Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cancelled gig

We had a gig cancelled tonight due to inclement weather. The Stone Boat, where we were to play, is an outdoor venue, in Ritan Park, o e of our favorite places downtown. It’s an exceedingly lovely place to spend a beautiful spring or summer evening.

And the weather this spring has been outstanding. For about six weeks now, we’ve had day after day of clear skies, no pollution, lovely cool nights, with stars and moon visible. All of this is, or was rare here, and seeing it day after day has had many of us wondering what is gonig on.

At first, everyone sort of cynically assumes that factories have been shut down for some specific reason and you hear folks say, “Is the IOC in town?” I thought something like that myself, but the clear air went on day after day, and I started to wonder what was up.

Some say that they are starting to shut down factories around here and move them elsewhere, because of the Olympics.. others that construction is finishing up and slowing down (though I se absolutely no evidence of that – still cranes everywhere).

In any case, the weather has been great and we’ve been enjoying it.. last week, it became summer and we had two 90+ days last weekend, but even then the nights were really nice.

So today was the first crappy day in a while and it fell on my outdoor gig. Bummer. Looking out the window at the wet street today and realizing we were doomed reminded me of a rainy day in Little League.. being 11 years old, waiting all week for a baseball game, only to be rained out. I was pumped for this gig. We played twice in three days last week and were really pulling it together. Now we have to wiai two weeks for our next gig (same place). We will try to rehearse next week, especially as we need to break in a new drummer.

One thing I learned through today’s event is that our bassist Mr. Li lives a 90-minute bus ride outside of town, almost to Tianjin. I had no idea. Woodie and I were talking about canceling the gig and he said we had to tell Li by 4 pm, then explained why. Really amazing.

I listed this gig online here:

..and when I signed up, I put my cell number on it. About an hour ago (10 pm), I got a phone call from a Chinese guy. I could only understand a bit of what he was saying and I said (in Chinese), “I’m sorry but I’m American and my Chinese isn’t all that good. I don’t understand what you want. I think you have the wrong number.”

Usually when I get a Chinese-only call it is either a wrong number or a salesman. But he said [still in Chinese] “No, no wait, my friend can speak English and handed the phone over.

A German guy got on and said, “Ve are looking for zee Voodie Alan concert. Vere is it?”

“Ah! I’m sorry. It was cancelled duetot the weather. Thanks for the interest. Please come two weeks from today.” I thought this was pretty funny.

Last week's column


Caught in a Shopping Frenzy
On a Return Trip to America
May 25, 2007

My family recently made an impromptu, whirlwind eight-day trip to New York and New Jersey. We had a great time visiting with friends and families -- and shopping. Though it pains me to admit it, we get sucked into a commercial frenzy every time we visit the U.S.

We usually head home for lengthy, well-planned trips, armed with a list of things we want to buy. But it was no different on an unexpected, unusually short trip with no buying agenda. Though there are less and less things I feel I can't get in Beijing, every time I set foot in America I am overcome with a desire to buy, buy, buy.

One nice thing about living in China has been the lack of commercialism assaulting the kids. This is partly because they have not refined marketing here and partly because we live somewhat outside the mainstream culture. Our consumer desires just aren't being constantly massaged and ramped up. We don't have 10 catalogues a week coming into our house. The kids don't watch much TV so they don't see commercials. We almost never go to McDonald's or Burger King, and when we do, they don't have tie-in product giveaways, reminding them of the current hot movie or TV show.

Partly as a result, we buy a lot less plastic. It never occurred to me that the best way to escape the lure of mountains of Chinese-made merchandise would be moving to China. Almost all the Chinese-made goods you see in places like Costco and Wal-Mart are export-only, not available domestically.

Leaving your home culture behind gives you the opportunity to view it with some critical perspective. I can only describe my relationship toward America's consumer culture as love/hate.

While cradle-to-grave marketing is now a fact of American life, it seems to peak around the release of a Hollywood blockbuster. Because our trip coincided with the debut of Spider Man 3, I witnessed the broadside in full bloom, getting caught in the middle of two promo events when I least expected them.

The Museum of Natural History had a special live spiders exhibit, featuring an appearance by Spidey himself. They were handing out glossies of Spider Man signed by the movie's director to the many people waiting in line, including an alarming number of adults dressed up like Spider Man and mixed between the kids.

