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Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing

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Alan Paul, award–winning author of the Wall Street Journal’s online column “The Expat Life,” gives his engaging, inspiring, and unforgettable memoir of blues and new beginnings in Beijing. Paul’s three-and-a-half-year journey reinventing himself as an American expat—while raising a family and starting the revolutionary blues band Woodie Alan, voted Beijing Band of the Year Alan Paul, award–winning author of the Wall Street Journal’s online column “The Expat Life,” gives his engaging, inspiring, and unforgettable memoir of blues and new beginnings in Beijing. Paul’s three-and-a-half-year journey reinventing himself as an American expat—while raising a family and starting the revolutionary blues band Woodie Alan, voted Beijing Band of the Year in the 2008—is a must-read adventure for anyone who has lived abroad, and for everyone who dreams of rewriting the story of their own future.


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Alan Paul, award–winning author of the Wall Street Journal’s online column “The Expat Life,” gives his engaging, inspiring, and unforgettable memoir of blues and new beginnings in Beijing. Paul’s three-and-a-half-year journey reinventing himself as an American expat—while raising a family and starting the revolutionary blues band Woodie Alan, voted Beijing Band of the Year Alan Paul, award–winning author of the Wall Street Journal’s online column “The Expat Life,” gives his engaging, inspiring, and unforgettable memoir of blues and new beginnings in Beijing. Paul’s three-and-a-half-year journey reinventing himself as an American expat—while raising a family and starting the revolutionary blues band Woodie Alan, voted Beijing Band of the Year in the 2008—is a must-read adventure for anyone who has lived abroad, and for everyone who dreams of rewriting the story of their own future.

30 review for Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing

  1. 5 out of 5

    Francesca

    First of all my stars interpretation (since nowhere within Goodreads I found it defined...) 5 stars means for me a book who changed my life (a copernican revolution!) not necessarily aesthetically beautiful; 4 stars means a masterpiece; 3 stars: I enjoyed it very much. 2 stars and 1 I don't usually use it because now thanks to Goodreads I filter the books and buy only books above 3.75 read by many people. So I liked BIG IN CHINA very much, read it in few days and found it very useful for better First of all my stars interpretation (since nowhere within Goodreads I found it defined...) 5 stars means for me a book who changed my life (a copernican revolution!) not necessarily aesthetically beautiful; 4 stars means a masterpiece; 3 stars: I enjoyed it very much. 2 stars and 1 I don't usually use it because now thanks to Goodreads I filter the books and buy only books above 3.75 read by many people. So I liked BIG IN CHINA very much, read it in few days and found it very useful for better understanding Chinese people.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alan Paul

    Alan Paul I'm the author and I'm sure there is somewhere else I should be posting this, but until I figure that out... I figured I might as well bump my average rating up, but I certainly don't think the book is perfect. A year after its release, I certainly see some things I wish I had done differently, but I remain proud of it and thankful to all of you who have read it and especially those who have taken the time to review. I'm pleased that most of you enjoyed it, and take some of the critical Alan Paul I'm the author and I'm sure there is somewhere else I should be posting this, but until I figure that out... I figured I might as well bump my average rating up, but I certainly don't think the book is perfect. A year after its release, I certainly see some things I wish I had done differently, but I remain proud of it and thankful to all of you who have read it and especially those who have taken the time to review. I'm pleased that most of you enjoyed it, and take some of the critical comments to heart. Happy to hear from any of you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

    Gets especially high rating as the author tried hard to get to know China and the Chinese, rather than just leading a completely cosseted expat life. I confess I wasn't all that interested on the musician aspect of the story, but I knew that going in, and was able to skim through a bit of that towards the end. Bottom line is that Alan's a really nice guy, presenting the details in an engaging manner. Definitely not "just another expat in China" story at all. Recommended! Gets especially high rating as the author tried hard to get to know China and the Chinese, rather than just leading a completely cosseted expat life. I confess I wasn't all that interested on the musician aspect of the story, but I knew that going in, and was able to skim through a bit of that towards the end. Bottom line is that Alan's a really nice guy, presenting the details in an engaging manner. Definitely not "just another expat in China" story at all. Recommended!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ann Fisher

