Thursday, February 26, 2009

In response to below comment....

I thought I would post this here instead of as a response but I am responding to comment on previous post...

You raise lots of good points. I am nt a political writer, nor do I aspire to be. This was not deep analysis but off the cuff thoughts as I watched the speech.

When he got aroud to saying we could cure cancer I began to feel nervous.

It is, however, ultimately very refreshing to me to have someone speak like an adult. And I think that squandered opportunities and a lack of asking much of anyone is a hallmark of the bush years and it is hard for me to imagine any historical perspective changing that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's speech

My first thoughts: his enthusiasm is refreshing, his optimism what we need right now. Just seeing him standing there with Biden and Pelosi sitting behind him is a bit surreal and rather wonderful after years of seeing W swagger mindlessly with Cheney scowling behind him and Hastert sitting there wondering how long it was until he could get to that bratwurst. We wasted eight years, falling behind the world.

As the speech goes on, it feels more and more epic to me. These are frightening and uncertain times but at least the adults are in charge now. When W took power that was supposed to be the case but they turned out to be the most immature, adolescent bunch of yahoos you could imagine.

I think Obama needs to plow forward with politeness towards the opposition but o deference. If they want to cast their lot as being obstructionist, let them do it and let the voter sort it out.

I just think that was a monumental speech, rising to the occasion of what we the people need right now. I just wish he didn't end with "God bless the United Sates of america." I hate that that has become de facto conclusion to all speeches now. It always struck me as a very presumptuous request.

I would have liked to hear him mention that at least we didn't go along with Repub plan to privatize Social Security -- so that everyone's SS accounts would now look like their shrunken 401ks.

Bobby Jindal's response is just bizarre and stilted. It is not going to sway anyone. The best thing to me about Obama is he does not talk to us like we are nation of stupid 10 year olds -- which is exactly what Jindal did. He sounded like the high school debate team captain talking to the kindergarten class.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hanover trip

We took for along weekend in Hanvoer, NH. Jacob and eli only hve MOnday and Tuesday off and we wanted to get away but didn't have time or energy to go far. so we went to Hanover to get som fresh air, do a little skiing and visit our old friends the Tashi family. The kids reconnected immediately and had a great time with Tenzin and Pema Tashi.

Though they are Maplewood friends (they moved about a year before we left for China), they are also Beijing friends for me, because Tashi travels there often for business and we had many great visits together.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Video... ran with my column

The still image at the beginning makes me cringe and has me working out fanatically.. but this is pretty funny, I think.

Repat columns

I have written three so far.. this is number two. Not sure why I amstarting in the middle.

Separating Anchors from Anvils
Moving Abroad and Back Teaches an Expat the Value of His Stuff

I'm writing this column sitting at the same desk in the same spot in the same room where I sat and worked for seven years before moving to China in 2005. I'm looking out the same window I used to gaze out and daydream about busting out into the wider world. After accomplishing many seemingly far off goals during my expat life in China -- starting a successful band, covering the Olympics, writing this column -- the thought of returning to the same old life filled me with dread.

I never seriously contemplating moving to a different place upon returning -- I really like Maplewood, New Jersey -- but I had a strong impulse to buy a new house. A new desk certainly seemed like the minimum requirement. But that was all from afar. On the ground, the reality was different. The sight of this old desk coming off the back of a truck delivering 64 boxes from storage made me smile. Nothing else in the giant delivery made me happier. I purchased it over a decade ago when a furniture store was going under and it was never much more than large, sturdy and utilitarian. Now it feels like an anchor, a crucial grounding device in my search to reestablish normalcy. And I'll take any help I can get.

As if leaving China wasn't shakeup enough, this has been a strange time to land back in the U.S. There is a powerful contradictory undercurrent: fear, uncertainty and nervousness over the economy but also hope and excitement over Barack Obama's presidency.
Join the Discussion

What possessions have you not been able to throw away? Why not? Share your experiences.

As my wife and three kids and I continue the process of trying to get back to normal, the very concept of "normal" seems to be under assault. Institutions that people considered bedrocks of the economy are shaky; some are gone altogether. Ideas about personal financial security -- even one's home being there -- are all in play. Friends and family members who thought job worries or economic concerns were for other people suddenly realize they apply to everyone. Few people I know are not experiencing increased anxiety.

This seems like a good time to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, which is ironic when we're living a bit like refugees, waiting for our sea shipment to arrive from Beijing with the bulk of our possessions, including beds and other furniture that will allow us to return to our house. Until then, we are living in cozy but cramped quarters with my aunt and uncle, who should be nominated for sainthood for happily putting up with the little tornado that is our daily life. This is also a time to be thankful for what you have, including family.

One step towards getting back into our house came last week when we retrieved the desk and everything else we had put into storage before moving to China in the summer of 2005. Rebecca and I could only remember a few large pieces of furniture and a couple of other things that we had stowed away. I guessed that we had about 15 boxes to come, and the news that it was actually 64 both stunned and amused me. After all we had thrown away, given away and taken with us China, how could we possibly have 64 boxes left here? What were they filled with? I was both curious and leery as I waited for the shipment to arrive.

View Full Image
Expat life and moving
Alan Paul

Alan Paul was happier to receive his old desk from storage than he expected. He was flummoxed to find a snow globe had also been stored.
Expat life and moving
Expat life and moving

I was ready to immediately get rid of most of it. I figured that we couldn't really need anything that we hadn't missed in three and half years. During our two-week journey home the 12 suitcases we were carting around began to feel like anvils around our necks and now I had to deal with all this other junk. My feelings were not unique. Many, many expats have many, many things in storage. We often joked about it with other expat friends in Beijing; none of us were exactly sure what we'd left behind.

