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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
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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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*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
Top customer reviews
Personally I would have liked a few more details, but still a great book.
Don't glance at the cover and assume, as I did, that it's about some folk singer who over a decade ago, did a 10 minute spot on Chinese TV. This is about a man who just a few years back packed up his wife and kids, boarded a jet for China, met a Chinese guitarist, jammed in some small bars, eventually became the front man for a Chinese/American band, which got voted Beijing's best, and played a large music festival in front of thousands of fans being introduced to good old fashioned Blues. Along the way the entire family had its share of adventures and journeys throughout China and we the reader get to meet an amazing cast of characters.
Alan is a fortunate man indeed. From reading the book it's clear that he has an incredible family and a talented wife whose expat package with a major publication helped make this adventure possible. It would be easy to begrudge Alan for such good fortune if he remained sheltered inside the gates of a posh expat community and didn't appreciate the potential for adventure outside those gates, but that is part of what makes this book special in my opinion, Alan goes beyond those gates and doesn't take for granted anyone or anything over the course of it all. Sure the musical journey was fascinating, but I loved reading about his forays outside those walls where a simple lunch alone could turn into a full on English lesson with a growing crowd eager to interact with a foreigner.
It's not just Alan's adventure. I enjoyed reading about how differently each of his kids and his wife were reacting not only to the band's development and rise, but to life in China. Or reading about his former Chinese teacher who must decide between a lucrative overseas job offer or to pursue his desire to become a monk at one of the five Daoist mountains. We also get a look into the lives and personalities of each of the band members and their struggles. With all that Alan had on his plate, it would be understandable if he forgot about some of the cast that were part of his story, but he doesn't and I think that is what appealed to me the most.
In the midst of all the madness Alan takes the time to seek out his former Chinese teacher, learns to cook with his housekeeper, and insists that their driver be part of the family picture just before they board the plane back to the states. It's those little things that got me invested in Alan's adventure as a reader and it is one I would highly recommend reading. What a ride. Alan certainly won't be hung up on dreams.