Saturday, September 29, 2007

Off to shanghai...

It is a national holiday in china all of next week. October holiday, in honor of Thursday's Moon Festival. We are going to Shanghai this afternoon for five days. Will be at the Women's World cup finals Sunday night and the Special Olympics opening ceremonies on Tuesday. My friend Scott organized the outing and we will be part of a group of about 40 people. It should be nice.

Friends are off to Bali, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, San Francisco, Phuket....its hard to believe. We feel like we just started the school year.

One funny thing.. three Chinese friends separately have asked me about rigging the vote, setting a computer to multi-vote, etc. I have politely rejected all such entreaties, but I think it's funny.

I'll try to make a post or two from Shanghai. should be lots of interesting stuff to report.

In the meantime, remember to vote early and often for me, and happy October Holiday.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I need your support -- vote for me

China Daily and Lenovo are holding a contest to select several expat Olympics torch bearers. They will be chosen by open voting – sort of unique for China in that regards. I entered as a lark.

Actually, I thought I was filling out an application to be selected as a contestant but I was actually throwing myself up there. I should have/would have taken a bit more time to write something had I been more aware. Maybe talked about how I have met Yao Ming and Yi Jianlin.. and asked Woodie to translate to Chinese since most of the voters will presumably be Chinese.

Anyhow, I’m up there now and humbly ask for your support.

So please click here and vote for me.

And, of course, start a little campaign for me. I’ll send out a big email tomorrow to make it easy to forward around. My immediate goal is to move beyond the humiliating two votes I currently have. If I do that, my goals may get more ambitious.

So, you know, vote early and vote often.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RE: Bollinger

I have to admit that when I made my post about Bollinger I had little context. I really didn’t realize this had been such a big deal in the U.S, and received so much coverage. I had not read anything about the appearance, or how it was being perceived. A few of you wrote and agreed with what I said. A few others did not/

I’ll post some of those below. I have to say that after reading about it more, I’m a bit on the fence. I think it is sort of out of line to invite someone somewhere and then be so incredibly confrontational and rude. On the other hand, I really do think what Bollinger said was spot on and I think there is a certain power to ding it the way he did, theoretically showing A how we do things here, both in terms of his tough talk and the mere act of giving him a platform.

Like I said, I’m on the fence, but leaning towards thinking the whole appearance as a bad idea and a bit of a farce.

It’s also an interesting contrast to the lack of accountability we hold our own leaders up to. And the lack of accountability the current crew allow themselves to be held to, by appearing only in front of prescreened audiences, etc.

I do think he should have been allowed to visit Ground Zero.

The letters to the NY Times on this topic are really interesting.

An old friend from Ann Arbor writes:

I have agreed with most of the stuff you have written. I think you are wrong about Bollinger. Even though he ripped Achmedenijain(sic) and was accurate, he should have not given the dramatic intro. First, he just made A* look stronger and more sympathetic to the extreme anti-war pro-Iranian lefties as well as the Arabs. Second, Bollinger invites an asshole, who among other things, denies he has gays in his country onto campus, and turns around and does not allow the ROTC on campus as well as not saying anything about the students not letting the Minutemen speak during their campus visit. The ROTC was denied because of their "Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy".

He was one of a group of our great liberal US professors who condemned the Duke lacrosse players when they were initially accused of raping the black prostitute. Of course, this intellectual group never issued an apology after it was found that the DA falsely prosecuted the players.

Bollinger is weak and had to make his statement since he was in a position to loose a lot of funding from Jewish groups if he said nothing significant during the introduction. Most of his alumni supporters opposed the invite. That is not a very stoic thing.

He is a coward and his hypocrisy is consistent with his past events. A sad fact is that A* had more courage to show up and take it than Bollinger did by ripping him a new one on national TV. It is an embarrassment to UM just like loosing to the ASU Mountaineers.

Also, UM took a dive in the academic school rankings when he ran the show. UM was not even in the top 5 public universities when he left.

Take care and keep up the blogging.

Is there really such a thing as "pro Iranian lefty"? That’s sort of hard for me to believe, but then again we had self-described Maoists on the staff of the Michigan Daily and that was of course well after the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and all sorts of other absurd atrocities.

I think Bollinger was dead right in the affirmative action issue and became a national leader on that, while president of U-M. I don’t know if it’s true that UM took a dive in the academic rankings during his tenure but I’m not sure how important that is anyhow. Public institutions should have higher callings in my opinion than clawing over anything and everything to have big numbers.

The Duke case is an embarrassment from top to bottom. I don't know anything about Bollinger's involvement and so can’t comment. It was certainly not the best of days for the NY Times or most of the press.

Silvia in the house

Silvia Kleer came through for two days over the weekend, towards the end of an Asian business trip that took her to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Shanghai and Nanjing as well. I may be missing a few. She is a macher now. Always to great to have visitors and Sli was a pleasure. We hit all the hotspots in just two days -- Tianamen Sq., Forbidden City, Houhai Lake, dirt market and Great Wall. Here are some photos.

