Thursday, April 30, 2009

Woodie Alan Beijing Blues CDs done and for sale

...right now in china only. I'm working on that. Felt great to see this when it arrived by email this morning.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last column -- moving abroad for a spouse

APRIL 10, 2009

It's China, or the Job
Spouses face difficult decisions when their partners are offered an overseas assignment


My work life was one of the many areas in which I was extremely fortunate during my China venture. I was able to maintain relationships with the two magazines I primarily worked for before moving -- Guitar World and Slam -- while also greatly expanding the scope of my work, as evidenced by the column you are now reading.

None of this was certain when we decided to move to China. I had to take a leap of faith that things would work out, assuming that if they didn't I would move on and find new things to do, hopefully enriched by my experiences abroad.
Join the Discussion

Have you or your spouse made sacrifices to support one another's career? Share your experiences.

Countless accompanying spouses face the same sort of decision when their partners are offered an overseas assignment. It can be a grueling crossroads, compounded by the fact that many countries have employment laws that make it virtually impossible for an accompanying spouse to work while on assignment.

Anxiety about a spouse's ability to work in the new country is a growing cause for expat unhappiness and for turning down assignments, according to Siobhan Cummins, executive vice-president and European managing director for ORC, a company that advises organizations about workforce management and compensation.

"We're seeing this becoming a bigger issue in each Dual Careers Survey we conduct with people concerned both with losing a second income and with falling off the career track," says Ms. Cummins. "Removing that income can have quite an impact on a family -- particularly now, when a lot of companies are very cost conscious and the expat compensation package is a lot leaner and meaner than it used to be."

Ms. Cummins says she believes people are particularly loathe to take career risks in the current, uncertain economic environment. "It's going to be particularly hard for people to get back in to work when they have been out of the job market for a while," she says. "People really have to give serious consideration to taking a career risk right now."

Nigel Haywood faced this excruciating decision last winter when his partner Karen was offered a great job in Beijing. Mr. Haywood was the chief executive of an organization that represents the interests of civil contractors in Western Australia and he had to decide whether to walk away from a well-paying, satisfying job in Perth to "throw everything up in the air and see what China would bring."

He agonized briefly before deciding to make the leap, on the belief that opportunities to live and work abroad don't come around often. "I didn't want us to be saying 'if only…' in our old age," he says. "Besides I figured that I would get a job in China easily, given my experience and CV."

The global economic crisis has made finding work more difficult than anticipated and Mr. Haywood has had to deal with not having a job for the first time in his adult life. "My identity was gone and I was in a country where I knew no one and couldn't understand anyone, making even the simplest task tremendously difficult," he says. "It made me think about how I was going to reinvent myself, which has proved more challenging than I ever imagined. Getting off the treadmill and suddenly finding myself able to do or be whatever I wanted has been a euphoric mix of opportunity and loss -- very hard emotions to deal with."

He recently decided to enroll full time in school, studying Mandarin to help ease his transition and return some structure to his daily life.

"I don't really have any regrets," says Mr. Haywood. "I know this will take time and I am in the middle of a process. This whole experience has also really brought Karen and I closer."

Donna Gorman faced a similar decision at an earlier stage, leaving behind a promising career in advertising and public relations in 1998 to move to Moscow when her husband got a foreign-service job there. She has been an expat for most of the ensuing years, living in Moscow, Armenia, Kazakhstan and now Beijing.

"We had just moved from L.A. to New York and I had a couple of great job offers when my husband got the offer to go to Moscow," she says. "We both have graduate degrees in Russian and it was a dream come true, so I didn't think twice about the initial decision."

Ms. Gorman says that while her work choices have been limited at each posting, she has branched out, working part-time at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and in Armenia and eventually becoming a freelance writer, a career she never envisioned.

"When I moved overseas, I started writing as a way to hold on to everything that was happening around me," she says. "One day I sent a personal essay to the Washington Post on a whim and they bought it. So I just sort of kept going."

Had she stayed in the U.S, she says, she likely would have remained on a more conventional path. Living overseas has allowed her family to do fine on one steady income, which she says would have been impossible in Los Angeles or New York, and has given her time to chase her muse and explore her new surroundings, which she has found deeply fulfilling.

