Friday, April 28, 2006

Official stories and photos on sandstorm

Since my column going up in a few hours is on the same topic, I took a particular interest in this story from the state-run China Daily.

Come with the wind
By Ye Jun (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-04-21 09:03

In the past two weeks, Beijing has witnessed some of the capital's worst spring weather in history. Chilly days follow hot days, rain comes after wind, and the bad weather climaxed on Sunday night, when yellow dust covered the city overnight.

Reports from different departments at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital show that patient inflow increased a great deal. The abnormal weather has led to many problems, especially with eyes, nose, throat and skin. Meanwhile, old people, infants, pregnant women, and people with chronic problems such as cardiovascular disorders should keep warm to prevent problems brought on by the strong wind.

At the hospital, the Respiratory, Paediatrics and E.N.T departments witnessed a sharp increase in the number of old and very young patients, while a great deal of white-collar workers were suffering with rhinitis and pharyngitis.

"The nasal cavity has a certain filtering function, but there is too much dirt in the air on sandstorm days, which can exacerbate respiratory illness and allergies, and cause coughing or shortness of breath," said Su Nan, doctor of the Respiratory Department. "Among the old and the weak, respiratory problems can develop into pneumonia and other heart and lung problems."

Patient inflow increased 20 per cent in Su's department, with many coming with allergic rhinitis, acute rhinitis, throat inflammation or asthma.

"With the warming of the weather, pathogens have become more active," explained Yang Dazhang, another doctor at the department. "When it comes to windy weather, dust in the air carries a lot of alien objects and pathogenic bacteria, which can enter the body, leading to running nose, nasal itching and sneezing."

If dust enters the body by way of mouth it can lead to throat problems, and sometimes even inflammation in the ears.

Yang suggests wearing facemasks, scarves or caps to keep warm. Yang also suggests avoiding crowded places due to the increase in respiratory infections of late.

The Paediatric Department's statistics show that patient inflow was up 48.5 per cent in late March and early April compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile the Ophthalmology Department warns people to watch for conjunctivitis and be careful with wearing contact lenses.

"When dirt or alien objects get into the eyes, do not use the hands to rub them as this can injure the eyes, leading to pain, blurred vision, or even keratitis," revealed Chen Shu, a doctor with the department.

Chen suggests dealing with it in a place without wind. Some dirt can flow out with tears, so try blinking, or lifting the eyelid gently and swinging it to increase tear secretion. If that doesn't work then seek medical help.

The doctor also suggests wearing glasses instead of contact lens on windy and dusty days, because, dirt can stabilize on the lens and lead to inflammation.

Beijing's windy days also lead to dryness of the skin, roughening, reddening, or even cracking, according to Wang Chen, director of the Dermatology Department. If those conditions persist, bacteria can get into the pores and cause inflammation, spots or itchiness. People with allergic tendencies might develop allergic dermatitis.

Wang suggests wearing facemasks, or shielding the head with a gauze scarf when going outdoors. Once indoors, you should wash the face and keep the skin clean. People can also put on simple and mild skin-protecting cosmetics to help keep the skin moist, so that it does not crack. For women who often use make up, do not wear heavy or colourful makeup during windy and dusty days. If wind borne particles blend with cosmetics, they can have a chemical reaction affecting the skin. In these cases the skin reddens, itches or develops rashes, people should consult a dermatologist before applying medicines.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Interesting China article

Some of you may remember me telling you about Matt Pottinger, a Journal reporter who quit to join the Marines right as Becky was about to start here. That was a doozy of a phone call. He wrote this for the Journal in December. It raises some interesting points. I still think he's nuts, though.


Mightier Than the Pen
Why I gave up journalism to join the Marines.

Thursday, December 15, 2005 12:01 a.m.

When people ask why I recently left The Wall Street Journal to join the Marines, I usually have a short answer. It felt like the time had come to stop reporting events and get more directly involved. But that's not the whole answer, and how I got to this point wasn't a straight line.

It's a cliché that you appreciate your own country more when you live abroad, but it happens to be true. Living in China for the last seven years, I've seen that country take a giant leap from a struggling Third World country into a true world power. For many people it still comes as a surprise to learn that China is chasing Japan as the second-largest economy on the globe and could soon own a trillion dollars of American debt.

But living in China also shows you what a nondemocratic country can do to its citizens. I've seen protesters tackled and beaten by plainclothes police in Tiananmen Square, and I've been videotaped by government agents while I was talking to a source. I've been arrested and forced to flush my notes down a toilet to keep the police from getting them, and I've been punched in the face in a Beijing Starbucks by a government goon who was trying to keep me from investigating a Chinese company's sale of nuclear fuel to other countries.

When you live abroad long enough, you come to understand that governments that behave this way are not the exception, but the rule. They feel alien to us, but from the viewpoint of the world's population, we are the aliens, not them. That makes you think about protecting your country no matter who you are or what you're doing. What impresses you most, when you don't have them day to day, are the institutions that distinguish the U.S.: the separation of powers, a free press, the right to vote, and a culture that values civic duty and service, to name but a few.

I'm not an uncritical, rah-rah American. Living abroad has sharpened my view of what's wrong with my country, too. It's obvious that we need to reinvent ourselves in various ways, but we should also be allowed to do it from within, not according to someone else's dictates.

But why the Marines?

A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.

Of course, a single emotional moment does not justify a career change, and that's not what happened to me. The next day I went to lunch at the Council on Foreign Relations where I happened to meet a Marine Corps colonel who'd just come back from Iraq. He gave me a no-nonsense assessment of what was happening there, but what got to me most was his description of how the Marines behaved and how they looked after each other in a hostile world. That struck me as a metaphor for how America should be in the world at large, and it also appealed to me on a personal level. At one point I said half-jokingly that, being 31 years old, it was a shame I was too old to serve. He sat back for a second and said, "I think I've still gotcha."

The next morning I found myself roaming around the belly of the USS Intrepid, a World War II aircraft carrier museum moored a few blocks from Times Square, looking for a Marine recruiting station and thinking I'd probably lost my marbles. The officer-selection officer wasn't impressed with my age, my Chinese language abilities or the fact that I worked for one of the great newspapers of the world. His only question was, "How's your endurance?"

Well, I can sit at my desk for 12 hours straight. Fourteen if I have a bag of Reese's.

He said if I wanted a shot at this I'd have to ace the physical fitness test, where a perfect score consisted of 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and a three-mile run in 18 minutes. Essentially he was telling me to pack it in and go home. After assuring him I didn't have a criminal record or any tattoos, either of which would have required yet another waiver (my age already required the first), I took an application and went back to China.