Last column

I got almost no feedback via email or forum on this column, which really surprised me.


Expat Parents in China Keep
Adopted Babies Close to Home

September 14, 2007

Virtually every flight I've ever been on from China to the U.S. has had at least two couples returning home with a newly adopted Chinese baby. I have been touched watching their interaction, which is often simultaneously tentative and loving. I have also seen large groups of Western couples with new babies touring around Beijing, during their imposed stays here before heading home. It can be a strange sight, one that has led me to wonder if there is any undercurrent of discomfort amongst Chinese about all these babies being taken out of the country. I have detected none.

New, more stringent adoption laws recently went into effect and the number of Chinese children adopted and brought to the U.S. fell by almost 1,500 last year, after two decades of steady growth. But there were still 6,494 adoptions, 95% of them girls, according to Adoptive Families magazine. The Chinese system is considered the model for international adoptions, with a high degree of transparency, clear standards and

In the last 22 years, 62,389 Chinese children have been adopted by American families, according to the support group Families with Chinese Children. A small number of these children don't have to travel too far to their new homes; they are adopted by expats living here already. The U.S. is one of just six nations that allow its citizens to adopt a Chinese child while living in China. Other countries are concerned about the lack of control and oversight they have over their far-flung citizens, but American expats seeking to adopt follow the same well-defined adoption process that is required of families living in the U.S.

Statistics don't seem to be kept on expats adopting babies, but one close observer who works with adoptive families estimated the number between 200 and 300 a year. I personally know three families who have adopted here and two more whose applications are currently being processed.

Living here makes it easy for the new family member to simultaneously maintain a Chinese identity and develop an American one. It's an issue that American families who adopt Chinese children struggle with -- how much to educate their children about their homeland.

"I think that the majority of parents make an attempt to make sure their children feel positively about Chinese culture," says Susan Caughman, editor of Adoptive Families magazine and herself the mother of a Chinese daughter. "It's definitely understood in the Chinese adoption community that this is something good for your child's identity. A smaller percentage of parents make an effort to actually make sure their children learn to speak Chinese."

There is a group of expats, mostly women, who volunteer in orphanages around Beijing. Their level of involvement varies from occasional work days to near-constant fundraising and/or administration. Collectively they do a lot of vital work. Their efforts seem particularly needed by children with health or developmental problems, who are sometimes abandoned due to the lack of widely available free healthcare.

My friend Cheryl Latta, an American mother of four, began volunteering at a nearby orphanage once a week shortly after arriving here two-plus years ago. She found the time fulfilling but frustrating.

"I enjoyed playing with the babies but wanted to do more," she recalls. "I kept thinking, 'If I could just take one of these kids home, I could give them so much more.'"

Cheryl was referred to Teresa Woo, an expat from Hong Kong who runs Beijing's Ping An Medical Foster Home. Ping An takes in orphans who are stricken with serious illnesses and disabilities, arranges and pays for their medical care and surgeries if necessary, and provides pre- and post-surgery rehab care until they are fit enough to return to their original orphanages. The more fortunate orphans might find themselves in foster families, many of which are Ms. Woo's friends and/or regular volunteers.

"Most of our kids are abandoned for medical reasons," says Ms. Woo, whose organization is funded by private donations. "At first, we helped them get the surgery but they were going back to places that couldn't necessarily care for them, so I decided to house them in a place where they could get the kind of care they needed to recuperate. I can only have eight kids at a time because it's a family environment. I didn't want to open another orphanage."

The Lattas were matched with Tian Hui, a smiley six-month-old girl who had had surgery on a cleft lip and needed a few months of recuperation before she could have a second operation, to repair a cleft palate. After about three months, they returned her to Ping An and picked up a different baby. When he had health problems necessitating hospitalization, Ms. Woo asked the Lattas if they could take Tian Hui again. She had been unable to have her second surgery due to health complications, leaving her classified as special needs and therefore eligible for fostering.

None of the Lattas had realized quite how attached they had grown to the little girl until she returned to spend Christmas with them. When family friends said they wanted to adopt Tian Hui, Cheryl felt alarmed rather than excited and realized that she wanted to adopt the baby herself. After everyone concurred in a family meeting, they began the adoption process.

The Lattas lived around the corner from us and I got used to seeing Cheryl or one of her sons pushing Tian Hui around, first in a stroller, then in a small tricycle. The child always smiled and waved and I was won over by her sunny disposition. I asked often about their situation. Child-specific adoptions are discouraged, but if foster families meet the normal requirements they are sometimes allowed to adopt the child. In these cases it is considered in the child's best interest to stay with a family to whom they are attached. But there are no guarantees and the family was in a constant state of low anxiety waiting for a decision.

The papers came through on Sept. 4 making the adoption official and Tian Hui a member of the Latta family. It was a week short of one year from when they first brought her into their home. They will rename her Tia Grace.

The Lattas hope to stay here four more years, in part so that Tia is instilled with a strong sense of being Chinese and in part because such a long stint here will allow the whole family to better understand the roots of their youngest member.

