Wednesday, January 21, 2009




This has been such a strange time to land in the U.S., with a powerful contradictory undercurrent of fear, uncertainty, nervousness – all over the economy which is haunting everyone like an unwelcome specter – and incredible hope and excitement over Obama’s looming presidency and the concurrent vanishing of W from the national stage.

I have certainly never experienced anything even remotely similar to the excitement about this inauguration. Obviously and admittedly, I hang out with a lot of liberal people and it could be argued that there are tens of millions of people who have been dreading this day, I suppose. But I don’t know when the last time that so many people wanted to be in Washington…just throngs of people heading there and so many others who wanted to go, were envious of those who did so. And even the staunchest Republicans have to feel that we have a president again. It seems like Bush checked out six months ago or more. It has been sort of eerie to be leaderless and almost sad to watch him diminish ever more with each pathetic attempt to rehab his image before departing.

I thought this article in the NYT -- a dispatch form the heart of red country was interesting if weak . I mean, couldn’t they have actually gone somewhere instead of just chatting with a cigar store owner on the phone for five minutes? Anyhow, there is a sense of excitement about Obama and a new beginning that stretches beyond those who worked hard for him and even those who voted for him. I really do believe that. It seems like the adults are in charge again. Then again, a lot of people thought the same thing when W and Cheney took over from Clinton.

I would have enjoyed going to Tulsa -- or Carlisle, PA for that matter -- and writing a piece like that as well. But that’s not what I did. The one thing I knew is I wanted to really experience this event. I did not want to watch it alone on TV. I joined up with my friends George and Stephanie Lange and went to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, where there were almost 3,000 people gathered in the beautiful hall to watch it all on a large screen TV.

The crowd included about 300 Newark High schools students, about 1,000 invited special guests – community and church leaders, patrons of NJPC etc – and over 1,000 “just folks” who got free tickets. It was probably 85-90 percent African American And people were dressed up big time. Lots of beautiful dresses, great suits and fur coats. And lots of kids and many, many three-generation or more families.. grandparents, parents, kids, maybe great-grandparents.

It was all very moving. There was such a remarkable level of excitement and buzz and anticipation. Early shots of Michelle Obama and the kids drew big applause, as did Jimmy Carter and the Clintons entrance – did anyone else notice how not excited Bill looked? W and Cheney drew stony silence. No boos or catcalls. And then they finally showed Obama and the place went wild, with a spontaneous standing ovation and a prolonged cheer. People were crying all around and hugging each other.

In the lobby amongst the merchandise being sold was a T shirt with a big picture of Obama and these words: “I lived to see it.” And that was certainly a dominant sentiment amongst the older people in attendance.

I thought hat everyone who spoke rose to the occasion, including Dianne Feinstein. Rick Warren’s selection ahs been roundly criticized by many on the left and I certainly understand why but he sure was well received by the crowd here, many of whom were calling out “amen” and “Yes yes!” and a majority of whom recited the scriptures section aloud. Big cheers for Aretha and gasps, cheers and laughs when they showed her and her wild ass hat. That really moved me. Her voice is still just remarkable in its power and depth and that version of “My Country Tis of Thee” had to be heard as a political statement and a proud victory exclamation as much as a patriotic anthem – and you could easily say all three are very bound together.

The excitement was growing and growing and it just built until Obama was called up and took the oath. People were yelling out “Yes we did” and once he finished the oath and was officially president, there was a lot more hugging and crying. Many, many people in that room were clearly witnessing a ream they never thought hey would see in their lifetime.

I thought Obama gave a really solid speech that started out pretty somber at least in part to tamp down expectations. He wa grabbing America by the collar and saying, "It really is even worse than you think." I wondered what W thought sitting there listening to his term be repudiated.

Inauguration.


President Obama on the big screen at njpac.

Posted by ShoZu







This has been such a strange time to and in the U.S., with a powerful contradictory undercurrent mixed of fear, uncertainty, nervousness – all over the economy which is haunting everyone like an unwelcome specter – and incredible hope and excitement over Obama’s looming presidency and the concurrent vanishing of W from the national stage.

