Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Jacob

Jacob turned ten last Saturday. We had a veritable 24-hour celebration. He had another handball tournament in the morning, then a batch of friends over for hours. We took them all to a teppanyaki dinner and then four kids slept over, including Eli's friend
Blake. The next morning we made them waffles, took them swimming, had pizza and finally sent them all home and collapsed in a heap. I only needed to use my cattle prod twice.

Jacob has a great group of friends and they are all very tight. They represented Malaysia, Taiwan/America, New Zealand/Hong Kong, Canada and England (times two).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Original Chinese blues

Check this out. A very partial clip. Song written and sung by bassist Zhong Yang.

Monday, February 25, 2008

More Vietnam photos

Jacob came out for me for a lunchtime bike ride
one sweltering day. We took a tandem bike and it
was really fun.

I was proud of the way he acted, saying "Hello" to
everyone and even being friendly to these ladies
who wanted to touch his skin and hair. As you can sort
of see from this picture, the area all around the beach
we were at was desert-like.

Pig ears and innards at a Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
market. Kids walked through it holding their noses.
But the sanitary conditions in Vietnam were notably
better than in China. I actually saw vendors in these markets
scrubbing their containers with soap...never in China.

Anna and her pals got these Vietnamese
dresses at the market. Saleslady managed to
get her undressed and redressed without her ever
appearing naked and without setting a price first.
they had very different negotiating techniques in Vietnam...
less overtly aggressive but trickier and probably more effective.

They tried to make it a done deal before discussing price, cutting down
bargaining power. Going straight for the four year olds' hearts is a good strategy.

E on the beach.

Anna and friends, all decked out for Tet (new year) celebration.

Beijing Blues

We played a fun gig Friday night at Janghu Jiuba, our favorite little downtown hutong bar. Becky came with a few good friends, including the Camerons. Wyatt C. filmed this. It's our new arrangement of Beijing Blues and I like it, even though we forgot to play the cool riff we wrote. Dave was not around. I took his solo.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Happy New Year/band news

Tonight is the Lantern Festival, 21 days (I think) after the New Year and the official end of the holidays. It's just unbelievable what is going on outside. Fireworks have been booming for hours and will , I think, continue until midnight . The air is thick with smoke, and nothing is being set off inside the compound.

There is a street that runs alog the back side, in between us and another compound and tons of people go out there to set them off. We all went out on the third floor patio to watch for a few minutes before the kids went to bed -- theyr fallig right asleep while it sounds like a war zone outside is testament o three years living in China, I think.

I've been meaning to ride my bike over and have a look but haven't done it. I am getting lazy.

Now the holiday is over and things will get back to normal. The roads have been empty and things overall quiet. Lot of people have been ayi-less as they returned home for two or three weeks visit. Ding and Hou are both Beijingers so they just take their week off.

It was a nie crisp spring day today. Becky and I were taking about the strange phenomenan of weather here. They call new year holiday "spring festival" despite the fact that it falls as early as January some years. (It is on the Lunar Calendar). But regardless of when the holiday actually is, it really does seem to warm up right afterwards. Go figure.

It will be a busy Year of the Rat for Woodie Alan. We have lots of gigs coming up. I think we have seven between now and the first weekend in April. We're playing tomorrow at Jianghu, the little hutong bar I love and have written about before. And on Marh 7 we are playing at the Orchard, which I have dubbed our first birthday show. Our first gig was there last March.

I've been writing more songs -- it's really easy with these guys because if I get lyrics and half a musical idea, we can make it sound good in an hour of jamming. Zhang Yong the bassist has a great Chinese tune, which he sings. So we have about five really solid originals now, with two more in development. Woodie is really hot to record them. Next Saturday we are playing at Yugong Yishan (the big club we've played before) with three or four other Chinese blues bands. It is an all originals night, so we are working on an entire et of originals. Woodie is taking that very seriusly, so I told him I wrote a couple of Johnny Copeland songs. It seems to me that it is more original to play a Johnny Clyde Copeland song in Beijing than to write something ourselves.