It was more of the same at the Central Park Zoo, where "Spider Man Week" buttons were handed out to nursery and primary school students -- all too young to appropriately view Spider Man 3. It's no wonder that most of our friends seemed to be taking their kids to see the movie with an air of inevitability. Luckily, it was a non-issue in our family because our kids were far more interested in shopping. They now regard the little overpriced toy store in our hometown a toy nirvana, filled with Legos, Playmobil and other things you can't easily find here.

They are not the only ones flush with buying fever. I never leave America without at least five pounds of Peets coffee, which I also have shipped to anyone coming to visit. I have long loved this stuff, but it has taken on a huge significance since moving here as a sort of bridge to my previous life, and I feel mournful when it's running out. We also always bring back some chocolate and other goodies for the kids. But that doesn't even scratch the surface of the shopping we engage in. We usually start with a list of things we need and then get sucked into cartloads of more stuff, much of which we of course don't need, and much more of which we could just find and buy here, with a small amount of effort.

On this trip, we were relatively subdued. We didn't have time to hit Target or Costco. But we made it to the mall one afternoon, outfitting the kids in Land's End at Sears and myself in a typically boring spring wardrobe at the Gap. We also went to a sports store, where we picked up a box of soft baseballs and an aluminum bat for 9-year-old Jacob, who is playing Little League here and loving it, a little pink mitt for 3-year-old Anna and assorted other items. The next day my wife Rebecca made it to a higher end mall with a bevy of aunts and sisters-in-law in tow, to do some power clothes buying.

We had a new mountain of things with which to return, and that was just the Jersey shopping spree. One blurry New York morning, Rebecca and I went to Banana Republic, where we both dropped big coin augmenting our closets. You'd be surprised how scintillating a Banana Republic feels after living in China. I was just warming up, moving on to a New Balance store for two new pairs of shoes.

Granted, it's hard to get 11.5 extra wide shoes in China, but I was firmly in the grip of a frenzy. It continued at Manny's Music, which I entered to buy some guitar strings and picks and left with a new Fender Telecaster Deluxe. I was now fully loaded down, walking around New York to meet friends dragging packages and bags behind me like some sort of crazed bagman. And I wasn't done yet.

A photographer friend took me shopping for a new Canon. I had to replace the portable DVD player which had blown up -- no way we were getting back on the plane without one of those. I got one with a long battery life, and picked up an extra external battery to boot, on the recommendation of one of my readers. By the time I waddled my way onto a PATH train back to New Jersey, I could barely stand upright.

Now it was time to begin our "how the hell are we going to get all this stuff back?" dance, which we engage in every trip, comically wrestling with a growing pile of possessions. It should be getting easier to return with more goods than the average Chinese family probably owns. We no longer leave China with our bags stuffed too full, and we always toss an empty duffle in before we leave. But we needed even more room, so hours before our scheduled airport pickup, I left a house full of friends and family downstairs to rummage through the attic for an extra bag.

We still weren't quite done. Realizing that my folks had returned to Pittsburgh with six-year-old Eli's Gameboy and fearing getting on the plane without one, we asked our driver to pull off Brooklyn's Belt Parkway at the Coney Island Toys R Us. When we finally made it to Kennedy Airport, we grabbed some final goodies at McDonalds –"Look, American Idol toys!" -- and waddled through security and onto the plane, dragging our possessions like so much dead weight.

Write to Alan Paul at

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 some edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on NBA expats.

Glad to see God Shamgodd is still playing and still trying. Most importantly it sounds like he has matured considerably and has grown from the international experience. Great to hear he has a wife and family and is investing for the future.

Always felt bad that he did not stay in college another year where he would have been a big star in college basketball and set himself up better for the pros.

His best days are quite likely still ahead.
-- Kenneth G. Kraetzer


Shamm's experiences of living in China in an out-of-the-way place will serve him very well long after his playing days are over.

I especially loved the part about his saving and making good investments. The internet with IM and SKYPE has certainly been a plus for him but still it took moxie to do what he has done.

Please send Mr. Shammgod my best wishes and pride in what he is doing for him and his family.
-- Frank Tew


I went to PC [Providence College] with Shamm and even played against him in high school. I know that God always recognized me when we'd pass each other on campus. Although he was treated literally like a God there, he seemed to remain down to earth and reasonably humble.

Before they went play in the Sweet 16, Shamm had a quote at a student body best-wishes party that I'll never forget: "We must be butter because we're on a roll."

