Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chinese gymnast rehearsing

I walked by a gym at the Beijng sports University last week on my way to the adidas superstar media room and there she was. Check back for a second video, which is taking forever to load.

Last week's column

Beijing Market Adds
Adventure to TV Repair

May 26, 2006

There's a market right around the corner from our housing compound, less than a mile north on busy Jing Shun road and set back a bit from the street. It is widely known as the Kite Market, because of the huge, brightly covered kites that individual vendors sell across the parking lot. It's a dusty, dirty place with a parking lot filled with crater-like potholes and ringed by vendors selling produce, "antique" knickknacks and cooked food like scallion pancakes and noodles.

Anchoring the market is an outlet of the Wu-Mei (I Buy) convenience store chain, which is itself a rather bizarre bazaar, stocked with such staples as rice cookers, blouses, chili peppers, grain alcohol and cigarettes. But the market's real heart lies next door in a huge warehouse-like building, which until recently housed everything from produce to hardware, butcher shops to DVDs.

I won't buy meat there but have made any other purchases. This despite the fact that one friend's driver so disliked the place's filth that she finally asked her employer why she insists on returning to the market, saying, "Even we won't shop here, so why do you?" I have found the place irresistible ever since a young local friend took me there shortly after I arrived in Beijing last summer.
[expat, kite market]
The Kite Market

On one visit I took note of a TV repairman because I knew I needed his services. We bought a little American TV with a built-in VCR from our predecessors. It has proved valuable, as I have never seen a VCR or tape in China and we brought a lot of tapes with us, including many appropriate for young children, fare that is difficult to find among the endless supply of pirated $1 and $2 DVDs. (Legitimately issued products are only available in a handful of downtown stores.) Unfortunately, Anna's nanny plugged the 110-volt TV directly into the 220-volt wall outlet rather than into its voltage transformer. The result was a heavy cloud of smoke. This happens to expats quite regularly here.

The TV then sat in the corner for months, slowly driving my wife, Rebecca, out of her mind. She asked me to move it repeatedly but I wasn't moved to action until I watched Anna precariously tottering atop the TV, trying to reach some upper shelves. I put it into a closet, planning on taking it to the Kite Market to see if it could be fixed. It remained there for weeks on end.

Two weeks ago, I finally asked my Chinese teacher, Dong, if he would go over there with me after our lesson. "Sure," he said. "But you have to talk. I'll step in only when you really need me." I put the TV in the back seat of our old Jeep and set off.

I was excited to go there with Dong because I wanted to get to the bottom of some recent changes I had noticed. The bumpy parking lot was now a construction site. The kite sellers remained but had been squeezed into the middle. I wondered what was being built. I also had noticed several hand-painted banners strung up in front of the market for several days, with a group of elderly people quietly sitting underneath them in folding chairs. I took them to be protesters and wanted to know the story. The only characters I could recognize on the signs were "We" and "eat."

When we arrived, a police car with whirling sirens was parked on the sidewalk and there were no protesters in sight. Dong told me the signs said, "We need to eat too." Inside, we learned that the protesters were farmers from the village behind the market whose fields had been sold to a developer, allegedly for 80 million renminbi ($9.98 million), with very little going to those who had worked the land for years. I was happy to note that by the time we left, the old men and women were back and their banners were flying. The signs vanished a day or two later and within a week the protesters were gone as well. I have not found out what happened to their demands.

I drove past the police car to the back entrance. The main market was closed and empty, with all the vendors in a series of smaller buildings behind it. I wondered how the kite salesmen and other outdoor sellers were faring. Lugging the TV, I entered the first building and found a stall with glass counters covered in electrical components and opened TVs.
[expat, tv repair]
The TV repairman

We had arrived at 12:15 p.m. and the repairman was at lunch, along with many of the other male clerks and most customers. I should have known; 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. is like a holy lunch hour for most Chinese. A couple of women holding down the fort said they would call the laoban (boss) and get him back. Leaving the TV on the counter, we walked around looking at the wares for sale in the many little stalls: pens, notebooks, DVD players, satellite dishes, lingerie, softcore porn DVDs, axes, shovels, pots, pans, woks, watering cans, dishes, cups and virtually everything else you could think of.

We then walked over to a nearby building, which housed the produce sellers. I bought some fruit and vegetables, actually doing most of the talking, much to my surprise and Dong's pleasure. Returning to the TV stand, we found that the repairman had returned and that the women there had been joined by several friends, who had clearly come over to check us out. While the repairman dismantled and examined my TV, Dong and I chatted with the ladies, who were fascinated by me but also by Dong and his ability to speak English. They looked at him like he was a wizard. They were all migrants, mostly from Szechuan and Anhui provinces.

"Ni bu shi Zhong Guo ren," they told Dong ("You are not Chinese.") "Ni shi shen me di fang ren?" ("Where are you from?")

He insisted that he was Chinese. I explained that he was my laoshi (teacher). They were impressed. They asked where I was from. I told them.

"Look how big and strong the American is and how skinny you are," one of the woman told Dong. "That's because in America they eat butter every meal. We only eat rice."

The repairman said he thought he only had to replace a single, burned-out component. But he couldn't check it unless I fetched a step-down transformer from home. I drove Dong out to the street where he could get a taxi, telling him I could handle it from here.

"They're OK," Dong said. "Don't worry." That was high praise because he always warns me to be careful. Dong often seems to think most Chinese people view me as a walking ATM machine. I went home, then returned with the transformer. The TV worked and I paid the requested 100 renminbi (about $12) without haggling, possibly the first such transaction ever at the Kite Market. Before long, old children's videos like "Busy Town" and "The Little Engine That Could" were back in rotation, welcomed like long lost friends.
* * *

Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on taking a trip to Guizhou province.

* * *

I truly enjoy hearing about your experiences… in such a different culture. This last article about taking the family vacation in a less traveled and thus less structured place was fantastic. You should be proud of yourself that you are exposing your kids to areas outside of their comfort zones. It will surely help them to do the same when they are older.

-Oanh Dang

I think the whole experience of living in China has been great for the kids, though not without its difficulties. I surely hope it continues to be so.

* * *

Having lived in China for going on six years (though just moved to Beijing two weeks ago), I really get a kick out of your Fresh Off the Boat perspective. It helps me to remember what it is about life out here that's so different from back home.

Having spent the last six years in Yunnan, Guizhou's neighbor to the West, I'm all for the off the beaten track tear your hair out experience. But I couldn't imagine doing it with kids; fellow twentysomethings are hard enough to please as it is. You should get a medal.

-- Jeff Crosby

It can be tough with the kids, but at least we don't have to convince them – they still go where we take them.

I think my newcomers' perspective helps me see things that veteran expats look past and I hope to maintain that ability as my stay lengthens.

* * *

Great read, but it does seem to me that you are taking high risk in consuming food in a region where sanitation is 19th century.

-- Roger Brown

19th century is an exaggeration, but that's a valid concern. The rule of thumb is only eat the food that comes out too hot to eat -- high heat kills pretty much everything, which is why it also can be advisable to clean plates and cups with tea. I don't worry about myself much but do sometimes fret about the kids. At times like that we are happy for them to be picky eaters, munching on granola bars.
* * *

I enjoy reading your column, especially after our recent 10-day trip to Beijing and Xi'an, as chaperones, with our local high school band. The experiences of our trip will last the students' lifetime. Although you seem more adventurous, it's easy now to use our background from our trip to picture the experiences that you describe so well. The things that you write about are as important as the business and politics in China that we all hear so much about.

