that was done for Cathay View, which opened shortly after. Before long, the road was reopened, now as a real road. And do it goes around here. Amazing to see.

Another major project that suddenly popped up is a light rail system going in alongside the Airport Expressway that we take into town. It is supposed to connect the city to the airport in time for the Olympics.

I had heard they were going to build it, and then all of a sudden one day I saw temporary migrant housing pop up right near our exit. I knew something big was coming and then over the next few days, armies of workers appeared on the median running into town. That is moving along.

All this is just in our little suburban neck of the woods. It’s the same thing downtown, where buildings are being razed and replaced by skyscrapers at a dizzying rate. One time, we were walking into this exhibition downtown and Jacob and I were looking at all the cranes. We stopped and counted 23 within our view. That was not unusual.

It’s especially remarkable when you compare all this rapid activity to home, where Vaux Hall Road was closed for a year when the mafia-connected construction company screwed up the bridge prompting a huge fight between Essex and Union counties and months of delays and detours.

Back to china… what happens to the displaced farmers is a sad tale of woe. Basically, they don’t own the land – the “people” do. The developers come in and make a deal with the local party leader or mayor or whatever and take it. Sometimes, the guys are not too corrupt and everyone in the village gets a nice little monthly payment… often times, they just pocket the money, the farmers get kicked off and try to find something else to do. Maybe they get hired as security guards at the new villa compounds.

Somehow, it feels morally superior to be living in a place where this happened a decade ago instead of last month. It is a tenuous distinction to be sure. We did go over to a friend’s house at Yosemite, the latest and greatest compound (and hilariously called YOH-SEM-ITE by Europeans), which is about a mile down the back road from River Garden. It is right on the edge of farmland and the guards there look like they really might have been farmers a few months ago, though they probably are just off the train from a distant and impossibly poor rural area hundreds of miles away.

Our friends’ home is spectacular, more so because of their impeccable taste and her incredible drive for perfection than the actual house, but it really does feel weird and exposed being on the frontier of this relentless expansion. I don’t think I would enjoy living there.


Word is, we are going to get our first sandstorm in the coming days. I will keep you posted. Supposedly, they get pretty nasty at times. The weather has been really, really nice… exceptionally mild and the pollution not too bad. Along with the winds and sand, there is supposed to be another temp drop coming so in that regard March here may not be that different than March in New Jersey.

I forgot to mention the Sopranos

... when talking about feeling homesick. Of course, I can probably buy the whole season on DVD the day after it ends, but I really want to see these shows... I need to work on that... Steve Golderbg?

And just to make clear, responding to a couple of people's email about what I wrote yesterday, I do not have any second thoughts or anything... it's just that all these March events I so enjoy are making me a little homesick.

Missing March Madness

I have to say that March is a difficult month to not be home. You’ve got the Big East tournament, the Allmans pulling into the Beacon for 14 shows, March Madness in the air. I love all this stuff and I love the feeling of hope and renewal starting to waft through the air, as the weather fluctuates daily from 25 to 65.

It's hard to describe just how much of a ritual and time marker the Allmans beacon shows have become -- but they have been doing them almost going back to when I started working at Guitar World, during the waning days of Bush I. (digest that for a moment.) I have only missed one year, while living in Ann Arbor. I made it back for a few shows the other year we were out there. Every other March I have attended anywhere from one to 6 or 7 shows, most of them just walking in the back door without a ticket. (Thanks, Kirk.)

Last year, I had a particularly memorable couple of Beacon shows. Norm came in from California and we hung out at a suite at the beacon hotel one afternoon, jamming with each other and another friend of his. Then we went over to the Beacon Theatre upstairs dressing room and watched Andy Aledort conduct a lengthy and masterful videotaped lesson on slide guitar with Derek Trucks. Then we went back to the hotel and jammed with Andy, the King, for an hour or so before the show. The show itself, while great, as per usual, was reduced to a secondary memory.

The next weekend, Art came in from Chicago, we got a hotel room and went to a Saturday night show with Per and Rodger. It was a particularly stellar show, with several guest performers, including the great bluesman Little Milton, who took over the stage and has since passed away. Seeing your favorite band with some of your oldest, dearest friends is tough to top. I only wish we had started the tradition five, six, seven years earlier. It’s hard for me to believe how little Art and I have hung out over the last 8 years or so, since we moved to New Jersey. That was a mistake, which would have been easily rectified. Too bad we figured that out just before I moved to China – but at least we did figure it out before I moved to China.