    Pure coincidence that I read this so soon after Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language. Like Deborah Fallows, Alan Paul was a "trailing spouse," living and working in Bejing because that's where his wife's job had taken him. Like Fallows, he makes the most of it. His descriptions of raising kids in a community of other ex-pats. struggling with the language, trying to pass the drivers exam, and traveling around the country with the family would have been entertaining en Pure coincidence that I read this so soon after Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language. Like Deborah Fallows, Alan Paul was a "trailing spouse," living and working in Bejing because that's where his wife's job had taken him. Like Fallows, he makes the most of it. His descriptions of raising kids in a community of other ex-pats. struggling with the language, trying to pass the drivers exam, and traveling around the country with the family would have been entertaining enough, but his immersion in the Bejing music scene, ultimately becoming the lead singer in his own band, "Woodie Alan," takes the book to a whole different level. We learn that Paul was a band nerd from a young age, writing a term paper on Duane Allman while he was still in 8th grade. He eventually became a music journalist, writing for music magazines and meeting many of his musical heroes. But it wasn't until he reached China that he became a serious musician himself. The stories of meeting other musicians, sharing light night meals and cheap hotels on road trips, and, improbably, finding himself headlining music festivals that were broadcast to millions of Chinese who had never heard of the Allman Brothers. I'm giving this five stars. If you have any interest in contemporary American rock or blues (I'm not sure I've ever heard an Allman Brothers song) you'll like it even more.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Big in China is Alan Paul's memoir of his three-and-a-half years in Beijing living as an expat with his wife and three young children. His wife Rebecca was offered a job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, and Alan was a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer. They saw this move to China as an opportunity and they embraced it by working hard and taking frequent trips off the beaten path into the villages in China and mingling with the people. I simply loved reading about these trips a Big in China is Alan Paul's memoir of his three-and-a-half years in Beijing living as an expat with his wife and three young children. His wife Rebecca was offered a job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, and Alan was a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer. They saw this move to China as an opportunity and they embraced it by working hard and taking frequent trips off the beaten path into the villages in China and mingling with the people. I simply loved reading about these trips and admired how they did this with three young children in tow. It was also interesting to see how the expat community lived within compounds that were gated and guarded and their homes staffed with servants who did everything: cooked, cleaned and took care of the kids. Although Paul and Rebecca pursued their careers passionately, they were clearly close as a family and made sure to spend time as a family doing things together. Alan was also editor for Guitar World and loved to play the guitar. One day he stumbled upon Woodie, a hip Chinese man who loves blues music. Shortly after, they formed the blues band Woodie Alan. It was a match made in heaven. Little did they know that their cross-cultural collaboration would become so successful that they would earn the title “Best Band in Beijing” and would go on to tour China and produce a CD album of original songs in both English and Mandarin. Having just finished reading Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus, which explored the science of learning music, I was able to truly appreciate what it took for these men and their band members to play so well together and rise to success so quickly. Big in China is a well-written, enjoyable read about how one man and his family fell in love with a foreign country and its people. It's easy to read, and although it opened my eyes to China and its culture, it did not delve into any of the politics and immense social problems known about China. Rather, it focused on Alan's perception of embracing life on unfamiliar territory with his family. It's a heartwarming account of how one man discovered first-hand that people of vastly different cultures are very much alike and yearn for the same things, including the transcending joy from an art that unites people everywhere: music.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ensiform

