Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

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May the year of the Rabbit be an auspicious one for us all.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Miracle on 33rd St.

A slam goodie from deep in the vaults: Bernard King's Xmas Day Massacre. I love it when I come across stories I literally have forgotten writing, especially when they are as much fun as this. I love Bernard, one of my all-time favorites to watch.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Putting their Nooks where their mouths are

Breakfast Nook 

Nook video spokegirls Skyler (l) and Anna actually using them this morning at breakfast, Bonte Waffles, South Orange.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays everyone. I am gearing up some really cool stuff for the new year, including book excerpts as Big In China's release date will be drawing ever nearer.
My favorite Christmas in China picture. From Jacob's 2006 Holiday show.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nega, please

Peter Hessler  author of River Town and Country Driving on Big In China“Alan Paul plunges into Chinese life and takes us along for the ride, through vegetable markets, used-car lots, Taoist temples, divey bars, and a beachside music festival before thousands of cheering fans. He conveys the thrills and challenges of living abroad, the confusions and regrets, and most of all the opportunity to become the person we always hoped to be. 

When I was first keeping this blog, Blogger did not provide any stats, so I had no idea which posts were getting the most views and I didn't really care, for the most part. I steadfastly refused to put ads up even after they were becoming widespread. I always just posted what I felt like when I felt like it. But now that there are stats I look at the posts that get the most hits and come of them are surprising... On October 18, 2005 -- over 5 years ago!-- still fresh off the boat, I posted a FAQ page and to this day people search online and find it.

Why is this so?  Because I wrote about how strange it was to hear people saying "nega, nega" all the time and headlined the whole post "Nega please." Apparently, many people arriving in China have the same sensation and Google "Chinese Nega," a query that often takes them to this ancient post on my little ol' blog.

Now some of what I wrote sounds kind of humiliating now, so far down the road, as I am supposed to be a China expert of sorts, but I have not deleted or altered any of the old posts. And I am reposting that section, with annotations included:  

Have you ever had it verified that "Boo Yah" actually means something in Chinese? It seems much more likely that whoever taught you that bit of language is laughing their ass off somewhere every time you say it. Just looking out for you, Al. Thanks Danny. I do appreciate your watching my back. Yes, I am quite sure about Boo Yah. On our trip to Yangshuo, there were often people trying to sell us stuff and Jacob and Eli got really into saying “boo yah, boo yah” which usually cracked the recipients up. It if actually sort of a rude term.. like, “Get the fuck away” more or less. Boo (actually bu) means no and that’s where you start. Bu Yah is really just when someone won’t leave you alone and I explained that to them.

Note: I guess I didn't know it yet, but it's actually "bu yao" ("don't want"). Everything else I wrote holds up. The kids loved saying it to people and they always laughed in response, especially when Anna got it going.

But that’s not even the funniest commonly used Chinese term… “Nega” means "that" but it is really commonly used. In conversation when stalling or finding your place, you can say “nega, nega” the way in English someone would go “like” or “um.” It is probably the most used word in Chinese along with “jigga” which means "this." NOTE: It's actually "jegga," but close enough. It takes some getting used to. At first I kept expecting to people to say “Nega, please!” or “You my nega!” And don’t even get me started on jigga. Luckily, after you hear it for a while, all of this stuff actually starts sounding like words. NOTE: As I struggled to learn Chinese, it truly was a big step to just start hearing words instead of sounds.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yes! I have a Rock In China Page

You have no idea how exciting this is to me.

Woodie Alan "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"

I was just watching this video from March 2008, just as we began to get it together, gel and prepare for liftoff. I still hear all kind of things I'd like to do better and that we soon improved, but it really captures a moment of significance for me.

As we get closer to the march 1, 2011 launch of Big In China, I will keep posting some of my favorite Woodie Alan videos.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Big In China promo video

Please have a look at the new promo video I made with my friend Rick Wagner at Blend Media. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There are two kind of people in the world...

...Those of us who put buckets on our heads and run into walls and the rest of you. These pics show my cousin Amy's son Ethan, but boy do I relate. I knew I liked this kid!

The blurbs are coming!

I have gotten some great endorsement blurbs in for Big In China. I approached some of my favorite musicians and writers and asked them to read the book and comment if they like it. I have been very gratified to get back really kind, thoughtful quotes from Gregg Allman, James Fallows, Rick Telander, Jeff Zaslow, Peter Hessler, Evan Osnos, Jim McGregor, Warren Haynes and Lijia Zhang.