Then came the Asian tsunami last December.

I was scrambled to Thailand, where thousands of people had died in the wave. After days in the midst of the devastation, I pulled back to Thailand's Utapao Air Force Base, at one time a U.S. staging area for bombing runs over Hanoi, to write a story on the U.S.-led relief efforts. The abandoned base was now bustling with air traffic and military personnel, and the man in charge was a Marine.

Warfare and relief efforts, as it turns out, involve many skills in common. In both cases, it's 80% preparation and logistics and only a small percent of actual battle. What these guys were doing was the same thing they did in a war zone, except now the tip of the spear wasn't weapons, but food, water and medicine. It was a major operation to save people's lives, and it was clear that no other country in the world could do what they were doing. Once again, I was bumping into the U.S. Marines, and once again I was impressed.

The day before I left Thailand I decided to do my first physical training and see what happened. I started running and was winded in five minutes. The air quality in downtown Bangkok didn't help, but the biggest problem was me. I ducked into Lumpini Park in the heart of the city where I was chased around by a three-foot monitor lizard that ran faster than I did. At one point I found a playground jungle gym and managed to do half a pull-up. That's all.

I got back to Beijing and started running several days a week. Along the way I met a Marine who was studying in Beijing on a fellowship and started training with him. Pretty soon I filled out the application I'd taken from New York, got letters of recommendation from old professors and mentors, and received a letter from a senior Marine officer who took a leap of faith on my behalf.

I made a quick trip back to New York in April to take a preliminary physical fitness test with the recruitment officer at the USS Intrepid. By then I could do 13 pull-ups, all my crunches, and a three-mile run along the West Side Highway in a little under 21 minutes, all in all a mediocre performance that was barely passable. When I was done, the officer told me to wipe the foam off my mouth, but I did him one better and puked all over the tarmac. He liked that a lot. That's when we both knew I was going for it.

Friends ask if I worry about going from a life of independent thought and action to a life of hierarchy and teamwork. At the moment, I find that appealing because it means being part of something bigger than I am. As for how different it's going to be, that, too, has its appeal because it's the opposite of what I've been doing up to now. Why should I do something that's a "natural fit" with what I already do? Why shouldn't I try to expand myself?

In a way, I see the Marines as a microcosm of America at its best. Their focus isn't on weapons and tactics, but on leadership. That's the whole point of the Marines. They care about each other in good times and bad, they've always had to fight for their existence--even Harry Truman saw them as nothing more than the "Navy's police force"--and they have the strength of their traditions. Their future, like the country's, is worth fighting for. I hope to be part of the effort.

Mr. Pottinger, until recently a Journal correspondent in China, is scheduled to be commissioned a second lieutenant tomorrow. He spent the last three months at Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va. As of early December, his three-mile run was down to 18 minutes and 15 seconds.

Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

becky met with the president of Taiwan yesterday

Becky just came back from three days in Taipei, where she met with the president of Taiwan in the Presidential mansion. Here is the story she and Jason Dean did.

They gave her a classic photo of she and pres. Chen shaking hands. I will try to scan it and post.

Chen Is Wary of Reliance on China
Taiwan's Leader Stresses
Military, Economic Risks
To Island Posed by Neighbo
April 26, 2006; Page A8

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said China's president had failed to "score points" against the island during a visit to Washington last week. But Mr. Chen stressed that China's rise poses longer-term military and economic threats to Taiwan and its 23 million people.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Chen steered a cautious line between emphasizing the risks posed by Taiwan's giant neighbor and trying to leave hope for progress on vital economic issues across the Taiwan Strait. (Read the transcript of the interview.)

He warned against excessive economic ties with China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory despite nearly six decades of separate rule. And he said that Taiwan needs to move ahead with a major purchase of U.S. arms to counter Beijing's military buildup -- and that an accord with opposition legislators who have blocked the acquisition could be close.

"Only by strengthening our national defense can we ensure and safeguard the hard-won fruits of democracy as well as economic prosperity," Mr. Chen said in the wide-ranging interview at Taiwan's Presidential Palace.

But the Taiwanese leader also voiced optimism that a long-awaited influx of Chinese tourists to Taiwan -- which could substantially boost the island's economy -- could begin by the end of this year. Beijing recently indicated it may be willing to lift its restrictions on letting its citizens travel as tourists to Taiwan. And Mr. Chen stressed that his government doesn't intend to stymie the extensive business relations that have blossomed across the strait in recent years.

"When Taiwan's economy becomes overly dependent on or tilts excessively toward China, I think the government has a responsibility ... to issue an early warning," Mr. Chen said. But, he added, "Investing in China is part of the global plan of Taiwanese companies. The government cannot stop it."

The middle-of-the-road message reflects the conflicting pressures on Mr. Chen as he enters the final two years of his presidency, which will end in May 2008. The 55-year-old aims to leave a legacy based on solidifying the democratically governed island's separateness from China. But he is also struggling with pressure from the electorate to steer a pragmatic course on relations with China.

Last week's U.S. visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao showed the need to clarify Taiwan's identity, Mr. Chen said. The White House welcome ceremony for Mr. Hu was marred by a proclamation announcing the anthem of the Republic of China -- actually Taiwan's official name. China's name is the People's Republic of China.

Mr. Chen said the gaffe was understandable given Beijing's insistence that the island is part of China. He said that making the distinction clearer will be a central task of his remaining two years. "I would like to see the international community gain a better understanding of the differences between democratic Taiwan and totalitarian China," he said. "They are, in fact, two separate countries."

He portrayed the Hu visit overall as a victory for Taiwan, as President Bush merely restated U.S. opposition to any unilateral changes in Taiwan's status by either Taipei or Beijing. Mr. Bush "did not allow China to score points on the Taiwan issue," Mr. Chen said.

Mr. Chen predicted progress on another issue that could help Taiwan's relations with Washington, but upset Beijing: arms purchases. Mr. Bush announced shortly after taking office in 2001 that the U.S. would sell a multibillion-dollar suite of weapons to Taiwan. Opposition lawmakers in Taiwan have blocked legislative approval for the package, however, in part because they say it could fuel an arms race with China.

While approval of the full package remains "difficult," comments by opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou suggest a compromise on acquiring some weapons is in reach, Mr. Chen said.

On the economic front, Mr. Chen rattled off a list of problems he said China's rise is causing for Taiwan and other countries: rising prices for raw materials, inefficient energy consumption and a flood of cheap imports that is causing structural unemployment.