    A music writer, Paul travels to Beijing with his wife and their three children when she is offered a job as the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief there. He works hard at the language, gets a driver’s license, enjoys the food, writes columns, and becomes the stay-at-home parent in the foreigner’s compound, complete with servants. With a new perspective and perhaps more time on his hands, he takes up guitar again and hangs out in music clubs. After being called on stage and performing a few class A music writer, Paul travels to Beijing with his wife and their three children when she is offered a job as the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief there. He works hard at the language, gets a driver’s license, enjoys the food, writes columns, and becomes the stay-at-home parent in the foreigner’s compound, complete with servants. With a new perspective and perhaps more time on his hands, he takes up guitar again and hangs out in music clubs. After being called on stage and performing a few classic rock standards, Paul thinks he’s found a winning formula and soon puts together a band with another ex-pat and three Chinese musicians. After extensive practicing and touring, this band is named “Best New Band in Beijing” – a rather stunning feat in a usually fairly insular culture that gives no quarter to foreigners. This is a fun, witty book about how one man’s enthusiastic embrace of the new led him to revitalize his passion for music, and to change the music scene of Beijing itself. I was bowled over by the enthusiasm and positivity in this book, something that is lacking in many Westerner-in-China memoirs. Where almost every other visitor and ex-pat dwells on the honking and crush of traffic, Paul sees it as an escapade. The exotic food, the language barrier, the culture clash – all is opportunity or adventure for Paul, not a challenge or hardship. Granted, his viewpoint could be called insular itself; as a member of a working ex-pat family and not a tourist, he probably didn’t deal with bureaucrats or xenophobes as much as some visitors. But regardless, his positivity and equitable understanding are refreshing and contagious traits. Whether it’s attending to his young children’s culture shock, his ailing father, his quiet and serious bandmate, or his tutor’s worried vacillating about the life path he is meant to take, Paul focuses on human connections, not differences. Musing on the changed landscape and displaced people in the constant reinvention he notices in Beijing, Paul notes only, and very wisely, “everyone’s view of ‘normal’ starts the moment they arrive” – he wasn’t about to fret about what Beijing was “becoming;” he was too busy being involved in what it was. This is an inspiring and very unusual tale.

  7. 4 out of 5

    S.

    apparently quickly written for profit, lacking any drama, pacing, buildup, or insight. Paul through massive efforts and the heavy support of his wife who held down the tough job apparently just about became a minor regional talent in Beijing, but his lack of Mandarin, musical ability, personal aesthetic sense prevent this from being a China classic such as the four-star Foreign Babes in Beijing or even three-star Mr. China. it was worth the 1.99 ebook special but not more. moreover, having had a apparently quickly written for profit, lacking any drama, pacing, buildup, or insight. Paul through massive efforts and the heavy support of his wife who held down the tough job apparently just about became a minor regional talent in Beijing, but his lack of Mandarin, musical ability, personal aesthetic sense prevent this from being a China classic such as the four-star Foreign Babes in Beijing or even three-star Mr. China. it was worth the 1.99 ebook special but not more. moreover, having had a few years' expat experience in China, it was a book I felt obligated to read, but I can't recommend it on its merits or as an introduction to gated-community China except for somebody really planning to commit to the country. the biggest problem, as I wrote, was that Paul was very dependent on his accomodating spouse the whole time, so instead of a great, dynamic personality conquering things on its merits, we have instead the sort of lackadaisical story of a tagger-along getting some of the 'china statistics' (=if 2% of China has heard of you, that's 30 million people; if Paul's broadcast on TV hit an audience of 30 million, well, that's 30 million really poor, impoverished people who happen to just see 'laowai novelty of the minute' on a variety show and will forget his name by next year). the book does have some merit in its descriptions, some insight into the culture and dynamic, and a certain optimistic spirit, but you'd be far better off putting anything above $2 towards, even, Seven Years in Tibet, or Shanghai Baby.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    A fun and interesting memoir by a friend of mine. I worked with Alan and his wife, Rebecca, at the University of Michigan's student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. Alan details the 3+ years he and Rebecca spent in China while she was Editor for the Wall St. Journal, and he was full-time dad, part-time bluesman and 100% immersing himself into a new world. It's an interesting take on a country that few Americans really know. I found the crazy paths that Alan took amazing to believe and I think you A fun and interesting memoir by a friend of mine. I worked with Alan and his wife, Rebecca, at the University of Michigan's student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. Alan details the 3+ years he and Rebecca spent in China while she was Editor for the Wall St. Journal, and he was full-time dad, part-time bluesman and 100% immersing himself into a new world. It's an interesting take on a country that few Americans really know. I found the crazy paths that Alan took amazing to believe and I think you will too.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn

    Loved it - took me back to Shanghai days. The book discusses many of the issues shared by many expats living in China and elsewhere but the added layer of interest and culture brought to bear by Alan Paul's experience of playing in a successful band makes the books much more than another expat memoir. Loved it - took me back to Shanghai days. The book discusses many of the issues shared by many expats living in China and elsewhere but the added layer of interest and culture brought to bear by Alan Paul's experience of playing in a successful band makes the books much more than another expat memoir.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Interesting enough. I got bored halfway through with his band stuff though, and I started skimming. Mostly I was interested in his China experience, which while fine, seemed a little lacking at times. He's no Peter Hessler, that's all I'm saying. Interesting enough. I got bored halfway through with his band stuff though, and I started skimming. Mostly I was interested in his China experience, which while fine, seemed a little lacking at times. He's no Peter Hessler, that's all I'm saying.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Dogshit expat memoire about their time in an exoticized China. This book could have been (and probably was) an interesting magazine article about an American, knowing nothing about China, goes to China without a job, starts a band and becomes a hit in the mid-2000's. But this is really just a typical expat memoire with the interesting story tacked on somewhere. By the time I gave up on this book, 30% of the way through the book, he still had only picked up his guitar once or twice. No band forme Dogshit expat memoire about their time in an exoticized China. This book could have been (and probably was) an interesting magazine article about an American, knowing nothing about China, goes to China without a job, starts a band and becomes a hit in the mid-2000's. But this is really just a typical expat memoire with the interesting story tacked on somewhere. By the time I gave up on this book, 30% of the way through the book, he still had only picked up his guitar once or twice. No band formed. Instead, I was somewhere in the morass of Paul and his family traveling in Guilin and then Guizhou. I just could not take another page of lectures on how he liked the spicy food of Guizhou but his kids were eating knock-off oreos. This is really just another expat story with a kernel of an interesting story embedded somewhere in the book. Also, the book had the feel of a hundred blogposts strung together without turning it into a book (I believe it was based of Paul's blog). Exoticized China, whining about how tough it was to move with a family, there may have been something interesting in the book, but, if so, he took a while to get to it. Read 30%.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yuliya

    The title is very descriptive and summarizes the book very well. It was interesting to read, especially the parts about expat life in China as a family. I had no idea that many expats have such cushy relocation packages and pretty much live in the lap of luxury in walled-off compounds. It is commendable that the author made a good effort to learn Chinese, was willing to eat local food and introduced his kids to it, got a driver's license, and travelled so much with his family to regions in China The title is very descriptive and summarizes the book very well. It was interesting to read, especially the parts about expat life in China as a family. I had no idea that many expats have such cushy relocation packages and pretty much live in the lap of luxury in walled-off compounds. It is commendable that the author made a good effort to learn Chinese, was willing to eat local food and introduced his kids to it, got a driver's license, and travelled so much with his family to regions in China that few international tourists know about. He is very open and honest about his experiences, and it's clear that he enjoyed his time in China. The parts about music were less interesting to me, although the idea of forming a successful band where most members don't speak the same language is fascinating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sandi Farley

