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Thursday, November 26, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Thanks for the interest.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I noticed that Gov't Mule was playing a few miles away on Sat. night and got in touch with them and hooked it up for Joe to jam with them. I accompanied him over at soundcheck and watched them work out two songs. coolest thing was the second song they chose was one of my all time favorites -- Albert King/Ann Peebles' "Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home."
After Joe's show, he, I, his manager and my man Art Rummler piled into a Kia van supplied by the promoter and zipped over to the Riviera. Walked in the back door, watched the last two songs of the first set from the side of the stage, hung out during intermission and the second began. After two songs, I climbed down into the pit and filmed both songs. I thought they were both really great and I was proud to have played such a role in making this happen.
Making it all the cooler was I was hanging with Art, one of my bestest buds --and we had not seen each other in almost 5 years! we also saw a legendary Allman Bros show at the very same Riviera Theatre back in about 1996 or 97.
We rode back with Joe and crew and said good bye. They boarded their bus for a drive to St. Louis. We headed home to Rummlerville, with a stop for a late night Chicago dog at Dogs on clark. That was my third of the night. Yeehaw.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Trying hard to keep afloat, stay on top of a whole bunch of things. It is really my intention to write more and post up here but it is just not happening right now. I have so much going on, between the long term project I hope to formally launch and announce any day and the home reconstruction and keeping the three kids pushing forward...that I just never write these kinds of posts.
But I really, really need to because they fire up my creative energy. Writing begets writing, just as sleep begets sleep in kids...Never fear a nap, it will only help. and always find time to write just to write.. it will help.
In the meantime, I am going to Peoria and Chicago tomorrow to go on the road with Joe Bonamassa for a story in Guitar world.
I need to do this like I need a hole in my head but i haven't done a good on the road story in ages and I haven't been in Chicago for too long. Looking forward to hanging out with Art "Mr. Loud" Rummler. Make a reservation at the Weiner Circle. I need a Chicago dog!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I am working on outlines and rough chapters for a book I hope to write about my time in china and I have spent a good deal of time reading through old posts here and all I can say is what a resource. I really did not have the farsightedness to write up here with a very conscious goal of keeping notes for future endeavors but I sure got a lot of stuff down.
So, if anyone’s still here reading, thanks for encouraging me all these years. I am so pleased to have this record of my time in China. The energy is palpable in so many of them. I can still get pumped up reading them…
Las Saturday I got to watch most of the Michigan/Notre Dame game.. not only a classic game, down to the last second, and a great win for the Wolverines, but the first college football game I have watched in five years. Really wasn’t much available in china. I managed to see some Steelers games, to be sure, but not college.
I felt like Rip Van Winkle. They have video replay in NCAA football now? They call out the players who commit penalties? Maybe some of these things were happening five years ago but they came as a surprise to me.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I thought this email I received from a booking agent in Beijing was pretty warped on a few different levels. Read it over and see if you can see why.
How are you? I hope you are having a great summer!
I am looking for musicians for a gig that might not exactly fit the Woodie Alan band, but maybe some of its members or musician friends could be interested? Anyhow, I thought I’d spread the word in this direction too…
A client is looking for :
- a band with 5 foreigners
- I hate to say this, but you know how things are in China... : preferably no black musicians
- for a gig in Zhejiang (Zhoushan)
- on Sept. 5th-12th (8 days)
- perform 15 minutes each evening
- with a female lead singer (preferably good looking!)
- style : dynamic, exciting, attractive (jazz/pop/rock, no particular request)
- budget : 700 RMB / performer / night
- transportation and accommodation are taken care of
Would you or your friends be interested in this gig?
Please let me know ASAP!
Monday, August 10, 2009
There's a nice article about me and the concert, which featured a bunch of local bands, on Maplewood Patch. You can see it here.
And they were there and filmed the show. You can see a video of one song on the site as well. Just go to that page, click on the video and skip (or listen to)the founder of the group that organized the event explain it a bit.
Friday, August 07, 2009
When you sit around as a writer and send these things out into cyberpsace, there is nothing more satisfying than realizing people have actually read them and they have had some impact.
I removed all last names.
Sadly, your last article was the first I had read.
My wife and I just left the Foreign Service after nearly a decade, and my one year anniversary of leaving Vienna (our last post) was Friday.
You reached the same conclusion we reached, so I hope you're right!
I still get the urge to packout and go every now and then, and the thought of the 6:32 a.m. train every day for the rest of my life is too depressing to put into words, but one day at a time. Congratulations on going back - very courageous, especially if you had loved it.
Good luck with the rest of your life.
Jay Currently home in NYC.
As someone who is pondering the decision to work abroad, its been enjoyable and educational, sure to make a book.
Thanks for the column.
I just read your last article and I must tell you how many memories it brought back. It’s been ten years since my family returned from 4 years in Singapore. Those expat years continue to have an impact on all our lives. Repatriating was difficult at times for all of us. I really believe that coming back was harder than leaving in the first place. But you have probably already discovered that pearl of wisdom!
What I really wanted to share was the wonderful influence the experience continues to impart in our lives. First, there is no underestimating the value of a world view. Second, there is the continuing enrichment of our lives. We are still in contact with many of our expat (and “local” Singaporean) friends. We’ve shared vacations and other chances to get together. There is even talk of an expat reunion in Toronto. We keep in contact via e-mail, Christmas letters and, now, even Facebook. The last couple of years have seen a slew of graduation announcements.
But I think the most lasting import is the effect of living abroad on our children. My son, Michael, was 9 when we returned to California but he was profoundly affected by the experiences he had and the friends he made. For years after we returned he would regularly see his best friends from Singapore each summer. (He is still in contact with them as well.) Michael has recently voiced how important that part of his life has been in coloring his personality, forming his own world view and affecting his life path. It doesn’t seem possible but he has just completed his first year of college.