-- Joe Praske

La Canada, California

Don't sell yourself short – it's mighty adventurous to chaperone a high school band anywhere, much less to China. I too think the day-to-day life stuff is important for people to understand.

* * *

I was particularly delighted to read about your tour of my hometown province, Guizhou. I happened to meet a mother from U.S. with 3 kids, roughly 13, 9, 3, in one of the poorest counties in Guizhou, exactly 20 years ago. I truly admire her spirit to explore and experience, often in quite intolerable condition (think of 1986). I still go back to visit my parents every other year. It is always a great joy and relief to escape from the shadows of high rises in Beijing to the green mountains in Guizhou.

-- Frank Yang

I'm sure the woman you met and her kids are still telling tales about their trip there 20 years later and that we will be doing the same. Your province is a most memorable place. .
* * *

I am a Chinese studying and working in U.S. Reading your article of your trip to Guizhou makes me want to visit those beautiful places and meet those hospitable people. Your experience in China is not only fun to read for non-Chinese but to Chinese as well.

--Muzhi Li

Monday, May 29, 2006

Let It Rain

Let it rain.

Well, I have made a big deal about the dryness and lack of rain here, and even said in my column a while back that I doubted there really was a rainy season at all. So I need to fess up – we had a lot of rain last week, including a big storm that blew in Friday and lasted off and on until Saturday afternoon. At its peak Friday evening and night, it rained like hell, like cats and dogs, huge sheets pummeling everything.

I was actually out on the town Friday night, going straight from the adidas basketball camp to meet some people for dinner, then hook up with those guy I met a few weeks ago who lives in Hogn Kong but is here often and wanted to play guitar.. long story and the night became a clusterfuck of missed meetings, packed restaurants, flooded streets and no cabs due to the inclement weather, but still…

God it was nice to have that rain. Saturday afternoon, the rain petered out and by the afternoon it was somewhat sunny and we went to town, took the kids to Ritan park, one of their favorite spots. Everything looked, smelled and felt totally different – clean and crisp. A really, really nice and quite dramatic change of pace. The weather also blew the pollution right away and we had some nice surprises in store – mainly that we could actually see mountains from our house.

Mike Allen, a WSJ Page One editor, was visiting from NYC. He came out to our house Saturday night and then we went to dinner nearby. Giving him a tour of the house, we stepped out onto the third floor balcony –which we almost never do – and were shocked by the sight of mountains looming to the Northwest. I did admittedly pause and wonder for a moment whether we could always see them if we just looked.

But a bit later, we went out to dinner at the Orchard, a nearby restaurant that I think I have written about before. We made a turn onto the country road that take us there and bam there were the mountains again, visible to both the North and the West and not looking very far away. Stunning. We go there almost once a week and the mountains have definitely never been visible before. It was really beautiful. It was sunset and the sky was a glowing orange/pink and the fields were glistening and nothing was dusty, and those mountains looked so gorgeous and so close.

The last two days have been dry and clear and hot, blue sky but the pollution creeping back in. But at least I now know that it does rain here every once in a while and have some sense of what things look like after the dirt and dust have been washed away.

To make a long story short, I did eventually hook up with this guy Joe Simone the other night and after jamming at his friends’ apartment f r an hour or two, we made our way out to this bar where our mutual friend matt Forney’s bluegrass was playing (same guys I played with last week). We got there pretty late and after their set was over, Joe and I and Matt played about four songs with Matt Roberts, the bass player (upright). We finally had to stop because the latter’s fingers were about to fall off. After all the earlier messes, it was a good night, and a late one that did not do much for my lingering cold or hacking cough.

I still made it up the next morning to coach Jacob’s Sports Beijing soccer team in a drizzle on a soaking field. He is getting really pretty good. He had another game yesterday, for the Dulwich School team, their second away game, at the Japanese School, which they won “three-nil.” He spent the afternoon eating chicken wings, French fries and ice cream the pool with Caroline and was in hog heaven.

Slamonline, longer version of adidas camp...

Just click here.

Anna ballet video

Talk about a patient teacher!

Friday, May 26, 2006

adidas camp pictures

Here you can see the giant statue of Mao, the billboard celebrating the Sports U's gold medal winners, the players walking in and Dwight Howard doing his friendly guy thing.

Pictures from last week's Dulwich College spring Fair

The kids loved doing pottery. There is a kids art center ner here called Happyland and they have these setups at birthday parties and events all the time. Great idea.

That's jacob's teacher Jacqui Cameron with Anna. She is on maternity leave now, due any day.

Anna doing ballet, video

Talk about a patient teacher! This is taking forever to load today but I will try to get some more up over the weekend.

adidas camp report

The adidas camp the other day was interesting. I interviewed a bunch of people, including a 7-foot 14-year-old Chinese (supposedly – they backdate age worse than Dominican Little League teams) who shrugged and nodded to everything. I’m not sure my translator was all that on the ball, either.

NBA Stars Dwight Howard and TJ Ford were there and I chatted with them each for a good long time. Both are really good, outgoing guys, perfect for this type of thing. TJ is from Houston and had never been out of the country before. Hw as having a great time and saying things like, “you know, the, uh, Asians, they a little better than I would have thought. They got some athleticism.”

Dwight Howard is going to blow up into one of the NBA’s biggest stars in the next couple of years. First of all, he is phenomenally talented. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I do believe he was second in the league in rebounding this year, at age 20, two years out of high school. He is going to be an absolute beast on the court. But what is going to make him a star is that combined with the fact that he is incredibly outgoing, friendly, well-spoken, at ease with himself, clean-cut and good looking. He also has a super hero body, with a thin waist V’ing up to huge shoulders. He has it all.

While I was talking to him and throughout the day as I observed, hordes of Chinese teenagers approached him, gingerly, smiling, wanting a picture. He smiled broadly, hugged, shook hands, gave high fives, took people’s phones out of their hands and spoke to friends, “Hi, this is Dwight.” He smiled and waved a everyone, went out of his way to say “Ni hao” to as many people as he could, including maintenance and construction workers. He seemed to be fully and truly enjoying himself, as he should, but in a way that is not the norm. He’s a really refreshing cat.

As for the play, well, did I mention how cool Dwight Howard was? It was pretty raggedy. The 7-foot kid I mentioned had biceps as thick as my wrist giving him an impossibly awkward pterodactyl look. There were a few others with similar builds. There is a lot of height, because kids are sent to the basketball academies largely on the basis of their height and how tall they are projected to end up. I did see some nice move and busts of athleticism and savvy ball playing. The best point guard I noticed was a little Japanese kid (there are about 15 kids from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—and one big redhead from Australia, who looks like Matt Bonner and whom I really need to talk to). Two Chinese kids did actually beat TJ and Dwight in a game of 2-2. They obviously weren’t going all our or anything, but it was kind of cool.

Tomorrow is the All Star Game and that will be interesting. It can be hard to pick players out at these camps, with 60 kids playing 4 or 5 simultaneous games. Having the cream of the crop pre-selected for your viewing pleasure can be a huge help.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

adidas superstar camp in beijing

I am writing now from the bowels of Beijing Sports University. I am here for an adidas superstar camp with about 60 kids from Asia, mostly chinese. KC Jones is here running it, along with detlef schrempf and a few current nba players (dwight howard and TJ Ford).