Art and I went through so much together, shared so many experiences in college that I feel like we served in the Marines together or something. A lot of that comes from the summer we spent living together in a sheet metal cabin in Wyoming, breaking wild broncos and wrestling bison. (Okay, maybe that was just the peyote, but we really did save a girl’s life by carrying her off a mountain on our shoulders at 3 in the morning with no flashlight and coyotes howling all around us after drinking a bottle of Jim Beam a couple of hours earlier. Stuff like that bonds you, man.)

The day after the concert, Art and I roamed around Manhattan, ending up on Bleecker Street and feeling thirsty. It was a little early to pop one on a normal day but these were special circumstances. We headed into a bar to wet our whistle, figuring it would just be opening and stumbled into a mass of drunken Welshmen, arms around each other singing the national anthem of Wales. Seems that early that morning was some sort of blood match rugby game, against one of the other British Isles nations,(Ireland?) and the Welsh had own and these blokes were celebrating big time. Most of them seemed to have been there all night. Little did I know that six months later, I would be replicating their performance at 4 am in a bar in Beijing with a bunch of Steelers nuts…

That day, the early tourney games were just starting and put away a few beers while watching the hoops, enjoying the comfortable silence that can sit between good friends.

Anyhow, as you can see, I am feeling a little melancholy for home right now, sitting here at midnight, listening to Eat a Peach on headphones as Becky works away across the room. I’m sure that my good friend and Slam compadre Ben Osborne is right when he says that it is infinitely more enriching for me to be trekking around Beijing than going to yet another Big East tournament – or Allmans show, for that matter. But I really do long for both at the moment.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

GMail letting me down

I can't believe this. I can't get my email. I've been getting this message all morning. Very annoying. It makes you realize how much we take technology for granted and how tenuous it can be.

Server Error

We're sorry, but Gmail is temporarily unavailable. We're currently working to fix the problem -- please try logging in to your account in a few minutes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

RIP, Ali Farka Toure

I really dig the music of Ali Farka Toure, which draws such a distinct line between blues and african music. i was really sad to hear about his death. I strongly recommend anyone checking him out.

He did an album with ry Cooder called Talking timbuktu. I have not heard it but I'm sure it's great. The two I have and love are The source and Niafunke.

This obituary is excerpted from the NY Times. Complete obit is here:

Ali Farka Touré, Grammy-Winning Musician of West Africa, Dies

Published: March 8, 2006

Ali Farka Touré, the self-taught Malian guitarist and songwriter who merged West African traditions with the blues and carried his music to a worldwide audience, winning two Grammy Awards, died in his sleep on Monday at his farm in the village of Niafunke in northwestern Mali, the Ministry of Culture of Mali announced.

He was either 66 or 67; he was born in 1939 but he did not know his birth date. His record company, World Circuit Records, said he had suffered from bone cancer.

Mr. Touré's deep grounding in Malian traditions made him one of African music's most profound innovators. "Mali is first and foremost a library of the history of African music," he said in a 2005 interview with the world-music magazine Fly. "It is also the sharing of history, legend, biography of Africa."

In Mali he was considered a national hero. At the news of his death, government radio stations there suspended regular programming to play his music.

Mr. Touré forged connections between the hypnotic modal riffs of Malian songs and the driving one-chord boogie of American bluesmen like John Lee Hooker; he mingled the plucked patterns of traditional songs with the aggressive lead-guitar lines of rock. He sang in various West African languages — his own Sonrai as well as Songhai, Bambara, Peul, Tamasheck and others — reflecting the traditional foundations of the songs he wrote. His lyrics, in West African style, represented the conscience of a community, urging listeners to work hard, honor the past and act virtuously.

Mr. Touré was his family's 10th child, and the first to survive infancy. "Farka," a nickname, means "donkey," an animal praised for its tenacity.

Hockey and George "Ice" Gervin come to Beijing

Posted below is my Sports Talk column for the March That’s Beijing, which is out now. It is the first time I have ever written about hockey. Sometimes when you don't know what you're talking about, it pays to just keep talking. The game was fun. I took Jacob and went with Charles Hutzler, a former WSJ reporter who now works for AP, and his son. We had a good time. Jacob ate about six Kit Kat bars. I had a beer and froze. It took me an hour after leaving to warm up again.