Carly was 6 when we came back and is now a high school senior. Her memories are sometimes a bit fuzzy given her age but she still exhibits the grasp of the diversity and wonder of the world possessed by third culture kids.
So, I guess what I really want to share with you is that even though you are no longer an expat, the experience is really never over. It will enrich the rest of all your lives. Enjoy it!
Hello Mr. Paul,
I am a recent subscriber to WSJ and, unfortunately, I just read your final “Expat Life” article. I must say I absolutely agree with your “home is where you hang your hat” feeling. I’ve been living in Fuzhou for four years now with twice yearly trips back to the US, and the feeling of loss when leaving one or the other has definitely diminished.
Is there a way I can view some of your earlier articles? If so, are there any particular ones that you would recommend reading?
I’ve been an expat in Shanghai for two years now, but just discovered your column today. (I guess I should be a more frequent reader of the Wall Street Journal.) In any case, I sure am sorry to have missed out on your writing and will look for archived versions of your online column. We’ve got at least one more year in China, and I’m headed back to the States in a couple of weeks to lobby for an extended stay beyond that. If you decide to write a book, I can guarantee you at least one purchase – just make sure it’s on Amazon.
I don’t know if you remember me or not, but we met briefly while you still lived in BJ Riviera (I’m the guy that sits next to -- at Microsoft). I’ve enjoyed your column over the years and wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s kind of sad to see your column come to an end, but it was great while it lasted. Good luck in settling back into the US. Take care.
Your column resonated with me as I read it this morning here in Beijing, looking out the window of my post-modern hutong in Cathay View. Today was the last day of school at Montessori School of Beijing – they had a talent show to close-off the year. The audience was full of wistful and proud parents. There was also that sense of lives about to move into transition as fiscal years and expat years wind down for many of them.
We’ll be returning to California in August. It’s hard to convey the complex experience of a life here but I think you’ve done an admirable job.
I wish you the best in the next stage of your adventures.
I just read your last column, and I wanted to say thank you for sharing your amazing experiences. I have been reading your column regularly since I was in grad school in early 2006 (I believe the story about finding fellow Steelers fans in China originally caught my eye), and I have been captivated by your stories ever since. I am sad to see column end -- but best of luck back in the States.
Thank you for the many stories. Perhaps my family and I may try the expat thing someday.
I am a Chinese, staying in San Diego right now. Just write to say hi and wonder if you are feeling better with your homesick for Peking : ). By chance I read your articles in http://chinese.wsj.com/gb/EXP.asp, I really enjoy in reading them so that I can feel your happiness as well as your sadness. In my opinion, your time with your Chinese friends as a foreigner in Peking, especially your band experience make you feel yourself unique and a strong feeling of achievement, which are hard to be felt in U.S. Maybe that's why you missed there so much. Haha, it's just what came to me when I was reading what you wrote, plz don't mind if u disagree. Besides, I think that you are very sensitive and observing, you should have been a very good psychologist if u r not an excellent writer. : ) Best wishes!~
Hi there Allan,
I am Jonson, a university student. I have read your article about Yechen in the Wall Street Journal, though I wonder why they post something like this there.
It's pretty touching as the way you describe Yechen, It appeals to me, especially at the days like now; most Chinese guys seem to have no soul. I wonder if it is possible that you could tell me the contact of Yechen, of course only if he and you are willing to : )
China is in a situation where the country is advancing but not the people, walking down the street everyday, I feel like no people are around me but simply slaves of money...pretty bad for a person like me who actually loves my home country, but could think no way to change it besides to enhance myself in all ways.
Your friend Yechen is gay. That is what it is. He might have had a crush on you just as Bob to OneTwo in the movie of RocknRolla.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
- THE EXPAT LIFE
- JUNE 26, 2009, 11:45 A.M. ET
Having achieved closure after a return visit to Beijing, Alan Paul bids readers farewell.
By ALAN PAUL
This will be my final Expat Life column. After three and a half years, 91 columns and six months back in the U.S. it is simply time to move on.
My recent 13-day return visit to China helped me achieve closure with most parts of my existence there, making the conclusion of this part of my life a bit easier to bear. Though I had a great trip, getting back on the plane to New Jersey felt right. I had no conflicted feelings or second thoughts about where I was headed: home.
The thing is, I felt much the same way two weeks earlier when I landed in Beijing. When I walked out of customs and saw our old reliable taxi driver, Mr. Lu, waiting for me, it felt like I had never left. But as we pulled onto the highway and headed for a friend's house, it began to strike me that I no longer had a home there.
Then we turned onto the road that runs behind the housing compound where we lived and it was so unrecognizable that I thought that Mr. Lu had gotten lost. The tall trees that lined the street were gone, removed several months ago to make way for the massive construction of a new subway line that now dominates the formerly sleepy lane and has completely transformed the neighborhood. I had been gone less than six months, but it might as well have been six years.
Construction is also underway up and down the nearby Jing Shun Lu, a busy commercial road that was transformed from a dusty dump last year by some extensive pre-Olympics landscaping. Much of that work is being ripped up to make way for subway tracks. And the bucolic park by the roadside that used to be filled with kite flyers on weekend afternoons is now a construction site with a massive hole that will soon be a subway station.
The whole area looks almost completely different than it did when I arrived in Beijing four years ago and could hop on my bike and pedal onto completely rural lanes in 10 minutes. It's mind-bending to contemplate what it might look like in four more years.
Many of my friends' lives seemed to be similarly under construction. This time of year is always tough for expats as a host of beloved friends depart, but the recession has quickened the rate of departure and lessened the inflow of new expats. A friend who heads the welcome committee at our old housing compound told me she hasn't greeted any newcomers since March.
Several friends have lost their current positions and are still interviewing for jobs all over the world. As summer approached, they said they had no idea where they would be going. One suddenly unemployed friend was interviewing for jobs in Seattle and London, another in Hong Kong and London -- while also considering an entrepreneurial opportunity that would have him leap off the expat package and remain in Beijing.
