Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Anna now plays Saturday morning soccer as well. I coach three teams now, from 8:30-noon. It's been fun but tiring. Jacob also plays LL baseball in the afternoon, 3-5, but I am mercifully not really the coach of that one though I do help out when I can. Jacob is surprisingly good considering he hasn't really played in two years.
Anna is pretty good. She has a good killer instinct and scored three goals last week. Basically, only one or two kids have any idea what to do and she seems to be one of them. On the other hand, she burst into tears when someone kicked the ball away from her -- "He took my ball!"
Jacob's soccer games are really starting to look like something and it's fun. We kept the core of the team together and added two of J's best friends, so he has four or five really good buddies on the team. And I am coaching with my friend Scott for the fourth straight season, so it's fun.
Scott was out of town and I had a little tiff with the other coach last week. Just ridiculous behavior on his part. Believe me, I tried to avoid it and contained myself so it never became more than a few words, though he kept pushing me. He was American, by the way.
Eli and his Korean friend Anthony, who arrived here from Seoul not speaking a word of English about three months ago. It's really remarkable how fast kids can pick up languages.
Our little guys, on the other hand, barely speak Chinese even as we close in on two years. You have to toss them into the deep end to get them swimming, I suppose.Eli and Anthony were so excited that he was coming over here, they practically skipped home and were walking around holding hands. It was really cute.
Friday, April 20, 2007
We played at the Stone Boat in Ritan Park last night and it was a fun mellow gig, outside on a beautiful spring night. There was a woman in the crowd with a big pro video camera and she filmed a song in our first set, during which my guitar was out of tune.
At the break, I asked her what she was filming for, intending to ak her to do another song if it would be publicly consumed. I didn't fully understand her answer but it was clear she just wanted some background imagery for something. Then she said, "I have a theory about bands in Beijing -- they always have one guy who works at an embassy. So?" I was with Dynamite Dave, the sax player, who works for the Teasury Department, US embassy and we laughed. I guess we are all a type in some way we don't realize.
We got back on stage and on the second or third song, I remembered I had the camera and I said, "Would the videographer please report to the stage" and commissioned her. She did a nice job. My friend Matt Forney sat in on my Guild and I switched to electric. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is perfect for guests, because it is simple and hard to mess up. I sort of hate the solo I played but otherwise this is a keeper, for me at least.
Saw the Roots down here in Shanghai - they're right in my wheelhouse in terms of music I listen to/enjoy/demographic. And they battled through crappy speakers and muddy sound to put on a fantastic show.
And congrats to Rebecca (and the rest of the WSJ staff on the Pulitzer
Thanks t. Do I know you or are you a random lurker? Anyhow, I think he's on to something big time.. the sound system may have been the biggest problem at the show, reducing everything to a big muddy bass roar.
Also, my main man Lang Whitaker of slam mag writes:
A few things...
1) The drummer, ?uestlove, is indeed very good. He was in SLAM 100 in the Iverson story, talking about their relationship, and in SLAM 17 there was a Roots/Iverson story.
I know all this. I have seen ?uestlove jam with various bands in NYC and always been impressed. One year at the Jammys I saw the bizarre power trio of him, Phil Lesh and Buddy Guy, later joined by John Mayer. Strangest of all, it sounded good.
I remember the Slam stories. That's what I was thinking of when I had the urge to just hang out and shoot the sh*t with them. You don't realize how much you miss something like endlessly discussing who should be the NBA MVP until you stop doing it. Trust me on this, Lang. I could have rapped about Iverson and Iggy with them for hours and surely Sonny Hill, Moses and toney would have come up before long.
2) The lead rapper guy is named Black Thought, which is a great rap name.
Unquestionably. But what was with the Yankees hat? Just not right for a Philly guy.
3) You'd like their lyrics. Some of their older albums are really good, like their second album which was mostly recorded live. They've never been wildly popular, but they've been around for a long time now.