Mr. Chen said his government wants to ensure that Taiwan, which has per capita income of more than $14,000 compared with China's $1,700, doesn't "place all our bets" on China as Taiwanese companies rush to tap the country's huge market and cheap labor.

But Mr. Chen dismissed fears that his government is trying to crack down on business ties to China. Such concerns were triggered by his announcement this year that his government will more "actively manage" investment across the strait, and by Taiwanese prosecutors' probe into whether computer-chip giant United Microelectronics Corp. had illicit ties to a Chinese semiconductor company. "We consider the UMC case as an isolated case," he said. "This does not mean that the government will start cracking down on all Taiwanese businesspeople investing in China.

More pictures

Eli and Anna with Coco, beloved stuffed animal which Laura Romanoff sent when Eli was born. E now sleeps with him every night.

barbecue confusion

Life here often feels like one miscommunication after another. Sunday was a classic example. We had this party for Becky’s office, as discussed below. I bought a new bbq, which I had been wanting to do and this got me going. I spent some time trying to track one down and finally bit the bullet and bought a big, stainless steel four–burner unit from this guy who runs a business called Villa Lifestyles. They make these babies here and private label them and ship them to U.S.. They probably sell for over a grand at home. It was way less than that here but still a relative fortune.

I decided to make a big batch of slow cooked chimichaira chicken. Mr. Li works for other people out there and I have seen him drive in on Sunday nights. I wanted him to get me the meat if possible because he gets higher quality stuff at half the price.

I asked him if he were coming out here on Sunday. He said yes. I asked him if he could get me three whole chickens cut up, plus extra drumsticks. He said sure. He asked what time. I said I wanted it by 3. He said fine, see you then.

The whole conversation took placee in our standard chinglish.

He showed up with three big birds (about 3 bucks each), put on his apron, took out a cleaver and cutting board and started hacking them up. He finished. I thanked him. He sat down at the table and took out his notebook where he keeps tabs on how much we owe him for food, etc. I realized he wasn’t leaving. He thought we had hired him for the night.

Becky and I had already made a huge potato salad, corn and black bean salad and couscous salad. I had the marinade and dipping sauce ready for the chicken. There wasn’t all that much to do. I was going to thank Mr. Li and send him home., but then Becky and I spoke and we figured it would be nice to have an extra set of hands around because everything ends up being a little more time consuming than it seems.

And so it was. He made fruit salad, cut fruit for sangria, cleaned up, came out and helped me flip the chicken, etc. it was certainly nice to have help. The whole thing just seemed really funny to me.

Anyhow, the grill worked great and I did all the cooking, contrary to this photo. It went over very well, especially the chicken. I think the Chinese, and the guests were mostly Chinese, were rather baffled by the couscous. I asked someone to ask Mr. Dou what he thought about it. His response: “very strange food!”

It was a pretty big deal for Dou and Lily and some of the others to be feted inside the bosses’ house. As usual, I remained willfully oblivious about such things and just plowed ahead with food, drink and music. I also learned from speaking with the Chinese head of the Dow Jones translation service that my column is now translated in to Chinese for the Chinese language edition. I will track down a link and post it.

Kathy Chen has a baby, we have a party

We had a gathering here on Sunday for Becky’s office. It was supposed to be a sort of sendoff for Kathy Chen and Lily, the office manager, who are both due to have babies in about a month. But Kathy actually had her baby two days prior, at least three weeks early. Much to our surprise and I think the horror of many of the Chinese who were here, Kathy and her family showed up and stayed for hours. She looks great and seems totally back to normal in pretty much every respect.

No, it does not make me want to have another one, but it is really amazing to see and hold a 48-hour-old baby. You really do forget how little and vulnerable they re, probably because it is in comprehensible, even having experienced it yourself more than once.

It's not the kind of records that anyone keeps, but this has to be the first time a WSJ bureau has been run by two women with a combined 7 kids.

The pictures here show: Becky and Kathy; Kathy and baby Amanda; the WSJ China bureau female brain trust – Becky, Kathy, Mei Fong and Leslie Chang, who are both reporters, though Leslie is currently on book leave; Jacob and Andrew Moy (Kathy’s son) engaging in their favorite kind of play; baby Amanda.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jacob at the Summer Palace

We just got these pictures of Jacob at the Summer Palace with the newspaper editors. They are pretty classic. That is Marty Barron, editor of the Boston Globe with his hand on Jacob's shoulder.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Last column

I am finishing up work on this week's column and realized that I never posted the last one, due to traveling, etc. Here it is, if you haven't seen it.

Hong Kong and Shanghai
Show Different Side of China
April 14, 2006

After less than a year in China, I have seen only a fraction of this huge country. Each time the kids have a break from school here in Beijing, we try to visit some place new. While the heart of China remains in its vast interior, which I have only begun to explore, I considered it unacceptable that I had yet to visit the nation's two other major urban centers. So it was that on our kids' recent spring break, we set off for Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Beijing is a city of over 12 million people, with a wide array of amenities growing by the day. Yet almost from the minute we landed in Hong Kong, I felt like I was leading a pack of country mice lost in the big city and awed by their towering, glittery surroundings. It seemed as if we had leapt from the mid-twentieth century into the mid-twenty-first.

We landed at the airport and took the train into town, lugging two big bags, three young kids and an assortment of carry-ons. At the central station, we took the elevator up two floors, ready to catch a cab to our hotel. Before we could head out, however, my wife, Rebecca, spied a bookstore on the other end of the floor and we all ran toward it like Bedouins spying an oasis on the edge of a desert.

With our luggage stacked up in the hallway all five of us were grabbing books and games and throwing them onto the counter in a mad frenzy. There was a huge display of Jacob and Eli's current favorite series, Geronimo Stilton, big board books of Elmo and Dora for Anna, and rows and rows of novels and nonfiction books for Rebecca and I to peruse. There even was a prominent display of "Mao: The Unknown History," a biography banned in mainland China.

Afterward, I was taken aback by the eagerness with which we had plunged into the store and filled the shopping bags. I don't generally feel like we lack much in Beijing but our excitement at this simple train-station bookstore said otherwise. I can only imagine what trips to Hong Kong must have seemed like 15 years ago, before Beijing began opening up in earnest.

