Saturday, September 27, 2008

Off to India

We are off to India tonight to visit the Beletes and see some of the place. Probably won't be posting much if at all.. though you never know.. but pictures of Taj Mahal and more within a week.

Happy golden Week to you all.

"The pleasure is all ours, Mr. Ambassador..."

Woodie Alan rocked the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in Beijing last night. The Honorable Clark Randt, his wife and sundry guests enjoyed the music a great deal.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Someone please tell me

...that people are laughing and or throwing up over this.

I have kept silent over politics up here for along, long time but this is making me crazy. To me, it's a line in the sand moment. I read constantly, all kinds of things and not just people whose views I am predisposed to agree with. In fact, I can't read any of those lefty blogs because those people are mostly such shrill morons and I don't want to be associated with them in any way. It's almost enough to flip my politics...until i read the righty blogs and find that most of them are also shrill morons.

But this is not about whether someone is conservative or liberal. Anyone who insists on taking this person seriously and not being outraged has no credibility in my eyes. I find it absolutely humiliating for the U.S.A.

"That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and getting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade -- we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation."

Not to mention this:

"It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska."

And I got harassed for a borderline mangling of lie and lay!

Watch CBS Videos Online

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stunned into Silence

Oh good grief

This just freaked me out.

AP Story:

Palin once blessed to be free from 'witchcraft'


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A grainy YouTube video surfaced Wednesday showing Sarah Palin being blessed in her hometown church three years ago by a Kenyan pastor who prayed for her protection from "witchcraft" as she prepared to seek higher office.

The video shows Palin standing before Bishop Thomas Muthee in the pulpit of the Wasilla Assembly of God church, holding her hands open as he asked Jesus Christ to keep her safe from "every form of witchcraft."

"Come on, talk to God about this woman. We declare, save her from Satan," Muthee said as two attendants placed their hands on Palin's shoulders. "Make her way my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus. ... Use her to turn this nation the other way around."

Palin filed campaign papers a few months later, in October 2005, and was elected governor the next year.

The clip is here. My goodness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last Column: Halfpats

Younger, Nimbler, Cheaper:
'Halfpats' Are the New Expats


I went to college at the University of Michigan. During my freshman year, before any of us had really started to venture far beyond our dorm, a friend dubbed Ann Arbor "teen island," referring to the odd feeling of being in a place where everyone was the same age and at the same stage of life. Everywhere you looked you saw yourself reflected back. I never experienced that sensation again in quite the same way until we moved to Beijing and landed in a compound where it seemed everyone was Western, just turning 40 and had two or three kids between two and 10 years old.

This crew, which has been at the center of our social life here, represents the classic expat population -- successful people in midcareer who have been exported, generally at great expense to their employer, to establish a beachhead or expand market share in a foreign land. But these old school mainline expats may be endangered. There is another, growing group of expats in Beijing who are younger, more willing to move around and less expensive to employ.

Beijing and the rest of China have seen an explosion in younger expats because the region has been so economically and culturally hot. Many people come here post-college, some simply to experience the place; some to learn the language or put into practice their college China Studies classes; and others simply because they want to punch the China ticket and give their career a boost.

But the trend towards younger expats is not exclusive to China. "It is a noticeable change which is often discussed by people in the relocation business," says Geoffrey Latta, Executive Vice President of ORC Worldwide, a management-consulting firm. "Companies are interested in sending younger people abroad because they are cheaper and simpler to move, with less family entanglements. And more young people are interested in moving because virtually every field is becoming more global."

These changes are beginning to be reflected in the data, such as it is. The 2008 GMAC Global Relocation Trends Survey of human-resource managers shows that fewer expats are married and have kids than in past years.

"Companies are basically saying to up-and-coming employees that they value international experience and young people are much more open-minded about it than in the past," says GMAC's Scott Sullivan. "In fact, they are often aggressively pursuing these opportunities, sometimes even at cost to themselves, or at least accepting much lower expat packages. They see it as a way to get experience and become more marketable."

The GMAC survey only reflects people who have actually been moved abroad by employers, but there is also an exploding population of "halfpats" -- people who travel on their own. Many of them end up getting onto a career track, even if they arrive overseas initially as students, interns or even backpackers.