I hope they will make the same realization that my expat experience led me to: home is where you hang your hat. I felt little emotion when I visited the good friends now living in our old house. The experience reiterated something that I had often felt while living in China and returning to visit New Jersey: my attachment to specific things and places is diminished. Home is where my family is; the building where we live is just there to contain us.
While living in Beijing, Expat Life columnist Alan Paul teamed with a Chinese guitarist to form a blues group. It turns out that there are no language barriers in a musical conversation.
As nice as it felt to be in Beijing and as happy as I was to see so many friends, it was clear to me that I didn't quite have a place in the firmament there anymore. I felt a bit untethered, floating through others' lives without the anchor of my family.
I also had reminders of several things I do not miss about China. There were several chokingly bad pollution days and even on the blue-sky day when I flew into Beijing, we descended through a visible, gauzy brown cloud. Everything looked monochromatic -- grayish brown and covered with dust. It made Maplewood, N.J. seem like a tropical rain forest. While I was visiting several dogs died in Beijing Riviera, the housing compound where we lived, and autopsy reports revealed high levels of dangerous pesticides, including several long banned in the U.S. I am happy to have my kids out of that environment.
The one time I really did feel like I was coming home was when I took the stage with my band. All of my worries about whether one short rehearsal would be enough before playing 10 shows in 10 days vanished almost immediately after entering a practice space in the basement of a tattoo parlor on the fringes of south Beijing. I found my three Chinese bandmates there and we exchanged happy but brief greetings, then just started playing. It felt like I had never left. We looked at one another and smiled as the music flowed because we were all thinking the same thing: "This is as good as I thought it was." Once again, musical chemistry had topped verbal communication.
My experience with the band was the opposite of closure -- it made me fiercely miss the music and the camaraderie. I am more committed than ever to trying to bring them to the U.S. next summer.
One other emotional trigger came as a surprise: strolling through the airport on my way to Wuxi to visit my former Chinese teacher, I felt more wistful for the soaring new terminal than for my own house. That place was the launching (and landing) pad for so many great trips, adventures that changed the way I see everything and which I'm sure I will remember forever.
Walking by the Haagen Dazs near the security line made me think of my kids, clambering for ice cream every time we were rushing to catch a flight. And that made me miss my family terribly; I wished I was boarding a plane to New jersey right then instead of venturing deeper into China on my own.
My only goal with this column was to honestly relate my own experiences and attempt to put them into some type of context. Some readers have occasionally taken me to be a shill for China or a proselytizer for the expat life. Though neither was my intention, I am not surprised; moving to Beijing was the second best decision I have ever made (after choosing my wife).
Now I am going to have adapt to not processing all of my experiences through this column and to not having regular interaction with so many of you. I have taken as much from my readers as anyone has possibly gotten from me. The feedback and interaction with people all over the world, including many expats, former expats and potential expats, have been not only a pleasure but consistently educational.
Please stay in touch. To drop me a line or see what I am up to, please visit www.alanpaul.net and keep sharing your ideas with me. I will still be finding ways to write about my China experiences, possibly in a book. The expat life will always be a part of me, and so will The Expat Life.
Write to Alan Paul at email@example.com
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
But I have been aware of the uproar over how much coverage he has received. With the memorial going on today I wanted to tune in and catch some of the weirdness. Fox News streamed on my computer more easily than CNN or anything else so I am watching it and I am sort of shocked that they are covering it all so straight, with no irony or real awareness about the weirdness. In this age of Comedy Central how is this super square, overly earnest approach still the norm?
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
He was never scared.
Sawtooth Lake, high altitude alpine lake... great use of the self timer, with camera held up by twigs.
Anna on her sixth birthday.
Sunset from the ranch porch.
Eli and Ellie Singer rock climbing.
On rafting trip Eli was the first one up "Jump Rock."
Jacob and Kapp Singer celebrating completion of a big hike.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
It's www.alanpaul.net if you want to check in later.
My final Expat Life column is running tomorrow and I wanted to have a page to direct readers to. Certainly a work in progress. Let me know what you think. I enjoy web design, actually.
For now at least "blog" just redirects here. Maybe some day I will move away from "alan paul in china."
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I wrote this column about being married to a successful woman on spec for a new publication and it did not run, for a variety of reasons. A very different version will be out in a few months. I thought I'd post here.
When my family and I relocated to Beijing, China four years ago, a lot of people in the thriving expatriate community there were curious about how it felt to be a male “trailing spouse.” While I did in deed stand out in the crowd of wives around our housing compound, I never really gave my status much thought beyond detesting the inherently demeaning term “trailing spouse.” I have never thought of myself as “trailing” anyone. We may have moved to the other side of the world for my wife’s job, but that hardly defined me. Besides, while this was our first foreign posting, the role was really old hat for me.
My wife and I have been together for 20 years and the outlines of our central relationships – with one another and with our work –were drawn at the very beginning. We got to know each other as college students working at the Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan newspaper. She was my boss there, the Editor in Chief to my Arts Editor. I graduated first and edited a small weekly newspaper for a year. Then we set of for Florida together in search of newspaper jobs.
We interviewed at six papers. She got five offers. I got a half of one-- for a part time position at the smallest place we visited. I was dispirited but never thought of the setback as anything other than bad luck and myopic thinking by the hiring editors. I don’t lack self-confidence, which cushioned that blow and has continued to serve me well. It is an essential ingredient for any man married to a successful woman. I have never been anything but happy for her career advancement. Eventually I realized that her success also opened a lot of doors for me, paving the way for me to do what I want, as long as I am willing to also accept being on the domestic frontlines with our kids and home life.
We have now been happily married for 16 years, achieving a work/life balance that has allowed each of us to thrive professionally. Without my support and flexibility, she would not be able to have it all, as a dedicated, involved mother and a highly successful career. Without the stability that her income and benefits have provided, I would not have been able to spend the last decade building a varied, rewarding freelance career writing about my passions, most notably my family, basketball and music.
