Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Double D -- Darryl Dawkins

A lot of people wrote me asking about Darryl Dawkins since I posted that picture of he and I. Tonight, my friend Alan DeZon told me he flew back from Shanghai to NY on Double D's plane. That all inspired me to dig this Slam feature out of the archives. I think it's a classic of my oeuvre. It ran about 7 years ago.

Darryl Dawkins is a patron saint of Slam, because he is a patron saint of slam. The National Dunker’s Association of America named Dawk to it s list of 30 greatest slammers of all time, but he may well rank at the very top of the list, above even Mike, Nique and Doc.

Like them, Double Dee was a pioneer, the first baller to do many things that we now hold near and dear to our hearts. He was the first to shatter a backboard. The first to name his jams. The first to go directly from high school to the NBA. The Chocolate Thunder was also the first NBA player we know of to claim he was actually an alien from the planet Lovetron. It all added up to him recently being named “Man of the Millennium” by Saturday Night Live, edging out William Shakespeare and Albert Einstein.

But to explore that avenue any further would be to propagate the idea that Dawkins is some kind of joke, a hoops freak show to be laughed both at and with. And that’s too easy a path to take. Because something can be funny without being a joke, and that’s exactly the case when it comes to The Master of Disaster, Darryl Dawkins.

In 1975, Dawkins, a senior at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, FL, announced he would go directly to the NBA to the snickers of many. Drafted fifth by the 76ers, Dawk did not set the league on fire his rookie year, averaging just 2.4 ppg. Still, he quickly developed into a solid low post contributor and by his second season, the Sixers were in the Finals, where they lost to Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas’s TrailBlazers. Dawkins and the Sixers would return to the Finals twice more only to lose. Fact is, they could- shoulda won either or the ‘81 and ‘82 series against Magic’s Lakers, which would have radically rewritten both the history of 80s hoops and Dawkins’ place in the basketball cosmos.

“Dawkins was an incredible physical specimen,’ recalls Bob Costas.” He was 6-11 and 275 pounds and no one had ever seen anything like him to that point. He was a manchild and everyone was actually terrified of him.”

Including the refs, who never gave the benefit of the doubt to the bad-ass-looking guy swatting shots, glaring down opponents and occasionally delaying games for hours while new backboards were installed. Dawkins led the league in fouls three times and still holds the record for most personal fouls in a season (386). By the end of his 14-year career, Dawkins relied largely on his muscle and ferociousness, a natural evolution for a guy who never met a confrontation he didn’t relish. But Dawk was no mere thug. He is the fifth most accurate shooter in NBA history with a field goal percentage of .572.

Post-NBA, Dawk spent five years playing in Italy and one as a Harlem Globetrotter. Now he has defied virtually all expectations by becoming a very successful minor league coach. The last two years, he has coached both the Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs of the U.S. Basketball League and the Winnipeg Cyclones of the International Basketball Association, for whom he also played last year. He has been coach of the year in both leagues.

Prowling the sidelines at a recent Valley Dawgs game, Dawkins cuts an imposing figure in his mustard suit, gold hoops dangling from both ears, his chocolate dome shaved smooth. On the court, his squad runs and presses mercilessly, driving their opponent into submission. Despite a commanding victory, Dawkins is stern in the postgame locker room, saying, “If the big guys can’t get it done, I’ll go out and find me some who can.” He doesn’t rule out suiting up himself to show the youngsters how it’s done.

Afterwards, in between flirting with departing dancers and making friendly, funny small talk with everyone from the Valley Dawgs owner to their ball boy, Dawkins gave some love to the only magazine that could ever truly appreciate his brilliance.