He brought a ton of joy to the PC family and I hope that one day he makes it back to the NBA. It would make so many people extremely proud.
-- Patrick Judge

I really enjoyed spending time with Shammgod and have remained in touch with him. He is a great guy, perceptive, bright and funny. As someone who has watched a lot of NBA basketball, I feel somewhat qualified to also note that I do think he has the skills to be in the League. He has made some strange career choices in that regard, including playing in China instead of Europe, mostly because the shorter season allows him to have about three extra months at home with his family.

I was discussing him with one high-ranking NBA official who said something that really depressed me: "Maybe he would have had another shot by now if he had a more normal name." I don't know if that's true, but it was a sad commentary.


How on earth does Shammgod maintain his health and keep his stamina on a diet of McDonalds, rice and Coke? I just chased a mushroom calzone with a Sprite and I feel like taking a nap. I can understand his apprehension to trying local cuisine, though. When I was in Beijing with my family we caved after only a few days and went out for burgers at the Hard Rock. And we were staying at the Palace.
-- Margaret Myers

I too continue to be amazed that he can function at a high level athletically with his diet. I think the key is, he doesn't overeat and he does eat a lot fruit. It is really sort of sad because Shanxi is famous for its noodles and with a little bit of effort, Shammgod could eat a solid local diet of not-so-odd food. It is a classic example of bad communication. No one on the team has ever bothered to make the effort to bridge this gap.

My column is also translated into Chinese. The forums there were filled with outrage at this insult to Chinese cuisine. Food is very important here and that really struck a nerve. I felt that it was a big missed opportunity.

A Trust Murdoch Won't Keep

From today's Washington Post.. from an WSJ reporter.. He left shortly after we arrived...

A Trust Murdoch Won't Keep
By Matt Pottinger
Thursday, May 31, 2007; A19

Dear Shareholders of Dow Jones & Co.:

I am writing you from Anbar province in Iraq, where I am serving as a U.S. Marine. I don't get much time to read the news out here, but Rupert Murdoch's offer to acquire the Wall Street Journal is a story big enough to reach even this outpost. My comments on this subject come from two vantage points: first, as a reporter who worked for the Journal in China for nearly five years and, second, as someone who gave up that great job to become a Marine.

Reporting the news in a foreign country whose government has little respect for the truth taught me many things, among them the doggedness and skepticism that are helpful in my current job. But mostly it taught me that the Journal isn't a commodity -- it's a vital national resource. It is possible that there are only three or four U.S newspapers of its reach still willing to do what it takes to dig that last foot for a story and to strictly observe the "church-state" divisions among news, opinion and an owner's broader commercial interests.

It is no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch does not own such a paper. His mission is to blur the lines between church and state and infuse the blend with his own distinctive, lively brand of populist values. And let's face it, no one does it better. If you can find someone who doesn't love a New York Post headline, hook him up to a heart monitor, fast.

But while Murdoch's media products in the United States and Britain are well known, his operations in China, where I had a glimpse into their workings, are not. His News Corp. owned a substantial stake in Phoenix TV, a widely watched television network in China that routinely kowtows to the ruling Communist Party. As anyone who has seen Phoenix TV's news coverage knows, its self-censorship is routine.

In 2003, when the deadly SARS virus was threatening to trigger a global pandemic, the Chinese government persistently denied that its country contained the seeds of such an outbreak even though the simple reporting of this fact was the needed first step toward prevention of a monumental public health disaster. In the face of this coverup, a courageous Chinese surgeon drafted a detailed letter identifying SARS cases in Beijing itself and had it delivered to Murdoch's TV network for public broadcast. And what did the network do with the letter? The same thing any other obedient Chinese news agency would have done: nothing.

The surgeon's letter eventually found its way into the hands of Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, which published stories on it. The Chinese government was finally forced to admit it had a health problem and to adopt measures that contained the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, this example does not stand alone. When a NATO warplane bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, I saw Murdoch's reporters at Phoenix TV use the event to fuel an anti-American propaganda orgy while hesitating to report the Clinton administration's apology and admission that the bombing was a mistake. You expect the Chinese government to behave this way, but didn't Murdoch recently write that he has "always respected the independence and integrity of the news organizations" with which he is associated?