We spent two days tooling around the island, riding the tram to the peak and going to the lovely Hong Kong Park. We had a great dim sum lunch, with 5-year-old Eli thoroughly enjoying a bowl of shrimp and fried rice -- he would say "I'm sorry but now I'm going to eat you" before popping each little crustacean into his mouth. Eight-year-old Jacob, our picky eater, didn't want anything to do with the food, but he was simultaneously grossed out and fascinated by the restaurant's fish tanks, which included several species of marine life I have never seen, notably hairy snail clams. The hulking, multi-pound clawless lobsters also gripped Jacob's imagination. That evening we rode a double-decker bus to the more remote south side of the island to have dinner with friends at Stanley Beach, which felt more like the Italian coast than China.

In the morning, I left our cramped little adjoining hotel rooms and set out for a cup of coffee. Walking a few blocks, I was struck by the energy of the city. It has a street-level feel reminiscent of Manhattan but in a much more physically striking locale. Though generally overlooked by people focusing on the capitalist and commercial whirl, Hong Kong is a tropical island with towering green peaks surrounded by the glittering turquoise South China Sea. Dry and dusty Beijing seemed a world away.

After two days in the city, we headed out to Hong Kong Disneyland, where we stayed at the Hollywood Hotel. I have a long-time antipathy toward Disney, which is well-known to many friends and family members who delighted in mocking my capitulation to the Mighty Rodent. Truthfully, I really enjoyed it there. Eli was blown away by the Disney characters – delighting in taking pictures with Buzz Lightyear, Goofy and others. He and Jacob rode Space Mountain nearly a dozen times. Two-year-old Anna was thrilled with her pink Minnie Mouse ears.

I have spent a grand total of one day at Disney World in Florida and found the smaller Hong Kong version easier and less exhausting to navigate. I was also fascinated watching all the Chinese and other Asian visitors walking around in wonderment, smiling broadly and snapping pictures. I wondered how many assumed that Main Street USA really represented an average American downtown.

When we left Hong Kong to fly to Shanghai, I literally gasped at the sight of the Chinese flag flying over the Hong Kong Airport. It just didn't feel like I had been in the People's Republic.

Shanghai is a beautiful city that bears the unmistakable stamp of colonialism. European powers ruled over the city for decades and their architectural influence was profound. Perhaps because much of the skyscraper growth has been concentrated in newly developed areas across the Suzhou River, many neighborhoods in Shanghai have retained a smaller-scale, prewar feel largely absent in central Hong Kong and Beijing. The French Concession neighborhood is lined with towering sycamore trees, which seemed particularly noteworthy coming from virtually treeless Beijing.

Shanghai is a great walking city, and we enjoyed strolling through some of the city's beautifully maintained parks. Fu Xing Park has a giant stone statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel. But we spent most of our three days there doing kids' activities, including visiting the aquarium and the Science and Technology Museum. The new and impressive museum was filled with uniformed schoolchildren, who were fascinated by our family and anxious to practice their English on us: "Hello, sir. Nice to meet you. How old are you?" We also rode one of the world's fastest trains – a maglev line from the airport that tops 260 miles an hour.

We took the overnight train back home, 12 hours in a cozy sleeper compartment. Once we managed to tuck our bags under the table and into various nooks and crannies, we were quite comfortable in our little pod. Through the window, we watched Shanghai give way to suburbs, then wetlands and finally countryside. As it grew dark, the kids set out for the hallway, roaming the car and finding friends in the American family occupying two adjoining cabins. Within three or four hours everyone but me was soundly sleeping. I lay in a top bunk looking down at Anna and Rebecca sawing logs in a bottom bunk and listening to the sounds of my family sleeping as China flashed by outside the darkened window.

The train ride was a great experience for all of us – even the absurdly busy stations on either end. After nearly a week of trekking to amusement parks, aquariums, museums and parks, we had the most fun simply transporting ourselves home. In the two weeks since we've returned, the kids have more often asked "When can we take the overnight train again?" than "When can we go to Disney again?" As we prepare for further outings, it's a great reminder that there is plenty of fun to be had without elaborately planned adventures.

Write to Alan Paul at

* * *

Readers Respond

Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on dealing with my father's battle with cancer from far away. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. I really appreciated and was touched by the outpouring of support. My dad had his surgery last week and is recovering well at home.

Thanks for sharing what must be a very emotionally trying issue as an example of the difficulties of living abroad. My husband and I live in Dubai, and most of the time we don't feel far away at all, given email, texting, IM and Skype. It takes something somewhat serious happening to make you feel truly far away. I hope your father is doing well and continues to get better.
-- Liz Riemersma

- - -

Your article about your father brought back memories of my expat life and similar experiences with my mother. I wish you and the family the best outcome. Expat life is great, a wonderful experience; one certainly sees the world in a different light afterwards. I have forwarded your articles to friends and business associates, some of whom are or have been expats, others who manage expatriates. No doubt your writing has an impact on them as well.
-- Jerry Hampton

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As an Indian living in Minneapolis, I empathize with the cultural barriers that you are facing in China. Your current struggle with your Dad's illness is a stark reminder of how some distances are always difficult to conquer even with email, Internet, Web cams and other forms of technology. To make matters worse for people like me, the U.S. visa process includes some formidable barriers. For example, my wife and I are on an H1-B visa, which allows us to work here for three years, then renew it for a further three years. The initial visa took more than 8 months to get approved.

We have both been renewed, but to be able to travel outside the United States and then re-enter, we must go to the U.S. Embassy in India and get the visa re-stamped. The typical wait time for getting an appointment is 4 months. So if I were to receive a call like you did or God forbid, something worse, my only option would be to go to India, wait four months for an appointment, then return to a likely unemployed status! The embassy web site states that you can get emergency appointments but does not give any further information. All this is for a visa and not for a permanent residency or citizenship, the requirements for which have far bigger hurdles to clear.

I consider you lucky that money and the availability of your own time are the only barriers you face in being able to visit your ailing father. I wish him the speediest of recovery and hope that you are able to see him soon.
-- Rajesh Balachandran

Thank you for taking the time to share your situation. The difficulties legal foreign residents in the U.S. take while following the law can be easy to overlook, as can the simple, obvious fact that people like you are also expats.

- - -

My father (in Philadelphia) also had his bladder removed while we were in Scotland, around the same time that my wife's dad in Brunei was diagnosed with cancer. We ended up going to neither 'patient' but it made us re-evaluate my expat career and was one of the reasons why I decided to quit some time ago. I came 'home' and was able to see my dad for another year.