SLAM: You have a lot of nicknames, but the most enduring is Chocolate Thunder. Where did it come from?
DAWKINS: A kid I visited at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia said I was like a mass of chocolate, so I started calling myself Chocolate. Then Stevie Wonder wrote a song that said, “I’m bad like Stevie Wonder and strong like Chocolate Thunder” and I loved that. So I’ve been the Chocolate Thunder ever since.
SLAM: When did you start naming your slams?
DAWKINS: In 1976 when I wound up on the Sixers team with George McGinnis, Dr. J, World B. Free and Doug Collins. That was a great, great group of players and I needed to do something so people would know I was on the team too. So I decided to name my dunks and have a calling card.
My first one was “Your Mama,” then came “The Heartstopper,” “The Cake Shaker,” “The Baby Maker,” “The Turbo Sexaphonic Delight” and “The Left Handed Slam Chiller’s Delight.” Then “The Chocolate Thunder-Flying Glass-Babies Crying-Rump Roasting-Bun Toasting-Teeth Shaking-Babies Still Crying-Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am-Yes I Am - Jam.”
SLAM: What was the best one ever—not the name, but the slam.
DAWKINS: “Your Mama” [laughs] I always liked that because if some guy tries to block your shot and throw it down on him, you just look him in the eye and say, “Your mama.” Simple but effective. Really, it doesn’t get any better than that.
SLAM: Were your backboard smashings intentional?
DAWKINS: The first one I broke was accidental. Then I had to see if I could do it again so the second one was quite intentional. Once I found out I could, I was actually going to do it some more, but they said they were going to fine me $5,000 every time I broke one after that. And that put an end to that.
SLAM: Besides, they made the breakaway rims, which is one of your great contributions to the game.
DAWKINS: They can still be broken! I broke two in Italy. You just have to dunk it from the side. It collapses from the front, but not from the side. If you hit it hard enough from the side, it will go, as I have proven.
SLAM: Do you see any current players following in your large footsteps?
DAWKINS: Take the strength of Shaquille O’Neal and put it together with the freedom of Dennis Rodman, and you have the Chocolate Thunder. Like Rodman I was going to do what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let anyone control me, which is what the Sixers and other teams tried to do. They wanted to tell me where to go when and with whom and I didn’t want that.
SLAM: Is that part of the reason you decided to not go to college?
DAWKINS: No, I actually wanted to go to college but my family was in financial difficulty. I was able to do things to help them out. I had seen my mother and grandmother work their fingers to their bones and I could end that. I was able to put brothers and sisters as well as cousins through college, instead of just going myself. That’s why I took that route. As far as not wanting to be controlled, let me make this clear: I didn’t want to just do the wrong thing. I just wanted to make my own decisions and not have someone dictate to me: “You are gong to do this, because we want you to.” That’s not a good enough reason.
SLAM: When you went pro right out of college, could you ever have imagined that it would be a common occurrence 25 years later?
DAWKINS:No, because it was unheard of at the time. People thought I was crazy because I was the first one with the audacity to try. Moses [Malone] went to the ABA the year before, but that was different. Nor did I think I would ever be coaching, but you never know what lies down the road.
I think the only reason you go to college is to get a good education and make good money to support your family. If you can make the money right then and still get an education on your own schedule, you got to go for it, because it’s your dream. What happens if you get in a car accident and never get to the pros? What happens if you blow out your knee? If you have the skills and it’s your dream, you go to go for it.
SLAM: But what gave you the confidence to think you could play against Artis Gilmore and Kareem Abdul Jabbar just because you could dominate in high school? That’s a huge leap.
DAWKINS: I believed in myself. I had six brothers and four sisters and growing up in a big family like that I learned that there’s nothing that can’t be done if you work hard enough for it. It had never been done before in the NBA but I really believed I could do it. I just felt that I could. I had a lot of confidence and my pastor, Rev. W.D. George, believed in me, as did my mother. And they were just about the only ones besides me who believed I could pull it off. A lot of people I grew up with said, “You’ll be back home standing around here in a year or two.” Well, it’s 25 years later and I’m still not back in Florida.
SLAM: That Sixers team you came on to was loaded with great players.
DAWKINS: We had so much talent that we actually forgot we had to play some nights. Look at who we had: Julius Erving, who was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan; George McGinnis, an incredible player. Doug Collins, a super talented super guy, and World B. Free – one of the best shooters ever.
SLAM: Yet as good as the team was, you never won a title.
DAWKINS: I just think when we played Portland and LA, they were better teams. You just have to realize that. Everyone thought we should have won a championship, but we met our match. They also had great talent, but played more unselfishly, with more of a team concept.
SLAM: Were you surprised when Maurice Lucas took you on in the middle of a scuffle with Bobby Gross, another Portland player?
DAWKINS:No. I was surprised that my teammates let him approach me from behind. He hit me from behind, then we squared off but never got a chance to go because everyone separated us. Then I turn around and Julius is sitting on the ground and George McGinnis is picking his nose. If someone’s running up behind my teammate, I’m going to grab him or do something to stop him. But I don’t carry any grudges about that. It was a long time ago.
SLAM: Let’s talk about what made those guys so good, starting with George McGinnis
DAWKINS: He was big, strong and quick. And he knew the game. He had a great one-handed shot.
SLAM: What was Doug Collins’ game like?
DAWKINS:He was great, a very underrated player. Doug was a tremendous force in college and he would have been as a good as Larry Bird if it weren’t for injuries. He had a bum arch in his foot and kept getting hurt, but he was a Bird type of player. He could run and jump, shoot and pass and rebound. And he could play great defense, which a lot of big guys today don’t do.
SLAM: What about World B. Free?
DAWKINS: World B. Free is still my brother, and he was the original Boston Strangler. I often hear people say Andrew Toney is the best shooter they ever saw, but World was better, man. He and I played one on one every day after practice and he helped me a great deal with my ballhandling skills because he would take it from me every time I put it down.
He also showed me one of the great keys to my game. One night, he took it down the middle and dunked on Bill Walton, a great shot blocker, and I said, “Damn, man, how did you do that?” And he said, “You can do it, too.” And I went out and I dunked on Walton myself. After that I started dunking on everyone, with no fear. It was just a matter of having the confidence to go try it, and World B. Free showed me that. For that, I am forever grateful.
SLAM: How good was Walton in his prime?
DAWKINS: Bill Walton was a great player, but his supporting cast was also incredibly strong, which made him better. He was surrounded by guys who just wanted to win and didn’t care who scored. And that’s why they won. LA was the same way – only a few guys had to have the ball. Everyone else played a role. Everyone on our Sixers team wanted the ball all the time, and that hurt us. We had guys who had to be scoring to be happy. And that makes a big difference.
SLAM: Was that frustrating?
DAWKINS: At times, very much so. Because you had to do what the stars didn’t do, and you didn’t know what that may be on any given night. One night somebody’s shot’s not falling so you have to go score. Another night, you just need to rebound and play d.
SLAM: You were briefly with the Pistons.
DAWKINS: Yeah, I played with Rodman and Isiah and them for a bit. I thought they got rid of the most talented guy on the team in Adrian Dantley. He did it all, but if you didn’t get along with Isiah Thomas, you didn’t stay in Detroit. That’s a fact.
Rodman was just becoming a force on the boards, and John Salley was also a talented guy. He wasn’t too tough but he could score and block some shots. And Rick Mahorn and I have been buddies forever and we still are. When I played with the Nets, Rick and Buck Williams got in so many fights that Larry Brown would always switch me onto Rick because he knew we were friends and we wouldn’t fight. Buck was getting thrown out of every game, because Rick would just knock the crap out of him and drive him nuts. And Buck was a tough guy himself.
SLAM: Now, I know you’re buddies with Rick, but was he a cheap player?
DAWKINS:He was a nice guy. Honestly. Everyone misunderstood him. We always had a good time. In fact, I always used to call his mother, God Rest her Dead, “Mama Mae Mahorn” after a dj on Kiss FM and we always joked about that on the court. I never thought he was cheap. I thought he did what he had to do to be where he wanted to be.
SLAM: What about Laimbeer?
SLAM: Meaning what? Would he hit you from behind before you could turn around?
DAWKINS:I used to get him from behind. I’d get him before he could get me. Once when I was with the Nets, I gave him a kidney punch and he went down. [Referee] Jake O’Donnell said to me, “Darryl, if you hit the white boy again, you’re out of the game.” After that, Bill was a little afraid of me, because I was pretty physical myself. So he kept his distance. But, hey, there was more to him than that stuff. He was a good, heads-up player. He knew just what he could do to get inside someone’s head, but I never let him get into me.
Look at Dennis Rodman. He got in everyone’s head, but he didn’t bother Charles Barkley. He didn’t bother Charles Oakley. And he wouldn’t bother me, because he knew we didn’t give a fuck. We’d just turn around and brawl with him. Other guys would want to try and stay in the game but we didn’t give a fuck. And if you have that going for you, no one’s starting anything, believe me.
SSLAM: Were there any guys you knew not to mess with?
DAWKINS: I don’t fear anyone, and I never did. Even now, I don’t fear a saber-toothed tiger; I just don’t fuck with one. And I’m not alone. There are lots of guys who have never been scared of anyone. You just do what you got to do to take care of yourself. The guys who play today want to shoot each other and cut each other and all this if there’s trouble on the court, but that’s crazy. We fought each other hard, wrestled each other. And in the end, we all got together and had a beer. That’s a big difference.
SLAM: Were there guys who you knew once good forearm would take them out of the game?
DAWKINS: Yeah, but I don’t want to do that to them. They know who they are. Guys who you hit them at two feet, they go to four. You hit them at four feet, they go to six. They were easy marks.
SLAM: You’re still suiting up in the IBA and you look great. Do you think you could still be playing eight minutes a night somewhere in the NBA?
DAWKINS: I have no desire to play in the NBA. I have a desire to coach in the NBA or the WNBA. I’m not trying to relive my youthful days, because they’re done. I enjoy what I’m doing now and it turns out I’m pretty good at it. Coaching is a chance to stay around the guys and to stay in basketball, which I love to death. It’s given me a lot, and I think I have a lot to offer back.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'm a finalist, but...