Yeah, I've liked what I've heard over the years and will definitely try to check them out again. Feel free to send me some suggested tracks to download. It would have been really nice to actually hear what B.T. was saying/singing.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I went and saw the Roots last night. There have been almost no significant Western acts here since we’ve been here. Now, all of a sudden in a month, we had NOFX last week, the Roots last night and Sonic Youth next week. None of them are my favorites but they’re all fairly significant.
It was fun to be out and it’s always interesting to go to an event dominated by 20-somethings. There is a whole other community of expats that we don’t deal with or know much about and it’s easy to forget about them until you end up packed into a smoky club with 1,000 of them. And that was last night. There are lots of 25-year-old Caucasians around here. Right in front of us were a small pack of Icelandic young men singing along with every word.
I thought the Roots were ok, not great. I never thought I would be so happy just to see five black dudes of approximately my vintage from Philly. I would have much more enjoyed just hanging out and talking with them than listening to the music. I mean, the music was ok, but I really would have liked to just hang and talk. I probablycould have done so with a little effort and I sort of regret not having tried, but it has certainly been a hectic few days.
They came out and the singer was wearing a Yankees cap and that sort of offended me right off – why is a Philly guy wearing a Yankees hat? Anyhow, I won’t go into too many details because I’m sure most of my loyal blog readers have already stopped reading or are scratching their heads and asking, “who the hell are the Roots?”
Just a few things – they got a good groove going but the mix was so bass heavy, the vocals were completely lost in the soup. It woul d have been nice to hear some of the lyrics, which I sensed were pretty interesting. The band gets a lot of credit for being hip hop guys who actually play but I think the bar is pretty low in that world. There wasn’t really one guy I’d be intimidated to ask to jam with Woodie Alan. Everything was basically carried by the drums – ?est love is very good – and keyboards. The bass player seemed to have it going on and he had a great, great look. But he did some arm waving and the bassline kept on pumping. It had to be coming from the keyboards or a loop.
I’m sounding more negative than I actually felt, because I had a good time and really enjoyed being there, capping off a day of celebrations. I just didn’t think they were all that.
B. meanwhile was home alone with the kids and she hit such a wall at 8 pm after being up all night the night prior that she basically asked the kids to put her to bed then take care of themselves, which they thoughtfully did.
Becky enjoying a Habana with Jim McGregor
Shai Oster, B, Andy Browne
I met up with B and a few of her staff as well as friend and former WSJ Bureau Chief Jim McGregor for some celebratory drinks downtown last night. It's been a relaly fun, exhilerating and crazy few days. Thanks so much to everyone who has called and written letters of congratulations and support.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
This is the official line: NEW YORK (AP) -- The Wall Street Journal staff has won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for it work on the adverse impact of China's booming capitalism on conditions ranging from inequality to pollution.
You can read the stories here:
We've known for maybe 5 weeks that they were finalists but Becky wouldn't let me publicize the fact. Being a finalist is tremendous... actually winning, of course, is better. But it's also so fraught with politics and luck and flukiness that it's impossible to predict and wrong to pin all your hopes on.
But you have to play to win and B's been in the game for a long time doing great work across a very wide spectrum of topics. Anyhow, I'm just very proud and still quite tired... it's 6 am and I didn't sleep all that much myself, so I'll just throw this up there before I say anything silly.
The other thing that is really quite astounding is that the NY Times won for China last year.. it shows how big and important of a story this is right now. Also quite amazing because our friend and neighbor Jim Yardley was the recipient last year. I can't imagine there have been too many years when a Pulitzer was passed across the street from one year to the next.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I wasn’t really sure how the kiss felt about our death-defying bus ride in Sichuan so I asked Jacob the other day, ”Were you scared during that long bus ride?”
“Why? What were you scared of? “
“Bus very wide. Road very narrow. Road very high.”
“Ah yes,” I said. “”But what were you actually scared of?”
He looked me right in the eye and illustrated a bus falling off a cliff. So he got it. And that made proud, actually. Proud that he was actually aware of how freaky a situation we were in and was able to hold it together, not panic or let on that he understood we were in a perilous plight.