This place is the center of chinese sports world.. I am about 100 yards away from a giant alabaaster statue of mao, probably 7 stories tall. Around the corner in the gym, I saw young girls practicing gymnastics routines. Outside there is a mural honoring 2004 gold medal winners who were graduates. It is really the heart of the government sports machine so far as I can tell.

And here we are in the adidas media center... interesting to watch how western capitalist sports system fits into the communist sports machine, the last real bastion of the old line govt here.

the media center is pretty filled right now, as we wait for the afternoon sessions to begin. i am the only westerner. everyone else is a 24-year-old chinese guy. Not sure who they all work for but i will try to figure it out.

I will be writing about this camp for Slam Online, that's beijing and my new gig, sports Business Journal, so much more from here to come on the blog, I'm sure.

Big House outrage...

Art writes...
Well it looks like the GAME WAS RIGGED.....again. Instead of boosters greasing the palms of kids playing roundball, it's wealthy Alums and Developers putting the pressure onto the ever malleable Regents.

But hell, isn't it late in the 4th quarter already....and we're down by 21...no one named Mary is in sight.

College Football is really just Pro Football Lite; a minor league for the almighty NFL. Perhaps the best thing to do (let's consult a few UM MBAs on this..) is to simply spinoff the Football Team. Sell it or lease it, stadium and all. Maybe Wayne State would pay big bucks for it, or Western Michigan, Alma, or even Michigan State (we all know they could use a winner).

If the NCAA doesn't mind why not lease it to HOME DEPOT or the GOOGLE or some other deep pocket corporate outfit.

If Homeland Defense wouldn't object, why not sell it to the Saudis or a consortium from Taiwan or Singapore.

Think of the huge money that could be made on the sale. Enough to fill the University coffers for a century. A dividend that truly keeps on giving. An endowment that would provide a budget for every non revenue sport on the list for time eternal. EVEN ENOUGH MONEY FOR - GASP! - EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS.

We hold the big house dear in our hearts for memories which fade with each day. But the game has changed and so must we, time to go watch the high schoolers play (maybe they aren't on steroids, driving Hummers, or making bets....yet).


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Speaking of John Pollock (see Big House post).. I met him last week in Beijing. He is a friend of Rodger Citron’s and he got in touch, s aid he’d be here, etc.

We met downtown at Houhai lake and I took him bike riding through old Beijing, around the lake, through the hutongs and up to the Lama Temple. It was the third or fourth time I had done that but the first since the Fall. I was happy to see I could lead it pretty well.

The hutongs are the old courtyard-style houses that used to make up most of Beijing and are being torndown rapidly. Theyare really a pleasure to ride through and hang out in, especially a couple of the quieter ones that are not overrun by tourists (mostly Chinese) in pedicabs… not that there’s anything wrong with them and I enjoyed taking theboys on a tour…

Anyhow, we cruised around, over to the Lama Temple, which was the Royal Buddhist temple system and is really beautiful. It includes a huge, huge, wood Buddha, about 8stories high and very wide, supposedly carved from a single tree. Very impressive. You are not allowed to photograph the Buddha, or any interiors.

Then we went to a great hot pot lunch. all this can be yours if you just board a plane and fly 13 hours.

For those of you Ann Arbor people, John Pollock is the son of Lana Pollock, former State Senator and a strong campus presence during our years. His father is Henry Pollock, from the Geology dept. We had a great time.

I am too tired to write more.

the Big House in danger

You'll know right away whether or not you care about this... My new friend John Pollock is quoted in this story... he set up Save the Big House to stop this monstrosity from happening. The Regents assure dhim in writing less than 24 hours before the meeting that the proposal was not going to be voted on.

Read down to see how the Regents snuck it into the meeting -- held in Dearborn! -- at the last minute, after the period to sign up for public comments had passed. Oh this gets my blood boiling like it's 1986 again. Fat Al may have to dust off his PBR and Marlboros for this one...

We need to mobilize the troops.. Steve Gregory, Beth Fertig, Kery Murakami... Someone page Caleb Southworth! Maybe I can find Henry Park in China studying Maoist theory.

It is a pleasure to post a story from the Daily, though.

If you care, stay in the loop -- www.savethebighouse.com

Regents approve controversial Big House project by 5-3 vote
Leah Graboski

The University's Board of Regents approved a project to renovate the Michigan Stadium with a 5-3 vote Friday morning. The $226-million renovation project includes the addition of luxury boxes as part of two new structures on the east and west sidelines.

Extending several feet above the stadium's scoreboards, the structures will include 83 luxury boxes, or private suites. The renovated stadium will also feature wider aisles, accessible seating for the disabled, 3,180 outdoor and indoor club seats and 650 chairback seats - individual seats with back support and arm rests.

The renovated stadium, with a projected seating capacity of 108,251, will accommodate nearly 1,000 more fans than the current stadium.

Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said some seats will be removed to build the structures, but only seats without current ticket-holders.

The Regents have discussed renovating the stadium for years. In 2003, several Regents visited Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University to get an idea of the competition facing Michigan Stadium.

After the visit, the Regents were excited about the possibilities for Michigan's stadium, Maynard said.

Penn State's Beaver Stadium boosted its seating capacity to 107,282 after its seventh renovation completed in 2001 - making Beaver Stadium second to Michigan in capacity by only 219 seats.

The $194-million renovation to Ohio Stadium, also completed in 2001, included 81 "hospitality suites," a new press box and new bench seats.

University officials told the Daily in 2004 that Ohio Stadium served as a model for some of the proposed changes to Michigan Stadium.

"We have frankly fallen behind in many of our facilities and we've got to address them," University athletic director Bill Martin said.

Many Michigan fans are wary that the University is going too far to outdo competition.

Friday's decision comes after eight months of heated debate over whether the elite nature of the private suites projects an incorrect message about the University's values.

Critics of the project argue that the separation of wealthy fans in the luxury boxes from the crowd below suggests the University is more concerned with financial gain than a unified environment.

The 5-3 vote marks one of the most contentious issues the Regents have ever addressed. In more than 400 past building projects, the Regents have voted unanimously.

Regents opposed to the renovation plan are Laurence Deitch, Rebecca McGowan and Katherine White.

McGowan said she is concerned the project will spend "too much money on too few people."

Deitch said the project "screams of insensitivity" because Michigan's economy is doing so poorly. He proposed a $55 million to $60 million alternative option he believes would cover the necessary renovations.

Maynard, who voted for the project, said the decision was not "black and white." Maynard only recently decided to approve of the renovations - a decision she attributed to her faith in President Mary Sue Coleman and the athletic director, who have adamantly supported the project.

Martin said the plan's approval is in the best interest of Michigan athletics.

It will take at least a year to complete the design and obtain approval of the design from the Regents, Martin said.

He said the construction will be complete by 2010 and will not interrupt any football games.

The architecture firm, HNTB Architecture, was officially hired Friday to begin the project.

Addition of proposal to Regents' agenda upsets ticket-holders opposed to skyboxes

Some ticket-holders are infuriated by the secretive nature by which the University announced the approval of the Michigan Stadium renovation project Friday.

The University Board of Regents did not originally intend to discuss the proposed renovations to the Big House during Friday's meeting in Dearborn.

The Regents added discussion of the renovations to the agenda at the 11th hour, after the deadline to sign up for public comment had passed - preventing dissenters from voicing their concern at Friday's meeting.

According to the Board of Regents website (www.regents.umich.edu), the deadline to sign up for public comment is 9 a.m. the day before the meeting.

Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said the last-minute addition was necessary after someone leaked classified information about the renovations, including details about the construction, to the Detroit Free Press. She said that after the column, "the process had to be moved along."

Michael Rosenberg's column, titled "Beware of U-M's plan for huge, pricey luxury boxes," was published last Wednesday.
Maynard said the University does not know who leaked the information to Rosenberg.

University President Mary Sue Coleman is responsible for preparing the Regents meeting agendas, after consulting with the Regents' chair, Andrea Fischer Newman.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said Coleman's questions about the project were answered in time to add the issue to the Thursday's agenda. Peterson would not comment on the impact of Rosenberg's column on Coleman's decision.

"Coleman found no benefit in further delaying the discussion," Peterson said.

John Pollack, founder of Save the Big House, a group opposed to the renovations, said the University's decision to tack the renovations onto the agenda was irresponsible.

"It was a very sly move and I don't think it reflects well on due process at the University of Michigan," Pollack said.

"This is halo times 100."

The halo was the painted ring added to the stadium in 1998. It was taken down two years later after vehement public disapproval.

Pollack is also concerned about the message the University is sending by building luxury seating while Michigan's economy is suffering.
"It's fiscally irresponsible," he said.

Former Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the Medical School Irwin Goldstein said, "It was very sneaky of them to do it in Dearborn." He said the meeting should have been in Ann Arbor.

Goldstein was one of the 33 faculty members from nine schools and colleges who signed a letter expressing their opposition to the luxury boxes.

Goldstein said if he knew the stadium renovations were to be discussed at the meeting, he would have been there - along with several of his colleagues.

Regent Olivia Maynard acknowledged that holding the meeting in Dearborn was not convenient for Ann Arbor residents who wanted to voice their opinions.

Goldstein is also upset that the skyboxes will be so high, saying they will "preclude the sun."
"We have an incredibly beautiful stadium and it will never be the same," he said.

Goldstein supports Regent Laurence Deitch's alternative proposal of spending $55 to $60 million on "necessary" renovations, excluding the luxury boxes.

He wishes he could have been at the meeting to endorse Deitch.
Goldstein hopes there will be an additional meeting held in Ann Arbor for the community to comment. He said he is willing to pay more for tickets if necessary.

After a Freedom of Information request, athletic director Bill Martin revealed the project to The Ann Arbor News Thursday.
Maynard said, "The Ann Arbor News wanted everything." She said the Regents delayed getting the information to them because they wanted the announcement to coincide with Martin's presentation.

Data made available due to the FOIA request showed the athletic department has $40 million in reserves - an amount very different from the $20-$30 million commonly believed to be in the reserves, Pollack said.
He said the University could renovate the stadium under Deitch's alternative plan in two years because "two-thirds of the money is sitting in the bank."

Pollack said he will work to get the facts out and "shine a bright light" on the process by which the University secretly put the stadium renovations on Friday's agenda.

"Everyone on both sides has to be disappointed in the process," he said. © Copyright 2006 Michigan Daily

Oh Sweet jesus.. Howlin wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins

You Tube is killing my productivity but giving me great pleasure.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beijing stage debut

I made my Beijing performing debut last night at the Orchard, a great restaurant very close to our house. We’ll take you there if you come visit. The owner, Lisa Minder Wu is actually from Wheeling West Virginia. She has been here for a while, originally coming as a journalist. Her husband is Chinese and is a wood worker and craftsman. We have bought a dining room table from them, which we’ll have soon.

She asked me if I would put together a band and host an acoustic open mic night. I eventually called Matt Forney, a former WSJ reporter and Time bureau chief who is friend of a friend and whom I had met and chatted music with several times. He and I got together and played a few weeks ago, playing for hours with another friend of his in a little bar in a cool hutong spot downtown.

The chemistry was good. Matt is a fine musician, a step above me, which is what I need and prefer. Long story short, he has a group together that plays mostly old time music. Matt plays banjo and mandolin as well as guitar. Matt roberts, formerly the head of Dow Jones business here and a super nice guy, plays upright bass. There is an other guitarist and an excellent Welsh fiddle player, both of whom are leaving China next month and he wants to play as many gigs as possible before then and is open to doing something with me after that. So I hooked him up with this Orchard gig and he asked me to come play with them.

They did two and half fairly short sets of fairly trad music (bluegrass, Americana, fiddle songs) and some blues and even ”Willin’”. Then they called me up. There was a group of about 15 people I knew sitting right in front of the stage, including a couple of good friends. A lot of people here don’t really know about my guitar World life and think of me as a sportswriter. I think I surprised them a little.

Matt really wanted me to sing “Tangled Up In Blue," which I apparently did quite well during that drunken night in the Hutong bar. I’ll accept his compliment but that’s a tough one to sing. I asked to start out with something I could hit out of the park.. did “Deep Ellum Blues..” three chords and you can improv lyrics any time you forget some… went well… then matt said, “do you want to do an Allman Brothers song?” and the fiddle player said something about “southbound” and I almost fell off my stool and immediately started playing it.. I was pumped to hear her take flight. But alas she couldn’t really feel my groove and just sort of sawed along.. I think it went well though.. then we did “dead flowers” and then “Tangled Up,” which I think I pulled off more or less. I was sweating bullets from the lights and the exertion and I guess a little nerves. But it felt good. I got down and a fellow I had never seen before bought me a beer. Always nice. I was happy that Becky made it over. We had Yu Ying come over and B put the kids to sleep first then joined.

Jacob and Caroline followup

Several people have inquired about how the dinner with Caroline went. We had a very nice night --it’s always nice to spend an evening with some Pittsburghers in Beijing – but I think Jacob was a little disappointed. There’s no great story to tell. That happened earlier, with the actual set up. It could only be anticlimactic after that. Caroline and Edward are two of his best friends but in the end he probably would rather not have them both here together. Whatever. It was fun. Our social life is more active and easier here than it was at home.

I guess it’s because everyone is in the same boat, with no family obligations or anything, babysitting is plentiful for everyone and so many people live right herein Riviera, making it really easy to get together, especially when the weather’s nice. We also have a cook to prepare dinner for company. I have been trying to take full advantage of that and have people over on Friday nights as much as possible.

Basically, we pay Mr. Li the same amount for cooking for our family or for a party. It’s just the difference in food costs and it seems much less extravagant and silly to me if we entertain.

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; Gregg Allman; dylan, Clapton, harrison...

For your viewing and listening pleasure... I am addicted to YouTube... I am its bitch. I can not stop.

Classic,classic mid-70s Dylan.. "simple Twiste of Fate"

Friday, May 19, 2006


Jacob’s former nemesis and now good friend Caroline Madden and her family are coming for dinner tonight, along with the family of Edward Purcell, Jacob’s other very good friend. He has been very exctied about this for a few days.

He was up early this morning, which is not unusual. But he usually comes down and either slips in to play on my computer, or rouses one of us to help him get breakfast. Today I instead heard him rattling around his room and happily went back to sleep.

Later after he had come down, he disappeared into the toy room in front of our house. We were bugging him to come have breakfast – which never happens, he usually wakes up starving – he said, “One minute. Can you help me carry this stuff up to my room?” I said sure and went in to find him loading up a plastic storage container with cars, trucks, dinosaurs and Transformers. “What’s this stuff for?” I asked. “You’ll see,” he replied.