It was hard to envision all this 20 years ago when we were down in Florida desperately trying to get our feet on the career ladder. I eventually turned down another part-time job in New York City to move to Tampa and join my then-girlfriend. The boss who offered me the position and graciously extended my deadline to accept it as I wavered over what to do, offered some sage advice. “It’s good that you are confronting this issue early in your relationship,” she said. “Because it comes up sooner or later in all two-journalist marriages. You need to figure out how you are going to deal with it.”
She couldn’t have been more right, though the outlines of our implicit agreement shifted subtly over the years. Initially, it was simple: one of us would get a better job offer and the other would find a way to make it work in that new locale. After about 18 months in Florida, where I honed my craft, I was hired as Managing Editor of Guitar World magazine, a far more appropriate and exciting job for me than covering local news for a small newspaper. The magazine was in New York and Rebecca began looking for jobs there while I started working. Not surprisingly, she landed on her feet – by calling the same woman who had been so understanding of my plight. Every subsequent move we’ve made, however, has been triggered by her employment. We relocated from New York to Detroit to New Jersey, to Beijing and back to Jersey.
Each of these moves required me to reinvent myself and, for the last ten years -- since our first son was born -- to focus first on getting the family settled and righted. (We now have three kids.) It can be overwhelming but I have never really felt anything other than grateful for the opportunities each of these moves has ended up providing me and proud of Rebecca and all she has achieved. I knew exactly whom I was marrying
Besides, as the old saying goes, behind every great woman is a great man.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Click here to find out more.
That whole thing also made me feel like the JCC's should all have armed guards. Am I crazy to think that?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Considering Jacob basically did not play for three years (One weak half season in Beijing) he has done really well. His coach sent out a list of reasons the team had advanced to the Semis and this was number 10:
10) Jacob's key play in CF, getting to the long hit & making a perfect throw to the relay man, holding their best hitter to a double.
I couldn't believe it when he made this play. It was a towering drive he had no chance to catch but he stayed clam, ran over, scooped it up and threw it in. Next game is Weds. night. Here are some pics from the last one...
Saturday, June 13, 2009
* THE EXPAT LIFE
* JUNE 5, 2009
An Old Friend in China Searches for the Right Path
I just returned from a 12-day return visit to China. The trip was prompted by the release of "Beijing Blues," the debut CD by my band Woodie Alan, and we played 10 shows in 10 days to mark the occasion. I never would have returned so soon without the CD to promote, but I was happy to get back before a host of friends leave at the end of this month. It was my last chance to revisit my Beijing existence before it vanishes forever.
I also had another mission in mind: tracking down Yechen, my original Chinese teacher who left Beijing two years ago to become a Taoist monk on Huashan, a holy mountain near Xian. I had been haunted by my failure to offer him wise counsel when he was deciding whether to follow this spiritual path or accept a job at a London university. It took me a week to formulate a good argument for going abroad, by which time he had already set his course.
Last summer, when I visited him on Huashan and found him struggling with his new life, I was more forceful with my advice, insisting that it was not too late to start over and assuring him that leaving did not make him a failure. The day before I had learned that I won a major award for this column and I was riding a high, but I was also mystified. How, I wondered, had I come to China and found myself even while this native son, who had offered me so much insight into Chinese culture and history, was losing himself.
It seemed that he was tormented by the very thing that I was celebrated for – an ability to live in more than one world. I viewed it as a strength, while he seemed to consider it a debilitating weakness. He had already spent five years in London, which he loved, and was a well-read, deep-thinking, cosmopolitan guy. Rather than integrating that into his life, he now seemed anxious to leave it all behind. Yechen had a tremendous impact on me. He was a fantastic teacher and he also seemed to personify a spiritual longing endemic in contemporary China.
For all these reasons I became determined to see him on this visit. A few months before departing I emailed him that I would be in Beijing and would like to travel to the mountain. Several weeks later I received this reply: "Leaving mountain to start my life. Like to see you."
He had returned to his hometown of Wuxi, near Shanghai, and I squeezed in a 24-hour visit on my way to Shenzhen, where we were playing three shows. He said he would fetch me at the airport.
He looked much healthier than a year before. His long hair, which Taoist monks wear tied atop their head in a bun, was pulled back in a ponytail and he was wearing a black polo-style shirt and long khaki shorts. He was with an attractive young woman, whom he introduced as his cousin, Karen.
"She will be our driver today," he explained.
Chatting in a lakeside teahouse felt easy and comfortable. Yechen had appeared to me in Beijing as a lone wolf, with no connections to anything or anyone beyond his mother, whom he often referred to. But it soon became clear that there was a long line of people who were similarly drawn to his quiet magnetism.
Yechen was the oldest of four cousins, Karen explained, and they all looked up to him as a sage older brother. Two days earlier, they had learned that he had spent two years on the mountain – everyone thought he was in Beijing, and his parents still believe that. The cousins were shocked but not entirely surprised.
"He always had his own ideas," Karen said.
When I met Yechen he had just returned from London. Before that, I learned, he taught Chinese at a Wuxi middle school, where he was renowned for having students who delivered the highest test scores, despite the lowest work loads –"I thought they had enough stress," he explained.
Also, Karen told me, Yechen had dyed blond hair and was a "real fashion guy. He cared very much about what he wear."
Yechen asked if I minded if a couple of friends from university joined us for dinner. They were two female bank managers who had been extremely close with Yechen before completely losing touch. They had not seen him in almost 15 years, but talked about him often and finally decided they simply had to find out what had become of their smart, funny, insightful friend. Another former classmate was a policeman, who somehow located Yechen's cellphone number. I was touched by their story and he seemed happy to be with them, though he told me that he was initially angry they had found him; he wanted to remain lost.
Later that night, over an elegant dinner of abalone and shark fin soup –some of the only Chinese food I don't like – I listened as the old friends chatted comfortably. I could not understand their local dialect, but there was no mistaking the easy friendship they all maintained.