I have certainly never experienced anything even remotely similar to the excitement about this inauguration. Obviously and admittedly, I hang out with a lot of liberal people and it could be argued that there are tens of millions of people who have been dreading this day, I suppose. But I don’t know when the last time that so many people wanted to be in Washington…just throngs of people heading there and so many others who wanted to go, were envious of those who did so. And even the staunchest Republicans have to feel that we have a president again. It seems like Bush checked out six months ago or more. It has been sort of eerie to be leaderless and almost sad to watch him diminish ever more with each pathetic attempt to rehab his image before departing.

I thought this article in the NYT -- a dispatch form the heart of red country was interesting if weak . I mean, couldn’t they have actually gone somewhere instead of just chatting with a cigar store owner on the phone for five minutes? Anyhow, there is a sense of excitement about Obama and a new beginning that stretches beyond those who worked hard for him and even those who voted for him. I really do believe that. It seems like the adults are in charge again. Then again, a lot of people thought the same thing when W and Cheney took over from Clinton.

I would have enjoyed going to Tulsa -- or Carlisle, PA for that matter -- and writing a piece like that as well. But that’s not what I did. The one thing I knew is I wanted to really experience this event. I did not want to watch it alone on TV. I joined up with my friends George and Stephanie Lange and went to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, where there were almost 3,000 people gathered in the beautiful hall to watch it all on a large screen TV.

The crowd included about 300 Newark High schools students, about 1,000 invited special guests – community and church leaders, patrons of NJPC etc – and over 1,000 “just folks” who got free tickets. It was probably 85-90 percent African American And people were dressed up big time. Lots of beautiful dresses, great suits and fur coats. And lots of kids and many, many three-generation or more families.. grandparents, parents, kids, maybe great-grandparents.

It was all very moving. There was such a remarkable level of excitement and buzz and anticipation. Early shots of Michelle Obama and the kids drew big applause, as did Jimmy Carter and the Clintons entrance – did anyone else notice how not excited Bill looked? W and Cheney drew stony silence. No boos or catcalls. And then they finally showed Obama and the place went wild, with a spontaneous standing ovation and a prolonged cheer. People were crying all around and hugging each other.

In the lobby amongst the merchandise being sold was a T shirt with a big picture of Obama and these words: “I lived to see it.” And that was certainly a dominant sentiment amongst the older people in attendance.

I thought hat everyone who spoke rose to the occasion, including Dianne Feinstein. Rick Warren’s selection ahs been roundly criticized by many on the left and I certainly understand why but he sure was well received by the crowd here, many of whom were calling out “amen” and “Yes yes!” and a majority of whom recited the scriptures section aloud. Big cheers for Aretha and gasps, cheers and laughs when they showed her and her wild ass hat. That really moved me. Her voice is still just remarkable in its power and depth and that version of “My Country Tis of Thee” had to be heard as a political statement and a proud victory exclamation as much as a patriotic anthem – and you could easily say all three are very bound together.

The excitement was growing and growing and it just built until Obama was called up and took the oath. People were yelling out “Yes we did” and once he finished the oath and was officially president, there was a lot more hugging and crying. Many, many people in that room were clearly witnessing a ream they never thought hey would see in their lifetime.

My IPhone

I am in the middle of collecting my thoughts on the inauguration and will be back in a few with some of them, hopefully actually making sense, but first I have to say that God I have mixed feelings about my IPhone. As a phone it sort of sucks. As a little piece of technology it is a marvel and I am only just beginning to tinker with the App Store. See the two posts below. I took the pictures and added them to the blog from the phone using that trippy ShoZu app. Wild.

My friend George has an Iphone plus a little Verizon phone to actually make and receive calls with. I may have to consider doing that as well, though it sort of kills me.

Steelers fever


Anna has it.

Posted by ShoZu

Obama fever


Magazine rack at Penn station NYC

Posted by ShoZu

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just Musing

Verizon came and hooked us up with cable, phones and tv yesterday…last week we got our stuff out of storage, which included my desk and a bunch of other office stuff. So now I’m back sitting in the same place I left three and half years ago, again pecking away at a computer screen. But I feel totally different in ways I can only begin to scratch the surface of defining.