I made the list of 100 finalists, which is nice. I never even saw this until several people told me they had seen it in the paper (China Daily). I am not a torchbearer, however. Not sure if it's been officially announced, but our friend Deirdre told me she has been contacted. she was selected and deservedly so.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I've taken up a new sport -- ice hockey. Our friends Vicki and Shawn -- Canucks, of course -- opened a rink nearby and started a beginner's men's league on Monday nights. 11 or 12 of us signed up, including my friend Fritz (pictured here with his nose injury -- he was so proud.) We've played twice. We do 45 minutes of instruction

-- which is good since most of us can't stop and a couple of guys can barely skate -- and then a 45-minute game.

The games are pretty hilarious. A couple guys are decent, a few are horrible -- as usual, I am solidly ion the middle-- but everyone gets really competitive and serious. The blood gets boiling and all of a sudden you're going for the puck in the corner against your better judgment. Last week, I flew in there into a scrum, slammed into the wall and broke my stick, by wedging it against my groin, about two inches from serious problems.

My fellow players' reaction? A big cheer and a huge leap of me in their estimation. Which says a lot about the kind of 40-something guy who would sign up to learn how to play hockey I guess. That moment also convinced us all to get cups. We've been using motley collections of borrowed gear, but our stuff has arrived from Hong Kong and tonight we'll all be fully kitted out in our own gear.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

48 Hours With Kids in Beijing

I dia little travel piece for the Wall Street Journal Asia.

Hopefully, you can see it here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Last column

Finishing up tomorrow's and I realized I never posted this one.

Steve Galpern is horrified I have sold out, first to Disney and now the Olympics. He has a point. Perhaps I am going soft.