I’ve also had some interesting conversations with Eli. He’s having a slightly rough ti e in school again right now. They have to do these workbooks every morning, and he has been complaining about them off and on for two years now. Whenever he masters what he’s working on and they bump up the level, he rebels and complains bitterly. He did it the other night at the end of a rough week, where he was bumping against authority quite a bit. He threw a fit which was set off when I tired to get him to do this little one-page math homework sheet, which he does every night and is really no problem.
Eventually, he said “I’m out of here” and stormed out of the house. I fololwed him down the street, stopped him asked where he was going.
“To school. I am going to free the children and rip up all the workbooks.”
That touched me and made me feel really bad that we were subjecting him to this. But it’s confusing because he really seems to enjoy school most of the time.
I was trying to discuss all this with him and he sort of sighed and said, “You just don’t understand life, dad.”
Jacob was trying to help and he wanted to explain to Eli that ripping up the workbooks would not have helped. “Some of the kids would have been mad at you, Eli, “he said.
“No,” Eli insisted. “Why?”
“Well, literacy is the hardest subject in my class and a lot of kids hate it but I love it.” He was trying to make Eli see that not everyone would feel the same as him, but Eli took it differently:
“I’m not you, Jacob. I’m not like you.”
So I said, “Eli, you’re different, of course. Everyone’s different. That’s what Jacob s trying to say. Some kids might like the workbooks. But even though everyone’s different, we’re all more alike than anyone.”
“Our BNA is almost the same, Eli,” said Jacob.
“It’s DNA,” I corrected. “But yes, we’re more alike than anyone else.”
Eli shook his said and said, “You’re nothing like us, dad. You’re totally different.”
He was incredulous. “Okay, number one you’re 40! And number two, you’re bald.”
And then we all had a good laugh and this little storm passed. But it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.
Next week, we play at the stone Boat, a great bar downtown in Ritan Park. So this is moving forward and I hope it stays fun. Being the bandleader and calling everyone, juggling schedules, etc is not the fun part. I brought my Epi 335 and amp and plugged n for a few songs the others night and it was fun to play some electric guitar, which is a whole other ball of wax.
The Friday gig was pretty classic. We needed a PA. Woodie found and rented one and they showed up with this huge 24-channel board and four giant speakers. We could have played an arena. The PA guys also brought four sound men/hangers on plus a floozy girlfriend with her own lawn chair. They all smoked cigarettes and looked bored for hours.
We paused for dinner, which Dave and I sat and joined as guests. Woodie, the other two musicians and the myriad sound guys, along with a couple of friends who appeared, were hanging in this little alcove. They didn't get any food until someone noticed late and sent some over. They drank and drank and when we finally went back on stage, they were all pretty ripped. They played fine, just a little rambunctious.
Woodie kept yelling from behind me, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” which I hadn’t put on the setlist. So I started playing it, and Wood played the harmonica intro and solo he usually does, then jumped up and started singing, full belt into his harmonica mike and stumbling around the stage. Chinese people can’t hold their liquor. It was funny.
We played until we were forced to stop by neighbor complaints – remember that giant PA, and it was a courtyard restaurant in an old hutong.
Anyhow, any time we play a gig worth mentioning, I will do so.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
When Your Child Falls Ill
In a Foreign Country
March 30, 2007
Nothing makes you feel farther from home than being a temporary single parent with a sick kid in China. When illness strikes, it's easy to feel extremely isolated and unsure about how to proceed, a feeling greatly magnified when you find yourself home alone with the kids -- a common occurrence here, with so many people (mostly men) doing so much business traveling.
There are two medical facilities with Western and Western-trained doctors in Beijing and I feel comfortable with the primary care available at both. Still, there is always a nagging sense of unease having an ill family member, partly because a serious medical problem may well involve traveling to Hong Kong, Tokyo or even America.
Any brush with illness -- particularly involving kids -- evokes these feelings. But it also makes me pause and appreciate the fact that we have these options available. SOS International Clinic has been here for about 12 years, Beijing United Hospital for nine. Neither is perfect, but both provide solid primary care and alleviate some of the panic you feel setting in with the realization that you have an ill child in China. Before these facilities had established themselves, expats here did not have this safety net, which is still a luxurious fantasy to foreigners living virtually anywhere in China outside of Beijing and Shanghai and in many other parts of the world. And of course to many Chinese, who must contend with a less-than-stellar, profit-driven hospital network and often prefer to use these hospitals when they can afford to.