It's sort of dizzyingly varied crew, but I'm the guy who never thought it was odd to be a senior writer for Guitar World and Slam at the same time. It all makes sense in my world. 

Thank you everyone who took the time to read and comment.

Read them all at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Woodie Alan video

I am finding a couple of stashes of well-shot Woodie Alan videos. This is from our one-off reunion gig at the Orchard, Beijing, last February when I was in town to finish up some interviews and research for Big In China. No rehearsals. No talk. and no one had seen each other in six or seven months. I think given all that, it sounds pretty damn good.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Please visit

Just a reminder that while I continue to do some blogging here, my main site is now

That is the main source of information regarding my book release, speaking appearances, etc.

Thanks for your interest.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Jacob and Gabe circa 2003, age 5 or so.
Jacob and Gabe Friday night. 12/3/2010

Gabriel Benson had his bar mitzvah yesterday. He and Jacob have been best of friends since they were six months old and being cared for at the South Mountain YMCA inside the temporary trailer. We have found journals from these days where the teacher says things like, “Jacob enjoyed playing with his friend Gabriel today.” They were literally six or seven months old.

I’ll never forget the first time we ran into Gabe and his parents, Laura and Greg, at Memorial Park. We barely knew one another, just saying hello at pickups and drop-offs. The boys were not much older than one but lit up when they saw each other, ran off together and sprinted around, playing in the dirt for as long as we would let them. This was at an age where the books all say kids are engaging only in “parallel play” and have no friendships, they don’t care who they are with, etc. What a load of bull.

The two have always had a wonderful bond and watching them grow up together, support each other, stick together, has taught me a lot about friendship and loyalty. It’s really been a pleasure to watch. Last year, when Jacob’s baseball team lost a brutal playoff game they had been winning and he (wrongly) blamed himself for the team’s total collapse, he held it together until we got in the car. Then, a tear tickling down his cheek, he only had one request: “Can I please talk to Gabe on the phone.”

So I took great joy in watching Gabe this weekend. I wasn’t surprised that he was so poised and did such a great job. He’s serious, studious, committed. And I was as proud of him as I have been of any relative I've watched do the same thing, but I really wouldn’t have cared if he messed up every other line. I just felt so happy to see him looking and acting like a fine young man. I don’t really know how to write about this kind of thing without sounding corny or clich├ęd and I don’t really care. In an age of irony or false emotion, sometimes you just have to pause, wonder and admit you're overwhelmed

I hear people all the time complain about getting older, and I get it. I really do. But given the opportunity to reflect and to look at Jacob and Gabe together over the past few days, I just felt so happy to see them grow, and it made me really reflect on what a gift it is, and how much it shouldn’t be taken for granted. At such times, I always, always think of Cathy Davis, my dear friend from Beijing, who died before her 40th birthday and never got to even see her two girls hit their sixth or seventh birthdays. So I say, share the joy, embrace the pain when it comes, and be happy you’re here and for everything you’ve got. Nothing else matters.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Official book launch reading Tribeca B&N March 1, 2011

I have an official book launch reading and signing at NYC Tribeca Barnes and Noble on March 1. If you're in the area, mark your calendar. A lot more events to follow soon.

Click here to see the listing.

Great China photos

We watched the CCTV tower go up and viewed it in more or less this form many, many times.
I am working on a promo video for the book and Ryan Pyle, a great Shanghai-based phtographer I have had the pleasure of working with a few times was kind of enough to grant me use of a few of his stellar images. I thought I'd share this one with you. Please check out Ryan's work here at if you like photography, China -- or adventure. He and his brother just completed an insane motorcyle journey that circumnavigated China. You'll have to read about it to believe it. That is actually at a different website --

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some favorite old China pictures

Anna with local Tibetan girls, "Shangri La" Yunnan province. Gyalthang as our Tibetan friends call the area.
The kids in Ritan Park, our first week in Beijing. This remained a favorite spot throughout our stay.

Very first visit to Tiananmen Square. People followed us around taking pictures of Anna.
Very first photo of Woodie Alan, taken at Stone Boat, after our second rehearsal, before our first gig.

Gyalthang, Shangri La, DeQin -- many names for this area of Yunnan province. Beautiful and a bit magical, by any name, in any language.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Website is updated

I did some pretty significant on the homepage today. Let me know what you think.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Facebook Fan Page

Thank you to everyone who has "liked" my Facebook Fan Page, set up to get ready for the release of Big In China. If you have not done so, please click the handy button on the right hand side of this page and get busy. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's a book

A couple of weeks ago I got word that bound galleys were in and went into Harper Collins to tag a few and write notes to send some friends who may be able to help with coverage and people I have asked to write blurbs. Stupid me, I didn’t quite realize that a bound galley was, you know, a book.