It would be one thing if he confined his self-censorship to his Chinese publishing ventures, but I'm afraid he doesn't. Beijing goes out of its way to punish American corporations that produce news or films it finds offensive. Murdoch understands how the game works. In the mid-1990s, he dropped the BBC from his satellite broadcast system in Asia after Beijing complained about the British channel's news coverage. (He now claims that this was done strictly for commercial reasons.) Not long after that he canceled publication of a memoir by Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, whom Beijing had branded a "tango dancer" and a "whore" for his pro-democracy policies. (Murdoch claimed in the Financial Times last week that he "told the HarperCollins editors not to publish the Patten book because I did not think it would sell, but they went ahead anyway," thus requiring his kill shot. Again, that was his right, but the result was nevertheless a form of meddling that would greatly harm the quality of news reported by the Wall Street Journal.) Writers for more than one of Murdoch's newspapers say that they have periodically come under pressure to soft-pedal China-related coverage. Can you imagine the Wall Street Journal, which has won two Pulitzer Prizes this decade for its China coverage, considering such a thing?

Murdoch is not an editorial ogre but a smart, charming businessman with a pioneering style of journalism that has its place in a free country. His editorial support of America's troops is generous, and he has created a fresh point of view with Fox News. I'm also told he keeps his hands off the Australian, one of the many newspapers he owns. But the Wall Street Journal is not Fox News or the Australian, and its mission is not their mission. China will be the biggest story of the 21st century. Its policies and progress must be understood and reported fearlessly. Beyond that, the Journal brings us a quality of news that's not only unusual but important to our future.

Several days ago in western Iraq, an unseen guerrilla detonated a bomb moments after my fellow Marines and I had driven over it. Marines call near misses like this a "gut check." I know why I took certain risks working for the Journal, and I know why I take them as a Marine, and while I still haven't figured out how to say it without sounding too earnest, high-minded and patriotic, I'll say it anyway: Some things in America need to be protected, and none more than a free and intrepid press. Because no one exercises that role better than the Journal, the loss of its rigorous, undiluted reporting would be a hole in America's heart deeper than that hole in the road.

The writer is a former Wall Street Journal reporter now serving as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hanging with the cadets

It’s a lot of traveling to go to New York for less than a week (not to mention adding a 24-hour jaunt to Pittsburgh to keep things interesting). No doubt about that. But it’s also a long time for Becky to be gone and I’m very happy to say that we all did fine here. No one grew sick.. no arms blew up with mysterious infections, no trips to the hospitals…

That was all basically good luck but the kids were also extraordinarily well behaved while she was gone. I don’t think I even had a single high blood pressure moment, which is really quite remarkable and, I’ll admit, unprecedented.

E spent a lot of time with the Yardleys. Theo has a much younger brother who is a junior cadet at West Point. He just spent several months here, in northern China, studying Chinese. He and all of his fellow cadets ran the Great Wall Marathon (full) and were here for 5 days, along with three girlfriends (two Mongolian, one Thai) and various other people. They had about 10-11 gusts, so we took four of them here.

Eli was incredibly enthralled. He was looking forward to this for weeks: “When are the soldiers coming?” when they finally arrived, they did not disappoint. At first, Eli said, “They just look like regular men. Where are their guns and uniforms?” But after a while he didn’t care because they were all so nice and cool and attentive. They played with the kids, read to them, answered all their questions – “yes, we know how to drive tanks.”

It was really striking how young they all are and how unfailingly polite. I had to tell them to quit calling me sir. All of them will likely be heading for Iraq as Second Lieutenants in a year’s time upon graduation.

Jacob took over the camera and took most of these pictures.

More pictures

This Anna one is just cute is all. The other two are from the lemonade stand we had last Saturday in front of the clubhouse. we were raising money for the Blue Sky Healing Home, an orphanage/foster home for disabled children. Our friend Kristi Belete and Theo Yardley both raised money for the place when they ran last week's Great Wall Marathon 10k... We had many friends run in either the 10k or half marathon and a few do the actual marathon. it is really hard, I guess, because the Wall can be a real mother of steepness. B was supposed to run but was in New York.

Pic from last year

Our friend Lisa came across this photo and sent it along. It was from a party at her house last fall at the end of our first soccer season here. It's cute, and they all look so much smaller, especially Jacob.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crowds in China

A friend sent these pictures around, with a note basically saying "This is why you don't want to travel in China during the National Holidays." These are from the recent May holiday.