I carried it up to his room with him and saw what he had been doing all morning – making a meticulous setup of cars, trucks and other vehicles covering a large cityscape rug in their room. “I need to finish this setup with these guys,” he said. He told me his very specific plans for what was going where.

I told him to finish up and come down for breakfast because we had to go to school soon. He promised he’d be down soon. It took him about 10 minutes. Later, I went up to get socks or him and Eli and saw his completed work, which not only finished the setup but erected a sort of shrine to himself and all his favorite things around the perimeter, featuring every trophy he’s ever received (soccer, T Ball, baseball, both here and in Jersey), a stature of the Empire state building, a dragon he got for his birthday, a Tractor Traylor bobblehead and Josh Gibson statue (both of which I proudly found at Toys R Us when he was a baby and have been on his shelves ever since) and a couple of school pictures, inluding an 8x10 of his first Grade photo.

There was only one possible reason he would work so intently on such a thing and that is to show it off to Caroline tonight. I saw her mother this morning and went to confirm with her and she said, “Caroline ha been talking about going to Jacob’s house for days. I told her I had to confirm we were on and she said, ’Oh we’re on. Jacob told me all about it.’”

I’m looking forward to seeing him escort her up the room to see his handiwork.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

1979 Bucs memories

My brother Delaware Dave sent me the following message. It got me thinking... Though it was a defining moment of my childhood, the Pirates winning the World series seems so very long ago and such a distant era, as noted in many of the details below. It is as far removed from us now as 1952 was then. if that makes any sense. It freaks me out, anyhow.

After suffering through this present season I sprung for a box set of the 1979 World Series after reading a review somewhere. Jesse and I watched the 1st three innings of Game 1 last night. Classic. I have some funny impressions to share.

* The announcers were Keith Jackson and Don Drysdale, Howard Cosell did color. Cosell tries to get in all these little tid bits about players like Steve Nicosia. There is just something funny about him waxing poetically about a journeyman catcher.
* Most of the players had really cheesy mustaches. My vote for the best bad mustache is John Lowenthal who played left field for the O's. He has hair like Jesse's with a bad mustache.
* Jim Rooker looks like a porno star. His hat accumulated only 1 Stargell Star through out the course of the year.
* The game was played in 41 degree weather. Apparently it snowed that morning and the field is just a mud bath. It looks worse than any little league field. In between innining these guys literally run out with bath towels to try and soak up the water.
* At 1 point the umpires called out the head ground's keeper. He was some dude with an Italian name. He ran out in a knit ski sweater.
* Omar Moreno opens the game with a 2 hopper to second and almost beat out the throw. Jesse's response: "that dude has wheels."
* I did not remember that Harvey Haddux was the pitching coach for the Bucs.
* Lee Lacy-enough said
* Tim Foli chokes up so far on the bat that he looks like a little kid. Also has a bad mustache.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Talking hoops

Me on watching the NBA Playoffs from here:

Click here

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The top picture shows a bus stop across Jing shun Lu from the Kite Market. The next one is the guy fixing our TV. The rest are the market or adjoining stores.

I’ve written before about the crazy market down the road from us. It’s such a dirty place that after a year or two, Theo’s driver couldn’t handle taking her there any more and finally said, “Don’t you know we don’t go here?” Well, it’s being all revamped now so maybe it will be cleaner and tidier. I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing.

But I like going over there. It’s fascinating and full of life. We had a TV that needed to be fixed. It’s an American TV with a built-in VCR and we have some videos Anna really likes and there are no VCRs in China, so the thing is valuable to us. But Ding plugged it straight into the wall and it needs a transformer so it smoked and quit working.

I had seen a TV repair guy over in the Kite market and I wanted to bring it over. Last week I told Wang my Chinese teacher about the place and he offered to go with me. He said I had to talk a nd he would only step in when absolutely necessary. So off we went.

I carried the TvVback and found the right stall but we had arrived at 12:15 and the repairman was at lunch. In fact, almost all men were at lunch and there almost no customers. 12-1 is like a holy lunch time for Chinese. But there some women there and they said they would call him and he’d come over. So I dropped the TV down and we walked around looking at all the crap in the little stalls… everything from pens and notebooks to rice cookers, Dvd players, satellite dishes, lingerie, Gameboys and softcore porn DVDs. Not to mention axes, shovels, pots, pans, woks, watering cans, dishes, cups.. you get the idea.

So we waited and looked and chatted and went to get some fruit at a building next store holding all the produce sellers and came back. The women around the TV repair stand were fascinated by me but also by Wang and his ability to speak English with me. They looked at him like he was a wizard. They we were all migrants from other provinces, mostly Szechuan and Anhui.

“Ta bu shi Jong Guo ren,” they told Wang (“You are not Chinese.”) “Ni shi shen me di fang ren?” (“Where are you from?”)

He insisted that he was Chinese. I explained that he was my laoshi (teacher). They were impressed. They asked where I was from. I told them.

“Look how big and strong the American is and how skinny you are,” one of the woman said. ”That’s because in America they eat butter every meal. We only eat rice.”

Finally, the repair guy came back and dismantled the TV and said he though he only had to replace a transformer, which he did. But he couldn’t check it without me getting the transformer from home. So I drove Wang out to the street where he could get a taxi and went home and returned by myself.

“They’re ok,” Wang said. “Don’t worry.” That was high praise because he always warns me about the evils of Chinese people and tells me to be careful. Anyhow, I went back with the transformer and the Tv worked. He charged me 100 Rmb (about 12 bucks) and I carried it back to the car and went home. Anna has happily been watching Caillou and Busy Town ever since.

I took these pictures over there.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Eli and Millie

Eli and his friend Millie Middleton. I love these pictures.

Guizhou column and letters

A Trek Off the Beaten Path
Pays Rich Dividends

May 12, 2006

China has three weeklong holidays when virtually the entire country shuts down. With no school and no caregivers, they are prime times to go exploring, but because 1.3 billion other people have the same idea, many expats prefer to stay put or leave the country. We have largely ignored this line of thinking, most recently setting off for the South Central province of Guizhou during last week's May Day celebration.

It was not an obvious destination. As China's poorest province, with a per capita income of $614, Guizhou lacks many amenities a vacationing family of five might normally seek -- swimming pools, established tourist sites like caves, even established hiking or biking trails. Few people we know have been there.

But lush mountains and ethnic-minority villages dominate the province, which my Chinese teacher called his favorite in the country. The deal was sealed when a colleague of my wife, Rebecca, said that he knew an excellent English-speaking guide. We booked a four-night, five-day visit less than a week before departing. The expat-oriented travel agent in Beijing laughed out loud when I requested five tickets to Guiyang, Guizhou's capital.

We were greeted at the airport by guide Huang Duan ("call me Howard") and his driver, Mr. Li. We checked into adjoining rooms at the four-star Trade Point Hotel before heading out to dinner. Arriving at the little restaurant, we were followed by a pack of curious onlookers. After a delicious, spicy dinner, the entire wait staff crowded around two-and-a-half-year-old Anna, wanting to hold her, kiss her, pose for pictures with her. It's a pattern that would be repeated over and over.

"Many of these people have never seen anyone who looks like Anna, except in pictures," Duan explained. "They think she looks like an angel."