An Olympic Skeptic Jumps
On Beijing's Bandwagon

October 10, 2007

Last summer, I was walking down a narrow, usually quiet downtown street with my Chinese teacher Yechen. The sidewalks were being torn up, walls were being rebricked, you had to cross over two-by-fours to enter stores. We asked a resting worker what was going on. "For the Olympics," he said after chugging some water.

"What comes after the Olympics?" Yechen wondered aloud. "The end of the world?"

It has seemed that way around Beijing. Countdown clocks marking the days until the opening ceremony sprinkle the city and the entire, sprawling metropolis has been turned upside down, with scaffolding covering most of the historical sites, roads being repaved, new highways being built, and construction under way at the actual Olympics venues. More and more Games decorations are popping up all over town, often bearing the logo "One World, One Dream."

All of this has made me into something of an Olympics skeptic, not the most intelligent tack for a Beijing expat these days -- particularly one who largely makes his living as a sportswriter. It's my nature to push back when I feel something being shoved down my throat. But I'm not too rigid, and I have recently found myself moving away from Olympic skepticism and toward the sort of excitement shared by so many Chinese and expats alike. This shift began after I entered the "Expats for Olympic Torchbearers" contest, designed to select eight foreigners living in China to participate in the Olympic torch relay. My entry was a lark, but it spurred me to spend a lot of time reading through other postings and contemplating the looming Games.

Last week, I traveled to Shanghai to attend a couple of high profile sporting events held during the Chinese Golden Week holiday. I've attended countless professional and college sporting events, but I got my first real taste of flag-waving international competition at the women's World Cup soccer finals. It was much more fun from the stands than it would have been from the press box, where it is against etiquette to show a rooting preference.

We were seated in the American section, seemingly the only island in the packed stadium not cheering for Norway during the consolation game. The anti-American sentiment disturbed me a bit, but it also made it all the more fun to wave flags, chant "U-S-A," stomp our feet and scream ourselves hoarse cheering on a crushing 4-1 victory. Even without a clear rooting interest, the final match between Brazil and Germany was also exhilarating. It was easy to imagine a similar event a year from now in Beijing and how exciting it would be to watch two teams battling for gold medals.

Two days later, we took in the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony, an extremely ambitious show whose grandiosity surprised and pleased me. It seemed obvious that China was rehearsing for next year. While the World Cup illustrated the nationalistic fervor of international sports events, the Special Olympics highlighted international brotherhood and what it feels like to be wowed by spectacle in a packed stadium. The entire city of Shanghai seemed to embrace the event, with signs urging citizens to welcome visitors all over town, and every cab driver wearing Special Olympics T shirts.

I returned to Beijing, more excited about the Olympics -- and about the torchbearers' contest, which provides an interesting window into the expat world in China as well as a revealing glimpse into both human nature and the Chinese version of democracy; the mere act of having open elections here should be significant. Except that it's not really an election at all.

Even most entrants seem to believe that the eight torchbearers will be those who receive the most votes, judging by the emails, Web sites and Facebook groups soliciting votes. But the fine print tells a different story: "A selection committee will pick 100 candidates who will be chosen according to the number of votes they receive, as well as their experiences and qualifications. The selection committee will determine the final eight Olympic torchbearers." [The italics are mine.]

Perhaps it's good that the contest is not a straight-forward election since allegations of cheating are widespread. The day after registering, I sent out a mass email scrounging for votes. One Chinese and one expat friend each quickly asked if I wanted them to rig a computer to continuously cast votes for me.

I declined, but others may not have been so honest. One diplomat in Beijing signed up right before me. One day he had about 75 votes and I had about 200. The next day I had about 300 -- and he had over 5,000. I wasn't the only one to notice; this was discussed in at least one of the Facebook groups promoting candidacies.

Some people crafted lengthy, thoughtful essays for their entries, while others went for pure pandering -- some version of "I love everything about China and Chinese people." The single-named Russian beauty Kook merely wrote "Hi. Hello," apparently counting on her fetching looks to win votes. Thus far she has almost as many comments begging for a personal email as she does votes.

I took something of a middle ground. Unaware of how long the contest runs -- until Oct. 14 -- and wanting to get my entry up after pondering it for a couple of weeks, I quickly wrote a few paragraphs and threw it up. Friends promptly told me that my entry was lame. "You need to talk more about how much you love China," one wrote. "Excerpt some columns."

"You should have posted a picture with your kids," someone else suggested. They were probably right -- it certainly worked for this guy -- but even if I had thought of it, it seems like a cheap tactic. "Why don't you have at least 1,000 votes?" wrote another. "Everyone you know has at least three email addresses and should vote with each of them."

Actually, you can only vote once per entry per IP address, though some say they have been able to double-back (I'll admit to trying and failing to do so). The leading vote getter by 50% over anyone else is American Jenny Bowen, who started the Half the Sky Foundation, dedicated to enriching the lives of Chinese orphans, and who has pledged to run with kids from her program. It's easy to understand her appeal.

Another top vote-getter is my friend and neighbor, Venezualen Deirdre Smyth, a breast cancer survivor with a platform of urging all women to get mammograms at 34 -- the age at which she was diagnosed -- and showing the "women of the world that the world is a beautiful place to be explored and my conviction that nothing is impossible." If you can't beat 'em , join'em; I'm pulling for Deirdre.