    Great book by a great author Alan Paul has written about The Allman Brothers (One Way Out) and co-written about Stevie Ray Vaughn (Texas Flood) and has written numerous articles about the blues/rock music and musicians he loves. This happens to be his first book about..well..himself and his he, out of his deep love for his wife, ended up uprooting himself, his wife and kids from New Jersey where his family and friends were and moving to China for an awesome career opportunity his wife had been of Great book by a great author Alan Paul has written about The Allman Brothers (One Way Out) and co-written about Stevie Ray Vaughn (Texas Flood) and has written numerous articles about the blues/rock music and musicians he loves. This happens to be his first book about..well..himself and his he, out of his deep love for his wife, ended up uprooting himself, his wife and kids from New Jersey where his family and friends were and moving to China for an awesome career opportunity his wife had been offered. This is a love story, as well as a story of self discovery as he became part of a band that was...Big in China!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This is not the book to read if you want to learn (much) about China. However, if you would like to be convinced of the power of the experience of living abroad, this is the m ed memoir for you. I lived the China for four years and felt much the same about my time there-- you form a connection that is deep as you grow to love a home that is never quite a home. Paul was there in a real golden age-- I'm guessing it's not quite the same experience with the foreigner fear-mongering going on now. This is not the book to read if you want to learn (much) about China. However, if you would like to be convinced of the power of the experience of living abroad, this is the m ed memoir for you. I lived the China for four years and felt much the same about my time there-- you form a connection that is deep as you grow to love a home that is never quite a home. Paul was there in a real golden age-- I'm guessing it's not quite the same experience with the foreigner fear-mongering going on now.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ross Warner

    This book inspired me to write my own. It was that good. The sense of family and the importance of music is what came through the most. I'm not nearly as cultured as Alan or willing to try new things. But there was a warm to the story that I really identified with. It made me seek Alan out to hear a few more stories. I'm happy to see he's still telling them. This book inspired me to write my own. It was that good. The sense of family and the importance of music is what came through the most. I'm not nearly as cultured as Alan or willing to try new things. But there was a warm to the story that I really identified with. It made me seek Alan out to hear a few more stories. I'm happy to see he's still telling them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joann Pittman

    As a fellow ex-Beijing expat, this book brought a (knowing) smile to my face and made me homesick.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Steven Yenzer

    Fun, quick read with an outsider's perspective on Beijing. Fun, quick read with an outsider's perspective on Beijing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fussnik

    great story. wish my life included that level of energy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Abbe

    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 Wood 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. From 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