I should add that we have taken some pretty great trips on the national holidays. we've hit crowds, but nothing like these! Photos taken in Hangzhou, Sichuan and other propular destinations.

Mr. Loud Represents

I just got this email from main man Art Rummler. Way to go Mr. Loud! If anyone wants to see the decision, let me know and I will forward on.

I recently won a case on appeal in Federal Court. The opinion is attached. Briefly, the court affirmed the trial court decision allowing the bankruptcy trustee (my client) to recover a transfer to the bankrupt's former spouse made pursuant to a divorce judgment. Rather riveting stuff....really.

I hope you have a great holiday weekend.

Carpe diem...

Mazel Tov! And thanks for reminding me that it's a holiday weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pulitzer ceremony

The Pulitzer has now officially been awarded. Photos courtesy of Andrew Lih, husband of Mei Fong. Mei is the other woman in the pictures. The guy is Jason Dean. Mei is, as far as we can tell, the first Chinese to win such an award for covering China. I just grabbed these thumbnails off of his Flickr page.
Click here to see the images full size.

B has been gone for about 5 days. All is well here. Actually, the kids have been extraordinarily well behaved and probably deserve some sort of reward. I can't wait to find out if Pulitzer winners have more fun.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Last week's column

White Rice and Mickey D's:
Life of an NBA Exile in China

May 11, 2007

There are many different expat communities in China, ranging from students to retirees setting out on second careers. One of the most interesting and unusual is also one of the smallest -- the Chinese Basketball Association's 30 foreign players. Their position in society is rather strange, at once profoundly engulfed in Chinese culture and living on its fringes. They are extreme expats, often living in smaller cities in the Chinese interior, isolated from communities of fellow Americans and highly dependent on one another.

All but one of the CBA's 16 teams have two foreigners. (The champion Bayi Rockets represent the People's Liberation Army and have no outsiders.) They are almost all African-Americans, most of whom speak no Chinese and have little outside support systems in the country. They live in hotels, while their Chinese teammates bunk in dorm-type accommodations, and make from $8,000-25,000 a month, plus lodging and a modest food per diem. Unlike American professional sports leagues, the CBA doesn't seem to have a lot of leaguewide standards, so the foreign players' living conditions and day-to-day quality of life vary widely from team to team.

The foreign players include several who have played in the NBA and quite a few college standouts. Looking over the list, I focused on God Shammgod, whom I fondly remembered as a quick, gutsy point guard who led the 1997 Providence Friars team to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight. He was playing in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, one of the most polluted cities in the world.

I traveled to the dusty, dingy burg and found God in the second-rate hotel across the street from the arena where the team stayed on game nights. His regular residence was in a nicer hotel across town, but in either place he spent most of his time with his best friend -- his Apple laptop. If Shamm, as he prefers to be called, is in China and he's not playing ball, he's likely online, downloading NBA games or highlights, talking on Skype, emailing or IMing with his wife, kids and countless friends, including NBA stars Chauncey Billups and Kevin Garnett.

Like those old pals, Mr. Shammgod makes a living playing basketball, but they don't have to endure hours of repetitive, endurance-test practices, or wade through cigarette-smoke-clogged hallways to enter their locker room. Or stay in hotels without shower curtains and with old cigarette butts on the bathroom floor. Obviously, this wasn't what Mr. Shammgod had in mind when he went pro after his sophomore year of college.

He was drafted in the second round of the 1997 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards, played 20 games and was cut the following year. He thought he would be back in the league before long but instead has been on a decadelong international journey that has taken him to China, Poland, Saudi Arabia and now back to China, where he played for the worst team in a mediocre league. Yet I found the 30-year-old New Yorker in good spirits, keeping his eyes on the prize -- making some money, then returning home to continue his quest for one last shot at the NBA.

"This would have made me crazy when I was younger but now I know you can't control everything and you don't get anywhere pounding your head against the wall," said Mr. Shammgod.

The two foreign teammates are often each other's best friends and support systems. Mr. Shammgod, however, spent much of the season as the lone American on Shanxi because 7-foot-tall Rashid Byrd clashed with management and left for the U.S., only to return a month later.

"I can't handle this situation," said Mr. Byrd, shortly before heading home the first time. "This is my first time outside the U.S. and it might be my last after this."