Beijing is filled with college students and recent graduates studying Chinese at a university or teaching English as they feel their way around the city. Many of them spend some time here and then head home or off to further travels, but an increasing number seem to be sticking around and launching careers, often finding it more fertile soil than their homelands for advancement and experimentation. Because they are often seeking entry-level jobs and generally don't have houses full of possessions to move or kids to educate, they neither expect nor receive the large expat packages that have always made it so expensive for an employer to send someone overseas.

Maria Guimaraes, a 28-year-old Portuguese who came to Beijing for a three-month internship three-and-a-half years ago, now works as a consultant at Ogilvy Public Relations.

"I think three years work experience in China is the equivalent of twice that in Europe because things move so fast," she says. "I have been given a lot more responsibility and worked in a lot more different environments. I don't think Europe or America offers such opportunities to people just starting out."

"And that's in the best of times… right now the job market is not good in Europe. It is difficult for graduates to even find opportunity to prove themselves. China offers more possibilities. I am making two or three times what I would in Spain or Portugal and just learning so much more. This is a tremendously exciting place to begin a career."

Chad Tendler, 28, has worked for Prudential PLC in Hong Kong for three years, after four-and-a-half in Beijing. He came to China after graduating from New Jersey's Drew University, where he studied Mandarin, in 2001. Not seeing a lot of career opportunities in the U.S. in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble burst, he decided to return to Beijing, where he had studied for one semester.

"I just thought spending time overseas would be a great interim move," says Mr. Tendler. Instead he has found a career and a lifestyle he never pondered. He sees himself as part of a growing trend.

"Traditionally there were two main ways for a young person to spend considerable time traveling and seeing the world," says Mr. Tendler. "It was either backpack travel, maybe teaching English so you can get a stipend to stick around some place, or it was the Peace Corps. People still do both of those things, but I think increasingly new graduates are also looking at job opportunities overseas. And they are out there."

Alex Chen, 30, is another young American who has found unexpected career opportunities in China. Now the communications manager of the Opposite House, a luxury boutique hotel, he worked as a producer at the Food Network before leaving at age 26 to study Chinese for a year in Beijing.

"My parents are from here originally and I wanted to be able to communicate with them better in their native language as they got older," he says. "I didn't have a plan beyond the study but living as an expat presents opportunities to reinvent yourself and see what else there is to do out there."

Before landing his current job, Mr. Chen worked for a publishing company and for Warner China and he had little difficulty making these career changes here.

"I could have stayed in the U.S. and been a relatively good television producer, but I wasn't sure I wanted to do that forever," he says. "Coming here has allowed me to have some really interesting jobs and then move on to something else."

Obstacles remain. Longer-term visas have become harder to obtain in China. Many of the visa brokers often employed by halfpats have been shut down and there are rampant stories about expats without full-time employment having to leave China, at least for a while. But there is a widespread anticipation that at the end of September, when the Paralympics are over and this extended Olympics period finally ends, things will lighten up again.

Immigration restrictions can largely be overcome with a good job, but all of the young expats I spoke to think that the golden age of job seeking in China may be over; many opportunities still exist here, they say, but there is more competition. More local Chinese now have good English skills and a higher level of comfort operating in a foreign environment. And more and more young Americans, Australians and Europeans have figured out all this and are coming to China -- and more of them have good language skills, as studying Mandarin becomes more popular.

"The novelty of being a foreigner is really wearing off in Beijing and Shanghai," says Mr. Chen.
* * *

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 how I acted as a cultural interpreter for both local friends and visitors during the Beijing Olympics.

As a long-term fellow expat -- and because I've enjoyed your articles for quite a while -- I'll thank you by providing some grammatical school-marming regarding the excerpt below:

"If all goes according to plan, when you read this I will be laying on a beach in Sanya, Hainan, a tropical island off China's South Coast. We planned a short trip there to reconnect as a family -- our sons returned from three weeks in the U.S. on Tuesday -- and to allow Rebecca and I to wash the Olympics... "

1. "I will be laying..." should be "I will be lying..." (You "lay" -- or place -- SOMETHING on the ground...but YOU "lie" on the ground).

2. "to allow Rebecca and I" should be "...Rebecca and me..."