The Lattas's four blond children already drew a lot of attention in China and they now receive even more scrutiny with a Chinese baby added to the mix.

"People always ask why we would want another child when we already have four," says Cheryl. "I used to say because we loved her so much and I got blank stares. Now, we say we wanted Emily (the lone girl before Tia's arrival) to have a sister and that seems to be much better accepted."

Similarly practical concerns troubled the younger Latta children. Seven-year-old Jason feared that when Tia grew up, she would only speak Chinese and have trouble communicating with the rest of the family. Instead, they are all learning Chinese even as Tia learns English. If all goes according to plan, they will all have a very solid understanding of where their newest family member comes from.
* * *

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. Read comments by readers on my last column, about a home leave visit to Washington, D.C.

I enjoyed your recent article on "home-leave" to the United States. The moment with Eli at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial must have been very touching indeed.

I lived with my family in Japan for almost 11 years and the experience was life-transforming. I will never view myself or the United States in the same way. I've always been and always will be an American. I will always uphold the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. You also see the downsides and risks of your country as well.

--Eric W. Lewis, MD

I've lived in China for three years and also miss it when I go back to the States. That was a touching story about your young man in Washington, D.C. Sounds as if you and the wife are doing a good job with him.


Thank you. I was very touched by Eli's behavior at the Memorial. Believe me, I could write other columns about my kids that would have you reconsidering your praise, but moments like that make a lot of pain seem worthwhile.
* * *

I have been living in Vancouver, Canada, for three years and I understood the exact emotions that you were expressing when you wrote, "Being an expat can complicate your feelings about being American." Although Vancouver is extremely similar culturally to my hometown in Southern California there are definitely some distinct differences, for both the better and the worse.

The other day, I was asked if I was going to give up my American citizenship to become Canadian. The answer was a resounding No! Even with all of its problems and issues, the U.S. is still the Land of Opportunity and being one of its citizens is something I would not change..

-- Oanh

Write to Alan Paul at

North Philly horsemen

This is a really interesting clip about inner city stables in Philly. There is very good video on Funny, no one's asked me to do one yet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

That's My Boy

That's My Boy


Read this when you have time.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's introduction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's really quite tremendous. Bollinger was the president of U-M and I'm proud of him. Ten years ago, we met him at the Daily 110th anniversary party and had a very interesting talk about the affirmative action suits then pending against the U. He is a public intellectual of the type we could use more of.

Becky story

A rare byline these days! Becky went to Nanjing over the last day or two -- what a blur -- to interview the Ford CEO. I think the link will work and it's a free page.

Woodie Alan website

I am still tweaking it and will move it over to, but here's what I've got so far.

As I've said before, it feels good to sling it around on behalf o myself instead of a monosyllabic cretin.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Those tainted Chinese products

I wanted to post the top of this page one story from the WSJ for few reasons. For one, Rebecca was up to 3 am Friday night/Saturday morning working on it, so I’m all for drawing some attention its way. But more importantly, I thought it was really important story.

I think that Mattel backpedaled from this apology the next day, though I haven’t really had a chance to follow that up. But I think it’s really enlightening and worth noting how this illustrates the degree to which China seems to be becoming a scapegoat and whipping boy for anything and everything that goes wrong.

I think it is the company’s responsibility to ensure that their products are safely designed and properly built and if they can’t do that in China, they should figure it out and move on. But the fact is, they can do it in China, if they consider it important enough to do so. A lot of firms juts look for the lowest price, don’t do due diligence and don’t stay on top of their contracted factories.

I was really blown away when home this summer by how much anti-China feelings have been pumped up, in part I think by some pretty heavy handed, slanted coverage. So many friends and relatives commented on the “tainted products” problem. I was in Randall’s in Sq. Hill when a guy came in and asked for “anything not made in China.” It is not an unreasonable request, but I really do think that people need to look back to the companies selling the product – and making agreements here based solely on lowest price. And also to take a look at themselves and consider their own drive for the lowest price.

People get upset if a product comes out of here that kills Fifi, or threatens Madison –and they should. But they don’t give a shit if their $39 patio set at Wal Mart dumps a ton of mercury into the Yangtze. I am speaking in broad generalizations and I understand that. I’m just trying to make a point. American consumers and corporations own a big chunk of the pollution being crated here, and the primary victims of it are 1.2 billion Chinese. The secondary victims are the rest of the world.

All of this is serious and real and needs to be thought about and discussed. But just blaming lack Chinese standards doesn’t move the ball very far and succeeds in casting all blame off of American shoulders. And I think that’s wrong.

Mattel Seeks to Placate China With Apology on Toys

September 22, 2007

Mattel Inc. made a public apology to China for damage to the country's reputation stemming from a spate of toy recalls. It was an extraordinary attempt to placate Mattel's most important supplier, but it is likely to shift the spotlight to the company's own responsibility in the crisis.