Hanging with Iceman in Beijing was priceless. The first event I wrote about, the big press conference thing, was pretty depressing. They had these Chinese girls dressed up like American cheerleaders. They were really cute, but were gussied up like 11th Ave. whores and their routines were all out of sync. and they have these three kids doing hoops tricks, and they were really lame. I mean so lame, it was comical.

They had this huge event, with a health club hoops court all done up, smoke machines swirling.. there were probably 150 Chinese press there. I was one of a just a few Americans. There was one hoop still standing, and after the cute but pathetic girls did their lame routine to some pounding modern R&B, the guys took some shots, with one throwing down a wobbly, almost-tomohawk slam.

Then the smooth MC with expensive specs came out and introduced the “lineup” just like a starting team… It was the big wigs of this company NuSports that did a really cool, live-feed and stored video website with the NBA… worth looking at despite being all in mandarin at… It seemed kind of funny to introduce what looked like your office’s IT staff in such a fashion.

Then they introduced NBA in china head mark Fischer, then they all sat down and answered some questions. Yawn… then they cranked up the smoke machines again, and played some Ice Gervin highlights on a huge screen, which then pulled up to reveal… Ice himself, to a huge applause.

He strolled out to the floor, smoke swirling all around him, waving and smiling.. he was so incredibly, freakishly skinny when he played, that after watching the clips of him finger rolling away it is sort of shocking to see a paunchy pot belly in his 6-7 frame. But, hey, he is 54.

I spoke to him afterwards for a bit and a lot more the following day at the AmCham luncheon mentioned and he really seemed to dig it here. He was clearly touched when presented with a traditional style Chinese painting of him, featuring “ICE 44” written down the side… The next day, he asked me if I had seen it so I think his enthusiasm was genuine. He also patted his belly and said, “I told my wife, the food is too good here… I can’t wait to come back again.”

Curious about what a hockey team called the Nordic Vikings was doing stationed in Beijing, I stopped by the new Hosa rink between the 4th and 5th Rind roads last month to check out the team’s final regular season game. The stands were sprinkled with Beijing’s hockey nuts, many of them expats, most of them Canadians. There was also a small but vocal group of Chinese fans, rooting hard. All of them paid the grand sum of nothing for some pretty exciting, if rather frigid, entertainment, as the Vikings lost 4-3 to Oji, Japan.

The Vikings compete in the second-year Asian Hockey League, where they face off against two other Chinese teams (Harbin and Qiqiqihar), primarily made up of National Team members, four squads from Japan and two from Korea. The Vikings originally featured a mix of Scandinavian and Chinese players, but the latter vanished after Christmas, for reasons not completely clear. The hoped–for sponsorships never quite materialized either and it is an open question whether or not the Vikings, owned by a Swedish sports conglomerate, will return for a second go next season.

Beijing’s hockey nuts certainly hope so. Not surprisingly, the fans are largely the same people who play in the new four-team men’s league started this winter and whose kids make out the diehard core of 150 or so youngsters in Sports Beijing’s growing youth hockey program. All of this hockey activity has been greatly boosted by the recent addition of Hosa Rink, which opened this winter and has been like manna from heaven for the city’s diehard ice lovers.

Annick Lambert a self-described “crazy French Canadian hockey freak” who has lived in Beijing for 18 years, is ecstatic about the Vikings’ arrival and is praying for them to return for a second season. “I miss hockey so much and this as close as you can get to an NHL game here,” she says.

How high is the level of play? Mike Parsons, a Canadian coach who just returned from a six-month stint coaching the women’s junior national team in Harbin, relates it to an NHL farm club. The Vikings clearly have a rough road to hoe in the AHL, which itself is far from success for the simple reason that there is not a thriving hockey culture in Asia; not one nation from the continent qualified for the Turin Olympics and only Japan made it in ’04, and that was an automatic host country bid. Though the Chinese women have risen a high as sixth in the world, them en’s team is languishing somewhere around 30th. New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, a Shanghai native, has donated money and equipment and is actively trying to boost the sports status here in his homeland. In the meantime, Hosa is facilitating a welcome flowering of the sport on a small scale here in Beijing.