-- Jerry Kopel

You were far from alone in pointing these out. "Rebecca and I" is incorrect and has been changed -- the beauty of online publication. Mea culpa (and my editor sends her regrets, too).

"Laying" is not so clear cut, however. Merriam-Websters notes that "'lay' has been used intransitively in the sense of "lie" since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech." It goes on to caution that "some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially." It also cautions -- wisely -- that "even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do."

* * *

I'm Chinese, living and working in California. Your writing is not only about Beijing, it is about Today's China. It is so important for me to understand what's happening and what's changed in China.

-- Xinghui Cai

Thank you. I am flattered and shocked; I'm sure you can find more in-depth sources of China information!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hey Hey Gunya

Check this out. This was our wildest gig of the tour. Note the guy giving me a Cubano cigar and the Russian chick bringing us shots...The song is a mashup of a Chinese blues and "Kansas City."

Glad to be home

I may have set a new record yesterday. I was eating noodles with the guys at 2:30 am in Changsha and coaching soccer at noon in Beijing. Back to reality ad no more rock star life. But that's fine.

The tour was spectacular; truly one of the highlights of my life and I am sad we won't be able to do more of them. But I was also loeley and wouldn't want to do much longer at one stretch. I missed the family terribly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Home, where the music's playing...

One of the most moving and cool parts of this trip was returning to Hunan with Lu Wei, our drummer. He is a native of the province and has not been home for eight years now. I still do not fully understand they whys and wherefores. His father and grandfather are also drummers and apparently his father told him when he left for Beijing not to come back until he was a big success.

He as not been back yet – despite being an endorser for two large European drum companies and being pretty widely renowned in Beijing rock circles. The first thing I said when I heard about these shows is I wanted Lu Wei’s father to come. He said it was too far – apparently 8 or 10 hours. I said I would pay for a train or plane ticket. I really wanted to see that reunion. It never happened.

You would think that they don’t have a good relationship, or are even estranged, but it is not so. When we landed in Changsha, Lu Wei immediately took out his phone and called home – “father, I am in Hunan!”

I don’t totally get it. During one of the radio interviews – they all loved talking about our “Hunan ren” – he said that he and his father discussed it and both said they couldn’t handle the reunion; it would be too intense and emotional. I’m not sure when that will ever change.. He also said that his parents were already successful – the proof was that they had raised such a good son.

Even though his home is on the other side of the province in a mountainous area and he had never been to Changsha, Lu Wei clearly felt at home. He was beaming, strutting around, breathing deeply. He loved the food, he wanted to pay for all of our meals. He loved ordering and explaining – and it was all delicious, and incredibly spicy. I will do a whole post on the food one of these days.

The food alone made Lu Wei so happy. Here he is
eating a "Hunan hamburger," sort of like a sloppy joe
except with no tomato sauce and lots of peppers, and an
empty soft dumpling shell for a bun.

Load in.

Normal amount of pepper Lu puts in his noodles.

He also drummed like a madman. Check out this video, from our first gig there. He actually got better and better with these solos (two per night) each night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hunan updates

This has been such an eventful few days, it’s hard to capture, or know where to begin. I will do a full catchup when I am back in Beijing starting to explore some of the emotional intensity of the week, but first let me do some quick basic catching up.

I am about to leave my hotel room to head over to the club and do our third of three performances in Changsha, Hunan.

Suffice it to say we are being treated like kings in Changsha, Hunan and really enjoying it.

We were bought here by a chain of three clubs, all called coco, and are playing at one of them each night. We have finished two of three. Last night’s was in the smallest, a nice little place where we had a good crowd and it was fun, but probably the least memorable of the three.

Tonight’s is a pretty big place. It holds about 300 people and they sold out tickets at 40 RMB, which is a lot here, since almost all shows are free.

The first night we played at their fanciest venue, a "private club for successful people." You have to pay a membership fee to go there. It was a wild, trippy place, some weird cross between a Seventies fondue restaurant and a brothel. Lots of burnished wood and red banquettes, a cigar room and lots of guys drinking cognac.

We played on a stage that was series of circular wood platforms. It reminded me of the set of Hullabaloo or one of those other Sixties rock shows I have seen so many clips from.