In its apology, the world's largest toy maker said that its own "design flaw" was responsible for by far the biggest recall, involving nearly 18 million playsets studded with potentially dangerous magnets. While soothing China's pride, the admission could make Mattel a target in lawsuits.

"I can't think of any other instance where" a major toy company "has actually come out with such a public announcement of a defect," said Andrew Krulwich, a former general counsel for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission who now practices at Wiley Rein LLP.

Chinese officials have ratcheted up criticism recently of Mattel and U.S. regulators, believing they are putting too much blame on China in the recent recalls of toys and other Chinese-made products. Mattel's apology is a reminder that U.S. companies dependent on business in China offend Beijing's communist rulers at their peril.

And then further down, this key part:

As recently as this week, Mattel Chief Executive Robert Eckert told Congress that the company's "standards were ignored, and our rules were broken" at Chinese plants.

By the numbers, however, the vast majority of the recalled toys didn't have any lead problem. The biggest recall, affecting 18 million toys, involves tiny magnets that can fall off toys and be deadly if swallowed. The recall of those toys, Mattel is now stressing, had nothing to do with a failure of Chinese manufacturing but rather stemmed from Mattel's own flawed designs for everything from Barbie accessories to Batman action figures.

You can read the rest of the story here:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Catching up with Tom Davis

Many people have asked me over the past 18 months or so if I am in touch with my friend Tom Davis, who had to leave Beijing our first year here due to the horrible illness and subsequent death of his wife Cathy. We have been in and out of touch and very much in communication now. I think of them all the time and can easily become very sad, wistful – or happy.

Tom’s tenure here was obviously tragic but I really enjoyed my limited time with him and really feel he can and hopefully will be a lifelong friend. I’m so sad about everything that happened and it’s painful to even think about, but I am really happy that I got to meet Tom and share my early days in China with him. One of the very best things about this whole experience has been the great people we have met and I put tom very high on that list.

He and his daughters moved back to Tom’s hometown of Butte, Montana and are adapting to their new life and doing well. The girls are thriving, attending the same Catholic preschool Tom went to. He recently started working there part time.

He sent me these wild pictures of his recent trip to Canada’s Northwest territories on a caribou hunting trip with his brother. I don’t know what they did with these animals. Tom shot one and took the other with a bow and arrow from 60 yards. I’m not really a hunting advocate, but that seems like a pretty impressive feat to me. Maybe they can come to Maplewood and get set loose in the reservation, to clear out some deer.

Tom is a big Steelers fan and I want to meet him in Pittsburgh for a game in 2009. That’s the most long term planning I’ve ever done in my life, by the way.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jackson Wagner at Farm Aid

I thought this was cool and worthy of post. I'm both jealous and proud of Rick and Jackson.

Friend Rick Wagner writes from Maplewood:

I took Jackson to Farm Aid... we saw the Allmans, Derek Trucks Band, Warren Haynes, Neil Young and a bunch more. Had backstage passes. I was looking for but didn't find Kirk. Jackson was a real trooper, hanging in there thru Neil (close to 11pm when he finished). He could barely keep his eyes open but when I suggested we start to make our way toward the exit in the middle of Neil's set he declared in a steadfast tone "I'm not leaving until Neil Young finishes his performance." It was a bit rough on him on a school night but well worth it. Here's a couple pictures, one of Jackson standing next to Neil's truck.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

R.I.P. Shakey Jake

Jake was truly an Ann Arbor legend. Anyone who has spent any time there knows that. There used to be a fantastic mockumentry about him that ran n community access all the time. Somebody should dig that up and throw it on You Tube.

Go to, where this story was posted and read through the comments on the bottom. This was one beloved guy.


Shakey Jake Woods was a star in Ann Arbor, almost from the time he arrived here 34 years ago.

Wearing his trademark three-piece suit, hat and dark sunglasses, the man known simply as "Shakey Jake" could be seen playing his guitar on the street downtown for as long as many can remember. And when he stopped inside local stores or restaurants for breakfast or lunch, it was if a movie-star had walked in.

"Customers would treat him as a celebrity," said Kathi Macker, a manager of Expresso Royale on Main Street.

Woods, perhaps the city's most recognizable resident, died Sunday evening, said Felicia Epps, a property manager for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. He was 82 years old, according to a friend and the date of birth he gave police in 2001 after he reported being punched in the stomach.

Though he played his guitar with vigor, it was often out of tune. Sometimes it had only one or two strings.

But he had a larger-than-life persona.

Among his claims: That he had been around the world dozens of times but never in an airplane. That he had a dozen bodyguards who watched out for him constantly but couldn't be seen by other people. That he slept only two hours a night. And that he was born on Halloween and was 104 years old.

What's true is that he sold tapes, T-shirts and bumper stickers ("I brake for Jake") that made their way around the country. Occasionally, he put a bucket out on the street when he played his guitar. But he lived on Social Security and relied on the kindness of many downtown merchants. It was enough to cover the cost of renting rooms all over the city, and later to live in public housing.