The next morning we piled into Mr. Li's van for the three-hour drive to Kaili, a much smaller, poorer and dirtier city, which is the capital of the "Miao and Dong (minority groups) Autonomous Prefecture." Outside of town, we turned off the main road and headed up a twisty mountain road that soon became so bumpy, rutted and crumbled that I feared we might bust an axle. Huge dump trucks overloaded with coal rumbled downhill. We passed a power plant and then towering heaps of ash and slag. It was not beautiful. Both the trucks and the ruts vanished once we passed a mine, however, and the scenery grew ever more stunning.

We drove through otherworldly vistas that would become familiar over the next few days: deep green mountains, with even the steepest slopes covered in terraced rice paddies. Men plowed the muddy fields with water buffalo. Women chopped tall grass with hand-held scythes, loading the green stuff into wire baskets balanced on either end of a long wooden pole carried across their shoulders.

It was fascinating and beautiful but as the day wore on I watched the kids wilt in the rising heat. I felt a stir of panic by the time we climbed into the van for the bumpy, sweaty ride back from a ramshackle village where women followed us waving batik shirts and purses. We were worn out, the kids were restless and I wondered if we would make it three more days. Our anxiety only deepened during dinner at a soulful local place as the kids decomposed and eight-year-old Jacob seemed on the edge of a complete collapse.

The next morning, the kids ate the Trix and instant oatmeal we brought with us, while Rebecca and I breakfasted on spicy noodles and dumplings, and conferred with Duan. We asked him to slash a third of each day's activities and allow more time for the kids to ramble. It was a suggestion that turned the trip around.

Heading south, it took 15 minutes to get beyond the town's grimy ring of light industry. A wee-hours rainstorm had brought the countryside even more to life. The boiling river and rushing waterfalls, which seemed to appear around every bend, fascinated our boys.

We visited a large Miao village, where we joined Chinese tourists watching a traditional flute and dance show, the women clad in colorful hand-embroidered dresses. We bought the kids wooden swords that would get quite a workout over the next few days. Later we drove further into the boonies and were the lone visitors in a remote Miao outpost, where we viewed traditional houses that feature pigs, chickens and water buffalo on the first, stone floor and several generations on two top, wooden floors. Beautiful but dirty-faced children followed us around and I bought them lollipops. One five-year-old boy appeared with a four-inch bug on a string leash and all three of our kids played with it. We felt millions of miles away from booming Beijing or Shanghai.

The next day we hiked across rice paddies and through two villages. As we neared a bridge that would take us to our van, I stopped into a little store to buy water and cookies. In a back room, a group of village women were eating lunch. One called out, "Chi fan!" "Chi fan!" (Eat, eat!), handed me a bowl of congee -- rice porridge -- and gently pushed me onto a little stool. The congee tasted like glue. Looking at a sea of smiling faces, I smiled and said "Hao chi!" (Tastes good!).

They pulled up another chair and handed Rebecca a bowl. Soon bowls of cooked food came our way, including some spicy meat that could have been anything but made the congee surprisingly good. The kids ate cookies and watched us with amusement.

We lunched at a local barbecue joint hard by the banks of the churning Bala River. It was part of my plan to give the kids more freedom -- the place, which we had passed the day before, had a large, pebbly river beach where I envisioned stone skipping and fisherman watching. Duan was a little uneasy, however, and I soon understood why; the sanitary conditions were less than exemplary.

But as we walked around the outdoor dining area waiting for our food, the kids started playing with a gaggle of children, which included fellow diners and Miaos from a neighboring village. A family offered us beer and insisted we sample the meat and fish they were grilling on a hibachi. Our food arrived and we took over a nearby gazebo and invited our new friends to join us.

Eventually, all the men were drinking beer while the women watched the kids catch crabs and play tag. It is remarkable how wild-eyed boys can find each other and mind meld without being able to speak more than a few words. We lingered for hours.

There are countless motivations for traveling and many people, including us, largely abandon "throwing yourself into the deep end to see if you can swim" once kids arrive. The risks simply feel too high. It's much easier to hit a beach -- even here, where Thailand is just a flight away. But kids too can tap into something deep within themselves when forced to stretch their comfort zones. As we finally said our goodbyes at our long lunch, Jacob gave me a big hug and said, "This was the best lunch ever." I have never been prouder of him.
* * *

Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on getting my driver's license in Beijing.
* * *

Thanks for the great columns. One thing, though: I do not know where you got your facts but I had to get new licenses in Brunei, Nigeria and Scotland. Most countries only accept International licenses for tourists -- not for expats!

In all three countries I had to take a written and practical exam. In Brunei the study material had pictures of model-T Fords. In Nigeria were we were stuffed into a car with three drivers and the instructor and one driver almost killed us all when he overtook a vehicle and an oncoming vehicle missed us by inches. Those Nigerians also claimed that a little of beer relaxed them and made them better drivers! In Scotland, they insisted that one drives exactly the speed limit on hairpin Scottish Highland roads, which have stone walls on both side and a speed limit 20 miles faster than seems safe. Taking all these tests was not easy, and I failed a few, but it made me a better driver!
-- Guido Gaeffke

I got my information from the American Automobile Association and stand corrected. Thanks for the support.
* * *

When I lived in Beijing, from 1985-90 the only requirement to obtain a driver's license was to have a blood pressure test. It was so simple then.
-- David Walters

Don't you just hate it when they get organized?

* * *

Thanks for your great story on driving licences. My wife and I took the test two years ago. Though we paid 800 RMB to Fesco, we went to the examination center to take a paper test. Given the questions and the fact that that no book was available in English, I could not possibly pass -- but I did!

Everyone delivering the results to one of the examiners seemed to pass. My wife delivered hers to the other examiner and failed. It seems that the examination center updated its facilities tremendously during the past two years. May be in another two years, we'll have questions in proper English.
-- Denis Fasquelle
* * *

It is truly amusing that after all this preparation and studying, the only real rules of driving in China is there are no rules. I also agree wholeheartedly that working your way through the bureaucracy here makes you radically alter your view of the DMV and other similar American institutions.

I am an US expat living in Shanghai currently. I enjoyed reading "A Road Warrior Fight Just to Get a License." However, in today's China, to hire a driver plus a mini van would cost at least $2,000.
-- George Chen

I stand corrected on the cost of a driver, though $2,000 sounds a little high for Beijing. The price I stated ($1,000) would more accurately reflect a used minivan with no driver, or a driver with no car.

* * *

I received quite a few readers from expats in other countries recounting their tales of getting licensed. Here are a few of my favorites:

I am an expat living in Peru. The Peruvian driver's exam requires a psychological exam. This test was silly but at the end he asked me if I owned a gun or was planning to purchase a gun in the future? I answered "no". He then gave me his business card and said if I ever changed my mind that I would also need another psychological exam and to please call him!

After driving here now for nearly six years, I know why one needs a mental exam -- because you need to be crazy to drive.
-- Jim Bell
* * *

The Italian test is horrendous and Americans must take it if here for more than a year. It is offered only in Italian. You must take the test on a manual transmission car, even if you usually drive an automatic. Questions can cover rules for the other vehicles along with many mechanical issues, including the detailed internal workings of a car engine.

There are 7,500 possible questions, of which you will answer 100. You may take the test orally, but if the examiner chooses, he can add questions in an area about which he feels you are unsure. Most people pay hundreds of Euro to a driving school to coach them.

Even people who have been here for years are in fear of the test. Many drive without a valid license, hoping to claim ignorance in case of an accident or traffic stop.

