Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Will Robinson R.I.P.

A basketball legend passed away this week. Here's a little tribute I wrote for Slam. I met Mr. Robinson and chatted with him quite a few times and feel privileged to have done so.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Japan and gigs....

So we're off to Kyoto in the morning. Time to see what Japan is like. It will be a quick and dirty rip but hopefully a nice one. wW will only be in Osaka and Kyoto. Will have to return for Tokyo. In Osaka, we will hook up with childhood friend Douglas Schafer, who lives there with his family.

We had gig last Friday and Saturday. Friday was a benefit for Steve Alldred, a popular soccer coach here, Birtish guy, who has lymphoma and no insurnce. We raised over $1,000 so that was nice. Big crowd and a lot of fun. The next night we played a party at the Stone Boat, one of our regular venues and one my favorite spots in Beijing, inside Ritan Park on the lake.

I think it was our best show ever. I felt so good and in control and like we were all really locked in and listening to one another. It felt relaxed but right on, the right kind of tight and the right kind of loose. My guitar sounded the way I always want it to but rarely quite achieve. I think it was our first back-to-back gigs and it paid off. Of course, we recorded none of it, so it went into the ether. But a lot of people there, including some friends who have seen us a lot, agreed with our assessment. Hopefully we can keep it up. I think we have six gigs in May, including two parties and a Great Wall engagement. IN June, we have our first out-of-town gigs at a beach resort in Xiamen in south China. More on that soon.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Awful Annie, Pirate Queen

We went to a Pirate Treasure Hunt last weekend in Ritan Park. Photos speak for themselves.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anna's got the camera

For a self portrait and a picture of Dad...

Ah, the joy of Chinese market shopping

I was over at the nearby local market the other day buying fruit and veggies and some hardware.. wire cutters for changing guitar strings, clippers for trimming plants, etc.. and I saw this lady selling sports stuff.. and we needed a new soccer ball so I went over.. did some good bargaining and got a nice looking full size ball for 50 rmb (about $7).

I felt pretty good about my shopping prowess. Came home, Eli kicked it once and the leather popped. We played and suddenly it just started morphing and blowing up and exploding. And then it looked like this.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Press for Woodie Alan

We got some nice press on on of China's biggest rock websites. Woodie tells me it's a nice article, though not too exciting. It was my first interview as a musician on the other side of the microphone.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Maple Mountian morels

Modern everyday technology is pretty amazing. It's easy to lose sight of that, but here we have lifelong family friend David Kann spending the weekend in the hills of Western PA with my dad hunting for morel mushrooms and snapping photos on his Iphone, which he promptly sends to me in China and I throw them up here for you, whoever you are, to see. I really love the immediacy of getting these pictures from him. And they do make me homesick.

One of the interesting things about living abroad for an extended time is it sharpens your mind about what you miss and what you don't. Truthfully, this piece of land in Westmoreland County, PA is the only place I miss. I miss plenty of people, but I don't really long for any place except here. And since I only went there a few times a year when I lived in NJ, this is interesting and a little surprising to me.

Looking at these photos I can smell the mud and decomposing leaves and I want to be there. I'm also struck by how late spring is -- where are the leaves and flowers? We're in full, lush bloom here, especially after the last 36 hours, which probably had more rain than any other stretch since I've been here. Anna and I rode bikes to school this morning and saw a giant frog. On the way back, I helped it up the curb and into the bushes. I didn't think that a compound employee would be as accommodating if they discovered him.

Those of you who know precisely where the place is,
check out this Google map. Start zooming in and you can find "Thomas Drive." Remarkable. Nothing is remote any more.


A few months ago in my column about the fast pace of change here, I wrote this:

The improvements likely also have something to do with the new China International Exhibition Center being built up the road. The absolutely massive 660,000 square meter facility is rising out of a formerly empty lot and preparing to permanently squash whatever rural feeling this area has left. A giant hotel has already risen across the street to service the Center and on its other flank, a large mall, the "Europlaza", looks ready to open soon.

The rumor mill is churning up talk of a McDonald's, megaplex movies and more. Some people look forward to its opening with baited breath, while others are horrified.

And so it has all come to pass. McDonald’s has been open for a couple of months now. It is open 24 hours. I’ve taken the kids there a few times. Not too often. I’ve been surprised by how many Chinese are in there. Considering how many expats live around there, I assumed that it was built for them (us) but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The rest of the mall is starting to open and it has changed the feel of the area, but it’s nothing compared to the Convention Center.

It really has completely altered the feel of the area and it is a catastrophe traffic-wise. Jingshun Lu was already a busy, crowded road. Now they are building a flyway for a highway (also discussed in column) across the middle of it and they have put this giant convention center up with no other real access. Whenever they have an event there, the whole area freezes. It took a friend an hour to get about 200 yards when they had a soft opening a few weeks ago.