"He was so harmless," said Chera Tramontin, whose mother, Karen Piehutkoski, opened Kilwin's Chocolate Shoppe in 1983 on Liberty Street. Woods was one of the first to visit the new shop.

"It wasn't that he wanted the handout," said Tramontin. "He wanted to go out and work, and he thought he was working. He was out playing his music."

Woods was raised with 13 younger siblings on a farm in Little Rock, Ark. The family eventually moved to Saginaw, but Woods never went to school.

Music brought Shakey Jake to Ann Arbor from Saginaw in the early 1970s.
Ann Arbor News file photoShakey Jake Woods died Sunday at the age of 82.

Fred Reif, an accounts payable clerk at the University of Michigan who booked blues artists for shows over the years, lived in Saginaw. Woods was a street person there, but played some music.

Reif invited Woods to play at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1973. He only played for five minutes, but he made an impression. After the show, Reif said, women and girls headed backstage to fawn over Woods, thinking he was a blues star.

"I ain't never going back to Saginaw," Reif recalled Woods saying.

And he never did. Instead, he became a street legend in Ann Arbor, Reif said.

Many mornings, Woods arrived at Afternoon Delight before the Liberty Street restaurant opened for the day. He ate breakfast for free - oatmeal and wheat toast.

"He used to eat clam chowder, but we talked him into oatmeal because it was better for you," said longtime employee Kim Bewersdorf.

If a customer was seated at his favorite table by the front door, Woods asked that person to leave. And they always did.

At Kilwin's, an autographed poster of a much younger Woods hangs on the wall. He often stopped there to collect a bucket for busking, and when he returned it later each day, he was treated to a cup of ice cream. Employees then called a cab for him to get home; a notecard providing instructions to new employees is taped up near the phone.

"The whole town cared for him," said Carol Lopez, owner of The Peaceable Kingdom on Main Street, who managed Woods' finances and paid his bills, among other tasks.

A memorial service is being planned, Lopez said. "He had a lot of friends," she said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

An epic day for Woodie Alan

Saturday was an epic day in the life of Woodie Alan. We double dipped with an afternoon gig and then an evening performance.

The afternoon was at an outdoor street festival on a cool, rapidly gentrifying hutong street. All the photos below are form that performance, starting with our "opening act." He had one tooth, much to eli's delight.

Fun to perform for a Chinese crowd--and my kids.

Woodie Wu

Eli walked around the stage taking these
individual shots and I think he did a great job.

Zhong Yong

Dynamite Dave Loevinger

Lu Wei

Woodie Alan

We played on a large stage inside a courtyard next to a hotel. Our “opening acts” were some old traditional Chinese musicians and one guy (pictured here) who told jokes and sang traditional songs. There was a large Chinese crowd but they were mostly hanging out by the back milling around the entrance on the street, rather than coming in. The promoters asked us to try to draw them up closer. I asked Woodie to say so in Chinese but he said, “you do it first and after a song, I will.”

We got on stage and I said, “Ni hao. (Hello). Please come forward. We want to see you.” And I motioned with my hand – and everyone rushed the stage, just like that. It was great. We launched into “Meet Me in the Morning” and I was pumped up. It was great to be playing to a mostly Chinese audience for the first time. Second, everyone rushing up was tremendous. Third, there were a handful of young Chinese girls looking at me in awe, like I was a rock star. And I readily admit that that fired me up. It was also really nice to be on a large stage for a change.

On top of all that, my kids were sitting on the edge of the stage right in front of me. It was just a sweet feeling and I thought we played really well for the first three songs or so. Then we hit a couple of rougher spots for two songs, where I felt like we were flailing, before finishing strong. It was a short set, only about 50 minutes. There were a couple of videographers documenting the event. One of the guys was a dreadlocked Chinese dude whom Woodie told me was a very famous director. Supposedly, he is going to give the guys who run the festival a DVD of the day and we will get a copy. A really good Chinese pop rock band played after us. It was a really nice event and supposedly the first outdoor street festival in China, though that doesn’t really make sense.

I walked Becky and the kid out to the car and said good bye to them , then rejoined Woodie and the rest of the band in a bar down the street. It’s a nice tapas place called Salud, where we played one time and where all performers had free beer all day long. So there we parked for several hours. It was the fist time I’ve really hung out with the guys in the band, even including Woodie. It was fun.

There were some Chinese hippies playing music in front of the bar. including a guy with a dreadlocked, pointy beard down to his belly button playing a ukele, another dude on a conga-type drum and a third, wispy little Indian-ish guy playing a bunch of instruments, including a small uke and a little plastic keyboard with a mouthpiece attached. . Woodie went out and played harmonica with them then I went and played guitar and tried to fit I and I think it actually sounded good and a big crowd gathered. It was fun.

By then, Woodie’s cousin and his girlfriend had shown up and a few other friends were there, and bassist Zhong Yong’s wife arrived. It was good to be a minority because that is how my life here probably should be but rarely is.