Maybe I shouldn’t even try, for now.

Anyhow the bottom line is it feels good, if disorienting to be here. And obviously I’m not the only one who ha changed. It feels like the whole world has been flipped upside down. All these insitutions that we thought would be here forever are gone or teetering and everyone is extremely insecure and grasping around, trying to find their way. In that contest, I am not going to moan and groan about finding myself, which is a line of thinking I have little patience for anyhow. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Getting our stuff out of storage was an interesting experience. We could only remember a few things and if pushed we both would have guessed that we had 15 or 20 boxes there. It turned out to be 64. There’s the desk and an armoire, which was our first luxurious purchase, from Pompanoosic Mills, for our first anniversary way back in the early das of the Clinton administration. Also a Weber grill, which the moving guy talked me into storing – think about how much profit they make from that service and their incentive to push it hard. But beyond that, we really didn’t know what was going to emerge. I anticipated that since we could not remember and we had not seen any of these things for 3.5 years we would want to get rid of most of it. I thought we could unpack with a camera in hand, snap away and post things on Ebay as they came out of the box.

The truth, unfortunately, was a bit more complicated. There were some things that fit this description, but they were relatively scarce. Much more common were dozens of framed photos and pieces of art – few of which will go back on our walls. We already have dozens of pieces of art and photos, new and old, coming from China. All of which we like more.

And there were boxes and boxes of letters, photos and photo albums, documents and all kinds of assorted doo-dads. It was really nice to see some of them and I spent a chunk of time reading old letters and journals and flipping through photo books – seeing the kids when they were little, especially Jacob, really starts to put my own life and time line into perspective. And makes me feel even happier and luckier.

The bottom line is the kids are all chugging along and seemingly thriving in their new lives.

I am happy to be back for this exciting Steelers playoffs run, which will hopefully continue Sunday. Monday I am taking the boys to the Knicks annual MLK day matinee game and Tuesday is, of course, the inauguration. I have never seen anything quite like the fervor this is causing. Some have suggested Kennedy but I wouldn’t know…anyone who was around then want to weigh in?

I do think that the excitement is caused almost as much by excitement over seeing W walk out the door as it is about seeing BO walking in. Some time a few years ago a majority of the country suddenly said, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to elect the guy who couldn’t speak a complete sentence.”

I do worry that people are pinning all their hopes on Obama. There might be a national depression setting in a few weeks when it sinks in that it is going to take a while for anyone to dig us out of this mess. I have not received confirmation that the kids will be watching the inauguration at school though I assume that to be the case. I am trying to decide where to watch it myself... probably go somewhere in Newark to a public place.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NJ photos...





Eli shows what he feels about his Dulwich uniform... he did this little toilet dip after skipping around the house singing, "No one can ever tell me what to wear again!"

Other pics show my first trip to Costco.. back in the saddle, baby....and our luggage being "unpacked" right after our return. That was just the stuff we dragged around the world with us.

Farewell column to Chinese readers

I wrote a farewell column exclusively for my Chinese readers. It has been
up on the WSJ Chinese site for a few days and getting some really nice comments.

The translation (my original, of course) is below. I really don't feel it is my best work and I'm sure some would call it hackneyed and overly sentimental.. well, too bad. I wrote it from my heart.

****

I never could have guessed that leaving China would be this hard.

When my family and I moved to Beijing three and half years ago, we knew little about this huge nation and even less about “the expat life.” We threw ourselves into life here and tried to make the most out of every day. Now it is very much our second home.

We are returning to the U.S. as changed people. We have faced and met new challenges. Forcibly cut off from our long-established support systems and every day lives, we discovered new aspects of ourselves, and we grew closer as a family, spending more time with out nuclear five-person unit than we had previously. We also return with a profound appreciation of and respect for Chinese culture as well as a deepened love and understanding of our own homeland.

Sometimes you have to step outside your day-to-day reality to see it with true clarity and I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to spend some time living outside his or her home country to do so. It can be a very broadening experience. Just don’t expect to go back as the same person.