Yet, for all that these facilities offer, and the security they provide, there's much that we lack -- including a reliable ambulance service, and the self-assurance of knowing that you can pick up a phone and dial 911 in the face of a crisis. We're on our own to get to the hospital, about 20-30 minutes away. That lends some extra weight to the "do I take him to the hospital to be checked out?" decision, particularly as night falls, and all the more so when you find yourself flying solo.
That is the situation I was in recently when Rebecca boarded a predawn flight to Taiwan. Before she had even landed in Hong Kong, Jacob and Eli were up with high fevers that made it clear they'd be staying home from school. (You can't fly directly from mainland China to Taiwan, which makes it a long trip, one not easy to reverse on a moment's notice.)
This is where being a male trailing spouse can become a little tricky. I was immediately conflicted about how much information to relay, how quickly and with what urgency. Although I don't think it's a major issue with us, I am sensitive to the feelings of guilt which seem to flicker somewhere inside every working mother.
I committed myself to being Doctor Dad for a day and seeing how things went. Six-year-old Eli had a fever but not much else and I was confident he'd be better soon, but nine-year-old Jacob was really struggling with a badly upset stomach. At times like this, the technology I discussed in my last column is nothing but good. I call my pediatrician father for medical questions as frequently as I would living in America. Both a phone consultation with him and a doctor's examination indicated it was likely a stomach bug that would pass soon.
A day later, Jacob's stomach was still rumbling and he required constant nursing, which was exhausting, frustrating and occasionally frightening. He was going to the bathroom often and experiencing sudden, violent cramps that left him too uncomfortable to even watch a movie. I was worried that he was getting dehydrated and might need an IV. My conflict deepened. Ask Rebecca to come back early and I'd alarm her, cause a massive logistical headache and toss a monkey wrench into a day or two of meetings. Worse, I'd brand myself a wuss. All of this would be magnified if things turned around quickly, as I expected. On the other hand, I risked being a foolish martyr if I bit the bullet and said everything was fine.
On his third day ingesting nothing but crackers and ginger ale, I decided that he was looking worse -- pale and sunken-eyed -- and sent Rebecca this text message: "Jacob not good. Think you should return." She replied that she was on her way to the airport. But just 20 minutes later, Jacob woke up from a nap looking almost normal. I felt both relieved and guilty, and I still had a long day ahead of me.
Eli was home again, but feeling fine and bored to tears, bounding around the house like a caffeinated Chihuahua set loose in a pediatric hospital ward while I attended to Jacob. Adding to the chaos, my Chinese teacher arrived because I had forgotten to cancel class. I threw a DVD on for the kids and gave the lesson a try, only to be repeatedly interrupted by Jacob screaming for help and Eli playing spy. I walked back downstairs once and heard my ayi (nanny) and teacher Dong discussing what a good father I am.
That should have been a nice compliment, but it seemed a little pat and they were speaking in hushed, conspiratorial tones. I felt sure they had seen me coming, muttered the Chinese version of "ixnay on thatnay" and shifted into prearranged praise. They were likely saying, "What do the laowais [foreigners] expect to happen to their kids the way they leave their heads and toes exposed all winter?"
The ayi had already pointed out that three-year-old Anna was underdressed, making her extremely vulnerable to the demon virus. This was no surprise, as it is common for Chinese, particularly middle aged or older, to tsk-tsk us on the street, in parks -- anywhere -- for our kids not being properly bundled up. They are adamant about kids being thoroughly wrapped up if the air has the slightest chill. This always seemed odd, since many Chinese toddlers waddle around year-round with their rear ends exposed through split-back pants designed for diaper-less living.
