Thursday, June 25, 2009

My new personal website

Please check out my new website.

It's 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

Column that never ran...

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

Line of Duty

I just made a contribution tot he fund for the family of the guard killed at the Holocaust Museum and think you should, too. He died in the line of duty and I feel like we all owe him a lot of gratitude.

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

Little League Excitement

Jacob's LL team has made the SemiFinals and he is fully pumped. It has been a lot of fun and I have been shocked by how much I have enjoyed watching the games and how tense some of them are. They wont he other night 2- and I do not believe there any errors.

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

Last column -- dong, deeper

I took my visit with Dong a little deeper and added some perspective. "Yechen" is his nickname and how he asked me to identify him in public.

* 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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"Beijing Blues"

"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

Video -- guqin/guitar duet

Just found and posted this.. from last September's Xiamen Beach Festival... we improvised this guitar/guqin duet to kick off our performance.. wish I had the whole thing, but I happy I have any of it...

Video from the tour -- "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" unplugged

Our first gig on the tour got rained out and forced inside for an intimate unplugged night.