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    As soon I saw the title of this book, I wanted to read it! In 1993, I had gone on a three week tour of China and now my son works there. China has changed so much since I was there so I was really excited to find this book. I wanted to see if Alan Paul had similar experiences and did he become attached to the people like I did. I was so sad to leave that tears were streaking my face when the return flight was over. Alan Paul, the author went with his wife and family when she accepted a job as t As soon I saw the title of this book, I wanted to read it! In 1993, I had gone on a three week tour of China and now my son works there. China has changed so much since I was there so I was really excited to find this book. I wanted to see if Alan Paul had similar experiences and did he become attached to the people like I did. I was so sad to leave that tears were streaking my face when the return flight was over. Alan Paul, the author went with his wife and family when she accepted a job as the China Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. They were in Beijing for four years ending with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Mr.Paul related how he and his wife debated uprooting his family, their three young children to live in a totally different country. They didn't have to but decided to take on the adventure. At first, the family settled into the Ex Patriate community and lived in the compound with all the others from different countries. They later started exploring outside the walls and even into the countryside. Maplewood, where they lived in the U.S. was tree lined,comfortable and safe. comfortable and safe. In China, he let himself pursue a dream that could not even be imagined in Maplewood. In China, he became an daring explorer. He let himself be his true self ignoring those recordings in his head that that say "You aren't good enough". Before he could not even imagine himself in a blue band, let alone to the leader. He found joy. His children got used to taking short trips to the Great Wall and eating different foods,and meeting new people from all sorts of cutures. The whole family left Beijing after four years with tears in their eyes and a new way to see the world. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in travel, China, in almost magical changes and those who love the blues. There were many of my old blues favorites in this book. I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program but my thoughts in this review are entirely my own.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Let's be clear - this is not a book about China. This is a memoir about what it means for your family and identity to move to another country. Alan Paul, freelance journalist, spent more than 3 years in Beijing when his wife accepted the post of Bureau Chief for the WSJ. Before the move, they lived in suburban NJ, where he juggled his work assignments with being the primary caregiver for their 3 children (aged 7, 4 and 2 at the time of the move). But in Expat World, where the relocation packages Let's be clear - this is not a book about China. This is a memoir about what it means for your family and identity to move to another country. Alan Paul, freelance journalist, spent more than 3 years in Beijing when his wife accepted the post of Bureau Chief for the WSJ. Before the move, they lived in suburban NJ, where he juggled his work assignments with being the primary caregiver for their 3 children (aged 7, 4 and 2 at the time of the move). But in Expat World, where the relocation packages include house, car and driver, and their salaries also covered a housekeeper, a nanny and a cook, Paul had the time to explore new passions. Which for him, turned out to be blogging and playing blues guitar. The second thread of the book is his friendship with the Chinese musicians he found to play with, and growing success of their band in the nascent Beijing music scene. I heard Paul read at his book event in Shanghai, and he's clearly a nice guy. But the memoir doesn't read as a whole lot more than that. Aside from some descriptions of the food, a bit of travel and of course the madness of the Olympics, it could have been set anywhere where US families get relocated. The writing is honest and easy to read, but completely unmemorable. In the end, this is a book about unexpectedly becoming a musician in middle age, written by a Daddy-blogger who happened to find himself in China.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Converse