Dong also offered to have his Taoist monk friend mix up some special herbal remedy. I'm not sure what this traditional Chinese medicine was supposed to do, but I probably would have tried it were I the patient. I opted not to make Jacob a guinea pig. Nonetheless, he continued to improve, and I began to feel silly for initiating Rebecca's return. After the kids were asleep, I waited for her to get home and enjoyed my first opportunity to reflect after several exhausting days. I was struck by how much I benefit from a double standard. I receive a lot of praise as a dad on the frontline of parenthood, more so here as an expat, simply because the gender divisions tend to be sharply drawn. It is not uncommon for a wife to be left alone for weeks on end while her husband travels the globe.
But if I really need to, I can throw up an SOS flare and my wife will cut a business trip short to zip home and rescue me, yet no one will note this as any kind of special devotion. You can be sure if a man did the same thing to attend to an ailing child, he would be ridiculed and praised in equal measures for his intense dedication.
The next morning, Jacob was still unwell and Rebecca decided that it was time he saw another doctor. A culture revealed that the infection was bacterial and a dose of antibiotics seemed to help turn the tide. A few days later, we found out it was salmonella -- extremely ironic considering the kid lives on spaghetti, cereal and granola bars. He is by far the least likely member of our family to eat anything exotic.
Jacob probably would have been miserable for 5-7 days and then gotten better no matter what we did. But don't tell Rebecca -- she gets credit for taking him to the doctor and I was happy to have her home and in the loop, rather than feeling stranded in China and forced to make these decisions alone. Whether that makes me a wuss or not.
Have you faced a medical emergency in a foreign country? Have you dealt with an ill child while your spouse was on a business trip? I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Share your thoughts.
* * *
Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on how technology has changed the expat experience. The column drew a lot of emails and posts on my forum.
Your article seemed to mirror my own existence in Panyu, China (a suburb of Guangzhou).
I too drooled over the prospect of a Slingbox. I even took it a step further and wanted to add a Tivo into the mix. That way I could "time shift as well as place shift". During a trip back to the US I spent 3 whole days wrestling with the connection of the router, Slingbox, telephone company etc. Finally, I got it working only to be told that my mother's DSL connection was too slow to be effective at uploading the images. Of course I knew the finding someone with a cable modem connection would overcome the problem, but I took it as an omen that I watch too much TV anyway.
I remember when I first went to China in 1987. Calling was outrageously expensive well over US1.00 per minute. Before I left for China, my father gave me his company's fax number. His salesperson had talked him into buying a fax machine telling him people would fax in orders. He didn't believe it. Then to economically and quickly communicate to me in Beijing by fax felt to him like magic. He said that alone justified the fax machine purchase.
By the way, have you had the experience of going to some fabulous place for vacation and your kids don't want to leave the room because it has Cartoon Network?
-- Bill Grolicki
Yes. We have had that experience more than once.
* * *
I lived abroad both for a semester during college as well as for a couple of years split between Europe and Hong Kong. The difference between the two periods was dramatic. One of the great things about not having the internet was that you read news publications that gave a different perspective on events throughout the world. Heck, it was just nice to have a more global view vs. the focus on local news, which tends to be more prevalent in the States. I think it helped me see how other countries perceive the US and to this day, I still check international news sites to see what the external view is of some of the items that take place here.
That being said, I live in Seattle and have the New York Times as my home page. Ha!
-- Jill Beck
I go out of my way to have some insight into local views of things, but it's not always easy when you can't read Chinese and can only understand a fraction of the news on radio or TV.
* * *
I lived in Israel during the late 70s and early 80s. The thought that 15 years later one would be able to be in Tel Aviv and watch US based television seemed so ludicrous that it makes it that much more amazing to me that all this connectivity is now possible. I recall having a subscription to the Sporting News and anxiously awaiting its arrival by mail, sometimes two weeks after the publication date, so I could know what was happening in my beloved Major League Baseball. The local English language newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, had an expanded Sunday sports page that did on occasion print the MLB standings, but that was no substitute for the comprehensive overview a true fan relishes.