Jason Dixon shakes his head when talking about Mr. Byrd's struggles. A funny, quiet 6-9 center, Mr. Dixon is an eight-year member of the Guangdong Tigers. "It's their country, their league and their game and you can't change it," he says. "The sooner you understand that the better off you'll be. I've seen so many guys come over here and fight the system instead of making peace with it."

It can be a lot to grapple with. The owner of Mr. Shammgod's team instructs the coach from the bench at home games and over the phone for away matches. The two foreign players can only play a combined five quarters per game, leading to bizarre substitution patterns. In the middle of the past season, the CBA took a 50-day break so the National Team could practice for the Asian Games. The rest of the players practiced daily for the entire period. Mr. Shammgod's team allowed him to return to New York for a 10-day visit with his wife and three kids. Other teams made their foreign players stick around.

Food is another constant concern. Mr. Shammgod tries to eat all of his meals at Pizza Hut or McDonald's, Taiyuan's only two Western establishments. We ate at McDonald's three times during my 24-hour visit, my first visits to a Chinese Mickey D's. When he can't make it to one of those places, he sticks with rice and fresh fruit. Even Mr. Dixon, who speaks some Chinese and is fairly well assimilated, tries to avoid local cuisine. "They eat too much weird stuff," he says, noting that he follows the lead of a Muslim teammate at team meals because he won't eat dog.

"Beijing and Shanghai are nice," said Mr. Shammgod. "Living there would be easy. They have [T.G.I.] Friday's, Outback Steakhouse and all kinds of American restaurants."

I caught up with Mr. Shammgod a few weeks later when the team played Beijing, and all of those Western outfits seemed far, far away. The team was staying in a ramshackle, sprawling hotel near the arena, on the city's far Western fringe, close to an hour from the central business district. He had been there for two days with no Internet access and no acceptable food, living on white rice and Coke. It was just the latest insult in a year gone bad. The team was on its fourth coach. Mr. Byrd was gone for the second time, and the season was winding down to a 4-26 record. Mr. Shammgod dominated the action in the run-down arena, scoring 46 points and handing out about 20 assists, but his team still lost by a point after a series of last-minute calls against them. This is standard practice in China, where the home team hires the referees.

After the game, we piled into a Chinese friend's subcompact and headed downtown in search of a restaurant that was still serving food at 10:30 Sunday night. I made a few phone calls and Friday's said they were open until midnight.

Over a plate of chicken wings and fried shrimp, I asked Mr. Shammgod if he had any thoughts about where he might be playing next year.

"Hopefully the NBA." He dunked a wing into a dish of hot sauce. "And if not … we'll see what works out, but I've been saving money and making good investments. I'd really like to stay in the U.S."

The mighty Woodie alan...

The mighty machine of a band keeps chugging along.

We are playing a tapas bar downtown tomorrow. This one is pretty funny. The Mexican percussion player we hired for one gig booked a gig himself but he has no band and subcontracted to us. It sort of cracked me up to get a call seeking to hire me.

Friday night we are playing a party for a friend, then back at the Stone Boat next Thursday. This is getting funnier and funnier. Dave is in DC so we play the next two with out him.. might be interesting, should be good. I am going to unleash Woodie on guitar more, instead of him always playing dobro. He plays a mean electric lead. Tomorrow is all acoustic, though.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Dixie's latest medical news

Archival photo from David Kann, circa 1987

Ok, over a week has passed since Dixie’s latest mishap and I think he has cooled down enough to allow me to discuss in this public forum. I will start with this email from David Kann, which sums things up pretty well:

I will tell you as he told me...

Buddy was riding his bike down a steep hill.
He was behind Wendy's on Browns Hill Road.
He wanted to see how fast he could go.
He does not know why...but that is his recollection.
He got up to 25.5 mph before hitting a pot hole, tumbling and falling on his face.
He had a helmet on
He has a lot of bruises, cuts and scrapes.
He tore his rotator cuff.
He has been advised to go to a doc in NYC for surgery
He doesn't want to spend the money.

This I believe confirms all of my expressed concerns about his reckless erratic behavior while skiing (on a prosthetic hip and remodeled lower spine).

He will tell you that his biking accident and his skiing are entirely unrelated... I will tell you that they are not and that someone needs to have an adult to adolescent talk with him before he gets hurt again.

I can't be the one since I am an adolescent also and he and everyone else knows it.