For more information on the Viking and to se how their Playoff run is going, check For info on adult or youth rec hockey, log on to or


The NBA showed its continually expanding interest in China with a couple of recent events held on consecutive day sin early February. First, they held a joint news conference with new media company NuSports to announce a partnership that is truly, and legitimately exciting. The company is now streaming, for free, webcasts of NBA games, at their site, They will feature 30 regular season and 12 Playoff games as well as 20 classic contests. If your Mandarin isn’t up to snuff, you will have a hard time both navigating the site and understanding the announcers, but if you a re a true hoops head, a visit is well worth the extra effort. I expect to see this concept copied and duplicated in English before long, because it is clearly several steps better than anything the NBA is currently offering in its home market or language.

The day after the splashy announcement, complete with cheerleaders and smoke machines, the NBA and the American Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon featuring Dave Cowens and George “Ice” Gervin, two of the sports 50 all-time greatest players. Both retired legends spoke and answered questions from the audience and both seemed genuinely pumped to be in China.

“This is my third time here,” said Gervin, who had been visibly moved the day before by NuSports presentation to him of a traditional style Chinese-style scroll painting featuring his name and likeness. “And it won’t be my last. I can’t believe how far basketball has taken me and how far the league has come. People in China have a phenomenal interest in the sport and it is still just beginning here. I’m sure of that.”

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sara B news update

Below is a letter from Sara Blumenstein, Becky's youngest sister. She is a senior at the University of Chicago and the acceptance letters from architecture school are rolling in.

As you can see, she recently began adpoting an architecture school look.. page boy haircut and clunky glasses and all.

I'm sure that some of you who don't know the full range of Becky's family find it wild that she has a sister just graduating from college, but we find it wild from the other end; how could Sara be graduating college?!? How old is she? How old are we?

Nothing makes us realize how long we have been together -- I met Sara when she was 3! She was always incredibly precocious and funny, even when she was being a brat and has always been one of my favorite people. She is the first kid I've seen grow into an adult and it really is quite amazing. Also amazing is the fact that she is just as precocious at U-Chicago as she was at Bush Elementary in Hampton Township amidst the sons and daughters of the Michigan Militia.

I won't say that it seems like yesterday that she was 8 years old and making her own mayonaisse from a Martha Stewart Living recipe, or a week ago that she was heading off to kindergarten with Bobby Kooley... but her Bat Mitzvah really does seem recent. [cue "Sunrise, Sunset" and pass the hankies.}

So anyhow, we're really proud of her. Congratulations sara. Anyone thinking of making a major addition to their home may want to wait five years to have your plans drawn up.

Late breaking news: since she sent this email, she was also accepted to U-Michigan and offered a huge scholarship package. I'm sure Yale and Cal will be battling for her presence soon.

dear becky,
mom just gave me the lovely purse from thailand - thank you so
much! and keep 'em coming. i got home last night on the
train from chicago to see mom and dad this
weekend...its a nice cold day, with the sun reflecting off the
snow, which is exciting especially considering how little snow
we've had in chicago (the ground is mostly frozen but
everything just looks gross).

i got my first acceptance letter this morning in the form of an email from
wash u, and my roommate texted me last night to say that a
thick envelope had arrived from it is needless to
say an exciting morning, exciting to know that no matter what
happens, I AM GOING TO GRAD SCHOOL! so now we wait to hear
back from the other seven places, but this knowledge is of
course a tremendous relief. besides that...i have been
following eli's medical odyssey through alan's blog and hope
he's feeling better and doesn't want to fire you or alan
anymore (mom and dad and i got a big chuckle out of that
story.) anyway! hope your sunday went well, talk to you soon.

Tangential -- Cheerleader breaks neck, keeps cheering.

I found this story to be pretty damn warped.

It also made me remember going to Pitt basketball games as a kid and my dad screaming at the cheerleaders, “That’s dangerous! Someone is going to break their neck!” It was sort of embarrassing, but I guess he was right.

Tangentially, it also was not unusual for him to roll down the window at a traffic light and indicate to the car beside us to do the same, if he saw a kid standing or walking in the vehicle, not an uncommon occurrence in my youth. “That child should be restrained” he would say to the confused and often quite pissed person.

Cheerleader continues cheering after breaking neck
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Kristi Yamaoka wasn't about to let a broken neck and concussion keep her school spirit down.