Hang in there and don't worry about comments that you have to become more Chinese. A lot of folks don't even have a clue what it is like to live as an expat, especially most Americans. Make the most of it while you can!
-- Guido Gaeffke

- - -

That's a pretty powerful story. I'm frankly struck with admiration for your relationship with your father and the bald-headed way in which you and your friends offered him your moral support. I experienced similar experiences living in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the early economic and political upheavals between 1994 and 1998 – and remember well how the distance to home seem magnified whenever someone close to me experienced a major life event.

This experience is felt both ways, of course. I can only imagine the reactions at home when my wife called to say that I was being operated on in a local hospital in St. Petersburg (too late to evacuate me to Finland) and that our pessimistic surgeon was telling her to "start lighting candles." Things went better then expected, thankfully, although – even here – the unusual joys of expat life revealed themselves as I recovered in a local hospital ward ... I also remember awaking in my intensive-care unit to the live television coverage of the ceremonial burial, nearby, of the murdered last Tsar and his family, complete with the soundtrack of the somber tones of the Russian Orthodox memorial service for the dead.
-- Nick Rumin

GMail is down

It hasn't worked reliably for two days and i am going insane. Does anyone else have this problem?

Basketball metaphors

Let’s step into the wayback machine and travel back in time, about three or four weeks. I really wanted to get this up, but with all the action, sad news, tough news, traveling etc. it got lost in the shuffle.

My friend and Slam colleague Lang Whitaker wrote:

You said about Jacob: "I want to raise a little Jason Kidd of life, not a Stephon Marbury."

I'm hoping you wrote that tongue in cheek because he hit the girl and Jason Kidd famously got angry with his wife know.

Or does that mean you don't want Jacob to be able to make outside jumpers?

You have no idea how happy I was to receive this email, because I wrote that line specifically as bait for Lang, not even knowing how often he looked at the blog. It turns out he, as he would say, a Blogs-tigator. He took the bait and wrote back.

This goes back a few years, to the time when the Nets and suns swapped Jason Kidd and Stephon Marbury. Lang and I disagreed about this one. I said it was sheer brilliance on the Nets’ behalf. Lang thought they had been robbed blind. It is worth noting that virtually every other Slam staff member was on his side of the discussion, as I recall, but Lang is the last Steph loyalist, probably in the planet. I’m pretty sure he still thinks the Suns robbed the Nets blind. (of course, the most brilliant part of the suns’ deal was they were eventually able to pawn Steph off on the Knicks so it was actually dumping him that made them a great team, but that’s another discussion.

By the way, I find something about Jason Kidd as a person to be really annoying and I hated the way he allowed his kid to be a prop a few years ago. Also, the Nets have been far less fun to be around since he arrived. But his turnaround of the Nets is inarguable.

And what I meant is that I wanted Jacob to be a well-liked teammate who improves everyone he’s around rather than a selfish ballhog of life.

Anyhow, I wrote all this back to Lang in condensed form and he replied:

It's been a tough year for us Steph fans, not only because the Knicks are a disaster but because every newspaper is siding with LBrown, despite numerous coaching errors and substitution gaffes (he's still starting guys based on playing in or near their hometowns!).

Larry Brown is a complete moron and this year has exposed him as selfish fraud. But that in now way lets Steph off the hook – and I’d be interested in finding more Steph fans since you use first-person plural.

Lang named his dog Starbury, so I guess he can’t change course and I actually find his loyalty honorable and to be respected. But it still must be mocked. And remember Lang, you can always change the pooch’s name, just call him “Star” or tell people the name was ironic.

By the way, the Knicks are 40-95 since Starbury proclaimed himself the best point guard in the league.

Friday, April 21, 2006

I'm not sleeping

Art wrote:

It's too bad you're in China for all this political stuff. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch an administration self destruct; and we are in the front row. AR

Believe me, I am watching it all quite intently from here. On one level I am enjoying it and wishing it was easier to see the Daily Show. On another, I am so saddened by so much of what I see, concerned ove the long-term implications of a lot of what is happening and frightened by some elements trying to seize power.

And living here I am feeling acutely aware of how precious and fragile our way of life is over there. That reminds me… I need to get our absentee ballot stuff going so we can vote in November.

The Sky is Crying

"The sky is crying. Look at the tears rolling down the street"

Until this week, I never pondered those classic blues lyrics by Elmore James as anything more than a metaphor for intense longing and heartbreak. These pictures are from various sites.. I downloaded them the other day, and they show the insanity of the sandstorm a bit better.

The sand is gone, for now. And now the cottonwood have arrived. The last two days have actually been quite beautiful… still a little cool but bright and sunny. But today there was all this white cottony stuff blowing through the air. In some places, there was just a crazy amount.

I went car shopping today, which is a whole other story and one I will definitely relate sooner than later. But this guy who runs Expat Car Service picked me up and drove me to some dealers. We were driving down Jing Shun Lu and at one point the air was just crazy thick with all this blowy white stuff. It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I was wondering what the hell it was and what the hell was going on. A few days ago the sky dumped sand and dirt on us and now this. I am starting to understand how Pharoah and his ancient Egyptian subjects must have felt. Duck for the locusts! Watch out for the raining blood! I would gladly free a race of slaves and risk my Kingdom to stop this madness.

So I started asking around and got a few different answers.. "the poplar” or “the cottonwood.” Apparently, a few years back the Chinese government realized that they had no friggin trees left in this huge country – thanks Chariman M! – so they went on a huge tree planting campaign. And they chose lots of poplar cottonwoods (I looked it up online to verify the name) and they only planted female trees, so they all release the cottony seeds. Maybe someone who understands arboreal facts better than I could verify this – Dixie?

Anyhow, it’s nutty. And the allergies I only discovered two or three years ago did not enjoy the stuff, which was at times swirling around in big white whirlpools. I have also been told that over time – and they can last 4-6 weeks! – they pick up dirt and start swirling around grey and black. I will keep you posted and also take some pictures.

Here are some poplar cottonwood facts, I found online at an arboreal site:

We all concede that the cottonwood has faults. The brittle wood cannot withstand the winds, the leaves drop untidily through the summer, the cast-off staminate catkins are a nuisance in spring, and the fluffy cottony seeds shed so deliberately in early summer by the fertile trees fill the air and the meshes of door and window screens to the exasperation of the whole neighborhood.

But go out into one of the little breathing spaces called parks in a great city like New York in the early spring days when the children of the tenements and the stuffy flats are brought out for a first breath of the spring air. The old cottonwood has its buds all a-glisten with promise, and in a few days longer the dainty little leaves twinkle all over the treetop with the most cheerful green. In the late summer, in spite of its losses, the tree still carries a bright green crown of shade which turns yellow before it falls. With all its faults, it endures the heat of cities, and the dust and soot with commendable patience. In the protection of great buildings it does not suffer by winds as it does in exposed situations.