I offer sincere thanks to the people of China for the hospitality and respect they have shown me and my family. Though there have been many challenges living here, I have been extremely impressed with the growth and modernization of China – it has changed before my eyes with a speed and vigor that has been stunning to behold. I am even more impressed with the kindness and hospitality shown to my family by people from one end of China to the other.

I have been deeply touched by Chinese friends, including my two laoshis and my bandmates in Woodie Alan, all of whom have become dear friends whom I will forever carry in my heart. Each of these people have shown me parts of China I never would have otherwise seen and I have been greatly enriched by our friendships and by meeting their friends and family. I hope that I have been able to make similar impressions on their lives.

But I have also been deeply touched by the thousands of ordinary Chinese citizens whose paths I have crossed in our travels. We have visited many parts of China and enjoyed them all, from the mountains of Sichuan and Yunnan to the Xiamen coast. The love and interest shown to our children has been particularly heartwarming. Though they sometimes tired of posing for photographs or having their hair tossled, I can only say thank you for being so nice to my family. This warmth eased many other problems. Spending this much time in a country that was not so kid friendly would have been difficult for us.

We have been offered home-cooked meals by people living in huts in Guizhou, people who clearly had little for themselves but insisted on sharing it with the foreigners in their midst. We have shared tea and noodles and bread and meat with people all over China and I will never forget any of them.

I believe that friendly relations between China and the United States will be essential for both of our countries in the years to come and I am optimistic that they can be maintained and strengthened. I hope that the political leaders of both nations remember the mutual interests we share and the mutual respect that should be shown to one another.

Both nations are large enough to be self-contained and to breed a bit of arrogance in their citizens. Long ago, China called itself the Middle Kingdom, believing itself to be the center of the world. Contemporary Americans often have the same perspective and we both need to broaden our horizons a bit.

But I truly believe that Chinese and American people have a lot more in common than most seem to recognize. People in both places value family, want the best for their kids and like to relax with family and friends around tables of good food and bottles of cold beer.

China has touched my heart deeply, but I still don’t consider myself in any way an expert on this country. I have recoiled the few times I have heard other describe me as such, recalling the sage advice an old China hand gave me shortly after my arrival: If someone calls themselves an expert on China, run the other way. The nation is far too complex for anyone to truly understand it, much less a non-academic writer who has been here a relatively short time.

Almost three years ago, on my first summer visit back to the U.S. I stumbled upon an elderly couple speaking Mandarin in a park near my wife’s family home in the small town of Bay City, Michigan. I was as excited as I was surprised and felt like running up and hugging them. I can only imagine how strong those emotions will be now, that I am moving back to the U.S. permanently and will not be returning to my second home in Beijing. I will never look at anything Chinese quite the same way again. Every Chinese person I see, every Chinese restaurant I pass or enter, every Chinese movie I watch will touch something inside me.

In many ways my life in China has been a series of highlights – these have been some of the best years of the lives of both my wife and me. But a few moments stand out particularly brightly. One was the formation of my band and some of our performances outside of Beijing. Another was when I learned that my column would be translated into Chinese and subsequently that people were actually reading it and enjoying it. It is hard for me to describe how much it means for me to be accepted in this way by you all. Again, I can only say I thank you and I hope that I have rewarded your faith and loyalty.

I will continue to write my column now that I have returned to the U.S. and I hope that it continues to be of interest to you. For now I say goodbye my friends and thank you for everything.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Leaving Beijing





All pictures taken at the Beijing Airport just before departure, with Mr. Dou, WSJ driver, and Mr. Lu, black car driver we used all the time. Man, what I wold give him to have one of those guys here!

Catching up... final days in Beijing











I wanted to try to explain all these photos but it's just too hard.. these are all from our final days in Beijing.. a lot more to come...Look closely at the painting in the picture with Becky. It was a good bye present from her office.

