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Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing Hardcover – March 1, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this entertaining memoir, Paul recounts an unanticipated life-changing experience that began when his wife accepted a three-year work assignment in Beijing. After resettling their three young children from suburban New Jersey to China, Paul, a music and basketball journalist who played guitar only as a hobby, embarked on an exploration of local culture and music. The search prompted his transition from writing about music to being a bona fide rock star in the band Woodie Alan, a cross-cultural blues group named after Alan and his Chinese band member, Woodie Wu, a guitarist with a Stevie Ray Vaughn tattoo. Paul blogged about his Chinese experience and also wrote a column on it for the Wall Street Journal's Web site. His story, however, is much more than a musical and journalistic victory dance. It's equal parts family memoir, travelogue, personal analysis of globalization and expatriate communities, and a view of the world's most populous nation through American eyes. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this funny, poignant, and entertaining memoir, Alan Paul tells his improbable story of an American music journalist unwittingly becoming a rock star in China with grace and good humor. What�s more, his Chinese American blues rock band, Woodie Alan, earns the title �Beijing�s best band.� This achievement was an accidental by-product of his journalist-wife Rebecca�s position as China bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He writes with enthusiasm about his new life as an expatriate American in China with three children in tow, the difficulty of learning Chinese (he concludes he has a better chance of communicating with dolphins than mastering its strange words and sounds), getting a driver�s license, and understanding Chinese rules of the road, which, he theorizes, means never having to stop unless you absolutely have to. His experiences playing in a mostly Chinese band offer plenty of entertaining anecdotes that offer culture-shock insights. His Chinese sojourn ending after his wife returned to New York as the paper�s international news editor, Paul looks back with equal doses of regret for the unforgettable opportunities that came his way and anticipation toward a new American future. Immensely enjoyable. --June Sawyers
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061993158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061993152
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By PT Cruiser TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What are the chances of a guy going to China with his wife and family to pursue her career, and ending up winning "Beijing's Best Band" award and touring to rave reviews all over China? Here's this guy who makes the sacrifice to follow his wife along with their three kids to Beijing when she is given the opportunity to be The Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, giving up everything familiar, and he ends up fulfilling a lifetime dream of his own. He and Woodie Wu, along with two other Chinese friends and an American expat saxaphone player, end up forming the Woodie Alan blues band (How cool is that name?) after they meet when Alan takes a guitar to be repaired at Woodie's shop.

Alan Paul has a style of writing that pulls you into his world. You're right there with him, discovering this country that's changing every day with its industrial and cultural growth. You're standing in the aisles, cheering him on with the band, sharing his interactions with the people and living some of his incredible adventures in a country that is somewhat of a mystery to most of us. Paul is very open in his writing style, conveying a depth of feeling and reflection on his experiences. There's a lot more here than just the story of his band, in fact the first hundred pages or so are about their decision to make the move, descriptions of the community where they live in China, their adjustments to living there and about the different tours and vacations they take within the country. He gives such interesting descriptions and points of view, that it's easy to see why he won the Columnist of the Year award for his Wall Street Journal columns on expat life in China. (Another project while he was there).
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I thoroughly enjoyed 'Big In China' - journalist Alan Paul's tale of his expatriate experiences in China with wife Rebecca Blumenstein (posted there as China bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal) and their three young children. I agree with the spotlight reviewer: Paul's book would make an excellent movie - not because of drama and angst. Far from it. Instead, such a film would capture the magic of the serendipitous life twist that comes with the trip. Namely, that Paul - a writer about musicians by vocation - forms a band that becomes big in China. As a musician, Paul's dream is to form a "blues and jam band" that plays a "loose but tight" style. His band Woodie Alan (great name) - a true Sino-American partnership - becomes known as Beijing's best.

The author makes it sound like that success was due to luck, good fortune and a lot of meeting the right people. His chance encounter with the band's co-founder, Woodie Wu, being example A-1. There's a lot of that, for sure. But Alan Paul is also someone with a self-deprecating, wear-the-cape-lightly manner. His forthrightness in calling himself the 'trailing spouse' throughout the book is a testament to his nature. So, rest assured, there's doggedness and intelligence behind his Chinese success, too. He's just not the type to have to call attention to that.

Paul's easy, descriptive writing style is a joy to read. He takes you on an incredible journey. Couldn't have happened to a nicer or more well-deserving family.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a terrific memoir from a freelance journalist whose wife was transferred to Beijing to head the China bureau of the Wall Street Journal. Author Alan Paul, his wife Becky and their three young children lived in China for nearly four years. What began as a great and scary adventure ended up being all that and more, as the family became attached to their host nation and its people, as well as to several other Western families who were part of their expat community.

While Becky went to her office most days and the kids were either at school or in the care of a nanny, Paul did house husband things like grocery shopping and wrote columns for several music magazines, with which he had an established relationship going back many years. He also began to reinvigorate his own performance career by organizing a jazz/blues band composed of Western and Chinese members. As the band got better and better they became quite popular in Beijing and environs, eventually being voted the best band in Beijing and getting as many bookings as they could reasonably play -- sometimes two or three in a week. Paul tells some very funny stories about how he and his group became "big in China," which is the origin of the book's title.

Paul also tells some good tales about his friends, wife and kids and how they adapted to Chinese customs, food and lifestyles. The family had open minds about everything that they came across, which seems to me to have enhanced their experiences in China a great deal. I very much enjoyed reading about the markets, foods, pastimes and other facets of Chinese culture that are under reported or ignored by most mass media outlets.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On the one hand, this is a well written book that relates some interesting experiences that will surely be illuminating for people who have never been to China before.

On the other, as someone who lived in Taiwan and China for a number of years, I struggle to be objective about this book, because almost every page was filled with infuriatingly terrible worst-of-expat warblings.

Almost immediately, I was stunned by the fact that Paul defines the Chinese word "阿姨" (ayi) as nanny. Deep breath. Yes, that's what ayis are to foreigner expats with a staff. Yes, indeed. But the word means auntie. It's a polite way to refer to an older unrelated woman. I was never able to get over this because throughout the book, Paul refers to various women as ____ Ayi. Like, instead of bothering to learn their surnames, and because there were just so many servants running around, we call people ____ Ayi. I wonder if it would ever be socially acceptable in the States to refer to a maid as Maid Maria. Oh, that's Maid Maria.

Paul does do some critical examination of what it means to have all these servants running around after one at one point and shows sympathy for the difficulties that the local people face. He knows he's the beneficiary of a crazy system.

At various other points, Paul describes himself saying things in Chinese. I winced every single time. Why bother telling us that you were speaking Chinese? (Sometimes he gives translations, sometimes not, its cringe inducing either way.) I give him props for faithfully recounting a time that he went through a market in search of edamame and instead ended up asking women if they had hairy genitals.
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