A friendly publicist walked me into the conference room, where a pile of books were waiting for me and I gasped. I waited until she left and then I just sat there and stared at the books and felt a huge surge of emotion, even tears forming in my eye. I had been thinking about this book for four or five years and very actively writing it for a year and now here it was. all those words I had typed, read, edited, rewrote in pixels and on printouts were now... a book.

Writing can be pretty lonely and pretty unnerving and to see my book as a book was just an overwhelmingly wonderful sensation.

When i got home and started reading it, I had some different thoughts and emotions: “Oh my God, this is real. I am really putting this out to the public. I had some doubts and insecurities -- not about the writing but about putting my private self and family life out there like this. And lines that I always thought I’d get back to and tweak or fix, well now they were going to be in the book. But that was okay. I just kept looking at the thing and thinking, "It's a book."

Thanks for checking in

I tried to move off this blog and onto some other places, but you all kept coming here and Google kept steering you here, so I am going with it.

Thanks for checking in and your interest in what I do. I'm really happy to have you here.

Please click on the Facebook tag to on the right and become a friend.

And keep checking for updates on Big In China.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Book Is Coming

The Cover!

Thank you for your continued interest in my work. As you can see, the book is nearing completion. It will be hitting stores on March 1, 2011.

You can preorder by clicking here.

This blog is no longer truly active. Please hop over to to stay up -to-date with my work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A new blog...

I am back in China for a family vacation and actively blogging at Please check in.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Welcome to my Blog

Family outside the Bird's Nest.

A WA live shot I've always loved.

Beijing Blues CD cover.

Welcome to my blog. It is fairly inactive at the moment, as I focus on completing Big In China, my memoir for WSJ Books/Harper Collins. You will find that the pages here were most active while I lived in Beijing, from August, 2005-January 2009.

Please note that this is a personal, unedited, running blog. Typos and bad grammar abound, because I rarely went back to edit or fix. My emphasis here has always been on spontaneity and capturing the moment.

For a slower, more contemplative and under control look at my professional live, please visit To learn more about the band, please visit

Sunday, March 07, 2010

40th Anniversary of Woodstock tour

Duke came up from Texas for the Woodstock fest and never left. Last August, a week after the 40th anniversary, he gave Norm Bradford and I a tour of the grounds.

Meet Me In The Morning

I found this video on my hard drive and was happy to have done so. It is from the JZ jazz club in Hangzhou, one of the nicest places we played. It was a great gig and it is cool to have something from it captured. it is not a perfect performance by any means -- Woodie has some tech problems and his solo, while good, is really not one of his best. I messed up the order of a couple of verses and oversang in a few places. If i had video of every gig we ever played, I would have a better version of this tune, which we have opened almost every gig we ever played with. But I don't have that, and I like this a lot. Enjoy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Xiamen Beach Fest Video

I posted this a year ago but I just watched and was feeling so proud I thought I'd put it back up here... this was so much fun.

Just some more photos from Beijing

I took the pic but still can't believe this is Xiang Jiang Beilu,
just behind Riviera. Totally torn up for subway construction.

I went right back to eating street food and had no
problems. These egg pancakes rock.

A little spicy duck tongue anyone?

Band hotpot dinner. Great times.

I got a chinese trad. foot massage and the guy
cupped my feet. Weird but not awful, as I find it
on my back.

Yeah, I miss the food. Sauteed wild mushrooms
with garlic and hot peppers. Hakka delicacy.

Guizhou spicy chicken cooked at table.

New years morning dumplings at courtyard 7 hotel.

Beijing hutong, New Years morning.

Nice interview on Writer Abroad .com

A really nice interview with me right here on Writer Thanks for the interest.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beijing hutong, New Year's Eve Morning

I stayed in the lovely courtyard 7 hotel my last night on this recent trip to Beijing and on my way out in the morning -- which was CNY eve -- I came across this nice old guy putting up his annual red banners. for some reason, he was interested in my opinion so I shared it and whipped out the Iphone to snap off a quick little video.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Old School corn Milling

as noted earlier, I spent a couple of days up at the Pavilion House run by the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. It was a great palace to write, think, get my head together. Every day I ate two of three delicious egg pancakes, gladly overpaying the nice local women who cooked them up for me. Onn the second day I found the source of their flour, right outside my door.

This was fun to watch.

Thanks again, Jim -- I know you'll find this video. Feel free to use on your site.