There are better, longer-lived trees for the open country, but in cities the cottonwood has a use and a message of cheer for rich and poor who look up and learn to know the tree. Unlike the variety next described, the cottonwood takes on dignity with added years.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Long live the King

I just posted this ina B.B. King thread on the Guitar message board.

I also inspired me to dig up the story I pasted in on the bottom, which I wrote years ago when B.B. debuted a column in Guitar World.

I have seen B.B. many, many times. The first time was in college. He came to the Michigan Theatre and I wrote about it for the Michigan Daily, my college paper. I was really excited. The show was just fair. The band was good and B.B. was a great showman and sang really well but he barely played. He ripped off no extended lines, which was a little frustrating. He would play a great lick, and then just stop and start shucking and jiving or let the other guitarist take over.

I thought, “This was cool to see but he’s not so great any more.” Then less than a year later, he was playing the Masonic Temple in Detroit with Albert King and Bobby Bland. I went with a few friends. We were in our usual scrubby T-shirts and jeans. The rest of the crowd was almost all older black folk dressed like they were going to church.

All three performers were excellent, if brief. B.B. was totally different. Completely other show. He was charming, funny, but less hammy and he ripped on guitar. It was so cool.

End of the show, we were blocked into our parking space. I saw three old ladies get into the car in front of us and start up and I waited for them to leave. They did not do so. I waited some more. Nothing. Not wanting to be rude and honk, I got out and walked up to the window and tapped on it. It rolled down and the three old biddies in church hats were sitting pressed together in the front seat of this Olds 88 passing a big doobie. Driver rolled down the window and a big cloud of smoke came out and I said, “Excuse me, I’m stuck behind you. Could you please pull forward?”

“Sure. Sorry, baby.” Giggles all around.

Saw B.B. again in front of a white crowd a year or so later and he was pretty lame. I thought, “I’m not seeing him again.” Maybe a year later, a friend had tickets and really wanted me to go with him. Ok, fine. I went, mostly to be with my boy Skirbs, who had never seen him and was really excited. It was at Heinz Hall. Symphonic hall in Pittsburgh – and B.B. rocked. He was totally different than the first time I had seen him. He played extended lines, he was surprising and passionate in his playing. Really cool.

That had to be 15 years ago, so he was at least 65, and he had a rebirth. It was shortly after he recorded “When Love Comes to Town” with U2 and I think that really had something to do with re-inspiring him.

Since then, I’ve seen him a bunch more times in different settings and while always a little different, an while he began mostly sitting down about 8 years ago, the playing has mostly gotten more and more inspired. I have seen him fiddle with distortion, play jazz, do cool comping behind his piano and guitarists. It is really astounding that he keeps pushing at his age and stage of the game. Go B.B.

Life of Riley
A brief history of the King of the Blues, Riley B. King, aka B.B.
By Alan Paul

He’s known as the King of the Blues, and one reason may be that B.B. King remains the only black blues artist to have successfully penetrated the thick walls of American popular culture. He is the only one to step inside from the commercial cold that has long been the bluesman’s fate, to receive presidential citations and honorary degrees, to star in commercials for everything from McDonald’s to Northwest Airlines and to become an international ambassador of both good music and good vibes. He has become so omnipresent that it’s easy to forget why he’s so revered: he is the man who fundamentally changed the way the electric guitar is played.

"None of us would be here today if it weren’t for B.B.,” says Buddy Guy. “He changed the way all of us squeeze the strings." Guy should know; his pumped-up, wildly frenetic guitar style owes its heart and soul to King’s far more sedate approach. It is safe to say, in fact, that every blues-based electric guitarist on the planet owes a huge debt to B.B. King, whether they know it or not.

King took single-string electric lead guitar playing, pioneered by jazz pioneer Charlie Christian and sophisticated Texan bluesman T-Bone Walker, added elements of acoustic blues greats Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson and the fiery gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and emerged with the highly personalized B.B. King sound: stinging finger vibrato, economical, vocal-like phrasing, and heavenly bending. This style strongly influenced every electric blues guitarist to follow, including Guy, Albert King, Freddie King and Otis Rush. These players, in turn, inspired countless rock guitarists, notably Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The rest, as they say, is history.

A good place to experience King’s groundbreaking style is The Best Of B.B. King, Volume One (Flair/Virgin), an essential collection which includes his original versions of standard-bearers like "Three O'Clock Blues," "You Upset Me Baby" and "Five Long Years." On these tracks, recorded in the 50s, the core elements of B.B.’s sound are already developed, with his distinctive single-note leads playing call-and-response with his powerful, gospel-heavy voice and a punchy, sophisticated horn section.

Ironically, the most signature feature of King’s playing—that remarkable, utterly distinct vibrato—came about because of a personal failure. As a young guitarist, Riley King could not master slide guitar, the style of choice in his native Mississippi Delta. Instead, he learned to mimic the whining, lyrical slide tone of Delta masters like his uncle Bukka White and Robert Nighthawk by using his hands alone – specifically by developing his vibrato, which he achieved by shaking his finger perpendicular to the neck.

“I always loved the sound of slide players,” King explains. “I’ve never been able to play slide myself, but I found that when I trill my hand I can fool my ears into thinking it’s a person using a slide.”

King augments his beautiful vibrato with a remarkably lyrical sense of phrasing and an innate ability to use each note to maximum effect—of not overplaying.

"When you’re a soloist you don’t play a note just because you can find one,” he says, matter-of-factly. “You do it because it makes sense. Every note is important. If it can be done well with less, then do that. Another reason that I don’t play a lot of notes is I feel that I’m still singing when I play. When I’m playing a solo, I hear me singing through the guitar.”

B.B.’s vocal-like guitar playing is part and parcel of his rare ability to communicate intimately with an audience, to make any size auditorium seem like a small room and every listener feel as if he’s playing just for them. It’s a skill that draws the crowd in, making them feel like a part of the proceedings. This powerful rapport is perfectly captured on Live At The Regal (MCA), a document of a 1964 performance which is considered by many to be not only his finest recording, but the greatest album in all modern blues. This treasure-trove of sophisticated-yet-down-home music includes such staples as "It’s My Own Fault,” “Every Day I Have The Blues” and “Sweet Little Angel.”

