Friday, October 31, 2008

Check this out

Not sure I can come up with the words to describe how happy it made me to wath this in a hotel room in Nanjing, china.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Catching Up -- Paralympics

Just catching up on some old photos. When Becky, Eli and Anna went to the U.S. for Emma’s bat mitzvah, I took Jacob and his friend Lucas to the Paralympics. We went to track and field at the Bird’s Nest and had a blast.

It was actually more fun than the O’s in some ways. Just very relaxed and filled with regular Chinese people really happy to be there and having a really good time feeling proud and soaking in the atmosphere and the facilities that they watched on TV just a week or two before. All tickets were general admission so you could roam all around the Stadium.

Outside on the green was also really nice, with many, many people just strolling around, taking pictures and having fun. Kids were playing in the fountains, which eventually led Jacob and Lucas to completely soak themselves and have as much fun as anyone.

The events themselves were really interesting and sort of confusing. We went to a bunch of different ones, including wheelchair basketball with all the kids, which they loved. Some of the athletes were severely disabled and others were seemingly not. They were all very impressive and some were truly great.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More India video

If you get bored, make sure you skip ahead to the end. Don't want to miss the last minute.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Video -- Jaipur street scene

I was trying to capture the wild scenes in the street of Jaipur with photos and realized it could not be done. This video at least comes close.

NBA in China

The Bucks and Warriors played an exhibition game in Beijing last weekend.

I wrote about it for Slam Online. And for my WSJ column, which is coming soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why I love America

Everyone knows this is the best version of the Star Spangled Banner ever. R.I.P. Marvin.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More India photos

So we left Ranthambore and were headed for Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. But there was a problem -- we needed gas and the only station in the area was packed with farmers, some on their tractors, some holding cans, trying to fill up on diesel. We had a diesel vehicle.

Now our driver Ranesh had had the previous day off and I thought it was pretty lame we needed gas, but there was an explanation:

"There has not been any diesel here for two days," he said. "That's why there is this wait."

So we got out and waited, too. Everyone was very calm. No pushing or yelling. This sort of but not really captures the scene:

That's a tractor in the foreground and Ranesh on the left, trying to weasel in.

One of the things that struck me was how most of the tractors were decorated in some fanciful ways, many of them with beautifully colored spangles and other things hanging in the cab, like this:

A tractor pulling a wagon pulled in. This is how the wagon was decorated:

Then we drove on and were supposed to stop at an ancient walled city, said to be just beautiful. We saw it from the "highway" but when we turned to the access road, it was totally stopped. After a bit, the guide we had just picked up got out to check it out and came back to report that traffic was totally stopped. "It's the celebration at the end of Ramadan and all the local Muslims are coming into the old city to go to the mosque," he said. "The rest of the city will not be crowded, but we can't drive.

"We can walk about a kilometer or we can just give up."

We consulted and decided to walk. The crowds were intense but one paid attention to us, really, and we walked a bit until we got to the source of the problem: a truck was blocking the old entrance way and you had to squeeze by single file on either side. This sort of shows what was going on:

We said "No way" and made our way back to the car, whch had not budged. We passed this bus on the way:

Back at the car, Ranesh executed an extremely impressive 87-point turn and made his way down a bumpy dirt alleyway and back to the main road.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More India photos -- Ranthambore National Park

We traveled to Ranthambore National Park and went on two safaris. We were tracking tigers -- this is one of the last remaining places they live in the wild. Alas, no luck. But we saw endless monkeys and deer, plus eagles, parrots and parakeets, monitor lizards and lots of other little things. Beautiful place.

The hotel we were staying at had a pet elephant who was almost 70 -- who knew? Kids loved her and we spent a lot of time feeding and petting her, then got a ride on our last morning.

The real Crocodile Lake.

Oddly enough, spending time in this Asian wilderness
made me really miss Bolivar, PA. This photo captures
a bit of why that would be so.