Woodie is kind of on to me He questioned me on those songs and I said, "What you don't know can't hurt you." He likes it when I teach him idiomatic English.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Awards

Becky's reporter Shai Oster won a Polk Award for his great work exposing problems at the three gorges Dam. This became a news story followed b everyone else and widely reported and written about after Shai and company wrote about it.

The Polks are number two in the journalism awards world. So kudos again to Shai, Becky, news assistant Kersten Zhang, who did some fantastic work on these pieces, and everyone else involved in the stories.

You can read a press release here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vietnamese Art

There is some great art in Vietnam. We went to a gallery in Hanoi that was highly recommended ad below is some of the stuff we liked. In the past when we've bought art, it's been easy because we have been in agreement right away. Not so this time.

We didn't want to force it, so we decided to take pics of the ones we liked to look at and decide later. We could always call and have something shipped to Beijing.

Comments follow, along with the piece we finally stumbled onto and bought.

This was part of a series and I really liked it.
Would have bought it straight away. Becky liked
but wanted something that felt more Vietnamese.

We both liked this. Neither of us loved it. It has
grown on me.

We both liked this, but it was a little eerie and
it wasn't clear if we wanted it in our house.

Becky and Jacob loved this one. I wasn't sure.
I spent some time sitting on the floor staring and
was starting to come around but we had to leave with
the decomposing kids before we had a chance to really go further.
It is cool and pulls you in. Not sure that is conveyed in
this small image. Later, without talking to us, our friends Jen
and Patrick went back and bought this.

Another series I loved and would have bought
any of them. Becky found them too muted.

Beautiful colors, cool textures you can't see, but
didn't really move me and felt a little trite or something.

Another from the above artist. We both liked this.
Same concerns as above.

So we couldn't agree on any of the above, which started at $1,000 and didn't want to force it. Later, Jacob was hungry. Becky took me into a place to get some french fries. Anna didn't want to go. I took her into a crafts store. I saw this painting on the wall and loved it. I got Becky. she agreed. I asked the owner how much.
"Well, he's kind of famous in Hanoi so it's more expensive. $50."
It's in our house now and I love it.

Hanoi characters

Here are a few particular Hanoi characters we came across. The top one is a shoeshine and repair guy. He noticed Eli's Geox were coming unglued and chased after us, pulled Eli's shoes off, gave him slippers to wear and went to town, gluing, polishing, putting on new heels. Then he did a job on Jacob's. Really gave new life to the shes, which needed it. Then he way overcharged us, but still a bargain at 100,000 Viet Dong,which is only about six bucks.

He did a good job and we were impressed by his skills and his aggressive sales tactics.

The second two guys were sitting on the street working on a bamboo bong, with their eyes rolled back in their heads. I stopped to look and they offered me a hit, which I politely declined. One of them spoke English and I asked if it was legal and he laughed at me, said "sure." He held a up a baggie and handed it to me, sticky Sensi buds. He said that costs about 5 bucks. Then I started noticing all these old men playing cards with bambooo pipes and bongs by their sides. A few people I asked said it was legal and "quite popular in Vietnam."

Friday, February 15, 2008


Wow. Hanoi. The name has such resonance and power. We stayed in the M Hotel, almost directly across the street from what remains of the Hanoi Hilton prison, which we will all be hearing so much about in the next six months, the place John McCain was held for all those years. It was closed for New Year -- Tet, as they call it there, another name with unusual power -- or I would have visited.

And then you get there and go, "This is hat the war was all about?" This is the place we were fighting over, that 52,000 Americans died for?"

It's powerful as an American with a brain going to Vietnam. I started a very long post about this topic and will get back and finish it someday. You keep wondering, "do people hate me?" are they suspicious of us?" But there's no hint of any of that. There are hammer and sickles and the iconic gold star on red background Communist Vietnam flags hanging all over the palce -- far more than in china.