It was time to grab some dinner and go. I wanted to take everyone out to dinner but I only had about 150 rmb (20 bucks) with me. We went to a little place in the hutong, old school, not gentrified. And we all ate spicy tofu, gung bao chicken, fried noodles an other good, simple comfort foods and drank a bunch of giant bottles of TsingTao. The total bill was 79 RMB. That is $10, or a little more than $1/ per person. I think there were nine of us. So I was able to take everyone out to dinner after all.

Then we all piled into a few cabs and trekked over to the Stone Boat in Ritan Park, set up and played from about 9:45 to 12:30. Not surprisingly, we played really well, because we were loose and had spent hours hanging out together and had just played half of the songs a few hours earlier.

Woodie told me that his friend Powell Young, china’s top shred guitar player would be there and I said he should invite him to jam. “He plays really wild and fast,” Woodie said.

“Can’t he control himself and fit in?”

“I don’t think so. When he’s onstage, he’s in the spotlight.”

Powell sat inside hanging out with the large group of friends of Woodie at the show and on our last song, which was “Not Fade Away”, Woodie motioned to him and he ran up on stage and they handed off guitars. It’s a two-chord vamp song, with a Bo Diddley beat, an old Buddy Holly classic. Powell started soling and it was fast and intense but pretty “normal.” But then he kept going and going and going, playing with two hands all the way up and down the neck It was wild and, really quite tasteful I thought.

Lu Wei the drummer started going wild. He was really excited. Powell is a pretty big deal amongst musos. I did my best to keep up, banging those two chords for all I was worth for what seemed like hours. There were only about 25 people left, including 10-15 of Woodie’s buds. But they were all really digging it. There were a bunch of people at a table right in front of us, two sets of parents in their mid-50s, very distinguished, one guy smoking a pipe. They were definitely European and had two teenagers with them. They jumped up and were screaming. Powell walked off the stage, still playing, and took a seat on a chair and kept going. He was all over the fretboard, doing two handed tapping and just really fast, wild shred playing. I’ve covered guys like him in GW for 15 years but had certainly never played with a guy like that before. It was fun.

It finally ended close to 1 am and we all hugged and laughed, and stuck around drinking beer and BS’ing for another 45 minutes. I stumbled home at about 2 am and passed out. By 9:30 I was on the soccer field coaching Eli then Jacob. Rock star on Saturday night, schlepping dad with bags under my eyes Sunday morning.

Here’s a video of Powell playing with Joe Satriani in Taipei:

Beijing hip hop

I know the guys who do this. some pretty funny stuff.

Friday, September 14, 2007

R.I.P. Alfred Peet

Been meaning to post something on this for a while.. I grabbed this from an insane website --www.coffeegeekcom. Reading sites like this is always a good reminder that no matter how nutty I feel a subject, I am a piker compared to the real nuts. But I really can't tell you how much enjoyment I get from Peet's coffee. I just had a cup of Java Old Estate.

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of a true legend in the world of specialty coffee - indeed, if any one person garners the title "Father of Specialty Coffee", it would be this man. On Wednesday, August 29th, 2007, Alfred Peet passed away.

Alfred Peet started his coffee roastery in 1966, in Berkeley, California. The concept of "specialty coffee" was almost completely unknown in the US at the time (and the term itself hadn't even been coined yet), what with all the major national brands moving to more and more generic coffee styles, and the brewing method of choice for most Americans being the percolator for its convenience and ease of use.

The Dutch-born Peet grew up in a family immersed in the business of coffee, and he emigrated to the United States in the 1950s where he continued the family trade, working in coffee for major national chains. As the 1950s and early 1960s progressed, Peet became more and more disenchanted with the state of "generic" low grade coffee used by most roasters at the time and the lowering of the quality of coffee for the home, so he made a move in the mid 1960s to go into business for himself. Memories of the better quality central American coffees his Dad used to source and roast back in Holland were still vivid in his mind, so he started sourcing his own quality coffees and helped to start a revolution - bringing back the words "quality" and even "culinary" to coffee. He, along with people like Erna Knutsen (the Mother of Specialty Coffee, still with us, and the originator of the term "specialty coffee"), fostered in a true renaissance time for coffee.

Peet's influence is far and wide. George Howell, arguably the father of specialty coffee on the Eastern US side, discovered great coffee at Peet's Berkeley shop. The founders of Starbucks fell in love with Peet's coffee and roastery and got to know Alfred personally. Once they moved back to Seattle after attending UC Berkeley, they opened up their small roastery in Pike Place market, introducing specialty coffee to the Seattle area in 1971.

I asked George Howell about Peet's early days roasting coffee and his own memories of it: "I remember the first Peet's in Berkeley, back in 1968, when I saw people standing outside holding porcelain cups with long stems as there were no paper cups back then!" Howell said. "It seemed to be some kind of art gallery gathering and I parked my car and walked toward the action. And voilá, an alchemist's dream: a wealth of exotic-shaped coffee machines and accessories in a refined dark space anchored by a long counter with a panoply of glassed-in panels of roasted coffee blends labelled with exotic names."