These guys were leaving behind us, but we rode the same
type of vehicle.

Kids loved riding in the open air jeeps

Kids loved this elephant -- who is 68. They spent
so much time with her for three days.

Monkeys everywhere here.

Monitor Lizard

Last morning there we got a ride on the elephant we played with
for the whole visit.

Boarding the elephant.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Last column: about the band

Music: True Agent Of Globalization


I stood on the broad stage, feeling very alone, my bandmates invisible behind me. The five of us are often packed on stage elbow to elbow. But this was different; we were in South China, about to kick off a headlining performance at the Xiamen Beach Festival, and we were on a giant stage, surrounded by smoke machines and illuminated by colored lights. A local TV station employed a five-man camera crew, and one guy was kneeling in front of me, lens pointed my way. I blinked into the blinding bank of spotlights and felt my knees wobble for a second.
[Woodie Alan] Jacob Paul

The MC had just announced us, in Chinese, to 5,000 cheering Xiamen residents as "Beijing's best band." I stepped to the mic, apologized for my bad Chinese and gave a short but rambling thank you: "I am American, my friends here are Chinese. Together, we are one band. We believe that with music, there is one people; no Americans, no Chinese, no Xiameners or Beijingers; just people."

There was a loud cheer that calmed me and then our rhythm section kicked off a hard-driving beat. I shut my eyes and laid into the opening riff of our original song, "Beijing Blues." Fifty minutes and eight songs later we walked off the stage to applause, filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

A full moon shone overhead and the Taiwan Straits stretched out behind us, waves crashing into the shore. Saxophonist Dave Loevinger and I rejoined our kids and his wife (my wife and two youngest children were in the U.S.), who had proudly watched our performance from the front row, waving light sticks. As we headed out, Dave and I were surrounded by well-wishers asking if they could take pictures with us. It was a heady moment for a couple of middle-aged Americans in China.
Talk with Alan

Readers, over to you: When has music broken down barriers for you? Share your thoughts.

"File this under 'Never thought it would happen,'" Dave said. It was a feeling that continued for the better part of a week, as we played one more time at the festival and then three shows in Changsha, Hunan (though without Dave, who had to return to work). The six performances felt like the first we had ever done in China; there were few foreigners at any of them, no one in the crowd knew us or was there to support us. They were just there to hear some music. And their reactions were gratifying.

At one show in Hunan, I raised my hands and clapped rhythmically before beginning to belt the traditional American song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." When the crowd began clapping and stomping along I felt a chill and was overcome with emotion. Since I was a young teen, music has shaped much of my self-image and been a prism through which I've seen the world. A song like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" is all about death and redemption. It has heavy religious overtones, but to me it's about optimism in the face of unthinkable burden, and about an almost ecstatic sense of freedom in the face of adversity. Now I had a sense that I was conveying some of this feeling --even if almost no one in the audience could understand the words I was singing -- and that notion prompted me to dig deeper and give more of myself.

Even while I feel that music can break down barriers, I have never felt prouder or more aware of being an American than when singing these songs in China. And I know that I never could have figured out how to express what was in me without these talented Chinese musicians prodding me. To me, this is the very essence of globalization. The real potential for cross-cultural communication and understanding lies in many small moments of interaction rather than in anything large, state run or commercial. And so it is that the same vehicle that has put me so in touch with what it means to me to be an American has also granted me so much insight into China.

One of the most moving parts of the trip was returning to Hunan with Lu Wei, our drummer. A native of the province, he hasn't been home for eight years. He is a third-generation drummer and his father told him when he left for Beijing not to come back until he was a big success. The fact he has not returned despite growing acclaim in Beijing and being an endorser of two large European drum companies made me think they were estranged, but it is not the case.

When we landed in Changsha, Lu Wei immediately called home: "Father, I am in Hunan!" Even though his hometown is on the other side of the province, about a 10-hour drive away, and he had never been to Changsha, Lu Wei was beaming our entire visit, reveling in the soulful, spicy food and walking around with extra pep in his step. He also played like a man on fire. I had urged him to have his father come see the shows, but it didn't happen and over a bowl of noodles he said they both thought the moment would be too intense.