On the other hand... "Sometimes, when I see where my former colleagues have gotten to, I feel twinges of regret: if so-and-so's a vice-president now, that means I should be ... what? Sometimes I also wish I'd contributed more to the family bottom line rather than spending so much time learning how to cut vegetables into dinosaurs -- but that's a complaint of stay-at-home parents everywhere. It has forced me to define myself in terms of my experiences rather than in terms of a job. I'm not an advertising executive, but I have all of these other life experiences that add up to something better than that. It's all in how I frame the question."

Though she may not have realized it, Ms. Gorman stumbled into the very solution to the dual-career challenge promoted by Jo Parfitt, a popular writer about the expat experience. Her book Career in Your Suitcase is now in its third edition.

"The theory is that the solution to the dual career challenge is the portable career," Ms. Parfitt says from her home in the Hague. "This is one that moves when you do, needs no cumbersome equipment or stock, has both local and global client bases, can grow and be sustained from country to country, can operate via the Internet and is based on what you most love to do."

She says the three steps to a successful "CIYS" are identifying your own skills and motivations; identifying local needs and opportunities at your location; and executing a plan through networking, branding and teamwork.

Of course, employment restrictions work both ways, and in some cases international moves can provide a career boost. My friend Vivian Nazari, a dentist and a native of Iran who holds dual Canadian/British citizenship and is licensed in the U.K., has seen her career thrive in Beijing. It wasn't easy to get licensed to practice: she had to find a job first, take a written and practical exam, surrender the diplomatic visa she had through her husband and go to Hong Kong to get a new work permit.

But at least she could do it. Since there is no licensing reciprocity in medicine or dentistry between the U.S. and Europe, she is unable to practice in the States without undergoing two years of school and taking exams -- a fact that will weigh heavily when she and her husband, who works for the World Bank, decide where his next posting will be.

"John and I met in London and moved to Washington shortly after we got married," she says. "Then we had three kids and decided I'd give up work and be a full-time mom. The posting to China meant I could do both, which I love. A posting in any country other than the U.S. and perhaps Canada would not have work restrictions for me so we'll see where we go. It would be very difficult for me to give up the work at this point."

Write to Alan Paul at

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Back from Western jaunt

Mexican Hat rock in Monument Valley.
We were there 20 years ago. Strange to think
how old we'll be if we wait 20 more to return again.

Jacob got up to go watch the sunrise with me.
Sandstorm obscured the brilliant red fireball I remember
from 1989, but very cool and eerie and beautiful to be there.
Jacob like the blowing tumbleweeds.

Dinosaur tracks near Tuba City, Arizona.
Navajo Nation.

Grand Canyon. They're pretty good hikers.

Two of the hottest moments of my life involved hiking
The GC in the summer... 1987 and 89, I think. It was nice
to be there in mild weather. Even saw snow.

Zion NP...stunning, and kids loved all the rock scampering.

In front of the Zion Lodge.

We returned late Saturday night form a week-long Western jaunt. We flew into Vegas and went to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley (with a side trip to the pathetic Four Corners) and the wonderful Zion National Park. I had been to all of these places before, but it was really different and fun to be there with the kids.

One of our motivations was really wanting the kids to have a great American adventure, to realize that we can still go out and do fun, wild stuff here, after all the Asian adventures. And also to fully understand the scope and grandeur of this great country of ours, to remind them that it is more than New Jersey, Michigan and Pittsburgh, our regular haunts.

We even did some ad libbing, adding in an unplanned trip to Monument Valley and the Four Corners, largely driven by Jacob’s obsession with seeing the latter. It was the one stop I had never made on this journey and now I see why. We drove hundreds of miles to get to a gravel parking lot. The upside: it was a stunning few hundred miles and it got us to Monument Valley, which is just as incredible as I remembered.

Becky and I were there almost exactly 20 years ago and she got quite sick there, necessitating a rushed and quite scary drive to an ER in Flagstaff, Arizona. So there was some sort of karmic justice in getting back there. I think the kids really got the magic of the place, too, and were quite intrigued by being in the Navajo Nation and seeing so many native people.