As for me, I'm about 12,000 votes behind the leader and over 4,000 behind 8th place, and that's fine. I don't really expect them to pick a journalist. I'm just relieved that my vote total isn't humiliating and happy the process helped bump me firmly onto the Olympics bandwagon. It's a pretty comfortable place to be in Beijing these days.
* * *

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 expats who choose a local education for their kids.

I hope somebody someday would be able to do a study to see if memorization of multiplication tables etc. in Chinese schools has done anything harmful to little kids in their growing up. The assumption by education psychologists is that it hurts. But, you have to have some doubts looking at the grown-ups.

-- Jason C

I don't think anyone really thinks that memorizing multiplication tables hurts anyone. What concerns people is a lack of critical thinking or creativity and an overloaded work schedule. But many people don't think this is a problem. See below.
* * *

We are an American family living in Suzhou. My 5 year old son attends Chinese school because of poor standards in Western education. Money is not an issue.

This concept of learning rote memorization compared to creative thinking is widely believed by people. I find it just a crutch to explain away the lax standards that now dominate Western education. Fifty years ago the U.S. had much higher standards in education. That was way back when we had a viable space program.

In no way can Western education compare with Chinese education. My son is 5 and does math at a 12 year old level in the U.S. He can do multiplication and division with numbers in the thousands. He will turn 6 next month. I never thought this possible until I came across the Chinese education system.

-- Dan Collins

That is fascinating and wonderful about your son's math skills. After speaking to a lot of people, however, I believe one problem is that many Chinese schools will continue to push a struggling child very hard. I simply don't believe that all 5 year olds would be ready for that and it's not because they are dumb.

I also don't think it's completely true that American standards are so low. I think kids there now face an awful lot of academic pressure. See Jeff Opdyke's recent, excellent Love and Money column on this topic.

My own kids go to a pretty demanding British school. They come home exhausted and I'd actually prefer to just let them play more after school, or even participate in sports or other activities. Instead, I often force them to buckle down and do homework, something I don't always enjoy. From talking to friends and families, that doesn't seem too much different from the U.S. and I doubt that first graders were doing a lot of homework 50 years ago. I know for sure they weren't 34 years ago.

This conversation could go on forever, really, and there clearly is no simple answer. It would be nice if all the systems could learn from one another, but I suppose that is too utopian of a concept.

* * *

Fascinating article. Your case study, mainland China, offers a striking example of the choice expat parents can face. But the analysis gets a lot simpler -- and parents' school-choice dichotomy gets much less stark -- when American expats move to other Western cultures. We mainstreamed all three of our American kids in a local public school in rural Spain, for one semester each in the Fourth Grade. My kids all brought home perfect report cards that put them ahead of most of the locals, and they made local contacts who remain their friends several years later.

My kids did benefit from a bit of a head-start with the language. They had been familiar with basic Spanish going in. By the end of their semesters, each spoke Spanish that was functionally fluent.

When kids get older, and when they have no background in the language, mainstreaming gets tougher, and the bilingual schools you discussed become a more practical option. I moved to Paris for a semester when my son was in sixth grade, and put him in the Ecole Actif Bilingue. His grades were excellent, but he did not learn nearly as much French as he had picked up Spanish two years before.

Too many expat kids in overseas American schools seem to learn almost none of the local language (or culture). Absent a learning disability or emotional problem, there is no bigger waste of an opportunity than to be able to live abroad with school-age children but to isolate them in a high-priced American bubble.

-- Donald C. Dowling, Jr.

In Beijing at least, there is no true American bubble, as all of the international schools are truly international. Otherwise, I largely agree with you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The more things change...

This was a field 10 days before.

...the more they change. The pace of change here is just breathtaking and continues to be. There was a lot of talk that there wasn't going to be any new construction this year, that things were moving so incredibly quickly because china had promised to have all construction done a year prior to the Olympics, in part to allow the dust to settle.. it is apparently a sizable part of the pollution problem.

But that is bullshit. Stuff is still being torn down and put up at amazing clip.

The new airport here is going to be pretty amazing.

I am going to write my column this week on this topic so I'm not going to get too deeply into this right now, but it's really astounding how much change we've seen here in just a few years. In that regard it's as if we've lived here for a decade or more. And once a project starts, the resources and manpower thrown at it are absolutely astounding.

There is a back way out from our house heading north that bypasses a long stretch of the horrid Jing Shun Lu. I have taken it often over the years. You zigzag through a couple of country-ish lanes. The first one runs partly through some fields and partly through Qan Fa, a housing compound across the street from us.

But after you get on the second road, it has or had, a nice bucolic country feeling. You go by a couple of small shops on the corner, including a motorcycle repair place and then by a bunch of fields on the left. Light industrial type buildings were on the right across a canal. Moving further down the road, there were several man-made fishing holes, where you can go and, I suppose, pay a fee, to rent a rod and catch some carp. I've always wanted to give it a go, actually. Continuing on, you pass some more fields. The last plot before you get back to another larger road is a lily pad field/pond in the summer.