But you don't have much sense of being in a communist or totalitarian regime there, except at the airport, which is just insanely inefficient -- they were handwriting boarding passes. On the streets, in t e cities, I didn’t see a single cop or military presence. It all feels pretty laid back, the people are nice if reserved.

And Hanoi has a fabulous old city, where pretty much all these pictures were taken. We spent most of a whole day roaming all over it, stating at a large temple where people were surging in to lay money on shrines and even burn small bills and light incense and pray for a healthy and prosperous new year. Then we just walked all over the place.

There is still a distinctly French feel in this area and it reminded me quite a bit of the French Quarter of New Orleans, with similar architecture and a similarly charming run down feel. They also sell really good little baguettes all over the street and it’s a good thing: Jacob lived on them.

I felt very little anti-American hostility though others have told me they felt it in Hanoi. The one woman you can see in the pictures with the French bread did make some sort of power salute when I went to take her picture that seemed sort of militant but after I took the pic she laughed and smiled at me. It was a show.

I also stumbled onto a little gallery selling 60s and 70s propoganda posters. They were really beautiful – wood block prints, I think. I bought a bunch but focused on things like “Grow more coconuts for a prosperous export economy” rather than “44 American planes shot down this month” or a red map of Vietnam with picture of “uncle Ho” Cho Minh and Lenin looming above. That may have been a mistake.

There still seems to be a petty profound North/South split there. A Chinese woman I spoke with on the plane down told me that Chinese citizens don’t need a visa to go to Hanoi or the North but do need one to go to Saigon (as everyone there still calls HCMC). I didn’t believe here but she was very firm about this (spoke very good English) and I checked when I got back and it seems to be true.

Also, at our hotel at the beach I was speaking with a clerk who spoke perfect English and I mentioned that there seems to be little anti -Americanism. “Oh no,“ he said. “I studied English at university in Saigon and had a lot of American friends. My parents were both soldiers in the American War and they like to meet all of my American friends. No problem.”

“Yes, but which army were they in?”

“Oh South Vietnam, of course. They are from Saigon. I don’t know how they feel about Americans in the North.”

And then he kept going, dashing our little Pollyanna-ish conversation.

“I don’t know what they think in the North. I don’t understand them, and I don’t like them.”

“Why not?”

“They all have airs. They think that they brought us freedom and invented society and are better than Southerners. They think that they are tall and we are short and I ‘m sick of it. If I hear a Northern accent, I don’t even want to talk to the person.”

Wow. Ok. In any case, I found Hanoi, the capital of our former enemy, utterly charming. And Saigon was just wild and wacky and not all that appealing. But we had very limited time in both places.

I will try to get some more up soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gambling in Pittsburgh

It's hard for me to believe there will be casinos in Pittsburgh next year. Considering the aging population of Allegheny County, maybe one of them will feature a Dixieland theme and need a house band. Then some familial good will come from this crazy situation. In the meantime, my man Danny Rosen and his friends at Pitt are doing their best to shove their fingers in the dyke. Am I too cynical?

Read Danny's op-ed in the Post Gazette and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Classic cinema

Filmed by Jesse Paul. Starring Ben Kessler, Jacob Paul, Eli Paul, Anna Paul, Josh Kessler, Sarah Kessler,Emma Paul and Jackson Wagner.

Viet fishermen

Fishermen around Phan Thiet, Vietnam go out in these baskets and net fish. You see them bobbing around the rather intense surf all day. It looks really nutty. when I saw them pulling into shore early on the Tet (Chinese New Year) afternoon, I sprinted down the beach with my camera.

The bottom shots are of one of the guy's wrinkly cut up, bandaged foot and all the fisherman sitting around smoking cigs after coming in. They didn't seem to catch much, but were very excited by this little baby lobster.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Angkor Wat/Cambodian temples

We are in Hanoi now, last stop. Angkor Wat and surrounding temples were pretty much up t the hype, though incredibly, disgustingly crowded with people. Tons of tour buses of Japanese and Korean tourists. But worth the slog. There are incredible sites anywhere you turn your head so capturing them is hard. This is the tip of the iceberg.