"Alfred Peet was a born marketer; he was the first to effectively, elegantly and publicly celebrate coffee, for the benefit of a young curious public seeking new experiences. He caught our generation’s imagination and we have not looked back since."

When asked what kind of influence Afred Peet had on Howell's own drive toward bringing specialty coffee to the masses, he said "the Coffee Connection (Howell's roastery and line of cafes in Boston in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s) was my take and expansion on Alfred Peet’s original vision. He was the foundation stone."

Speaking for myself, I count myself as being very, very fortunate to have met Alfred Peet on a few occasions. He was opinionated, cantankerous, and ornery, (he even admits all of these himself) and absolutely sharp as a tack, right through his 80s. He always had a monster palate and always maintained a deep love and passion for coffee. Many of us have been extremely lucky to have met and talked with the man, and for me personally, I feel very gratified that I had a chance to thank him in person for what he's done for coffee.

Much of our love and joy for true culinary coffee today can trace its heritage back to Alfred Peet. If you're sitting back today, enjoying a great cup of single origin press pot coffee, or pulling a delicious blend off your espresso machine, raise a cup to Alfred Peet. If it weren't for him and his influence, chances are today your cup may be a cup of Nescafe or Maxwell House.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beijing Blues

A Woodie Alan original. Solos and final verse only.

Dulwich Photo Day 2007

Nothing like some scruffy American kids in British best-dressed uniforms. Eli loves it. Those of you who knew me on Guarino Rd., imagine me riding my little green Schwinn to Davis School in this getup.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy New year

Happy new year to everyone. We just came back from very nice, pretty crowded services. The kids have a lot of buds in the little Jewish world now, thanks to Sunday School and they actually sort of enjoy it.

it is our third Rosh Hashanah in Beijing and, I think our 20th together. Wow.

Rosh Hashanah has always made more sense to me as a new year because of the start of the school year, which is a time of optimism and a feeling that everyone can turn over a new leaf. With kids in school, that sense of September as the start of the year has returned. In China, we actually get to celebrate three new years, all of them different and unique n their own ways.

Last column

New one tomorrow...


A Capital Reminder of What
It Means to Be an American

August 31, 2007

My family is nearing the end of a three-week-plus visit to the U.S. We have driven more than 2,000 miles in a rented minivan, from Maplewood, N.J., to Bay City, Mich., and back, with eight or nine stops in between. I've slept in almost a dozen beds, including a Spider Man trundle bed next to my cousin's six-year-old son and, for four nights, in a pop-up camper in my in-laws' backyard.

The journey has been exhausting. I've cursed the three huge bags I've lugged from stop to stop and the sleeping arrangements have left my back feeling mangled. But that's the price you pay for living overseas and pledging to spend time with as many important people as you can in a limited period. And it's worked: I've caught trout with my father and played a gig with his Pittsburgh Dixieland band; gone camping on Lake Huron with my wife's extended family; and caught crabs with my sons and nephews. Saturday, we will attend my nephew's bar mitzvah, opting to have our kids miss the first six days of school rather than this family milestone. These are the type of connections we swore we would not forsake when we moved to China two years ago.

Yet one of the most important reconnections we made on this journey came in Washington, D.C., on the only three days we spent without any extended family. We were doing no less than getting back in touch with what it means to be American.

After two years studying in the British curriculum, nine-year-old Jacob knows a lot about ancient Roman, Greek, British and Chinese history, but his knowledge of American history and politics was decidedly lacking. Months ago he stared blankly when we asked him about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, a shortcoming we largely remedied with a collection of books. Still, he and seven-year-old Eli clearly needed a deeper understanding of American history.

I hoped that our kids would feel the same kind of patriotic surge visiting the sites in Washington that I experienced as a kid. It's easy to be cynical about the system, especially when viewed from outside America's borders. But I think it's appropriate for children to have uncomplicated positive feelings about their nation -- and I didn't want to deny my kids that opportunity merely because they lived abroad. I also wanted them to know that there are differences between China and America that extend well beyond Toys "R" Us and Chuck E. Cheese (both of which we also visited on this trip).

Our first day there, we spent the afternoon with Kathy Chen and her family, our first friends in Beijing who moved back to D.C. last summer. I have written about how the departure of Kathy's son Andrew was hard on Jacob, who was counting the days until our visit. After a beautiful and easy reunion, we went downtown. As soon as we stepped out of a cab in front of the flood-lit Washington Monument, its top shrouded in fog, and looked over at the Capitol, I was overwhelmed by a surge of emotion that caught me off guard. I had spent so much time thinking about how the trip would have an impact on the kids that I forgot about myself, and how living abroad might heighten my own sensitivities and appreciation.

That night, we visited the White House and it struck me that there is no such institution in China. Their leaders' residences are sealed off and shrouded in mystery. That symbolizes something, as does the ability to come late at night and gawk at the president's house through an iron fence, standing a few hundred yards from the seat of power.