In the fall, this road fills up with corn being dried, a sight I've always enjoyed checking out. About a month ago, someone told me there was construction going on out there so I hopped on my bike and rode out to check it out. I couldn’t believe what I found: a farm field close to our side of this road had been supplanted by a huge construction site, filled with earth movers, cranes, huge drilling apparatus and dozens of men.

It was clearly a highway construction and I figured that they were connecting the Jing Cheng Expressway which runs North from the city to the Airport Expressway which angles Northeast. They are several miles apart, with a village, small businesses, light industry and farmland in between. Or they were.

That was a few weeks ago and I have watched the project grow since then,. I've been on the Jing cheng a few times since then and you drive right along the growing, elevated highway. On either side of the road running parallel, land has been eminent domained and small shops bulldozed.

Last week I went out the other way, along Jing shun and then out towards the Airport Expressway, taking the back road to school, and the same thing is happening on that side of the connection. Soon they will have to commence building a huge flyway across Jing shun Lu, which will really alter the feel fo this are… not that it hasn’t already been totally changed since we arrived.

Now the construction site I originally saw has grown and there are pylons ready to carry an elevated highway, and the light industrial factories on the other side of the road are piles of bricks, which are being removed by donkey cart, to be reused elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Jingshun Lu itself is changing at a breakneck pace, mostly for the better. It seem that someone has decided to beautify it. As I’ve described before, it is a dusty, dingy road,.. or was. There are many trees, bushes and flowers being planted now and dirt brought in to for berms. A bunch of small businesses at a lower end, close to us, are now obscured behind a very nice decorative wall, with flora in front of them. You have to know they're there to notice them at all.

Further up the road some busineses are reduced to rubble, others have also been shielded from view by a nice decorative wall. And still further up, some formerly dusty areas are now full-blown, quite lovely looking parks. The change is so rapid that a section can literally look transformed from morning to evening.

Why all the action on Jing shun Lu? I drove by all this yesterday with Ding ayi in the car and I asked her in Chinese. “Yinwei (because),” she replied, “next year, Olympics come.”

This is typical of the Chinglish we speak to each other, and also a revealing answer that is probably largely if not totally true. They don’t want anybody coming for the Olympics to see anything unkempt and so everything anywhere that people may logically pass is being torn down, upgraded or hidden behind a wall or a row of bushes and trees. Is this progress? You decide.

I think the Jing shun Lu improvements also have to with the absolutely massive new convention center being built up he road. When that opens, thousands of people will be traveling up this formerly provincial road into what used to be the boondocks –w ay back when I moved here two and half years ago.

And it's not just the convention center. That construction also bred a massive two-building hotel, which is rising from the dirt catty corner from the convention site, And then there's the new EuroPlaza being built across the street. It is going to be some sort of mall. I don't know much more, but the rumor mill is churning up talk of Mcdonald's, megaplex movies and more. Some people think this is great and others are horrified. After all, it is dwarving the nearby Pinnacle Plaza and making it seem obsolete and sort of sad. And people have a soft place in their heart for the Plaza. It was there when they got here, after all, which means its been there forever (it’s about four years old).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sri Lankan Sunset

Check out the video of "Sri Lankan Sunset" here. The embed doesn't seem to be working. You Tube now seems to be banned here (just as blogspot returns) so I gave yahoo video a try. Let me know how it works.

This is an original instrumental I wrote in memory of Cresenta Fernando. I just came up with the progression and rhythm and the band turned it into a song. It will have a group writing credit on our CD. We usually start the second set with this.

We played at this place, a great little hutong spot downtown about 10 days ago.

It is owned by two of Woodie's old bandmates and the crowd is all young Chinese bohemians. It is a really fun place. Woodie invited a lot of friends and we had a bunch of folks jam with us in the second set. I have some video of some of that and will try to get it up.

Jay and I went back there for a drink last Friday, meeting Woodie and a bunch of his buds. There was a really nice Xinxiang (Western China, Turkic) folk band playing. After they were done, about midnight, Woodie and I and one of the owners got up and played for about an hour.

They would like us to play there all the time, but our rhythm section has money gigs on weekends and they can only do it every once in a while. I would gladly play there regularly. it s a really nice vibe and a lot of fun.

Eli field trip to the Great Wall

Well, as I just said, the Great Wall really never gets old. This was Eli's class trip, about ten days ago. Friday Oct. 12. I accompanied the entire Dulwich second grade -- about 90 kids in four classes. Very cute.

It didn't have quite the same impact as when I accompanied Jacob's class two years ago. Then, we had just moved here about six weeks prior and it was just remarkable -- "My kids' class trips are to the Great Wall!" All these visits later, it's not quite as shocking, but still almost as much fun.

I'm really proud of Eli, who has come a long way this year. It's nice to watch him with his friends, a great group of kids. Also funny to watch our groups' reaction to them. "Who are these kids? What school do they come from? Is this their field trip? Why do even the Chinese kids speak perfect English?" They still can't get quite understand all of us and our lives' here. Don't they read the Expat Life?

Jay Gindoff in the house

Jay Gindoff was here for about 48 hours, Thursday evening-Saturday afternoon. As always, great to see Jay. He and I visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on Friday. That was my third trip there this month and probably my 20th overall. It's getting a little stale, i admit, but I always enjoy getting on the wall, it's a beautiful stretch and I know the way there, no problem. I never thought the Great Wall could become old hat, so I even enjoy that, actually.