The Southern Illinois University cheerleader lost her balance during a routine Sunday and fell about 15 feet onto her head, hushing the crowd of about 14,000 as she was placed in a back and neck brace.

But the 18-year-old sophomore, in fair condition Monday and expected to make a full recovery from chipped neck vertebra and a concussion, let the stunned fans and national television audience know right away that she was going to be OK.

When the pep band fired up SIU's fight song "Go Southern Go," Yamaoka gave a two-handed thumbs up from the gurney, then moved her arms -- the only things not strapped down -- in time to the music and cheered.

"As long as my arms were functioning, I could do the fight song," a groggy Yamaoka told The Associated Press by telephone Monday morning from Saint Louis University Hospital.

"I just knew that it would be a little easier for my team and squad to concentrate if they knew I was OK and not worrying about me," she said. "I didn't want the team to get distracted. I needed them to win for me."

They did. The Salukis beat Bradley 59-46 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final, earning their fifth-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Yamaoka's routine from the gurney got her a standing ovation at the Savvis Center and mention later on national sports TV highlights packages. She said her season is over -- doctors have told her not to perform for six weeks.

Yamaoka, of Springfield, Ill., said she doesn't remember the midcourt tumble during a timeout with 3:25 left to play. She was supposed to dismount to the front of the human pyramid, where two cheerleaders were ready to catch her, said the squad's cheerleading coach, Jennifer Graeff.

But Yamaoka lost her balance and tumbled off the back, landing on her head.

"It's a little bit scary falling from 15 feet," Yamaoka said. "That kind of thing doesn't happen often."

Yamaoka was motionless for a few minutes on the court, but says she recalls hearing SIU's fight song and couldn't resist leading the cheer as she was taken away in a brace.

"I do remember that, the fight song," she said.

Graeff urged Yamaoka to stay still, fearing her cheer could hurt her more. But Graeff saw that the medical crews at Yamaoka's side didn't seem to have much of a problem with the impromptu show of spirit, so Graeff let it go.

"She didn't want to leave the floor. She said, 'Just let me finish the game,"' Graeff said Monday. "That's Kristi -- 100 percent school spirit."

Yamaoka asked about whether anyone had videotaped the game, specifically the last 4 minutes, Graeff said.

"I just thought she wanted to see the fall," Graeff said. "But she wanted to see how the Salukis did."

Monday, March 06, 2006

First hand Dixie skiing report

Brother-in-law Jon Kessler writes:

I know I don't contribute much to this forum
(something about sharing your private thoughts with
any stranger who happens on the site is a little
unsettling) but a recent occurance has prompted this
shout out. A few hours before our plane was to take
off for our recent family trip to Aspen, Laura hung up
the phone with Dixie Doc and announced that there was
a caper being hatched in Pittsburgh. Sure enough,
after a quick return call by Sarah we received
confirmation that Dixie, just two days after his 4th
and last course of chemotherapy, was buying full fare
plane tickets to Aspen Colorado.

At 12,510 feet and with a hemoglobin count of 10
(that's 30% less than normal I'm told) Dixie was not
just skiing, he was terrorizing Smowmass Mountain with
the abandon of a 17 year old after a pint of Southern
Comfort. He shredded up the old favorites like
Powerline and The Edge and only took it easy when
forced to entertain a few cruisers with Suzie (in
between the plethora of boot adjustments and pee
breaks the ladies required - we actually lost Laura
for a whole morning to SureFoot).

After a day of hard skiing, evenings were spent as
always, 5:30pm dinner at Litle Annies (Shrimp Cocktail
and Fudge Brownie Sunday still seemed to taste OK to
the Doc even though the taste buds have been
compromised by the chemo poison). And, also as usual,
by 8:30pm I found myself watching tv (Olympic ice
dancing this time) surrounded by Laura and Suzie with
their eyes closed ("I can't go to bed at 8:30, I'll be
up at 5am" says Suzie..."zzzz") and Dixie already in
bed (nothing to do with the Chemo, this is Standard
Operating Procedure).

Other than a few extra rest stops along Powerline
Glades and the near fainting incident in the Smowmass
Pavillion (caused, I think, more by an overwhelming
sense of anxiety from digging through the lost glove
box for Suzy's missing mitten than true fatigue) Dixie
was in tip-top form (although I think the lecture on
the risks of altitude sickness and importance of
staying hydrated from the Octagenarian Snowmass "Host"
got to him a little PO'd).