Today, an auto show is opening there, to run all week and everyone is terrified. We’ll see what happens. Our school has cancelled all after school activities for at the first two or three days, with a plan to then see what happens.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Becky's story

This one line haunts me:

An estimated 58 million children under 17 live without either of their parents in China's countryside.

I think it is going to be a longtime until China really comes to grip with the consequences of this and of the one-child policy. The latter has probably done an awful lot for China's growth and rise from poverty but is going to have deep societal consequences for decades on end. And all of those kids being raised without their parents is just tragic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Becky, er, Rebecca returns

The famed Rebecca Blumenstein byline returns with this great storyabout a migrant worker's struggle to keep her kid in Beijing. It is, if I don't ay so myself, a really good story. Make sure you check out the accompanying video and its sterling narration as well.

The story ran as part of this Olympics preview package that the bureau did.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Easter Egg Hunt

Yeah, we did an Easter Egg hunt, hosted by our friends Nathan and Kristi. Surprise.. the kids loved it...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cooking up a Cure (for Cancer)

Rodger "Ripper" Citron and family created The Jane and Carl Citron Chair in Colon Cancer to commemorate and celebrate the life of Rodg's mother Jane and her battle against cancer. They fund vital research in colon cancer treatments, prevention, and early detection. They have teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world's leading medical research centers, to fight this horrible disease.

Check out their website for information on their May 1 event if you are in Pittsburgh and just to learn abot it and send in a donation wherever you are.

More Yangshuo photos

It's like a different planet.

Yangshuo with the Kapp Singer Family

Diana Kapp and Dave singer and their intrepid kids Kapp, Elliot and Emma left this morning after a week-long visit. This makes them just our second friends to visit with kids. We had a great time, especially on a trip to Yangshuo in Southern China. It was the first place we visited outside of Beijing, way back in October, 2005, and we've wanted to go back.

What a beautiful, wild, trippy place. Huge limestone karts, rice paddies, water buffaloes, caves, cormorant fishermen. A must-visit in China. More pictures to come soon.

57 pounds of poison

Oh my. Ben Kessler. baddest 7.5 y.o. hombre in Short Hills, 57 pounds of poisons. Lock up the little girls. Hide the boys.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Woodie Alan video

"Come to the Edge".. Woodie Alan original... lyrics mostly written in car on I 75 outside Flint, Michigan.. with kids screaming back seat...

Rearranged version of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Golf? Golf.

My life has taken some imporbable turns in China. I play ice hockey. I front a popular band in Beijing. But this is right up there: I wrote a golf story for the Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Last column touches on Tibet.. watch out below…

If you haven’t seen it yet, my last column is here .

I think I was pretty gentle about Tibet and backed into the subject, but the response from Chinese readers has been interesting, and very heated. I’ll put some letters up here, but to really get a feel you have to go to my
Chinese language column and take a look at the forum. Most of it is in Chinese and you won’t understand it, but you’ll get the gist from the English posts and all the exclamation pints in the Chinese. I asked Woodie to read it and give me some interpretations. He wrote back, “These people are ignorant and make me very angry!:

My Chinese teacher warned me to stay away from sensitive topics. And some people write me letters saying things like, “We like you. Please don’t write about Tibet.” It’s all been interesting.

Someone posted a link to this video in my English language forum and I think everyone should watch it because it expresses how most Chinese feel about the issue.

This letter from a Chinese living in the U.S. is one of the most reasonable things I’ve seen written about the topic:

I was born and grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan, a neighbor province of Tibet. My mom worked for public health department before she retired. Many of her coworkers were sent to Tibetan populated area in Sichuan by government at 1960’s and worked there for decades as doctors or help on local disease control. I took several trips to those areas more than 10 years ago when I was in China. The Tibetan people I met were the nicest people in the world. Ethnic divide between Tibetan and us is something that had never across my mind until recently.

Soon after the riot erupted, one of my friend lives in China put “A man shall not be too CNN.” on his MSN personnel message. I asked what it means and was told that the word “CNN” in Chinese internet community now means something like “Dishonesty”. Majority Chinese people take Olympic Game this summer as a huge deal to the national pride. It will be an upset to the whole country if anything bad happen to the game. Western people don’t get that Chinese don’t differentiate government and country as western do. Criticizing the government is often regarded the same as criticizing the country. (Sometimes I am amazed to see many Chinese still have the concept after living in the sates for years. Democracy more than often has to bow to the power of culture.) They feel like some western media like CNN is helping ignite the hates to China in order to fail Olympic game. If that really happens, the hate to Tibetan people will be inevitable, even though they really did nothing wrong. It is going to be lose-lose situation to both Tibetan and Chinese people.