So too does the protestor silently smoking a cigarette underneath the clapboard "End Nuclear Proliferation" sign, an outpost supposedly manned round the clock since 1981. You can argue about the futility of such a gesture but after living in China for a few years, it's hard not to appreciate the protestors' right to do it and the potency of their mere presence. A few days later, Jacob said to me, "Dad, you know that person sleeping in the little box to tell President Bush the war is wrong? Well, I think she's doing the right thing." He may have had the facts wrong, but I was happy that he was thinking about it, and it gave me an opportunity to explain another difference between China and the U.S.

Being an expat can complicate your feelings about being American. On the one hand, I think that there is an air of assumed superiority that you don't even realize exists until you live outside the country and feel it get punctured. Returning from Beijing, I am also jarred by the commercialism; I was overwhelmed by the simple act of walking into a Kroger's grocery store, blinking at the massive aisles and bright fluorescent lights. On the other hand, living in a place like China gives you a much greater appreciation for simple liberties you take for granted growing up in America; it has made me feel much more strongly about preserving them and maintaining an open government.

Before we entered the Vietnam Veteran's memorial, I explained to the kids what it was and said it was like visiting a church, synagogue or graveyard. I pondered explaining how Vietnam was close to China and America was there fighting the spread of a government very similar to that under which our family has now chosen to live, but thought that was too much information to give young kids. We know a couple of people from Beijing who have moved to Vietnam and many who have vacationed there. The fact that I now see it as just another place to visit made the sacrifice of these 58,256 American lives seem all the more tragic.

Seven-year-old Eli was the one who got the whole thing. He was amazed to find people with names like ours engraved on the wall and asked me if we had any relatives who died in the war and why there were flowers and flags left there. Then he asked, "Even though we didn't really know anyone, could we leave a flower for them, too?"

I told him it was a beautiful idea. He plucked a wildflower from outside on the lawn and we walked back in together.

"What do I do, dad?"

"Put it down on the ground and say a prayer for one of the soldiers, or even for all of them on that section."

"How do I say a prayer for them?"

"You say something like, 'God, please grant peace to these soldiers, who gave their lives for our country, and for their families, who miss them very much.'"

He meticulously placed a flower into the crack of the wall and shut his eyes for a few seconds.

I gave him a big hug and we walked out. I couldn't have been more touched, or pleased that he was getting something out of this trip. But even in D.C., with my own nationalism running high, I had moments that made me question where home really is these days.

At the National Zoo panda exhibit, there was a slide show of the bear's Sichuan home. Looking at the pictures of smiling Chinese peasants, mist-shrouded hills and dilapidated general stores, I felt the last emotion I ever expected to experience in Washington, D.C. -- homesickness for China.
* * *

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. Read comments by readers on my last column about the perils of car accidents in China.

You are a brave man! As an American expat in Vietnam who also spends a lot of time in China, I can only say that the driving here is worse, with the only compensation being it is usually slower and less deadly (for cars at least --motorbikes are another story), due to the less developed infrastructure.

My question is what led you to drive at all? Of all the expats I know in Ho Chi Minh City, the only ones that drive on a regular basis are consular officials, who have the best "get out of jail free card" in the world, a diplomatic passport.

For all the mere mortals, we are told by all our companies that the liability risk, even at reduced Vietnamese pricing, is not worth the small cost and convenience of a driver.

-- Jody Condra

I've written a few other columns about driving, including getting my license and buying a car. Not driving isn't really an option because I need to get around and get my kids around and I prefer to be in control rather than turn things over to cabs, which often get lost and usually don't have seat belts.

I know a lot of people who are forbidden by work from driving because of liability. In most cases, they then receive drivers as part of their package. That is not the case with us and it would drive me crazy to ask a driver every time I wanted to go around the corner. I usually do take cabs or black cars downtown.

* * *

You should have waited for the police to come. It is always the back car's fault if you are rear-ended in China too.

-- Sun

You are not the only one to point this out to me. I still think I did the right thing simply because the police can take a long time to come and I had to get my kids out of there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Woodie Alan with special guest Pete Schloss.

On my birthday, 9-7, at the Orchard

Gig photos

Courtesy of my friend Keary Liu.

Took a bunch of video but my camera deleted one whole 2 GB memory card when I tried to futz with the format because IPhoto 08 wouldn't upload it. Oh well. I'll get some up soon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Birthday thanks

Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I had a nice day and a great gig. More to come on that soon, including some video. We have a new drummer, 28-y.o. Chinese kid (sure sign of age to call someone nearly 30 a kid) and it sounded good and was big fun.

Here are some pictures from the kids' first day of school. they all hit the gorund running and have been doing fine, thriving in school

I am still feeling pretty whacked out a, a full week since returning, and am struggling to focus my mind and get a column done in the next two days.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Catching Up Photos: Beach Haven

We didn't really plan it this way but it was a good move to end the hectic, 2,200-mile trip with our most relaxing week, at Beach Haven, NJ. We rented a big ol' 8-br house around the corner from my brother and his family's place and a block from the beach.

We were there all week with my folks. Others came and went and we had a superb, huge, wrap-around porch where we spent a lot of time.