I asked the ladies what they thought Yechen would be during their time in college. With no hesitation, they answered in unison, "Laoshi," (teacher) which reiterated my belief that he had found his calling long before he set out looking for it.
None of them approved of him becoming a monk; they all considered it a great waste of a highly educated, possibly brilliant man. Virtually every Chinese person that I tell Yechen's story to has the same opinion, but he expresses no regrets.
Earlier in the day, as we strolled through some of the city's romantically decaying waterside alley neighborhoods, Yechen told me about his experiences on the mountain. He remained dedicated to his calling. He had returned home, he said, because his "master" at Baiyunguan, the Taoist temple in Beijing, suggested it might be a good thing to do. He was not giving up on monkhood, though he had no clear vision of what he would do now.
We were both attracted to the half-abandoned, crumbling houses occupied only by senior citizens, many practicing ancient, outdated crafts like the hatchet-wielding carpenter and the woman handcrafting bamboo wicker furniture. The two of us seemed in sync in being out of sync with modern life.
After dinner, as we all filed out, Yechen turned to me. "They want to go sing karaoke," he said. "You don't want to go do that, do you?"
Actually, I did. I spent three and a half years in this karaoke-crazed nation without ever partaking. Yechen did not seem too keen on going, but he honored my request. Shortly after we entered the karaoke room a round of refreshments appeared – fruit platters, sweet popcorn and a dozen warm Budweisers. Yechen's reticence vanished.
He took over the computer controls, dimming the main lights, adding flashing lights and seeking English songs for me to sing; everyone was needlessly concerned about me being bored. "Copacabana" was the best I could find, but sadly no one understood how funny it was and politely applauded my awful performance.
Yechen was now fully into it, singing Chinese pop duets with his friends in a beautiful, clearly enunciated tenor voice that astounded me.
"I think he's still the fashion guy inside," Karen whispered to me.
I was yawning; it had been a long day and I was ready for bed. Yechen told me he would soon take me home, but 20 minutes passed and he remained engrossed in singing, asking if I minded if Karen drove me back to the hotel alone. I was happy to see him having so much fun.
He walked me out to the lobby to say good-bye, thanked me for coming and gave me a hug. I told him to stay in touch.
I woke up early the next morning and flew off to Shenzhen to meet up with the band. As I walked through that bustling city, I received a text message from Yechen. I expected it to thank me for visiting. Instead, it read, "I am always a monk, although I am not stay temple or mountain."
I wrote him back: "I know that. It is inside you. You can live in both worlds. Don't feel guilty for enjoying it. Your cousin and friends are very nice and they really care about you. It was great seeing you."
I have not heard back.
Write to Alan Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
"Beijing Blues" from the Star Live, Beijing, May 29, 2009. This is the biggest club in Beijing.. holds about 1,500 and we had a good crowd.. performance was part of the IDrummer show, featuring the city's top drummers. Lu Wei was being honored.. He did a big solo before this tune and we did two more songs, with extended solos.
Note how the camera also took my head off at the very end...
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Our first gig on the tour got rained out and forced inside for an intimate unplugged night.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
This is my second email post and the first to try and include images.It is delayed because I sent to the wrong address. Trying again...And again.. Just got bounced back because size was too large.. I have now reduced to one photo...
So I finally broke down and started Twittering after it was pointed out to me by email by a colleague at the WSJ that my current situation is actually pretty interesting. That was when I was sitting waiting for the drum machine/keyboard and acoustic guitar/congo duo to finish their karaoke-like set at the Ben Se Club in Shenzhen so we could play our 45 minute set. Then we ran out to a waiting bus and were whooshed to a second Ben Se Club for another similar set. And as I did all this it struck me that, yes, this stuff was actually worth Twittering, I supposed.
So back at the hotel, at about 3.30 am, after eating Sichuan noodles at a street stall, I reactivated my dormant Twitter account and started posting. You can catch up with them here: http://twitter.com/AlPaul
But I thought I would also repost some of them here. I wanted to call special attention to the shadiness of my hotel room. We moved out of it today and into another place, where I am now, which is spartan but much better.
I wrote this:
Half the people I know would have a stroke if they saw this room. Dirty and threadbare would be an insult to those words.
Abot the shows I wrote, and this took about four Tweets -such a brief format.
So we played two sets in two different branches of the same club--Ben Se, or True colors - last night. They had a bus waiting to shuttle us. And the second one was big..few hundred people, huge stage, lights, great sound system. We repeated same set and just killed. It was the first time I fully felt the same rush and confidence we were riding before I left in December. I can not believe how far my singing inhibitions are gone. I am letting it all hang out. Now, though, happy to get out of this dump hotel.
"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online
Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World
"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online
Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World
"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online
Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World
"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online
Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World
Friday, May 29, 2009
I felt a great need to see him to achieve some sort of closure in our relationship – that word I hate again proving indispensible! But also I wanted to see him because I have been thinking more and more about writing a book about my China venture and the more I thought about the more convinced I became that Dong had to be prominent in the book. I needed to see him and see how he was doing for all of these reasons.
Last summer, while at Huashan, I thought Dong looked terrible and he told me that he was really struggling and as thinking about leaving the mountain. I wanted to find out what happened. I needed to find out what happened. I sent him a message and waited to hear back.
Not surprisingly, it takes a monk on a holy mountain a while to respond. Finally, I was sitting at the Dead concert at the Meadowlands – literally sitting there thinking about Dong and wondering how I was going to find him and if it made sense to leave time blocked out to see him if I had not – when an email popped onto my Iphone: “I am returning to Nanjing to start my life. Like to see you. Dong”
Ultimately, he had instead returned to his hometown of Wuxi, in between Nanjing and Shanghai, and I squeezed in a 24-hour visit there on my way from Beijing to Shenzhen in Southern China, where we were playing two shows. He said he would fetch me at the airport.