Chinese New Years dumplings video

I took a couple of short videos on my recent trip to beijing and will post them as I get them up. This was a lot of fun and the jiao zi were delicious. Humiliating to have my Pittsburgh-accented Chinese captured, but whatever.

It is traditional to eat jiaozi or dumplings on Chinese New Year's Eve...and most people gather with their families and eat many, many jiaozi. On the morning of Chinese New Year's eve, the friendly staff at the lovely Beijing hutong hotel, Courtyard 7, were starting to make "hendou" (many) dumplings. I filmed a little and then helped out, though they would widely only let me knead and roll the dough. No filling or closing for me

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Some photos

Let's see if I can get some Winter Wall photos up here. I had them attached with the last posts but they did not seem to take. We'll try this one more time and if it does not work out, I will add them when I get home on Weds. or Thursday.

Some village scenes

These are just some snapshots I took around the village where I am staying. The woman cooking the crepe thing is making the egg pancakes I have been living on, eating a couple a day. I love them. After two days I am already getting a local's discount. I'll be back for breakfast.

The walkway shows the way up to my temporary house. 


Monday, February 08, 2010

Another day, another winter Wall hike



Today was crisp and sunny and I had a very productive day, waking up and
writing from about 7-12, then taking a great wall hike for a few hours and
plugging away a bunch more hours into the evening, with a break for a lovely
dinner with Jim Spear.

In all the many, many times I have come here to Mutianyu I had never walked
up to the Wall instead of taking the cable car. For shame. I trekked up
today and it was just about 20-30 minutes, mostly up stone steps. I got up
there and was virtually alone and hiked all the way to the other end of the
Wall from what I did yesterday. I got to the last watchtower open for public
consumption and continued on past the closed sign. It had been a long time
since I ventured onto the wild Wall, but I have had many memorable hikes on
such sections. I was alone so I proceed cautiously through the overgrown
section, which has not been modified since the Ming Dynasty ended 400 or so
years ago. It was in pretty good shape as these sections go.

It was very beautiful and peaceful up there. I did run across a Taiwanese
mechanic for Delta Airlines, who seems to be up here to train his
counterparts in Beijing. Very nice guy and we hiked for quite a while,
taking each other's pictures, before he turned around and headed back.

I was going to hike back down but was surprised to see the alpine slide open
so I jumped on and got down in two minutes. I did that to save a half hour
and get back to work as much as anything.

Finally made it onto the Wall in the snow

One of my very few regrets about our time in China was that I never made it onto the Great Wall in the snow. There was  march snowfall my last spring there and I thought about clearing my schedule and barreling up but I didn't do it and figured that I would have another year to make it up there. Then we moved back earlier than expected, in December, and it never snowed again

Well, here I am now and it's beautiful. Thanks to Jim Spear and everyone at the Schoolhouse, who have given me a free house for a couple of days of writer's retreat. So far so good. I am in this beautiful little remodeled house in the middle of a peasant village by the Mutianyu Great Wall. And it's a bit surreal because I have a strong wifi connection so I am connected to the world -- I even just had a nice Skype chat with Becky and the kids -- while also being a million miles away. The Super Bowl is playing now and I have checked in a few times on but it feels very distant and irrelevant and that's just fine right now. I have been drinking coffee and tea and writing since 6:30 am. I'll go up for another hike later today.

I got up here yesterday afternoon feeling a bit shattered because I could not sleep after the excitement of the gig on Saturday night. But I wanted to make sure I got on the Wall while it was snowy so I dragged myself up and ended up walking all the way to the end, which I had not done in a long time because we always went the other way, to the alpine slide. The open section ends with a long steep climb. I don't think I had done it since one of our first visits there, in 2005, with Hal and Ruth. A sleeping Anna was on my back then. Now I was just dragging my exhaustion and hangover. I was winded, but I got up there and enjoyed the solitude. As I was ready to come down, a big group of high school kids started arriving. It was a high school symphony from Princeton New Jersey and they could barely stagger up. So that made me feel a little bit better about my own struggles.

Alan Paul

"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online

Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World

(973) 761-4587 (o)
(973) 570-2898 (mobile)

Alan Paul

"The Expat Life" Columnist
Wall Street Journal Online

Senior Writer -- Slam
The Wall Street Journal, Guitar World

(973) 761-4587 (o)
(973) 570-2898 (mobile)

Nice press in China

Thanks Beijing Daze!

Back in the saddle

Woodie Alan rode again last night for one night at the Orchard, our
ancestral homeland. It was great fun.