It was a gorgeous day, crisp and clear. The weather has been like that every day for a few weeks, sunny but cool most afternoons, chilly in the morning and evening -- perfect fall weather.

The politburo is meeting now to elect themselves or something. They meet every year, have 'elections" every five, and this is one. There were police stationed all along the top of the Wall, presumably because someone important was visiting... towards the ends they were paired up but in the middle sections they were alone and as disinterested as you can imagine. One was sending texts, another sitting with his head on his knees sleeping away. It was a little extra scenery. Very few other people up there on a Friday afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, we returned to the same area and visited the Red Snail temple, a beautiful old Buddhist temple with surrounding pagodas, etc built into the hills. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead so it shall have to love only in your imaginations for now. We'll be back. There was a plaque on the temple itself that said, "Destroyed in 1972. Rebuilt in 1992."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Darryl Dawkins

The picture is me with Double D -- Darryl Dawkins. Chocolate Thunder, from the Planet Lovetron. And, yes, he is giant.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

China Games report

My report from the Shanghai game.

All typos are the editor's fault.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back in shanghai

I’m writing this on the plane to Shanghai, heading own for two days. Tonight the Cleveland Cavs are playing the Orlando Magic in the “china Games” and I’ll be blogging that up for slamonline – will post a link when the itime is right. It just feels like an event I need to attend, and there are lots of people to see. There is also a big music convention going on and tomorrow I’ll put on my Guitar World hat and stroll through there, hopefully picking up an acoustic amp in the process.

Traveling within China is really easy. There are flights more or less on the hour to Shanghai. In fact, there were two leaving at 9 am, when I departed. Air travel here is really easy. They have a few quirks to work out – for instance, when you have a connecting flight, you have to pick up your bag and recheck in, which we almost learned the hard way last year in Yunnan.

But the planes are new, the service is crisp and officious, they always serve a meal – Chinese people will not ever skip a meal! – and best of all, you can buy a ticket the day you are traveling with no penalty. I bought these tickets on Monday. And sometimes that’s really nice. My plans were in total flux until the last minute. Becky has been in Singapore for three days (we passed each other on the road this am – her coming home from her red eye flight, me heading out) and I really didn’t want o leave the kids for a night. But I thought I had to be down there last night, or early this morning.. when things finally shook out, that turned out to not be true. It’s really nice to be able to remain flexible in booking a ticket.

The ticketing works like this – there is a price for each route and then you can get discounts depending on what’s available – 10 percent off, 20 percent off, etc. up to 40 percent off.. each ticket is purchased as ao ne way. And the initial price is not astronomical. It’s not like in the U.s., where a full fare ticket may be $1,000 or more. Basically, a Shanghai-Beijing ticket starts at about $160 one way full fare and then you get what you can. Purchasing 48 hours before departure, I got 20 percent off going down and 30 percent off coming back.

It’s all really easy and pleasant. I wonder how many years it will take them to crumble to the pathetic American level of service, unfriendly pricing, etc. It really is an unexpected twist for me how much more I enjoy flying in China than within the U.S… and the one time we took Air China home, rather than a U.S. carrier, it was similar. The whole process was much more relaxed. Of course, if someone hijacked a plane and flew it into the politburo, I’m sure the relaxation would vanish pretty quickly.

On a lighter note, I do sometimes pause and marvel at the fact that places like Singapore and Shanghai are now part of our lives. I spent so little time thinking about Asia until a few years ago..

Monday, October 15, 2007

Buy and read Matrimony

My friend Joshua Henkin has a new novel in the stores. It's called Matrimony and it's really good. (Yes, I actually read it.)

The book explores a 20-year relationship between a couple starting in college.. and goes through the ups and downs of a long-term relationship and a marriage. The characters are about my vintage and large parts of the book place in Ann Arbor so that has special resonance for me. But you don't need those connections to enjoy the book.

To make it clear that I'm just ringing my friend's bell, check out this review in the NY Times.

I personally feel that too much contemporary fiction is about style and technique and calling attention to itself. Story telling can get lost. Josh writes in a low-key style that moves along and deflects attention away from itself and onto the characters and the story.

Buy the book and decide for yourself. If you are reading this blog, you should consider Josh the home team and root, root, root for him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Danny Pearl World Music Day

Woodie and I (and hopefully Dave) will be performing here as part of Danny Pearl world Music Day. I did this last year as well, and it was a great event, celebrating the life of Danny Pearl, a great writer and a great American, a great citizen of the world and, I'm told, a great musician.

As a sidenote, the Ah-Q Jazz Arkestra led by our fried Matt Roberts is the only band to have both Dixie Doc and Beijing Fats sit in as special guests.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Early Morning in the hutong

The original lead of my last column about expats going to Chinese schools read like this:

Standing in the middle of a hutong street early one recent weekday morning, I was surrounded by children piling into a nearby elementary school. They arrived by bike, pedicab, car, foot and every other possible manner, all wearing their uniform yellow baseball hats, red kerchiefs tied around their necks. I was on a rapidly gentrifying old street; with cafes and hip shops popping up amidst the old noodle shops and residences, the place is becoming quite popular with Westerners, but it's a wholly Chinese world at 7 am– until a blond couple emerge from their courtyard home, carrying a towheaded toddler.