I walked out of baggage claim and there he was, looking much healthier and less gaunt than a year before His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail and he was dressed in a black polo-style shirt and long khaki shorts. He was with an attractive young woman, whom he introduced as his cousin Karen.
“She will be our driver today,” he explained.
She told me she had taken a day off of work at an American company to ferry us about Wuxi in her Audi, which was surprise number one. She had recently married a “rich boy,” Dong told me, explaining the car.
We got in and drove to the large Lake on which Wuxi sits. It felt easy and comfortable to talk to Dong. We went to a teahouse and sat sipping and chatting. Dong had appeared to me in Beijing as a lone wolf, with no connections to anything or anyone beyond his mother, whom he often referred to. I never heard him once mention his father, whom I presumed to be dead. So I was shocked when he told me that he had come back from the mountain a month ago for his father’s 60th birthday.
I told him I had never heard him mention him and he told me that they had a falling out years earlier and that his baba had crossed some lines that could not be forgiven. He was vague, but said that he respected him, but could never be truly close to him. He said the behavior was “like the mafia, you know.”
Seeing Dong through the eyes of his cousin, a decade younger and clearly full of love and admiration for him was fascinating. Dong was the oldest of four cousins, she explained, and they all very much looked up to him. Days earlier, they had learned that he had spent two years on the mountain – everyone thought he was in Beijing the entire time, and his parents still believe that. The cousins were shocked by the news but not entirely surprised.
“He always had his own ideas,” she said.
I was learning more and more of my friend’s back story. He had appeared to me as if fallen from the sky, with no past, but of course this was not true. He was an important figure for quite a few people.
When I met Dong he had just returned from five years in London. It was there, apparently, that he changed a lot. Before going abroad and after finishing college at Nanjing Normal University, he had taught Chinese at a Wuxi middle school. He was a very popular teacher. Despite never working his students too hard – “I thought they had enough stress,” he said – they received the best marks on all exams. I was not surprised by this. He is a great teacher.
Also, Karen told me, Dong was a “real fashion guy. He cared very much about what he wear.”
He would generally not wear any clothes purchased in Wuxi; he traveled to Shanghai to do all his shopping. Also, at the time, he had died blond hair, which caused a major sensation amongst his fellow teachers. His excuse? He was going prematurely gray so decided to die his hair but bought bad die, which turned his hair blond. It made no sense and Karen said everyone laughed and was amazed at his ability to sell such a far fetched tale.
So he was an excellent, beloved teacher who was a little cheeky – interesting but not surprising exactly.
Dong asked me if I minded if a couple of friends from University joined us for dinner. Of course I did not mind. The story behind them was, in fact, fascinating. There were two women from Wuxi – both now back in their hometown working as bank managers – and they had been very close with Dong at University but had completely lost touch with him. They had not seen him in 15 years and were talking about him one day and became a bit obsessed with finding their old friend.
Another former classmate was a policeman and he helped do some legwork and eventually somehow located Dong’s cell phone number and they called him. “Were you happy that they had made so much effort to find you?” I wondered.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, with a serious look. “I was angry. I did not want to be found. They told me they were coming to see me in Beijing so I had to tell them the truth about where I was.”
His friends were shocked.
Later that night, over an elegant dinner of abalone and shark fin’s soup – which I avoided eating for my entire stay in China – they all seemed to share an easy familiarity and friendship. One friend had her husband there, another a friend from work. The six of them all bantered endlessly in Wuxi-hua, a dialect that sounds exactly nothing like Mandarin, but quite a bit like Japanese.
Karen and Dong translated for me at times, but I enjoyed just listening to the banter and noting the easy friendship they all had, even after all those years of never seeing each other. I asked the ladies what they thought Dong would be during their time in college. With no hesitation, they answered in unison, "Laoshi.” (teacher)
“He was so smart and funny and insightful,” one said. “We all knew he would be a great laoshi.”
None of them approved of him becoming a monk; they all considered it a great waste of an educated, maybe even brilliant man. This is a very common perception amongst Chinese – virtually everyone that I have told Dong’s story to has had the same opinion. But Dong still did not see it that way.
Earlier, before dinner, while sitting at a Starbucks sipping coffee, Dong told me in great detail about his experiences at the mountain. Though he looked much, much better and happier now than he did when I saw him at HuaShan a year ago, he insisted that his time there was time well spent. He was a bit disillusioned because his romantic vision of a community of egalitarian, non-material, meditating communion had proven to be naïve. But he was as dedicated as ever to his calling.
He had returned home, he said, because his “master” at Beiyingguan, the Taoist temple in Beijing, suggested it might be a good thing to do. He was not giving up on monkhood, though he had no clear vision of what he would do now. “He told me I could maybe become an immortal,” he said.
He explained a bit about what that means, and said that people could even fly, a proposition that caused Karen to giggle into her hands and look a bit shocked and embarrassed.
“Really,” Dong said, growing a bit embarrassed himself and clearly weighing the wisdom of discussing such matters at all.
Later, after dinner, as we all filed out, the friends talked a bit before saying good bye. Dong turned to me. “They want to go to KTV and sing karaoke,” he said. “You don’t want to go do that, do you?”
Actually, I was very interested. I had amazingly spent three and a half years in this karaoke-crazed nation and never entered one. Dong seemed a bit shocked, and not too interested in going, but he honored my request. We got into the karaoke room and a round of refreshments was ordered up – fruit platters, popcorn and a dozen warm Budweisers, with a bucket of ice. Dong’s reticence soon vanished and he took the mic, singing duets with his friends in a beautiful, clearly enunciated tenor voice.
He took over the computer controls, dimming the main lights, adding flashing lights, lasers and strobes and seeking English language songs for me to sing – everyone was concerned about me being bored but needn’t have worried. “Copacabana” was the best I could find and I was a little disappointed that no one understood how funny it was. But I was just astounded at Dong. He was having a ball and I was happy to see it.
