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

Alan Paul
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 18 2011

"What a romp….Alan Paul walked the walk, preaching the blues in China. Anyone who doubts that music is bigger than words needs to read this great tale." Gregg Allman
 
"An absolute love story. In his embrace of family, friends, music and the new culture he's discovering, Alan Paul leaves us contemplating the love in our own lives, and rethinking the concept of home." Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor, with Randy Pausch, of The Last Lecture
 
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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Review

“An absolute love story. In his embrace of family, friends, music and the new culture he’s discovering, Alan Paul leaves us contemplating the love in our own lives, and rethinking the concept of home.” (—Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor, The Last Lecture)

“Alan Paul plunges into Chinese life and takes us along for the ride.... 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.” (—Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving and River Town)

“What a romp. After writing about music for years, Alan Paul walked the walk, preaching the blues in China. Anyone who doubts that music is bigger than words needs to read this great tale.” (—Gregg Allman, the Allman Brothers Band)

“Generations of adventurers have daydreamed of seeing their names up in lights in the world’s biggest country. But Alan Paul-musician, writer, and stay-at-home father of three-actually achieved it through sheer will and talent.” (—Evan Osnos, China Correspondent, The New Yorker)

This readable, human account of his China experience shows how one can be richly rewarded in a supposedly ‘hard posting’ when armed with an open, adventurous mind and the Chinese people’s ‘go-get-it’ spirit.” (—Lijia Zhang, author of Socialism Is Great)

“Alan Paul’s evolution from expat-village ‘trailing spouse’ to star of the Chinese music scene stands for countless similar developments underway in China. I hope many people read this book -- and consider a similar adventure themselves.” (—James Fallows, author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square)

“Reads like an epic adventure, with music at its heart and the unity of people as its goal.” (—Rick Telander, author Heaven Is a Playground)

“A charming exploration of an expat’s unlikely rise to fame, as well as the lessons learned along the way.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“An inspirational, eloquent travelogue that that that flows like a soul-baring letter to friends as it carries readers along on a personal journey of discovery in a land that is rediscovering itself.” (—James McGregor, author, One Billion Customers)

“It’s hard to imagine a better American musical ambassador than Alan Paul.... With the help of great local musicians, he bridged cultures with notes. It’s an amazing story.” (—Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band)

From the Back Cover

The inspiring story of a man, a family, a band, a foreign country, and a new beginning

When Alan Paul's wife was offered the job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, he saw it as an amazing opportunity to shake up their increasingly staid suburban New Jersey life. Excited and not a little scared, they packed up their three children—ages two, four, and seven—and headed for adventure and uncertainty in Beijing, China.

Based on his award-winning Wall Street Journal Online column, "The Expat Life," Big in China explores Paul's unlikely three-and-a-half-year journey of reinvention in this rapidly developing metropolis. He reveals the challenges that he and his family faced while living in a foreign land, including reaching beyond the expat community, coming to terms with his new role as a stay-at-home dad, and learning to navigate and thrive in an unfamiliar culture. By viewing an intimidating challenge as a golden opportunity rather than as a burden, he saw his world open up around him.

At the heart of the memoir is his time fronting Woodie Alan, a blues band he formed with a Chinese partner. The cross-cultural collaboration became an unlikely success. The band embarked on a tour across China, earning the title "Best Band in Beijing" and recording an acclaimed CD of original music sung in both English and Mandarin, which prompted ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons to say, "This is the best Chinese blues band I ever heard. Who knew?" Woodie Alan was symbolic of Paul's entire China experience and?proof of what transpires when one can suspend preconceived notions and plunge into a new reality.

A testament to the transformative power of a life lived beyond comfortable borders, Big in China reminds us of the importance of always keeping our horizons wide and our thoughts ambitious.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book would make an amazing movie July 23 2012
By PT Cruiser TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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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4.0 out of 5 stars heartwarming memoir March 4 2012
By Laura Fabiani TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  90 reviews
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book would make an amazing movie! Feb. 3 2011
By PT Cruiser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
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). This was an insider's view of what daily life was like for them in Beijing, a very different and personal view rather than some of the stereotype impressions that I would have imagined.

Although this was a very uplifting and positive book, there were anxious, sad and reflective times included as well. Life is like that. He manages to include them all without a dull moment in the entire book. I knew that if the book was anything like its description, I would enjoy it, but I didn't realize just how much. It was the kind of book that I just couldn't put down (except to check out their youtube videos) even when it was late and I had to get up early the next morning. It's a book I'm already planning to buy for some friends because I enjoyed it so much. It's a "feel good" adventure. It seems like the perfect book to be made into a movie and if it ever is, I'll be the first one in line.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Big in China' is a joy to read - the serendipitous life of an unlikely Chinese music star Feb. 27 2011
By Andy Orrock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable reading experience Feb. 21 2011
By B. McEwan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
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. Since Paul is a professional journalist, the book reads well and has that feel of immediacy that engages readers and gives us a reason to keep turning the pages.

If you read much about globalization, especially nonfiction tomes and serious news reports, the prevailing view of China as an economic competitor to the US, while perhaps true, is a narrow and biased perspective that can get a bit depressing. Big in China will give you a different (and for me much appreciated) point of view about our 'global village' and the basic goodwill of the people in it. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tears rolling down my eyes when I read this book April 15 2011
By Amanda Li - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have to say that when I started to read Alan Paul's book I was skeptical and afraid. I've read books and articles about China, and sometimes they reminded me of the story " The Blind Men and the Elephant." They only scratched the surface and already started to claim what China really is (I'm from China). Paul's book is different. He's sincere about his good and bad feelings as an expat in a completely different country, a country with a rich history and different lifestyles. I've watched him on The Today Show and listened to his music, which I enjoyed very much. And my liking for his book started to accumulate as I read more and more Big In China. I admire him as both a father and a husband who dares to take a leap of faith with his family and delve into a new world at a not-so-young age. "The future no longer seemed limitless as I approached my fortieth birthday," he wrote. Yet he was bold and wise enough to come to a decision that brought him a limitless future. I was especially sad and moved when I read about his father going through a surgery. Being so faraway from home, he's extremely worried, struggled and helpless...He's a strong person and a good writer, I'd recommend this book to people who're interested in an expat's life or in China.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good insight Feb. 8 2011
By Charlemagne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Alan Paul provides some good insight into what it is like to be a foreigner living in China. Being a student of Mandarin language, I was curious about his experiences. The first quarter of the book goes though the move his family makes from New Jersey to Beijing. His writing style is fun to read as he takes you though the ups and downs of being an "expat" in a country he knows little about at first.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a bit of insight into what China is really like, pushing aside stereotypes, and getting the real deal from someone who for over three years immersed themselves in the culture and became accepted as a popular blues entertainer, along with his new friends.

People who may be moving to Beijing because of their jobs, will probably find this book helpful to them as well.
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