There was some really crazy weather there, with a big sandstorm whipping the red sand around in big swirls and sending tumbleweeds rolling all over the place, much to the kids’ delight. On the way in, I asked the woman at the entrance booth if this was normal weather and she said yes, for March and April. I asked how they handled it. “we stay inside.”

“What about back in the day?”

“Actually, I have no idea,”

Then Eli surprised the heck our of me. “I know what the Navajo did during sandstorms,” he said. “They had two different structures, a winter one, which was protected and only had one small window and a more open summer one. They went into he winter building during sandstorms.”

Wow. He told us a lot more about Native Americans after that.

Zion was particularly successful. Its beauty and majesty are hard to top and they all loved the endless rock scampering and climbing possibilities. Wild turkeys and deer everywhere.. Not too overrun with cars, thanks to the smart mandatory bus shuttle system. I can see making this a regular stop, as it is an easy three hour drive from Vegas and great place to meet up with West Coast friends.

We stayed in Vegas one night when we arrived (late), and thought about going back for the last night, before deciding that Zion was just too sweet to leave (more ad libbing). And thank God. The place is tremendously changed in the two decades since I’ve been there, but it’s as nasty or nastier than ever and no place for a family, no matter how many circus acts and roller coasters they add. The sleaze was just too much and the titillating billboards too hard to explain.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Devil's Hand

Johnny Clyde Copeland was one of my favorite bluesmen... very physical, like the boxer he once was. and a stone cold good dude. I have a great story about him and some advice he once gave me about women and Becky in particular.. I promise to get around to writing that up soon. In the meantime, enjoy the clip and R.I.P. Johnny.

We performed two of his songs pretty regularly with Woodie Alan and I felt good thinking about him every time I sang them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Columbia HS Hall of Fame

Yeah, I know the pictures suck, but...

The whole Cohen family was inducted into the Columbia HS Hall of Fame this morning. It was really a very nice event. Becky went to the first assembly and I went to the second. We ran over and took Jacob and Eli out of school for an hour to see it and I'm glad we did. It will give them something to aspire to.

They were all a bit embarrassed about being honored, but they gave great speeches -- Ben and the kids in the palm of his hand with surprisingly stirring oratory. It was all really nice.

I like this

Friday, April 03, 2009

Chinese class and cooking, too

Jacob and I have been having weekly Chinese classes with Linda. The others have dropped out. This week she was not in a hurry and stuck around so we could do some cooking together. She taught me how to make the simple but delicious Chinese comfort food of thin-sliced fried potatoes.

Third Culture President

I received the following email this morning from Ruth van Reken, author of the book Third Culture Kids and thought it was worth sharing.

In the Financial Times this a.m. there is an article calle "Handshake brokered by Obama saves day"

It is talking about the last minutes of talks between Mr. Sarkozy of France and Mr. Hu of China...

here's what it says:

"According to the account, confirmed by non-US officials, Mr. Obama got the two leaders to agree that the G20 would "take note" of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development list of rogue offshore tax havens rather than "endorse" that list.
This allowed the Chinese to save face, since they do not belong to the 30-member Paris-based .OECD. And it allowed Mr. Sarkozy to claim back home that he had chalked up a blow against Anglo-Saxon capitalism."

If we are looking for how a TCK childhood can influence the way that person operates in his or her adult life in their chosen career, it is this type of subtle of nuance that's recognized adn dealt with can make all the difference...Obama's experience in the non-Western world is clear here to me..that he helped find a way to not back others into a corner but recognize that there were factors beyond the details of the facts that were/are important in this type of relationship.....In fact, the article begins..

"Ultimately it boiled down to an Obama-brokered handshake between Hu Jintao and Nicolas Sarkozy, according to US officials..."

Just listening to his town hall meeting in France right now and agian, that tone change...that we don't want to be "patrons but partners" and dealing with "both sides"..the feelings of US towards Europe and vice me it's interesting to listen to HOW he says things, not only what he says...politics in and of themselves aside...