He took a seat at the front of the room on a raised platform and sang another song. “I think he’s still the same guy,” Karen whispered to me. “He’s still a fashion guy inside.”
I was yawning by now. It had been a long day; I woke up at 530 in Beijing to catch my plane to Wuxi and I was starting to lose it. Dong told me he would take me back to the hotel at 10 pm -- in 20 minutes. But when the time came he was fully engrossed. He and Karen huddled and then asked if I minded if she drove me back to the hotel alone. He wanted to keep singing. Far from caring, I was happy for him.
He walked me out to the lobby to say good bye, thanked me for coming and gave me a hug. I told him to stay in touch.
I woke up early the next morning and flew off to Shenzhen to meet up with the rest of the band. I was still amazed at having left Dong in a karaoke bar. Then I got a text message from him. I expected it to thank me for coming down. Instead, it read, “I am always a monk, although I am not stay temple or mountain.”
I wrote him back: “I know that. It is inside you. You can live in both worlds. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying it. Your cousin and friends are very nice and they really care about you. It was great seeing you.”
I have not heard back.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I’m at the airport in Beijing, on my way to see dong, my old Chinese teacher, in his hometown of Wuxi (pretty close to Shanghai). As some of you will recall, he dropped out to become a monk and ended up on the holy mountain of Huashan. I visited him there last year, along with whole family, including parents and aunt and uncle (Joan and Ben) and he was not well, I could see right away.
Now he has returned to Wuxi “to start his life.” I am looking forward to seeing him. I felt like this was an unresolved issue for me. I always felt a little guilty for not having offered him better guidance when he decided to become a monk. It’s a long story and one I hope to tell in detail some day soon.
The next few days are the Dragon Boat Festival, which has recently been elevated by the government into a national holiday. They used to only have three real holidays a year in China – New year, when everyone returns home and the “golden weeks” in May and October, when every single Chinese person who could afford to took a holiday and vacation places became absurdly crowded. As in, crowded beyond anything you can imagine if you have never been to china. So they shortened those two weeks and spread the extra national holidays amongst a few other ones, hoping to spread it all out a bit.
Well, it seems to have worked. I walked into the giant, soaring new Terminal 3 at 6:30 this morning and found it packed. Far more crowded than I have ever seen it. Even though I had a good half hour before the mandatory 45-minute cutoff for checking in – and the computers literally shut down, as I once experienced – I was worried looking at the lines. But Air China is efficient! I was checked in in 10 minutes and just finished slurping down a big bowl of spicy pork noodles for breakfast. Must go brave the security line now.
I am on the plane now, one of about three Westerners. The plane is full but not packed. I have never really even heard of Wuxi before, but in China there are always a lot of people going everywhere.
Walking through the airport, I felt a real surge of emotion, which surprised me. It’s not that I have any particular love for the actual airport, but the place was the launching (and landing) pad for so many great, great trips, adventures that changed the way I look at everything and which I’m sure I will remember forever.
I looked at the Haagen Dazs near the security line and really missed my kids, thinking about they always clambered for ice cream when we were on our way to a flight and Becky and I calculating if we had enough time to stop. And thinking about things like that makes me really long to see the family and miss them fiercely. All those great trips would not have been so memorable or important to me had I done them alone.
It’s really nice to be here and it is sure easy to make decisions and improvise plans with no one else to consider, but it also feels lonely and hollow not having the family with me. Even surrounded by friends and people I really love, it is lonely.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
And yet, the “closure” will not really come because it just the opposite with the band. It really was as good as I thought. It was not a figment of my imagination. I still have a home there. I fit right in. It fulfills me in a different way than anything else quite has, I may have “closure” in most respects at the end of this trip but I am only going to miss the band more. No two ways around that.
I am of now for our second gig today and fifth in three days… at Jianghu Jiuba, my favorite little downtown bar. It is tiring but fun and after today I have two days without too much on the docket.
On Tuesday I am flying to Wuxi, near shanghai to see dong, my old chinese teacher who became a monk and has now left the monkhood. The next day we go to Shenzhen for two gigs. I will keep the updates coming. Still have not figured out how to post any video with Youtube down.
Friday, May 22, 2009
We had a rehearsal yesterday afternoon and our first show last night. I was a little worried at first if one short rehearsal would be enough before welaunched into all these shows. I had some concerns about clicking with the band and remembering all the songs.
Well, it was not a problem at all. My friend’s driver took me to the studio, which was way out there, a few miles south of Tianemen in a neighborhood I never knew existed, in a run down apartment complex, in the basement of a tattoo parlor. The studio guy, peroxided hair held back with some of elastic band, giant sunglasses on his face, tattoos covering his arms met me in the parking lot and walked me over. I descended a steep set of stairs, walked into the (very nice) studio and there they were..
I hugged Woodie, behind his lap steel, shook hands with Lu Wei and Zhong Yang. We all smiled and laughed a little. They said I looked the same, as if it had been five years and not five months. Peroxide guy plugged me in and we just started playing and BAM it was there. Like we had played the day before, an amazing feeling. And just like that I heard my own singing and playing elevate by a million.
The grooves are just so perfect for me, I know just what to do, just what to play. I don’t really know how else to describe it except the sum is greater than the whole of its parts and in my case far greater.
Being in Beijing sort of feels like coming home, but not really. There are too many missing and disparate variables, but playing with the band really felt like coming home. I don't know how else to describe it.
The bummer part is it was spitting rain all afternoon and our gig last night was outdoors at the Stone Bar. We already had plans to eat dinner at Xiao Wang Fus, one of my favorite standby restaurants, which is right in the park, and I really didn’t want to just bail because I didn’t know who might show up. So I called Jonathan, the club owner and said, “We’d like to play acoustic inside and you don’t have to pay us or anything.”