Ok, this is a lot to digest. So let me start at the beginning. For those of you who don’t know Pittsburgh, Browns Hill Road is a steep mother. Think of the steepest hill you’ve seen in San Francisco and take about 15% off, I’d say.

He has relented and is having surgery in South Carolina of all places in a couple of weeks. The New York guy couldn't get him in for a lot longer. I guess no one tears their rotator in Pittsburgh. His left arm is in a sling and he can’t really use it. I’m not sure how or if he is playing trumpet.

Another thing to note is that he was on his way to visit his friend Itzy in a rehab hospital. He went into Wendy’s, washed himself up, had his visit – and rode home, which is probably 6-7 miles. I was incredulous when he told me this, since it was the next day and he fairly house-ridden and in terrible pain.

“You rode home?”

“Yeah. Why not? I can’t raise my arm but you don’t need to do that to ride a bike.”

Now this insane machismo is key to understanding all the rest. On one level, DK is surely right and it is insane to imagine a 71-year-old guy with enough newly made and implanted parts to rival Steve Austin deciding to ride his bike as fast as he could down an alley behind the Browns Hill Road Wendy’s (where I often had lunch with Ice and Eddy Krifcher while skipping school, btw).

But it is the same sort of adolescent temperment and never-say-die machismo that has allowed him to recover from all of these surgeries and abuses to his body in the last six or seven years. How do you separate them all out from one another? I don’t think you can. I’ve been to Pirates game with him still having a catheter just days after major surgery twice in the last five years. No one else would do that, and I think that get-up-and-go is a big part of his recovery process.

To paraphrase Popeye, he is what he is. Like a Great White shark, he can’t quit moving. So I say keep swimming, Dixie -- but use your head at least every once in a while.

Long-distance playdates

Saturday morning, Eli and his best friend in Maplewood, Jackson Wagner, had a long-awaited, much-discussed Club Penguin playdate. I called Rick, we put the kids on, each on speakerphone, and they found each other on Club Penguin and played for a good hour or more.

Thanks to my Vonage unlimited plan, time was of no concern. It was all pretty classic.

Jackson's dad Rick wrote this, summing it up quite well:

That was amazing, 2 kids on opposite side of the planet playing together, communicating and having a great time. It made me think of the equivalent when I was a kid... we were fascinated by walkie talkies, or taking 2 metal cans and a piece of string and talking through it, thinking it was so high science.

How the world has changed. And the fact that the phone call
didn't cost you a dime makes it even more amazing. Let's do it again soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eli's sports day

Eli and Race, so tight

Once again, a good time had by all.

My column in chinese

Click here to see my columns in Chinese. You can open up any of them and scroll to the bottom. They have a feedback section and I have ton, most of which I can't read (there are some in English). I am going to get some help translating soe of this stuff, especially the ones from my column about living in the Chinese system.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mother's Day on the Great Wall


Becky and Melinda at the Schoolhouse

We went out to the great Wall on Sunday, with visiting WSJ Marketplace Editor Melinda Beck. It was Mother’s Day and we went first to the Schoolhouse, a new place in the Mutianyu Village, where they are trying to make bit of an oasis in the country for rich expats like us. It’s a very nice spot and they also have a glass studio with beautiful stuff. The food has to be a little better though.

We ran into Eli’s good friend Donald Harmon there, and they were thrilled to see one another. It was really cute. They were so surprised, as if we had bumped into one another on the moon.

Eli and Jacob refused to stop for photos at the top of the cable car, before we hit the wall. Anna had no choice.

These pictures remind me a lot of the ones I took of Jacob up here on his school field trip not long after we arrived.

Alpine slide down! Do they still have these in America? Safety is not what comes to mind. Good fun, though.

More WSJ/Murdoch stuff

The China bureau ends up in the middle of the whole discussion in pretty interesting ways.

Check this out.

And this.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Beijing bike ride

I went for a bike ride last Friday morning, with a group of neighbors. We basically rode up to the starbucks at Pinnacle Plaza, had a coffee, and some delicious egg pancakes form these little carts in the woods, and rode back. We all go to Pinnacle regularly. It is about 5 miles straight up the busy Jing shun Lu. But, of course, we were going backroads and looping around.

We headed out of Riviera, rode along the back side, crossed over a road and were planning on taking a newly constructed road. There was a lot of activity there, cars parked, people walking around. We rode about 100 yards max and were stopped by a bunch of police officials. They were clearly officers not regular cops.