We have now played five gigs in six nights. Tonight will be six in seven, and we are really chugging along. I cant’ describe how much bettery ou get from all these consecutive gigs, except to say -- You get a lot better. We are so locked in now, we are gaining confidence. We are becoming so much tighter in what we play and really locked into each other so that performances are like conversations. Everyone is really listening to one another and we can veer off on cool little tangents. I feel liberated to take chances on a cool rhythm pattern for instance because I no longer fear getting lost – I know I will hear Zhong Yang’s abss and fall back into the groove if I stumble. We are all operating like that and it creates music that is at once more intimate and more exciting, more cohesive and less predictable.

The first night at Coco, the successful people all went wild and by the end we had them all dancing and singing along. One guy ran up and shoved a Cubano in my mouth during our next to last song, then lit for me. When we were done, he pulled me down into his banquetter and he and his friends poured me abig snifter of cognac.

The only foreigners in the pace were three Russians and they all wanted us to drink vodka with them. I had a taste but have avoided drinking too much – a must when you’re doing so many gigs.

Yesterday, we also did three radio interviews, each time playing a song or two as well as being interviewed. The last one was right before the gig at the biggest station in town. The studio was a glass enclosed on a high floor with the biggest intersection in the city stretching out behind us.T he DJs were a team of women and they were really professional.

They had apparently been promoing our appearance all week and had a cool little promo clip featuring some of our music and a loud classic radio voice saying, in Chinese “The Woodie Alan Band – Beijing’s finest blues band. Live in Changsha. Right here on the Live Show!” We did an interview and played a song and then they opened the lines for phone calls and a couple of people called in anad asked us questions.

Then we played one more song. During a commercial break, bassist Zhong Yang finally acknowledged the elephant in the room. “It’s too bad, you’re leaving Alan,” he said, “Look at us.”

Indeed, look at us. As Dave Loevinger said to me as we boarded the plane in Beijing to fly to Xiamen, “File this under ‘never expected to happen.’”

Tomorrow morning I fly back alone. The other guys are staying an extra day and taking the train. I’ll return to being a dad and husband and dealing with the reality that we have to keep planning our return. But in the meantime, I have a gig to go to and I am going to savor this.

Radio interview number one.

Zhong Yang on air.

This picture captures a bit of the weird vibe of the first bar.

They have these signs all over.

After setting up with the bar manager.

My benefactor.

Russian friends.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wolfeman Howls in Spain

Old friend Michael Lee Wolfe blazed the Jewish guy form Sq. Hill making it as an international music sensation many, many years before me. He has been living in Spain since forever, and now plays with the great singer Anabel Santiago.

Here is her website.

Not sure if he took the pictures or not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Woodie Alan website

We played our second festival gig tonight. It was less dramatic, Dave was not here which automatically made it less good, but we were ore relaxed and played great. It was a smaller crowd.. work day versus weekend, but still plenty of people. A lot of fun.

So I had some time on my hands sitting in this hotel room and i finally redid the Woodie Alan website that I lost in a computer crash, with a new bio and photos. Let me know what you think because I will be using this to try to get the band over to the U.S. Constructive criticism from friendly folks is welcome.

Here is the Woodie Alan website.

This is the URL if you want to cut and paste: /

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tour diary continued: Xiamen club gig

Our first night in Xiamen we played at the 1970s Club, did a 90 minute late night set that went really well. Back on the big stage tonight.

Band photo with friend/shred master Powell Young
in front of the wonderfully named 1970s Club.

After the gig, at the club.

Xiamen Beach Festival 2008

We headlined the Xiamen Beach Festival tonight and played on a huge stage in front of thousands of people. There was a full moon overhead; the Taiwan Straits and a crashing surf behind us; lanterns filling the air, fueled by candles -- mini hot air balloons to celebrate the mid-autumn Festival.

We got up there, we had a rough start – I had some feedback problems on my guitar and we had a little bit of false start on our first song. We teetered for a second, I was blinded by a huge bank of spotlights and my throat felt constricted. I felt very alone… on that huge stage, I was steps ahead of everyone else and felt naked and exposed. But I kept my cool, fixed my feedback problem, we locked in… and we kicked ass.