    Allen Paul, a journalist who worked for Guitar World and the basketball magazine Slam, got the opportunity to live in China for a little over 3 years when his journalist wife, Rebecca, applied for and got a posting in Bejing with her employer, the Wall Street Journal. They were in China during the 2008 Olympics. Allen, in the lingo of expats the "trailing spouse," found his time in China the opportunity to play music instead of just covering it and found himself in a mostly Chinese blues band. T Allen Paul, a journalist who worked for Guitar World and the basketball magazine Slam, got the opportunity to live in China for a little over 3 years when his journalist wife, Rebecca, applied for and got a posting in Bejing with her employer, the Wall Street Journal. They were in China during the 2008 Olympics. Allen, in the lingo of expats the "trailing spouse," found his time in China the opportunity to play music instead of just covering it and found himself in a mostly Chinese blues band. They started out doing covers but fairly quickly started playing their own compositions. After their first public performances, in which most of the audience were friends of the band members and were mostly westerners, they ended up playing at much larger venues to almost exclusively Chinese audiences. Paul comes across as friendly guy benefiting from his willingness to go outside the expat compound he lived in and mix with ordinary Chinese. The other band members were interesting people and excellent musicians. Paul is good at describing what being a westerner in China is like, the odd "fake rich" (as he stays) lifestyle of expats on expense accounts, and his musical experiences.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I truly enjoyed this book. The author was a "trailing spouse" whose wife was assigned to work at the WSJ in Beijing for 3-1/2 years (during the Olympics!) with three small children similar in ages to mine. I enjoyed reading about Alan's embrace of the assignment, the culture, and the opportunities for his work and his interests. Some of his travel plans and ambitions (to get a driver's license!) were outside my comfort zone but made for fun reading. I think the basic premise of his story is by le I truly enjoyed this book. The author was a "trailing spouse" whose wife was assigned to work at the WSJ in Beijing for 3-1/2 years (during the Olympics!) with three small children similar in ages to mine. I enjoyed reading about Alan's embrace of the assignment, the culture, and the opportunities for his work and his interests. Some of his travel plans and ambitions (to get a driver's license!) were outside my comfort zone but made for fun reading. I think the basic premise of his story is by leaving America, he was able to truly able to pursue his passion of playing music in a way he would never have tried at home. Note: The book is heavy on his musical experiences, which may not interest you. I appreciated his insight on patriotism, the expat community (close knit relationships), the "fake rich" aspect (private schools, household help, drivers) and eventual re-entry into American life. Note to my friends: We have no plans to move to China, but I will be reading a lot of books about China in 2012, because of my husband's increasing work there and how it affects our lives. The Chinese culture and expat life intrigues us both.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    If you are interested in what American ex-pat living is like, particularly in China, this is not bad. The blurbs etc focus on how the author became successful with a group of mostly Chinese musicians, but I think that works out to less than half the book overall, becoming more central as he describes the roughly three and a half years he and his family were in China. His energy level is rather amazing. Just reading about all the stuff they did was tiring. The author blogged while in Beijing about If you are interested in what American ex-pat living is like, particularly in China, this is not bad. The blurbs etc focus on how the author became successful with a group of mostly Chinese musicians, but I think that works out to less than half the book overall, becoming more central as he describes the roughly three and a half years he and his family were in China. His energy level is rather amazing. Just reading about all the stuff they did was tiring. The author blogged while in Beijing about the same subject as the book - his life there, his family's activities, the ex-pat existence, etc. He mentions more than once that he provided more personal details about himself and his family than some people would think made sense and this is true of the book too, I think. It's a little much, some of the time. We all have our lives, we can live them, but we don't need to share them at this level with the whole world - do we? In his acknowledgements at the end he expresses appreciation for public libraries, so that's nice.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    What I liked: Interesting story, some good insight into expat life in China as well as some "off the beaten trail" stuff, pretty easy engaging read, some good emotional stories as well as just some everyday life observations. What I didn't enjoy: I didn't find the author particularly likeable. I found him quite entitled and a little whiny at the beginning .. whinging about being considered a "trailing spouse" (what they call the spouse of the person who has the big foreign job - Paul's wife, Rebecc What I liked: Interesting story, some good insight into expat life in China as well as some "off the beaten trail" stuff, pretty easy engaging read, some good emotional stories as well as just some everyday life observations. What I didn't enjoy: I didn't find the author particularly likeable. I found him quite entitled and a little whiny at the beginning .. whinging about being considered a "trailing spouse" (what they call the spouse of the person who has the big foreign job - Paul's wife, Rebecca, was the head of the China desk for the WSJ). His tone eventually stopped bothering me towards the middle and end of the book .. but it would occasionally pop up. Would I recommend? If you're interested in expat living in China AND you're already a fan of Alan Paul's writing, then yes, definitely read. I've enjoyed other memoirs about living in China more, though I did get a new perspective from Paul's book. And I am keen to seek out the music of the band he created. Check it out of the library.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Agatha