By all means buy this album, but don’t forget that the real way to experience B.B.’s power is to go see the man for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Perhaps the most impressive thing about B.B. King is that he continues to push himself hard, to try new things and stretch out his playing. This can be heard on fine albums like the star-studded Blues Summit (1993) and his last new release, the excellent Blues on the Bayou (1997), but the stage remains B.B.’s real pulpit. He can still swoop up entire audiences into the palm of his hand and hold them rapt with a single mellifluous run. Most remarkably, at age 74, after over 50 years in the business, he never seems to get bored, never takes anything for granted or rests on his laurels for even one night. How many other legends can make the same claim? Long live the King.

Save the Big House

You know already whether or not you are.. if you do, click away and get involved. Time is tight, with regents about to vote on adding luxury boxes to the Big House.

I just cyber-met a friend of Ripper's who is leading this charge. I can not view the site for unknown reasons -- maybe the great Firewall of China bans anything with the word save in the URL. Anyhow, I know what it's about and am fully supportive of this movement.


One of Anna last night when she found and put on a tiger costume and a bunch from this morning, in our bed, after Anna and Jacob crawled in, Anna lugging her doll, dog and lamb blankie.

Our new art

Last year, when we came here on our look-see visit, we stayed at the Kerry Centre hotel downtown. There a blue painting we loved in the window if the art gallery there and I went in and spoke to the owner. We didn’t know if we were coming for sure, so we passed, but we had both thought about it often since and we both wished we had bought it.

I stopped by the gallery a few months ago and the painting was long gone, but I spoke to the owner and she called the artist, who still had the picture at his studio. She got it back, along with some others by him, and we came in to look.

We walked in and they had a new painting by another guy, a huge yellow Monet-ish water lily thing, on the wall. We fell in love with it. We also really liked the original guy's work. So we ended up buying three -- the yellow lilies and three by the original guy, including the blue one, which first drew us in.

They came out and hung them a few weeks ago and we still love them all. The blue one is over our bed, the yellow lilies hanging over our (ugly) couch in the living room. They all make me happy. They were very expensive for china but pretty darn cheap compared to buying original art back home.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm the Decider...

...of this Blog and I decided to post this column by Joe Conason from the New York Observer.

Bush Hears Voices,
But Does He Listen?

By Joe Conason

“I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation,” said the President of the United States, sounding as peevish as a toddler banging his silver spoon on the high chair. “But I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defense.”

By reminding everybody that he is “the decider,” George W. Bush no doubt hoped to stifle embarrassing protests from a growing corps of retired officers such as General Anthony Zinni, who believe that the war in Iraq has been ruinously botched and that the Secretary of Defense should retire. But his defensive outburst only drew attention to the most deserving target of criticism: himself.

While the frustrated generals named Mr. Rumsfeld in their complaint, they clearly aimed at Mr. Bush. They know that the Commander in Chief was implicated, from the beginning, in every bad decision perpetrated by the Pentagon civilian leadership. They understand why the President cannot take their advice to dump Rummy, as Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O’Hanlon pointed out: “For Bush to fire Rumsfeld is for Bush to declare himself a failure as president.”

But the generals, some of whom have supported the President in the past, cannot demand the resignation of the President, of course, nor can they direct their critique at him personally. To do so would set off even more false alarms about their supposed violation of America’s traditional civilian control of the military.

That is only one of several bogus ripostes to retired flag officers who are now private citizens, with all the rights and privileges that the rest of us enjoy—and considerably more knowledge than most of us possess. Predictably, they are enduring the usual barrage of chaff and nonsense fired off from the right at every prominent White House critic. They have been attacked for speaking up at all, and they have been attacked for not speaking up sooner. They’re talking about policy, and they’re accused of obsessing about personality.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the most feeble defense of his boss: “He does his homework. He works weekends, he works nights. People can question my judgment or his judgment, but they should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld.” Nobody has questioned his work ethic, let alone his patriotism (a tactic most often abused by Republicans and not against them). What the flag officers have questioned are his spectacular incompetence and his catastrophic arrogance.

As if to confirm their observations, Mr. Rumsfeld airily dismissed his critics by assuring Rush Limbaugh that “this too will pass.” In a way, that remark was almost as dishonest as his forgotten claim that he knew where Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would be found. He is well aware that anger has festered in the armed forces for years, not weeks or days, and won’t evaporate with a wave of his hand.

Expressions of that discontent were first heard following the public assault on Gen. Eric Shinseki by Paul Wolfowitz, then the Deputy Defense Secretary, because the general had dared to urge more “boots on the ground” in Iraq. They were heard when eight retired J.A.G. admirals and generals sent the President a letter demanding a sweeping investigation of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, which meant holding the guilty Mr. Rumsfeld accountable. They were heard when a dozen retired flag officers decided to endorse John Kerry at the Democratic convention in 2004.

And they are heard again this year, louder than ever, with scores of Iraq veterans stepping forward to run for Congress as Democrats.

Among those candidates is Joe Sestak, a retired vice admiral seeking to unseat Curt Weldon, the entrenched (and truly egregious) Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania’s Seventh District. During his 31-year career in the Navy, Mr. Sestak’s assignments ranged from commanding a battle group in the Persian Gulf to serving on the National Security Council staff and overseeing the Quadrennial Defense Review. (He also happens to have earned a master’s in public administration and a doctorate in government from Harvard.)

“One of the primary reasons I entered this election is that I believe invading Iraq was not the right decision,” explains Mr. Sestak, who sees the war as a damaging distraction from Al Qaeda, Afghanistan and other serious threats. He now warns that we must find our way out of “a prolonged occupation with rising death, injury and cost …. It will be an occupation that will continue to have goals that are ever changing as they remain elusive. The result will be continued loss of U.S. military and diplomatic credibility.”

Yes, the President hears the voices and doesn’t like what he hears. So his henchmen scourge those who dare to speak out, regardless of their previous service. But he will never escape the judgment of the men and women in uniform who had to carry out his orders.

Official sandstorm stories and news

The sandstorm continued yesterday at a much reduced level. Those two days were really crazy. Both days the kids were not allowed to play outside after school. With both gyms occupioed by after school activities the Dulwich soccer team, featuring Jacob, yesterday practiced by discussing strategy then playing soccer computer games. Here are some official reports and photos.

Beijing's Sandstorm Concerns Foreign Residents
The sandstorm sweeping northern China has aroused the concern of many foreigners living in the city, who are appealing for better international cooperation to deal with the sand.

"This is the most severe sandstorm I have ever seen in China. As far as I know, the situation was even worse decades ago. The sandstorms coming from Siberia and Mongolia can even affect North America," said Bruce J.Eichman, Chinese manager of Raytheon International Inc..