I do hope Beijing can be pressed to open the door to Dalai Lama. He deserves going back to his beloved homeland after so many years. He is the ultimate cure to all the problems, with his grand compassion and intelligence.

Then I got a lot of letters like this:

I am a Chinese living in Hong Kong. I just read your article on WSJ, and I am so confused why you are worry about police?! I guess maybe this is your first time to watch a game in China. You should experience more before you address your points next time. Don't be so childish.

Tibet is China's one province and the truth is that the Tibet thing happened a few days ago is a terrible thing to all Chinese. We don't need the foreigners, who don't know anything about China and China's history, to judge anything to our own internal issue. Try to think about that what would you think if Chinese media said "it is because of American hegemony" that caused 9.11 to happen.

And I am telling you that: Go back to your states if you feel uncomfortable in China, OK? Good people won't feel uncomfortable when seeing police in China!!!

I wrote the following response and then emailed it to the previous letter writer to see if he thought it was in any way offensive. I feel like I need to be very careful with what I write and assume it will end up on Chinese blogs.

You opinion is not unusual in China. I have received a lot of similar emails and feedback on my Chinese language column.

The theme of my column is about the experiences of being an American living in China. People right now want to know how the situation in Tibet is affecting regular people and it is my job to share my thoughts and experiences.

I understand that in general Chinese people have different views of the situation than many in the West and I said so in my column, which did not really take a position about Tibet.

Despite your differences in opinion, I appreciate your reading and taking the time to write me.

Alan Paul

His response:

Ah, I want to say that I am sorry that you got so many angry responses from the Chinese readers, though I guess it is just part of the job as a writer.

I don’t think your email response will calm down the readers, but I also don’t see how you can say anything more than that. The conflict is resulted from the very fundamental culture difference. While western people are very vocal in criticism of their government, Chinese are very sensitive to the criticism and unflattering coverage about China, because Chinese don’t distinct the government and the country. You have been writing culture difference that you experience, here comes the big one, though not a positive oneJ

And a guy I know here, pretty deeply into the culture, a longtime expat with a Chinese wife writes:

This is an interesting topic, because China was half the size it is today until the 17th century when the Qing Dynasty decided to become imperialists and take more territory. Consequently, we have a situation a little like in the US (North America and Hawaii) and in Australia with pissed off ‘original people’ who still don’t appreciate what they consider to be foreign occupation.

I personally don’t have a great deal of respect for Buddhist lama worship cults, so I think the Chinese have a good point about civilizing what was a highly backward cult-centered civilization. There probably isn’t a solution for this except that the Tibetans are going to have to get used to it, and the Chinese will need to grow more compassionate and ecologically responsible. The US government is not going to give back US territory to the American Indians, and China isn’t going to return Tibet to the lamas.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cool Beijing video

I just liked this.

Hong Lou Si -- Red Snail Temple

Last week, we took a Sunday afternoon trip to Red Snail Temple, about an hour north of here, close to the Mutianyu Great Wall section, which we have visited countless times. It was our second visit to the Temple.

It's a pretty area and a cool old temple, with a funky statue garden of red-capped monks in a heavily wooded steep area, and a tremendous slide which you can ride up nd then down. We were joined by our friends Scott, Jackie and Sam Kronick. Representing Flint and Taipei with pride.

We had good adventures coming and going on what should have been a very simple trip, with roads suddenly closed and no good detour signs. We trekked through some villages. The growth and change here continues to astound. More on that soon.

For my sister Laura

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More gigging...

We had two gigs last week. The first was at the biggest place we play, Yugong Yishan, a big rock club with a capacity of over 500, a big stage, light and sound system, and the second was at the smallest, Jianghu Jiuba, a tiny cozy hutong bar with a capacity of about 70, including a great courtyard. Both are fun in very different ways.

Yugong was on Tuesday and I didn't know if we'd have anyone there but we had close to 100. The manager was apologizing we didn't make more when he paid me 1000 RMB (about $150) and then I realized that 100 people paid to see us on a Tuesday night. We played really well, too. All these gigs have paid off. Afterwards, Dave said he thought it was our best gig yet. Our dynamics are definitely improving and we're more locked into one another.

The Jianghu show was also a lot of fun. We packed em in and always love playing there. A bunch of friends got up and jammed, harmonica and two other guitarists and an American tourist jumped up and grabbed the mic and sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" so well I gave her another song. I wish I had some video of that. I do have a couple of other songs from that night, which I will post in the next day or so.

The significance of the following video is I didn't take it or post it. There is a local listings service called Local Noodles. I get weekly emails form them and and today's said something like, "here are some videos of some of last week's most exciting Beijing musical moments" and there we were.. I was shocked.. and pleased.