This was quite an unpleasant surprise when we arrived here. We still have 5 months to prepare for and take the test or become illegal. I'm hoping we figure out another answer before then!
-- Nancy Spady
* * *

When I tried to get a Taiwanese license with my Singapore one, the examiner inexplicably contended the Singapore license was forged, and would not accept my International License either. He insisted I take the written and road tests.

The written test was much easier and more logical than the one you describe in PRC. The road test involved a test car with three other testees on a closed circuit course which includes braking on a hill and restarting, U-turns, numerous traffic and speed signals, and the ultimate challenge, backing through an S-curve with both hands on the wheel. This last task is impossible to pass without training, which cost me two hours and $50. All this for the privilege of driving legally in a country where traffic laws are routinely ignored.

After that experience, the surly and officious attitude of the California DMV clerks on my return to the USA was a minor bump in the road.
--Bill Liesman

It is truly amazing that after all this preparation and studying, the only real rules of driving in China is there are no rules. I also agree wholeheartedly that working your way through the bureaucracy here makes you radically alter your view of the DMV and other similar American institutions.

Rodney Dangerfield Obit

My friend Alan Dezon who was over here working for Clear Channel and is now back for Ticketmaster, is a great guy to talk to. He is a music industry vet and I met him via Bert Holman, Allman Brothers' manager.

Alan was the booker for the Capitol Theate in Passaic, NJ for years. It was a pretty legendary spot and played host to a who's who of rock greats. Since this was largely in the 70s, ADZ saw it all during his years there.

At one point he wrote a book about his experiences but tragically lost the manuscript and did not have a second copy. As some of the peformers from its heyday have passed away in recent years, Alan has been writing obituaries to help him reconstitute the book. I have really enjoyed reading them and though you would, too. We start with Rodney Dangerfield:

Rodney Dangerfield

With the Capitol’s heyday now twenty-five+ years in the past, the list of dead and dying headliners continues to grow. Rodney Dangerfield was one of the small but select group of comedians to grace the Capitol’s stage, including Henny Youngman (opening for The Tubes, perhaps David Hart’s most inspired booking), George Carlin, Robert Klein, Eddie Murphy and other SNL cast members.

The Henny Youngman booking is worth an intrusion here – he needed a piano player to bring him on, and instead of volunteering, I though it would be great to have Vince Welnick (another member of the Dead Headliners Club) do the honors, so I put them together in the area just offstage right. Henny opened, rapid fire, on Vince. “OK, bring me on with ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’, and then segue into ‘Hava Nagila’”. Vince’s only semblance of reply was “Hava Na Whaaa???, at which point someone (not Bob?), snapped a picture with me in the middle of them. I think I may have ended up playing piano for him; I really don’t remember.

While I’m almost on the subject, has anyone noticed the similarity between the life expectancy of a Grateful Dead keyboard player and a drummer for Spinal Tap?

Back to Rodney:

It was a simple advance. One microphone, one mic stand, one stool. We loaded in the PA, and added front monitors and side-fill, since they were on the truck anyway. Thinking I was being artsy, I also added an oriental rug to fill the bare stage. What could possibly go wrong with such a simple setup?

Rodney came in, on-time, to rehearse, and the game was on. As soon as he hit the stage- “What the fuck is this?” he roared.

“It’s a mic stand” I said.

“No it’s not. Where’s the round thing on the bottom?” The sound company only carried the more current tripod stand. I sent someone out to scour the Elks Lodges of Passaic for a round stand……

“What the fuck is this?”, again.

“It’s a rug, Mr. Dangerfield”

“I didn’t ask for a fucking rug”

I talked him into it for the sake of aesthetics. Now the real fun began.

“What the fuck are those things?” he asked, pointing at the side-fill. Thank god he knew what a slant monitor was.

Well, I told him, and for the next hour, he became a full-fledged Rock Star.


At least, at this point, it was the sound guy’s problem. When he finally finished, he adjourned to the dressing room for a short spell. He emerged a little while later with a list of demands (of course, he didn’t have a rider) and wearing a short, very short terrycloth robe that didn’t cover his sagging ass. His demands were for a quart of vodka and some illegal, but available items. Anyone who remembers the Capitol’s backstage can envision what he looked like, standing on the narrow steps, holding court in an incredible state of inebriation and other altered states, with his bare ass hanging out over his chicken legs.

At this point, our mutual psychological showbiz condition kicked in. I’m sure Rodney did a great show, I’m sure the audience loved it. I don’t remember a thing about it; I was just happy when it was over. He may not have gotten any respect backstage, but he got enough of something to propel him onstage.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Most recent column

I wrote an extra column last week. They asked me to do that because they ahd a 10th anniversary celebration and made the site free for a week. Sorry I didn't that out to you all. It's because we were away.

Anyhow, this tale should be familiar to you by know. This is a slightly different version and my favorite.

Next one goes up Thursday evening.

A Road Warrior's Fight
Just to Get a License

May 4, 2006

I never thought that getting a driver's license could ever again be as exciting as it was when I was 16. Then I moved to China.

The only adventure bigger than actually taking to the road here is getting licensed to legally do so. China is one of just five countries that don't accept international drivers permits, along with Bermuda, Burundi, Iraq and Nigeria. Anyone wanting to drive here must get a Chinese license.

The licensing requirements change often. Not long ago, a licensed foreign driver had only to pass a driving test consisting of about 100 meters of straight-line motoring. Friends have told me hilarious tales about piling into a car with three other testers and an examiner, driving down the road a bit, stopping, switching drivers and continuing on until everyone had passed. And then there's my friend, Titi, who arrived to find out she had to take the test in the official car, which was a manual transmission she didn't know how to drive. After a frantic call to her husband, she puttered around in first gear, without ever shifting, and was rewarded with her license.

[gf-global] • Some tips on looking for a job overseas.

The road test is no longer required, but the new written exam is the same one that Chinese nationals take, and it is a whopper. One hundred randomly selected, computer-generated multiple-choice questions culled from about 750 you are given to study, all in badly translated English. A score of 90 passes; anything below sends you back to the drawing board, without a copy of your failed exam.

Despite all this, I couldn't bring myself to study much. I entered the testing room at the massive Beijing Traffic and Vehicle Department to sit down at a computer almost cold, and knew I was in trouble when I had to guess on three of the first 20 questions. Almost as soon as I hit send, a frowning face spewing tears popped onto the screen, confirming what I knew. I had gotten 84 right. I waited downstairs for my wife, Rebecca, who emerged with a scowl and an 87. We left deflated but determined to try again as soon as possible. It is not a universal reaction.

Two weeks later, when we returned for our retest, we were watching an American gentleman leaving the testing room approach his Chinese driver. "I will never, ever set foot in this building again!" he said in a heavy Southern drawl. "Whatever I have to do, I will not take this test again."

He explained that three other people from his company failed the test, so he and his co-worker studied hard for three days. He got an 87. He grunted when I said that American friends mocked us for failing. "Show them this book," he said, waving the text with the 750 study questions around. "Then see who's laughing."

Indeed. About half of the questions are quite easy. You can figure out another 25%-30% with careful reading, which leaves 25% you simply have to memorize. For instance:

For an open abdominal wound, such as protrusion of the small intestine tube, we should:

A. put it back.

B. no treatment.

C. not put it back, but cover it with a bowl or jar, and bind the bowl or jar with a cloth belt.

The answer is C, and the example was chosen for its humor, not its difficulty. There are much harder questions, including nearly 50 pertaining to penalties, fines and points docked for various offenses. Most of them are not intuitive.