Behind them was a troop of camof-wearing military guys standing at attention in formation. I believe they were the PSP, which are sort of military police, the guys they use for crowd control. Behind all of these guys we could see backhoes ripping up trees and bulldozers moving around. I would say they were tearing down a village and didn’t want us to see. The police ran over and waved us off.

“No," they said, very nicely. "You can't come here. This is under construction and it’s not safe for you to travel.”

We had a Chinese woman wiht us so there were no misunderstandings.

They pointed us to an alternate route. I took this picture and was trying to get the soldiers in one but one of the policemen saw me and said, “No, no!” motioning with his hands as well. I didn’t want to fight, though I probably could have kept playing dumb and squeezed off a few more because they were being very friendly and certainly weren’t thinking of me as a journalist.

So we rode back out to the main road, then turned down another new road and followed it around and into this bustling village, which is basically behind the Orchard, the restaurant I played at the other night and which we frequent regularly. It was interesting how there was this bustling center that you don’t see form the main road at all.

We rode over to the Green T House, a really wild avant garde place sitting in a dirt field. It is a great restaurant and kind of eerie. We’ve gone there two or three times and there have never been more than four or five other folks in those cavernous place. I think they survive doing corporate parties. They have a branch downtown that’s been there for along time.

Then we headed back into the deeper country, past some paddy fields.. they weren’t rice, but I’m not sure what they were growing. Someone said lilac.

Then we rode out on some extremely bumpy dirt roads and past some really stinky canals and came to a really very pretty area, with fields stretching out to our right and these water field/paddies to our left. All of these photos came from there.

A guy came walking by with a pack of sheep and it was cool. You see them walking them by on Jing Shun Lu and it’s always sad, because they are squeezed into this little shoulder, eating tiny patches of grass popped up through the dust.. We call them “dirt sheep.”

I walked down to see this woman, who was walking through the mud and pulling out roots, with hip high rubber boots and full arm rubber gloves. I asked, via Tao, what the plants were and she said lilacs.

I walked down to see this woman, who was walking through the mud and pulling out roots, with hip high rubber boots and full arm rubber gloves. I asked, via Tao, what the plants were and she said lilacs.

It is really quite amazing that all of this stuff is so close to our house and so close to the urban, choked Jing shun Lu. We rode down a bit, crossed over a dam across the Wunyi River and rode just a bit to Starbucks.

Woodie Alan gig

So we played again Saturday night and it went really well. Mr. Li switched from upright to electric bass, on which he is more nimble, and we added a conga player, Charles K, a Ugandan guy who is Anna's music teacher. He is also the bandleader of Mitabe, the African band that played at our party last fall. he added a lot.

This was definitely our best gig by far, as it should be. It was our only fourth time so we better still be improving each time. W are certainly getting tighter and more comfortable and I am getting more at ease singing and also in being the bandleader, which does not really come automatically. The whole thing is pretty funny and, yes, I do appreciate the humor of this band in light of my dad’s.

I certainly never want to get too serious about it. On the other hand, I’m playing at my favorite spots and inviting all my friends. So I want it to be as good as possible and you have to be a little serious to pull that off.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any decent video of the gig. My friend Greg took my camera and was really into filming. He was up in our faces, walking all around, really feeling it. But the next morning when I plugged in and downloaded, he filmed… nada. I guess he never pressed record. It was kind of funny, really, and being able to give him a hard time about it in perpetuity is no doubt better than any video could have been. He is from Pittsburgh, too, so I can really unload on him.

Becky did take a short snippet but she didn’t bother to move, or even move the wine glass in the foreground, and she kept talking:”” really never thought this voice was good, but it does sound good.”

At least my friend Keary Lui pulled in late and took some nice pictures., shown here. The top one is now our promo shot, whenever we need one.

We had a couple of guest guitarists, including 17-year-old Joe Biselle, who joined us last time as well. He played about four songs and it was really nice. Dave L had an old IMF friend there, in from DC, with whom he played in a band long ago and he hopped up and played a few with us, too.

We introduced our first original song, “Beijing Blues,” which I wrot, sort of. I was winging it. I need to write a few more songs. Woodie grabbed my new Tele on that and started wailing.. He is a great electric guitar player and I need to get him playing it more. We closed with “Little Wing” featuring a wild two-guitar jam between Joe and Woodie.. I played acoustic and gladly held down the chords.