We played about a 50 minute set.. eight songs. They had a camera crew of four pros there and we are supposed to get a DVD of this tomorrow. If so, I will get some of it up on Youtube as quickly as possible. I hope it sounds as good as it felt.

On our way out, Dave and I stopped to take pictures with dozens of people. Our kids – who were in the front row waving glow sticks – were really happy and proud, too. Jacob came up to the lip of the stage ad he took all of these pictures. I think he did a great job.

I am really proud of us as a band for pulling this off.

Check out the photos on the poster
behind the stage. Woodie under Woodie.

First rock concert.. featuring your dad.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Woodie Alan Beijing Blues tour 2008

We are on the road, baby.You can now safely call Woodie Alan a touring band. We are doing six or seven shows in a week. Right now we are in Xiamen in South China, right across the straits from Taiwan, for a Beach Festival. They flew us down here and are putting us up in a four star hotel. Jacob is with me and Dave Loevinger has his family and we are having fun.

The whole band flew down together, along with another group from Beijing. We also added two more guys, with Woodie and the guys backing them... so for seven people the organizers get three bands. We checked out the Festival grounds yesterday and they look great..a huge stage right on the beach. We play there tonight. Last night, Woodie and the guys played a couple of songs with another group as part of the Opening Ceremony.

W.A. played a club gig at The 70's Bar and Restaurant. it wa actually a really nice club. More on that later.

After this escapade, we are off to Changsha, Hunan for three gigs at the opening of a big club. They wanted to make a splash so searched online for the Best Band in Beijing.

It felt so cool to have a bus and promoter waiting for
us at the airport. I'm not too proud to admit that.

Woodie and Katherine Loevinger load in.

Dave signs the wall....they asked all performers to
sign this big wall near the entrance.

"Ni hao Xiamen!"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Catching up... first Sanya

I am still catching up and reeling from all that Olympics crust.. just as I shook that off, I plunged into a new set of fairly daunting realities.. getting ready to actually, gulp, repatriate, trying to finish a CD and play as many gigs as possible, planning a trip to India for October Holiday…

I’ll get to all of that stuff in good time, I hope, but fist wanted to catch up on our trip to Sanya, Hainan Island. In short, it was beautiful. I have to admit, we kept saying things like, “I can’t believe this is China” We have been to lots of stunning places in China, but nothing tropical quite like this and nothing that was an out and out resort. We also spent an afternoon in a rain forest, which was really cool.

We stayed at a really nice Chinese owned beach resort and it was really interesting to be there with almost all Chinese guests. All of our tropical Asian vacations have been elsewhere with most guests being European. It was cool, and a reminder of how far China has come. I think it would have been unthinkable to people not that long ago that there would be this many Chinese with this much disposable income and time.

A further reminder of this came by email from Litao Mai, a Chinese friend in Maplewood. She is now a FC for Merrill, and her own story reflects China’s I thin (except that she married an American and moved to NJ)….

She wrote:

Have fun in Sanya. That was the place where I spent my very first vacation of my life in April 1993. After a year working in Macau, I saved a few thousand HK dollars and spent most of them in Hainan Island. At that time, Haikou, among with Shenzhen and Zhuhai, was a "special economic zone" and to get there, you'd need either a passport or a special permit.

I took a bus from Kaiping City to Haikou overnight (with a passport, ordinary Chinese could not enter Haikou city without a passport at that time). I remember very well on the bus going to Haikou, everyone else was local Hainan islanders who seeked jobs in Pearl River Delta area and on their way home to visit. I was very nervous (worried about being robbed) and dared not fall asleep on the bus. So on my way home, I took the pain buying an expensive air ticket (imagined how much cash I was carrying) and flew back to Guangzhou. That was also my first time on a plane and costed all my savings.

As I’ve said many times, things change fast here and I think it’s important to keep in mind just how dramatic the changes have been. I had already been working at Guitar World for two years when Litao took this trip. And the Pirates were just beginning their first of 16 straight losing seasons.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Requiem for a Team

Once upon a time there was a baseball team in Pittsburgh.

This video "celebrates" their 16th consecutive losing season, a record in any professional sport.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cool Woodie Alan photos...

From last week's Star Live show, which I wrote about. We are lucky to have some great photographer friends...