    Memoir written by a stay-at-home dad who travels with his spouse and 3 children to China when wife is offered a job as head of the Wall Street Journal China bureau. While there, he writes a column called “The Expat Life” for WSJ.com (2005-09) and also freelances for two music magazines and forms a blues band called Woodie Alan with another expat and 3 Chinese musicians. Book was interesting to me for its inside look at life in Beijing, its funny and amusing insights as a US expat abroad; to thei Memoir written by a stay-at-home dad who travels with his spouse and 3 children to China when wife is offered a job as head of the Wall Street Journal China bureau. While there, he writes a column called “The Expat Life” for WSJ.com (2005-09) and also freelances for two music magazines and forms a blues band called Woodie Alan with another expat and 3 Chinese musicians. Book was interesting to me for its inside look at life in Beijing, its funny and amusing insights as a US expat abroad; to their credit, I do think they tried to get out and about and experience as much of “real China” they could. Sometimes though I thought he was a little too high on himself and I don’t really feel like I’d have much in common with him (I didn't get very much into the music part of the book, for example) if I were to meet him in real life say, at a cocktail party or something like that!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    This is a fine story, told by a nice guy who is a decent writer. It touches on all sorts of topics - what it means to be American, what it means to be Chinese, how experiencing a different culture changes our views, how music is a universal language, the longing for adventure, the pain of loss - but doesn't go very deep on any of them. The book began as a blog, and the author/narrator is a writer for a magazine. This style comes through in the book, which feels a bit episodic, and lacks the cent This is a fine story, told by a nice guy who is a decent writer. It touches on all sorts of topics - what it means to be American, what it means to be Chinese, how experiencing a different culture changes our views, how music is a universal language, the longing for adventure, the pain of loss - but doesn't go very deep on any of them. The book began as a blog, and the author/narrator is a writer for a magazine. This style comes through in the book, which feels a bit episodic, and lacks the central conflict that you might expect from a novel on the subject (or a memoir that adopts a more novelistic style). Yes, there are ups and downs, and various themes, but these are dealt with in a fairly simplistic and straightforward manner. This all may sound like criticism, but I enjoyed reading the book, and would recommend it as a good, light read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    3.5 stars. Alan Paul's wife is posted to Beijing as the Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief & their family of 5 lives the expat life -- with a twist. Although they reside in an enclave of non-Chinese whose standard of living is immensely increased by the disparity in salary to expenses (servants! huge house! fancy car! private schools!), they truly do try to sample some of "actual" China. His own journalistic creds (writer for Guitar Player & Slam magazines) made for very engaging writing. Never co 3.5 stars. Alan Paul's wife is posted to Beijing as the Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief & their family of 5 lives the expat life -- with a twist. Although they reside in an enclave of non-Chinese whose standard of living is immensely increased by the disparity in salary to expenses (servants! huge house! fancy car! private schools!), they truly do try to sample some of "actual" China. His own journalistic creds (writer for Guitar Player & Slam magazines) made for very engaging writing. Never confident of his guitar skills, but a huge lover of the blues, he finds some Chinese musicians who encourage him to sit in with them. Eventually, they form a group & are voted Beijing Band of the Year! Then -- back to New Jersey & real life, so to speak.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carla King

    I didn't expect to like this book about a husband and music journalist following his wife on assignment to China. But his eagerness to get out of their American-style complex into the "real" China won me over immediately. His eagerness to seriously pursue a music career sometimes clashed with his responsibilities as husband and father but not too often and when it happened he was so full of angst and regret that I found it easy to forgive him, as did his wife. With Chinese language lessons to ad I didn't expect to like this book about a husband and music journalist following his wife on assignment to China. But his eagerness to get out of their American-style complex into the "real" China won me over immediately. His eagerness to seriously pursue a music career sometimes clashed with his responsibilities as husband and father but not too often and when it happened he was so full of angst and regret that I found it easy to forgive him, as did his wife. With Chinese language lessons to adventures in cuisine, this would be a good travelogue, but the focus on becoming "Big in China" by going truly pro with a rock band is just over the top. It was interesting too, to compare his experiences in China with my trips in 1998 and 2008. Very recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Phil Howard

    I was familiar with Alan Paul because of his writing about the Allman Brothers Band and other musicians in the Allman extended family. This book is about the three and one half years he and his family spent in China while his wife Rebecca was posted there with the Wall Street Journal. During the time, he, another expatriate and three Chinese citizens formed a band and played together. He also immersed himself and his family in the Chinese experience. I would probably never do what he did, but re I was familiar with Alan Paul because of his writing about the Allman Brothers Band and other musicians in the Allman extended family. This book is about the three and one half years he and his family spent in China while his wife Rebecca was posted there with the Wall Street Journal. During the time, he, another expatriate and three Chinese citizens formed a band and played together. He also immersed himself and his family in the Chinese experience. I would probably never do what he did, but really enjoyed reading about his experience. He is an excellent writer, and gives the reader a sense of what is like being there physically and socially. His thirst for experience is clear in his writing.

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