We had good friends leaving Beijing at the same time we did, to return to England after seven years away. The husband returned first and told me that he was shocked and appalled to see a full truck pull up with their long forgotten treasures. His overwhelmed reaction helped prepare me. Our experiences are in fact the norm, according to Diane Picinic of the MI Group, the company that handled our storage and delivery.

"Most people who move back from overseas are very surprised to learn how much they have in storage," she says. "A lot of the stuff that comes out is disposed of. There's stuff that people don't want any more and electrical goods and appliances that either no longer work or are outdated."

I experienced a bit of that, tossing out a Palm Pilot I never much used anyhow. Even my voluminous CD collection seems bit dated in this iPod age, though I have enjoyed listening to some I had forgotten I owned, including some deep blues by Otis Rush and my favorite early Tom Waits albums. But there was surprisingly little that screamed out to be sold or donated -- just a few pieces of art that we will never hang again and a handful of glasses, pitchers and ceramic mugs that are both ugly and superfluous. Most of the goods will get stuffed right back into the closets from whence they came years ago: personal documents, letters, photo albums and magazines containing my work.

There was also an abundance of art and other items from my late grandparents' house. When we were moving, getting rid of their things seemed like saying good-bye to them, but I have more clarity on that issue now and some of their things will be gone soon. I don't remember my grandparents less after not seeing their modernist pencil sketches for a few years. I need to keep that in mind when the boxes from China arrive. My memories of Beijing are a lot deeper than those ugly Lunar New Year ceramic rats I couldn't bring myself to toss away.

Putting things into storage is often times just deferring difficult decisions, kicking it down the road. Now that I have covered a few thousand more miles – to China and back -- I have a better idea how to separate the anchors from the anvils.

Write to Alan Paul at

Copyright ©2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I'm still out here

I have not given up on the blog... sorry for all the gaps.

What a strange time.. so busty and so hard to get motivated at other times. I will write much more up her soon, I promise... though I don't know if anyone is still looking. Let me know if you are.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Super Bowl

Ready for kickoff.

Jacob was fully into it.

Cheerleaders were ready to roll.

Laura was wearing a black and gold
Paul Lumber sweatshirt. I was jealous.
Gracious hostess, even if she did check
Facebook mid game.

Jon was vaguely rooting for the Cards,
but he came through in the kitchen and
even with a few timely high fives.

Victory prompted some real Lord of the
Flies wilding...complete with shirts being
whipped off and flung around.

Well, that Super Bowl victory was a great welcome home present. So thank you coach Tomlin, Mr. Roethlisberger, Senor Santonio and all the rest. I have a space on the mantel reserved for the photo of Tomlin and Obama shaking hands. It will go right next to the portrait of Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hammering Hank.

It is really hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know why I/we care so much about the Steelers. I guess explaining any fandom is difficult. It is irrational and rather bizarre when you really think about it.. Of course it is not unique to the Steelers or football or America. I have lots of British, Aussie and other friends in Beijing who were awake at all hours of the night to watch soccer rugby and cricket matches and who root for their teams with just as much passion as anyone.

But it sure feels like the Steelers connect with more people in a deeper way than most teams. Is this just an illusion from inside the bubble? Perhaps but I don’t think so.

Steven Dubner in Freakonomics wrote a nice post yesterday about 10 Reasons to Like the Steelers. I would agree with all of them.. and the photo of his son at Heinz Field surely makes me want to get my guys there next year.

Our great friends Danny and Shani moved to Pittsburgh several years ago when he started working at Pitt after more than a decade in Ann Arbor. He was astounded by the intensity of the Steelers fervor and passion and how deep it runs. “They think they love football in Ann Arbor,” he told me. “But they don’t understand.”

And he is right. He told me about the day Cowher resigned two years ago. Everyone was walking around in a daze and a stranger approached him in a store. “What are we gonna do?” he wondered. Needless worry, as it turned out.

Last night, after the game, Danny sent me this message:

The ride home after the game amazing. Kids and grownups outside their houses wearing their gear, waving the towel, and all the cars honking and screaming. Eva loved it. She was hanging outside the window of the van screaming her head off.

I remember nights like that when I was a kid and I know that his girls will never forget it. They will have the fever forever… even when they end up in Israel, China or Nepal in 20 years. Especially then! They will find like-minded lunatics and gather together in the middle of the night to watch a game. I know this for a fact.

My Michigan loyalty could never be as deep because of what seeped in during my childhood. Danny’s girls are growing up during phase two of Steelers mania.. I grew up in phase one...

As you can see from these photos, I watched the game at my sister’s house and it was great fun. Nice to see our kids all wrapped up in it. I sometimes feel bad about not having them bond with local teams and worry about the lack of bonding that can come with that….For many years talking about sports has been an important part of my relationship with my brother and father… and for some years it probably was important to keep channels open. And I eel in one way like my kids should have the same kind of bond to their local teams here…but I can’t share that. And it can’t be the same anyhow.

On the other hand, I am glad that they share my love of the Steelers. They are members of Steelers Nation and it’s a pretty great club to be in.

Yesterday Jacob and I wore Steelers jerseys all day I had on a Bettis and he had my old school Bradshaw. I was vaguely embarrassed to go out like this truthfully but Jacob was so into it. We went out to lunch and as we were sitting there eating pizza he kind of thumped his chest and said to me, “Wear it with pride, dad.”

Super Bowl Shuffle

In tribute and celebration to last night's victory, I suggest watching the Bears' classic Super Bowl Shuffle. I forgot how great it is.. "I'm as smooth as chocolate swirl."