On our second day in Changsha, we did three radio interviews, where we also performed a few songs live on air and had the thrill of hearing them play music off the five-track CD we hurriedly pressed for this trip. "I'm proud of us," guitarist Woodie Wu said to me, as we sat there hearing our song through the studio speakers. "Just really proud."

The last appearance was at the biggest station in town. The glass-enclosed studio sat high above the biggest intersection in the city. The two DJs were highly professional, and in and out of commercial breaks they played a very well done clip promoting our appearance. It featured some of our original music, with a loud classic radio voice intoning, in Chinese, "The Woodie Alan Band -- Beijing's finest blues band. Live in Changsha. Right here on the Live Show!"

They opened the lines for phone calls, we answered a few questions, played another song and then there was a 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, my impending departure hung over the week, giving everything both added emotional intensity and bittersweet shading. The Xiamen promoters have already called offering a more extensive tour of Fujian province and one of the radio hosts in Changsha says if we return she can book us onto one of China's most popular television shows.

It's unlikely we will manage either before I leave, but Woodie Alan will not go quietly into the night, either. We are finishing work on our full-length CD and Friday night, we will perform at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence. I will come back to China for some gigs, and I am working on some ambitious plans to bring the group to the U.S. this summer.

My Chinese bandmates are thrilled at the prospect of performing in the U.S.; only Woodie has been there, and he visited only Los Angeles. And I think the more Americans who can see China as a place with real, regular people, the better. After three plus years here, I am still shocked by how people misunderstand the country, with many Americans still seeming to hold one of two diametrically opposed stereotypes: China is a raging dragon about to gobble us up; China is a land of peasants riding bikes in Mao jackets. I'll be happy if my band can come to the USA and dispel some of this misinformation for even a handful of people.
* * *

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 "halfpats."

You said it! "The novelty of being a foreigner" is the true reason many foreigners come live in China. A normal John or Jane becomes "foreign expert" and receives novel treatment. As local staff boosts their foreign language skills and more Chinese natives return with foreign education and working experience, the landscape is changing.

-- Ying
* * *

Many foreigners like you find their positions successfully, thanks to China's rapid economic development. I must feel happy about your success. However, in a certain sense, your success is a touch of irony as we graduating students in Chinese mainland find it very difficult to find satisfactory work, even if our academic qualifications are equivalent.

There are many Chinese students studying abroad. Their families are rich, but most of them are not good students. They hope for better conditions of employment and clearly this is not fair to the students of poverty-stricken families.

-- Zhong Lei

Thank you for sharing your interesting and different perspective.
* * *

It doesn't surprise me to read about the rise of younger, cheaper expats in China now. That's very similar to what was happening in Japan when I was first posted overseas from 1987-90. There was a growing community of English-language teachers, as well as recent college graduates who had studied Japanese, and some foreigners whose spouse was Japanese. Japan then, as China now, was seen by some as a way to develop a career at a time when books like "Yen!" were promoting the idea that soon Japan would be #1. For me, it was a fabulous exposure to a very different culture, to being a big fish in a small pond, where I could add lots of value, giving me the opportunity to leave a legacy. One difference: For corporate expats the pay package for Tokyo was over the top, not only compared to local compensation, but globally.

There might have been many more "halfpats" in Japan in the 90s, except for the bust that followed the boom of the 80s. The opportunities here now and future potential of China seem even greater. I encourage all your readers to come and follow this path, whether young, middle or later in life. It's not easy, but it's well worth it.

Lastly, the "novelty" of being a Caucasian foreigner is not wearing off in my case. People of all ages still stare at me when I get on the subway. Mothers will point me out to their young children and are very pleasantly surprised when I kneel down to the child's level, wave and say "Ni how." Perhaps they are also -surprised that a foreigner would use that means of transportation. Or perhaps it is my beard.