Laura and Dominick Johnson-Hill are bringing two-year-old Winnie to her new school, a neighborhood pre-k a few blocks away. She is the only Westerner there. It's a choice that a small number of expat parents make in China

Even as I wrote it, I knew I would have to ditch it. I just didn't have the material to follow this up. It was a feint that really went nowhere, but I so wanted to get this out, to express what I saw down there. Even the description above really didn’t do justice to what I saw, , curtailed as it was to attempt to fit in to the column format.

The hutong was Nanluoguxing, the same place where Woodie Alan played that street festival a couple of weeks ago. If you go down there at night, especially on a weekend, it can seem downright Western, with cafes, tapas bars, nice boutiques, and a hostel or two. But at 7 am on a weekday morning, it was old China all the way.

I got there at 7 am and they weren’t due until 730 so I walked around, bought a fresh fried bun with red bean paste for .6 rmb – about 7 cents – and went down to the corner and just stood there watching. There was a steady stream of kids arriving at this school, at first on foot and by bike, but they kept coming – in cars, and cabs and motorbike cabs and in the back of these flat-bed tricycles you see all over here. Many were with grandparents, some were alone, some were with parents. Many, many were toting backpacks with Mickey or Minnie Mouse, Shrek, Buzz Lightyear or other American kids icons. It was a really nice scene.

It was a beautiful morning and no one really took note of me one way or the other. I just stood off to the side, watching and mumbling to myself, “Please have them come out with a kid in the hat and scarf” over and over. My conversations with these guys had been a bit limited and I didn’t realize their kid was 2.5 or 3 and going to preschool. I so wanted her to be going to this neighborhood school. I walked over to the pre-k with them and had a nice chat and did get them into the column, albeit in a more limited way. But just standing there watching the world go by for 45 minutes is what I remember.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Last column


Click to email this article Click to email this article Click to format this article for printing Click to format this article for printing View a list of most popular articles on our site
Get RSS Feeds Mobile friendly articles

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More Shanghai pictures

The famous Bund on Shanghai's waterfront. Check out the crowd's down below.
This is why a lot of people don't like to travel in China during the national holidays.
Lovely to sit on the seventh floor patio sipping a beer and looking down though.
That's the Pearl Tower on the other side of the river.. that whole area, Pudong, was a swamp 10 years ago.

Hurry up Anna!

In case you somehow missed the crowds on the Bund, look again.

Me and E with Kronick kids and Jarelle Kai.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

World Cup Finals/Shanghai update

Shanghai was really a blast. We just got home an hour ago as I write.

We went to the Women’s World Cup finals on Sunday night, with a group of 44, all put together and orchestrated by the mighty Scott Kronick. Thanks Scott.

He hired a bus to drive us over to the stadium and got us amazing tickets. We were in the same section as the families of the American players, which really added to the fun. They were also staying at the Hilton, where w were and we ended up hanging out for two days with the Kai family, of Natasha Kai. They are from Hawaii and are great, salt-of-the-earth people. They have a 9-year-old son Jerelle, and he and Jacob and Sam Kronick hit it off big time.

The games themselves were really great. The Us crushed Norway 4-1. The whole stadium except the 200 or so of us in our section were rooting for Norway. We were told it was that way every game of the tourney against all opponents and in each of the four or five Chinese cities. That is sort of upsetting, -- and surprising, given the warm welcome we generally get. Jacob really got into the nationalism of it all, reveling in the chants of U-S-A” and going nuts on each goal.

I rooted hard for Brazil against Germany, to no avail. Lots of Germans all around us.I tried to my best to start an international incident by heckling the Germans and rooting for Brazil -- all to no avail on any front. It was very exciting.

Eli whined for an hour that he wanted to go home. then it ended with a tremendous display of fireworks and confetti and loud music. On the way out he said, "Can we go to the next World Cup?"

As a longtime Olympics skeptic, it was good to be swept away by this event...
and then two days later we went to t he Special Olympics Opening Ceremony. It is the biggest Special Olympics ever and it was a tremendous spectacle. I had no idea it would be so elaborate. Virtually every significant Chinese celebrity was there, including Yao Ming, Yo Yo Ma, Ling Ling, Jackie Chan, several beautiful actresses and president Hu Jintao -- who never appears in public. Not to mention arnold, Colin Ferrell and others.

But definitely the real stars with the Special Olympians and their families. There were many, many countries represented and the parade was really touching. They looked so happy, including the parents. And as a parent, it's not hard to relate to them and how happy they must feel. You know there have been some hard times involved and it must be so nice to have this night of celebration.

so much more I could write about it, but I m tired.

Jacob was in a patriotic frenzy.

Sam Kronick and his mom Lisa Wei cheering hard.

This show how close to the field we were.

The kai boys and mackenize, daughter of
defender Tina Ellerton.

Jacob was smiling like this all night.

Anna and Emma Kirkwood feel patrotic.

Mr. Kai rocks.

Sam and Scott Kronick

Long night for anna, even though she left after one game.

We rooted hard for Brazil.

World Cup ice cream: apparently delicious.

Party's over for Brazil.