There are pictures of Anna with Echo, regular Saturday babysitter and absolute gem, and the famous Hou ayi....of Jacob with Max and Kerk, two of his best chums...of Jacob and Eli heading off to their last days of school from our house and at Dulwich...of Anna and her class...of the family in our last night in our house.. movers came the next morning...And so on.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jefferson School, Day One






Whew. Day one went well. Long-promised ice cream cones at Hershey's in town afterwards...we even let them have double scoops and sprinkles.

Eli told me tonight that Jefferson is "way better than Dulwich." I asked him and he gave me five reasons.

1. No uniforms. "I can wear whatever I want. I hate uniforms." I will share some more funny stories about this another time.

2. The teachers are much nicer and not strict all the time. "Mrs. Lefteris (this year's DCB teacher) was not strict and neither was Sarah Jane (1st grade), but some of the others..."

3. "The food is great --we had chili for lunch! And the lunch ladies speak English so they understand you when you say , 'don't put this on top of that.'"

4. They have great drinks.

5. They have great snacks.

They are both excited to go tomorrow. Jacob was pleasantly surprised by how many kids he knew from before and also by how much of a celebrity he is for "being from China."

Anna loves school, too. This is all a big exhale.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Slowly getting back into the swing....




Happy new year. We have been back in Maplewood for a week after two weeks of winding our way back here, including 8 days in Hawaii and another six in Southern California. We spent three nights with the Camerons in San Diego and I’m happy to report that they seem to be doing really well. Super Moverz is moving ahead. We all enjoyed our reunion and the kids, of course, had a blast.

All of our children were thrilled to get back to Maplewood and it really made me appreciate how fortunate we are to have a home like this. It should ease our transition. Its difficult for me to say how that is going because right now we are still in getting settled and surviving mode.

I was surprised when we left how little I ever thought about our house and how much of an absolute non event it was to come back and see it occupied by others. Yet now that we are back it feels like.. home. Very comfortable and it looks good, with the floors redone and most rooms repainted, mostly new colors.

Not that we are living there. Our shipment won’t be here until the first week fo February. In the meantime, we are living across the street with my aunt and uncle, which is fun but cramped. The boys are discovering the beauty of an empty house, with some truly epic Nerf gun battles. They are also making good use of the new and improved Zabers, which Wyatt sent us home with. Their latest invention is the Zabers as Nerf gun shields.

I am working on a column chronicling all of this, transition, which should be up this Friday. I will do my best to forward to you. I will also start updating my blog gain this week if you care to stay tuned. It is www.alanpaulichina.blogspot.com… at least for now. Maybe it’s time for me to change the name and start over.

Alanpaulbackinjoisey.com
Alanpaulinamerica.com

Who knows… Right now I am not taking my gaze too far off of my shoes.

Anna started school today at the JCC. She was screaming and hanging on to our legs when we left, which is the first time she has ever done anything remotely like that. But by the time we were out the room looking back in she was already ok. Her teacher is Donna Cohen, who is my aunt and uncle’s sister in law and a veritable aunt, whom we see at all kinds of family functions.

Jacob and Eli are registered and in the system and will start school tomorrow. We went over this morning and met with the principal’s assistant and decided that it was best to let the teacher have a day to prepare to digest them instead of insisting they may be tossed in today. It’s a big old stone elementary school.. the same kind I went to and probably many of you as well. We will miss a lot of things about Dulwich and the level of service and facilities may be a shock for the kids. I will not miss gritting my teeth through Jesus songs every Christmas however.

Becky went off to work at her new job after that and the guys are enjoying their rare weekday goof of time with me…having one of those epic Nerf battles while I write this and work on my column, which I am doing standing up at a kitchen island because I have nowhere to sit in the house.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Settling down


Picture is at the airport, as we leave Beijing, with the ever reliable Mr. Dou.


Hey I'm back.. lots more to come in the days ahead... I need to write my first Repat column in the next 48 hours...We will have been in maplewood for a week tomorrow.. it is all good. Kids are thrilled and feel like they are at home. I do as well, though certainly less completely.

Anna starts school tomorrow (monday) at the JCC... Boys will log in to Jefferson and should be fully enrolled in class on Tuesday. I will be back to posting regularly.