Similarly, the one local radio station that broadcast in English, the now defunct but forever loved, Voice of Peace, once aired an American Top 40 special feature with Casey Kasem. It was such a shock to hear his voice, albeit just that one time, while living so far away, in the Eastern Mediterranean. Today's ability to stream music, or more importantly, radio stations, from nearly every country on the planet, is simply amazing to this writer who knows what life is like without those luxuries, and believe me, it's better to have something and deal with the need to resist its temptations (as you described in your column this week) then to not have it at all, and not have the ability to have it even if you want it.
-- David Alpern
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Thank you for your insight into Expat living and the evil Slingbox. We have lived in Seoul for two years, with two high school daughters who attend a wonderful foreign school and love it. They have been nagging us for a Slingbox for a year now. As this city is the internet/electronic Mecca of the world, pretty much everyone I know has one. We have refused for the very facts you state in your article. We love that TV viewing is at the bottom of the list of things to do in Seoul. We are happy when we turn it on, and there is nothing to watch. And guess what, in this huge city, we can walk outside and find a million more interesting things to do!!
-- Nancy Makki
* * *
We lived in Saudi Arabia from 1974-95. When we arrived, if we wanted to call home, we called our company operator and "booked" the call. Usually the next day (sometime longer) the operator would call us and connect us to our stateside number. In case of an emergency, we could drive about 20 miles to Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province, and visit the government telecom center where an operator would usually connect us within an hour or so. Because all radio, TV, magazines and newspapers were censored, we bought a shortwave radio to listen to BBC or VOA.
Our three kids were born there in the early '80's and, like you, we were happy that TV was very limited and there were no commercials. When we returned to the states, they were teenagers and were relatively uninformed when it came to the latest fashions or gadgets. None of this seems to have hurt them and they caught up quickly.
By the time we left Arabia in '95, calling the states was easy and instantaneous but expensive. One could watch lots of TV via satellite (much to the consternation of the government) and the internet was about to arrive.
-- Bill Plank
Thank you for sharing your stories.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
We hosted a rather large seder last Monday night.. particularly large since it was called for 6 pm and we didn't get back from the airport until about 1. But we co-hosted with our friend Maya (pictured with B at left) and she stayed at our house Sunday night, did all the shopping and almost all fo the cooking and basically ran the whole thing. We just supplied the locale, basically. It was kind of nice to be a guest in our own home.
Everyone but Elijah seemed to be there and I couldn't go around a picture and name half of them, but it was all good fun. There was anothr kid table just beyond these two, which you can't see here.
I hid the affikomen for the first time (I was in Pittsburgh with a recovering Dixie last year when we hosted a similar but smaller seder) and that really made me feel like a grownup.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Oh my. Where do I even start to recapture a wild and wooly trip to Western Sichuan province? It's a bitch sometimes being a writer, because I can’t just say something is indescribable.. it's not really acceptable for me as it would be for others. It's my job to describe the indescribable.
But these four or five days in Sichuan province.. well, man, they were indescribable, in every possible way -- more beautiful than I can describe; more remote than I can describe; more interesting than I can describe, driving through and visiting Tibetan villages. It was also scarier than I can describe – winding up 12,000 foot mountain passes under construction and with no rails and barely enough room for us to fit through; more annoying and maddening than I can describe, with every "three hour drive" being at least twice that; more frustrating than I can describe, arriving at beautiful, stunning places, with no times to check them out – because another long drive loomed.
I am going to post these photos, which will at least begin to paint a picture. And then I will continue writing about this.. and attempting to describe the indescribable.
I will say that the kids were remarkably well-behaved throughout all the ordeals and Hal, Ruth and Aunt Judy were great sports. I felt terribly guilty for leading all of us onto this insane journey. They all ultimately enjoyed the whole thing. We really did see some truly remarkable sights. We were in Tibetan autonomous region and visited several Tibetan homes, and passed by some of the most stunning mountains I have ever seen, ranging in height from about 4,000-almost 6,00 meters. That is 12-23,000 )!!) feet. And that’s not to mention the panda sanctuary where we ended the trip..
More to come soon, I promise, including the tale of the terrifying bus ride that seemed like it would never end. I will also try to put some of these images into a video that tell the tale.