-- Charles Kimball
* * *

My wife and I are on the other end of the spectrum. I am 51 years old and moved to Shanghai with my wife a month ago from Raleigh, N.C., to lead Caterpillar's district office. No kids on this move as they are out of high school. We kept our home in Raleigh and live in a furnished villa. When the time to move came, we brought several suitcases and sent a 200 cubic-foot air shipment and that was it. It was a more expensive move for our company than moving a single person or young married couple with no kids, but much less expensive than moving a family with several children. Ended up being a win-win situation for us and our company.

-- Gary L. Ringenberg

This is an interesting phenomenon that is also becoming more widespread. I will try to look more into it down the road.
* * *

The downside to coming out here so young in one's career is that professional standards of practice in China are generally a good deal lower than in the West. Although there are certainly good partners/directors/EVPs in China, they seem to be the exception to the rule in most industries. As a result, good mentors – and thus solid training in hard job skills -- are difficult to come by in China.

I currently live in Shanghai. I first moved here in 1998 right out of college, looking to start my own business. I returned to the U.S. in 1999, but moved back to Shanghai in 2005 as an attorney with a large U.S. firm. My above opinion is based not only on my observations in the legal field, but also speaking with friends and contacts in professions including accounting, real estate, and consulting.

-- Carson Block

Thanks for raising another interesting angle to this discussion.

I am from China, came to the States for graduate school several years ago, stayed, married a 'round-eye,' and am currently working in corporate America. I love reading your experience about living abroad, but more intriguing to me is the look at the life in a new China through Western eyes.

America is without doubt more immigrant/foreigner friendly. Most importantly, people in the U.S. treat a newcomer as a regular human being, which is not common at all in China. Most Chinese have this 'us' versus 'foreigners' (especially Westerners) view, caused by a common lack of confidence, a perceived weakness fanned by government propaganda, and an attitude typical of a society dominated by a single race. They ("we") are more comfortable working for/with a foreigner than going out for beer with one. To me, living in China with blonde hair and blue eyes would be like living in a fish bowl.

I applaud your efforts to try new things and go outside the expat 'fish bowl.' However, I was shocked when I read about your family trip to some remote parts of the country. Personally, I would never do trips like that out of concerns for food safety alone. Thank you for sharing your stories, and best wishes to you and your family.

-- T. MacLeod

I have really enjoyed traveling in China's interior and would not give it up for anything. We make sure our kids have all their vaccinations and always carry things like cereal, granola bars and peanut butter with us. Knock on wood, we have not had any bad illnesses.

Mental Health Break

Now I get it!

I have been confused by this economic meltdown. Thanks goodness
Hamas has helped me understand it all so much better.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Snake Charmer video

Inside Amber Fort, Jaipur India.

A couple of W.A. video clips

These are both from the Xiamen Beach Festival...our second gig there, after Dave (sax) had returned home. They more or less capture the size and scope of the stage and sound system. I'm pretty proud of these performances.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken, American traditional song:

Got Love If You Want It, original tune:

More India photos -- all snake edition

Eli called this baby python
his best friend.

Not even a tiny bit of fear.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Technicolor India

What a wild, trippy place. I am pulling together some coherent thoughts and am about halfway through a long post but I ran out of steam. I will get it up tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some photos.

These two dancers who loved Anna were sisters, aged
10 (right) and 18,

Hindu temple outside Jaipur.

Even the elephants are colorful.

Tribute to the many multi-armed statues.

Kids loved the snake charmers, much to mom's horror.

That's a baby python in Eli's hand.

First of two elephant rides.

Markus Belete

I hope this doesn't end up in a McCain ad.

Amber fort, outside of Jaipur.

The architecture and design elements you come across
in temples, palaces, forts are really quite stunning. Stuff like
this anywhere you look.


Palace guards, Jaipur.