Dixie, you have once again outdone yourself and are a
true role model to all of us. When any one of you is
thinking you know how to enjoy life, just step back a
second and observe the Master.

Brave man

Sorry but this is funny. Thanks your honor.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

“You’re Fired!”

First, the good news. I am feeling much more confident today that Eli is going to be okay. Dixie examined his wound this morning thanks to the miracle of Isite and is convinced that the wound is indeed superficial, which is to say surface based and not coming from the bone, which would be a real serious problem. We returned o the hospital for a good cleaning again and it already looks much better than it did yesterday, though it is still gruesome.

He took the process much better today. He brought his drawing book and markers with him and drew right through the whole thing, only stopping for a few screeches. He is getting used to the thing being manhandled.

But he also needed a tetanus shot today because we realized that he never had his five-year-old booster. Well, eh went nuts when he learned this.. he basically knew but thought he would be able to put it off.

Imagine trying to put a diaper on a rabid ferret and you will have a good idea of what was going on. First, he tried to reason his way out.. “I can’t take my shirt off.. the nurses will see my nipples…”

Then he tried to stall… “I just want to finish my moon pie…” (Yes, they have chiense moon pies, but they are Orion Pies.)

Then he resorted to sheer lunacy.

At some point, he said, “I am going to punch you in the eye, dad.”

At another point, he said, “I am going to blow up every bike in the world for doing this to me.”

At another he said, “I’m the worst person in our family because I’m the only one who is injured.”

And then, my personal favorite: “You’re fired, dad!”

He recovered fairly well, though when we left he said he can’t walk, so I carried him and he can’t move hi arm, which was hanging like a dead bird at his side. We got into the car with Mr. Dou and he was fine by the time we got home, especially after I said he could watch Home Alone. No school today, for teacher’s meetings or whatever and Claire Moy came over. They are beyond cute together… that is a whole other entry, for another day.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Early reader response to column

You know I love this one:


As a Chinese living in US, I read most of news about China from all sorts of US papers and magazines. Now, every morning, the most enjoyable thing for me to do is to read your column while sipping my green tea. I love you columns. All the stories are so vivid and warm, every time I read it, I can see the stories unfolding right in front of my eyes. I especially love the one about going to breakfast and teaching English to two girls and a group of Chinese. I could not hold my smile when you wrote about your start student saying goodbye to you. I just wish you column would be available everyday on WSJ.

I would suggest you put those stories into a book. Because there are so many books talking about how to make money, how to decode Chinese politics. I haven’t seen a book about ordinary life of a foreigner in China, especially, from a foreigner’s perspective to experience the daily life in China with such an understanding and appreciative heart.

Good luck to you and your family. Hope Eli’s ankle has totally recovered.

Jin Guo

and my response:

Thank you very much for your kind words and for taking the time to write. I appreciate your thoughts.

I have certainly considered seeking to write a book on my experiences but right now I am just trying to stay focused on writing some good columns. They run every other week and I could easily write them twice a week.

Where do you live in the States? I hope you are having a nice experience there.

Again, all the best and thanks for writing.

Alan Paul

Then there was this, not nearly as complimentary:

Dear Alan,

How long have you been in China? If it's more than six months you should be able to direct a driver. For shame otherwise -- it would demonstrate typical American arrogance and go against what I consider the basic rules of ex-pat life: behave as if you're visiting someone's home while in-country, make every effort to speak the local language on every occasion and treat everyone - especially simple service providers like taxi drivers, waiters and maids - with extra respect.



And my response:


I completely agree with you re: language.

Two things to consider:
1. I have always been a complete goober when it comes to languages, though I am trying really hard while here.

2. I have, perhaps foolishly, chosen the more difficult path of trying to learn characters rather than "just" spoken language. I take four hours of classes a week and study every night. I am progressing, though not as quickly as I would like. I can direct a cab pretty well, especially to places I know better. The Capital Gymnasium is on the other side of town and I am not familiar with street names etc over there.

Also, my language skills have already improved a great deal since I went to that show and I am feeling more confident trying to speak.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write. The column runs every other Thursday and I hope that in continues to interest you.


Alan Paul