He said joint efforts should be taken to transform desert areas and plant trees in order to minimize the effects of sandstorms.

"I was a bit excited when I first saw the sandstorm here, but when I crossed the road, I felt the strength of wind. A shallow sand covered the car when I walked near. Maybe I should wear a mask next time I go out," said Phan Mau Tien, general manager of Vietnam Airlines Beijing office.

He said a sandstorm warning system should be set up to remind citizens of necessary precautions.

"The sandstorm in 2000 impressed me," said Mario Alzugaray Rodriguez, second secretary of Cuban Embassy in China.

"I heard some southern Chinese provinces were also affected by the sandstorm. At the moment, I try to stay in the office, avoiding outdoor activities," said Mario.

The worsening environment was a common international issue, said Isabel Ramallo, press and information officer for the delegation of the European Commission of the European Union (EU) in China.

She said the EU was willing to tackle the issue together with China.

In recent years, foreign companies such as Volkswagen have planted trees in the suburbs of Beijing, hoping to create a much greener city. Those foreign residents show the same concern for the environment as local Beijing people.

"Harsh reality tells us that economic development cannot be based on the sacrifice of environment. On the contrary, economic growth should provide material support for the environment," said Richard Liu, chief representative of the Canadian Tourism Commission in China. Enditem

Monday, April 17, 2006

Welcome back sandstorm

I came home yesterday afternoon and it was very nice to get here.

Last night, a sandstorm rolled in at some point. We didn’t hear it or see it, but when I got up and looked out the window, I saw the Yardleys car across the street was covered in brown dust or mud. I thought, “That wasn’t there last night.’

I went outside and was shocked by what I saw – everything was covered with a yellow/orange dust. And not a little bit of it. I rode the kids over to school, feeling grit on my teeth and face all the way. By the time I got back Mr. Dou had arrived and had already cleaned off our car, which sort of bummed me out, because I wanted to photograph it.

I took these pictures and I hope that they sort of capture the intensity of this yellow bizarre world, but I’m not sure they do. There is more sand everywhere than it appears here. It’s really disgusting.

The storm was largely over this morning though it has continued to drift around and you get a nasty taste in your mouth and nose being outside for just a few minutes. The kids did not leave school today for playground or anything. I spoke to a bunch of people who have lived here for a while and I guess this is about as bad as it gets.

What a strange and surprisingly fun trip I had. Most importantly, Dixie is recovering really well. I thought he would likely be in the hospital most of the week and I had no anticipation of leaving New York or doing much socializing. I spoke to a bunch of work people, at Guitar World, and the WSJ and a few other places and I planned to do one little meeting a day all week. I ended up cramming them all into Monday and Tuesday then heading to Pittsburgh, then back to NJ.

I stayed with Rodger and Andy two nights, squeezed in a margarita or two with ripper as awe l as a memorable breakfast at Barney Greengrass. I went out for a late night East Village Guinness or three with Per, and made it to the new old Le Mardi Gras in Shadyside, Pittsburgh with Evan. I also went camera shopping with George Lange and caught a great new Canon as well as the new IPOD Hi Fi system, which was a pain to carry but rocks hard. My brother and Emma came up and I saw them and Laura and Jon and family, and it was all really nice. And, as you know, I went to a Bucs game at PNC with Dixie.

In short, I saw a lot of my favorite people and did a lot of my favorite things with them. It was made all the more fun by the fact that it was so unexpected – I thought I’d be sitting by a hospital bed for most of the week. Also frustrating because for all the folks I saw there were many more of you I wished I could have seen.

The flights were ok. They are long, no two ways about it. But being solo after traveling so much with the kids, it feels like you’ve lost 100 pounds. When I checked my bag in at Beijing and was walking towards the gate last Saturday I had the engaging feeling that I had forgotten something and I kept looking over my shoulders. I just felt so light. It was nice to get around without them, just making decisions, doing what I want, not worrying about babysitting, rushing back, etc. But it also felt really a little unnerving to be on the other side of the world from my family. I know that many people do it all the time, but not me. it felt so good to get back and see everyone.

I feel at home in NJ and at home in Pittsburgh but best home of all was here, in this smelly, sandy city.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Love that dirty water...

You know how the rest of the song goes, right?

I tried to capture some Pittsburgh images the last few days. I took a bunch of Sq. Hill but not came out looking like much except for the one of the Sq. Hill Cafe, lovingly known as the Cage.

I went up there this morning to do some shopping and lower Murray Ave. was shut down tight. I decided early that I would not be honoring passover and I was hungry. I wanted a bagel or something. I may as well have been looking for a hooker on Falwell's college campus.

Squirrel Hill has always been Jewish but it is really much, much more Orthodox now. It is a very noticeable change.

I went up to Forbes area and got a bagel and lox, and made it to Radio Shack.

Surprise, Surprise...

Well, I certainly did not think that a trip to PNC Park was in store to me on this journey but that’s where I found myself this afternoon. The Pirates were playing the dodgers in a day game and Dixie suddenly said this morning, “Hey let’s go down to the stadium and have a Manny Sanguillen pulled pork sandwich for lunch and watch the game for a while.’

So off we went. My mom drove us down and dropped us at the door so we didn’t have to walk anywhere; we bought some scalped box seats for 20 bucks and were sitting in the sun by the top of the 2nd. The Bucs lost 13-5 in a rather pathetic show but it was a lot of fun and really quite amazing. I did not even expect to come to Pittsburgh this trip in large part because I thought my dad was going to be largely bed-ridden in New York. So him being up and home and then at a baseball game was truly mind-blowing.

We ended up having a Primanti’s sandwich (me) and Quaker chicken wings (Dixie) for lunch. Dixie felt good enough to bitch about the lack of ice cream stands to a customer service rep – “Every time I come here there’s a 20-minute wait to get a damned ice cream cone and you miss an inning!” That prompted them to fetch an Aramark rep, who came to our seat to talk. He and Dixie are pictured here chatting. He also felt good enough to stop in a bar on the way out and say hi to the proprietor, a doo-wop singer who goes by the name Johnny Angel and has a huge pompadour. They have music there and apparently Mr. Angel has hired Dixie and the boys a few times.

We walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge into downtown, stopping to have a picture taken by the statue of The Great One, then caught a cab at a hotel there and headed home.

PNC Park is spectacular
, Pittsburgh looked great and just being there together was fabulous. I will have to figure out other ways to bond with my kids because we won’t be getting misty eyed at Mets or Yankees games in 30 years.