So that’s what we did. I played acoustic guitar, Lu Wei played a djembe, Zhong Yang played bass through Woodie’s little guitar amp, Woodie played harmonica and Dave played sax. One vocal mic, nothing else amplified. And it was great.
Indeed, several friends showed up, as well as a handful of other people and we had a great intimate, cozy time, playing for about 30 people – but really playing for ourselves. As I was singing I was sort of amazed at the sound of my voice a few times -- where did this come from? I wondered. My playing and especially singing in the band improved steadily as I passed various milestones, of just letting go and trusting myself. It reached a new level when we decided to move from Beijing because I suddenly realized this opportunity may never come again and I did not want to leave anything on the table. And that feeling is multiplied now. I really want to take some singing lessons and see if I can improve by actually knowing what I am doing. Because I know for a fact that it is possible to really improve just by doing it.
We videoed a few songs and I watched them today and was happy to her that it sounded like I thought it did – not always the case. I’ll try to throw one up on YouTube if I can figure it out. It is banned here, so I will have to be creative. There are other video services as well, of course.
We have two gigs today… one in the afternoon downtown at some sort of festival and one tonight at the Orchard, near here, where we will have many, many Riviera friends.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I am staying at a friend's house in Quan Fa, a compound across the street from Riviera, where we lived. Yesterday afternoon I rode a bike over to Riviera and it felt nice to be there, but it also looked dustier and more drab than I remembered. The monochromaticism of this whole place is really striking -- and a reminder of just why I was so moved by the brilliant colors of spring in Maplewood, as per earlier posts.
Everything is brown, grey and covered in dust, even now.
Our friends Jim and Theo have moved into our house and I thought going over there would be really odd, but it wasn't actually. I was happy to see them there and with their stuff in place it looked like their house, not ours, in a good way.
I have always said that I am glad that I kept this blog and wrote my columns because they served as proof -- even to myself -- that I really did everything, that it was not just some crazy fever dream. I feel that way more than ever now. Everything is so familiar and yet... I don't quite have a place in the firmament here anymore.
I had a nice reunion with a few friends over dinner last night, but we went for a nice outdoor hang at the Pomegranate, a Western food pub, not really the grub I am craving. I am looking forward to digging into some great Chinese food, though I figure I might have to take it a little easier than I am used to. Maybe my stomach is no longer used to local flora.
I am about to have a nice Cantonese lunch... dumplings and wonton/noodle shrimp soup. Then head down for a rehearsal. Hopefully it's like riding a bike and hopefully I won't keel over too early tonight because the Woodie Alan CD Release and Reunion tour kicks off tonight at the Stone Boat in Ritan Park, always one of my favorite spots and just the second place we ever played, I think.
The Beijinger blog did a nice interview with me.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I am also twisted with exhaustion because I could not sleep last night. Mercifully I am flying first class -- for just the second time ever. Frequent flyer miracle ticket. I am sitting int he lounge right now and just amazed at this alternate universe which has been ticking away under my nose unbeknownest to me. I have to figure out how to crack into this regularly.
The logistics on either end have been daunting.. setting up everything here and there, etc. And trying to finish a lot of work before leaving so I have had precious little time to reflect on any of this. As soon as I checked my bags in and got my boarding pass, I turned around and felt a huge swell of emotion wash over me. It was the first time it really fully struck me: I am going back to China.
Out of time.
Here is a page I made to advertise the show.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The whole thing also reminded me of how much I love going to rural places in China, especially in the mountains of Sichuan and Yunnan. Breathtaking in several different ways.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
This dogwood tree really makes me happy..several times
a day, too.
Spring is no nice here.. it is very hard to miss anything about China when you walk outside and see a gorgeous pink dogwood tree staring you in the face, as I do every morning. I can’t tell you how happy that tree makes me…
Or how happy just cruising around town and seeing the dogwoods, cherry trees and God know what else in full bloom everywhere. It is really beautiful and peaceful. A riot of colors.. red, pink, white and green, green, green everywhere you look. A deep, only-in-spring, vibrant, almost technicolor green. In the last few weeks all the trees have blossomed and it is looking like a rain forest around here.
Our lawn suddenly started growing rapid fire as well, of course. It became covered in dandelions – much to the kids’ delight. They love them, think they’re beautiful, love nothing more than blowing the dried out seeds and watching them scatter. And whose to say they’re wrong, really? I think they’re pretty, too.
Along with the buttercups that have taken over much of our backyard and the gorgeous little purple flowers growing on some weedy intruder on our front lawn. They’re all colorful and pretty. Why throw down a bunch of poisonous herbicide to kill them and create a perfect suburban lawn?
Still, I feel a little guilty about that, especially with fastidious lawn tenders on either side. The boys were skipping around playing and I said, “I have to mow this lawn.” They were horrified.
Jacob: “Why? The flowers are beautiful. And the bees love them.,. and all the other bugs. They don’t want a lawn like that…”
He pointed next door.
“The lawn guru’s lawn doesn’t look nearly as pretty.” He pointed over at their deep green, weed-free expanse. I sort of agreed and yet…
I’d really like to go au natural, turn our lawn into a native species prairie or whatever would happen, but it would really cause a stir around here. I saw some of them in Ann Arbor but not around here, despite it being such a liberal community.
Finally, I took out the mower on Sunday and Eli was horrified. “What are you doing?” he screeched. “You’ll kill all the flowers!”
I pushed on but they are swaying me. And I was proud of Jacob for coming up with “lawn gurus” on his own.
Our dandelion strewn lawn before I cut it the other day.
Unfortunately, you can't see the beautiful little purple flowers.
"The grass gurus."
Carrie Wells walk way.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
At the top is the sign Anna made and posted around her school. This may be my favorite thing ever.
Below is Jackson W, first recipient of Bob gerbils.
Gerbils For Free. Looking for a good home.
ot to LA1.
Eli's buddy Jackson, first proud recipient of
a Bob child.
Eli and Jacob are carefully screening and
interviewing all prospective adoptive parents. Seriously.