When a driver on probation drives vehicles loaded with explosive goods, inflammable and explosive chemical goods, highly toxic goods or radioactive dangerous goods, the penalty is __ points for each violation.

The answer is 2, the same as talking on a cell phone while driving. You also have to memorize 161 different traffic signs.

Before taking the test, one must report to "a provincial-level or higher public hospital" to take a "physical," which for us was just a vision check, half-heartedly administered by a friendly, elderly doctor.

Of course, like many things in China, guanxi, or connections, matter. Diplomats and their spouses don't have to take the test. They simply provide their license and get back a Chinese one, which is why one friend's license identifies her as "John Doe's wife."

You can also just pay 800 renminbi (about $100) and take a handwritten test at Fesco, the government-licensed foreign employment agency. Apparently, everyone there miraculously scores a 91.

"We paid some money, I went to Fesco, took a written test and got my license," says a Japanese national who has been driving in Beijing for two years. "I never thought I actually passed. I did not study and common sense will not work because that is quite different than Chinese driving sense."

So different that some companies make employees and their spouses sign waivers promising not to drive in China before sending them here. Many expatriates and returning Chinese question the wisdom of driving. Even a minor accident can lead to a confusing and protracted street scene, waiting for the police to arrive while a crowd likely gathers 'round and screams at you in a language you don't understand. Meanwhile, you can hire a driver and a brand-new 7-passenger minivan for about $1000 a month, which is not too expensive compared to the cost of car ownership in the U.S. Sedans are less.

Some of us, however, are too used to being in control of our vehicular destiny, don't have a full-time driver and simply refuse to call a cab every time we want to go the grocery store or take the kids to a soccer game. Still, casually taking to the road requires a unique blend of desperation and thrill-seeking.

Even the sanctioned China Daily recently noted, "China's roads are among the world's most dangerous, with more than 100,000 people killed each year in accidents caused by reckless driving, poor road conditions and overloading of vehicles."

And yet, if you are living here, you are on the road one way or the other, so it might as well be with you behind the wheel and your kids securely buckled in rather than floating around a seat belt-less taxi, with a driver who may well have gotten his license last week. So I forced myself to study that cursed, voluminous book and entered my retest fairly confident. I took my time and maintained my cool, finished, reread my answers, hit "send "and immediately saw a flashing smiley face. I had scored a 90.

On my way downstairs, I walked alongside a guy with a huge grin plastered across his face. "I went to four years of university… but I never stayed up all night studying until last night. This test is unbelievable," he said in an Eastern European accent. "I flunked once but now I have passed!"

I sat downstairs waiting for my wife with a mix of elation and nervousness. After about 10 minutes she emerged with an ear-to-ear grin. I smiled back and we shared an unspoken moment of sheer joy

She had scored a 94. That was months ago. Wait until you hear some of the tales from the road.

* * *

Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published.

Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on experiencing a sandstorm in Beijing, and visiting Hong Kong and Shanghai:

I enjoyed reading your past articles on your experience abroad, but your most recent article really hit home. I experienced China, Beijing and a sandstorm during a recent trip. The sandstorm that you wrote about was something that I never heard of, let alone experienced. I wouldn't want to go through one of these again, but it was an interesting weather phenomenon to experience versus the typical snow storms we are accustomed to in the Northeast.

Thanks for sharing about your experiences abroad! Due to the success of this recent trip and your articles, I am looking forward to another trip to China sooner than later.

-Ric Thomann

Thanks for writing. I'm thrilled and surprised to hear that I helped influence your travel plans. There is certainly no shortage of places to visit in this vast country.

- - -

Always enjoy your columns. We lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and experienced a few big sandstorms like the one you described. I remember seeing a wall of sand moving towards us on a camping trip in the desert.

Regarding desertification, I heard a talk by an environmentalist who had studied both Japan and China. He said that the japanese had always valued and protected their forests - and still have them today. The Chinese on the other hand cut most of theirs down long ago. He said that in the area around the Great Wall, locals said there had never been trees there, but the historical record showed that long ago it was forested.

-Bill Plank

They are trying to reforest much of China. Hopefully it's not too late.

- - -

We are an American family with 3 children, living in Pune, India for a year. Last week, I went to Hong Kong for a business trip, and had a very similar reaction to you – wow, modern trains! American food! No dust! I immediately emailed my kids and told them to send me their wish lists, and then wished I had brought a much larger bag as I tried to jam in bags of corn chips, pretzels, candy, and the occasional special request (pesto, horseradish for our upcoming Passover dinner, etc.). We also feel like we have a fairly nice lifestyle here, but a couple days in Hong Kong was a delightful interlude in what felt like much more familiar surroundings, even with Chinese language and a new currency to deal with. I came back and told my husband that we forget how hard it is to live here, and really should give ourselves credit.

So much of what you write about rings true for us. Please keep writing your columns – we look forward to every one!

-Cindy Carpenter

Thank you for the support. It means a lot.

- - -

Your stories of bicycle adventures, taxi rides, restaurants and pantomime really hit home for me, because my husband and I traveled to China for two and a half weeks in early December 2005. We were there to adopt our beautiful daughter Maddie, and it was truly the trip of a lifetime. We spent time in Hong Kong, Beijing, Changsha and Guangzhou, and each experience was better than the last. I know that we got a pretty sanitized view of China while we were there—stayed in 5-star hotels and were closely guided everywhere we went—but regardless, it is truly an amazing country.

I hope you and your family enjoy every moment there, and hang tough during the rough times. We can't wait to go back to get a sister for Maddie. I look forward to reading more!

-Sara Fawcett

Thank you for the kind words and congrats on Maddie.

- - -

Your personal reflections as an expat are powerful and touching examples of our simple human adventure. (I wonder at the experiences of earlier expats and traders 100, 200, and 1,000 years ago!) Please keep sharing as much as you can.

-J. James Dobra

Thank you. I certainly intend to try.

- - -

I'm an American living in China. My wife & I have been in China (we're University teachers) for about 15 years now, and we currently live in Wuhan. We had lived in and near Beijing for several years, back in the 1980s and '90s, and traveled by both train and airplane to Hong Kong & Shanghai, so we were really interested to read about the same trip that you & your family made recently. When we lived in Beijing, things were much more primitive than they are now, and Hong Kong was still a British colony.

I hope you can travel to other parts of China from time to time as well.

-Thomas Boone

We have traveled a bit in the interior and look forward to doing more. We are heading to Guizhou this week during the national May Day holiday.

Write to Alan Paul at editor@wsj.com

Final pictures of Guizhou


Because it's my blog, that's why.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Guizhou pictures -- this is the lunch I wrote about

The picture at the top shows the place where the little barbecue restaurant was. It is at the bottom of that road, right on the river.

That's a live little fish Anna is holding in her hand.

There were these kids from the village on the hillside who came down and floated through the place. I gave them some melon I cut up when we first got there and then they stuck close to us. The kids were pretty feral and quite cute. Two boys had these homemade skateboards, which our kids tried out.

You can see me under the little building boozing it up.

When it was clear that we were done and our table was filled with beer bottles, about six of the local girls swooped in and grabbed all the bottles. Our guide said they would get about 30 cents per. They had emtpy water bottles ready and carefully emptied any remaining beer into them, then sealed them up... presumably to take to their parents.

The bottom pictures show the ladies in the back gutting fish and mixing up hot pepper sauce, which is delicious and widely used in Guizhou food.