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Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing [Kindle Edition]

Alan Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"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.

Product Description


“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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 437 KB
  • Print Length: 277 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0061993158
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; 1 edition (1 Mar. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004HD61JA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #344,590 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big thumbs up for 'Big in China' 6 April 2011
Ever wondered what life in China would be like? Then look no further ...

Big in China reveals a world of sequestered expatdom. The multinational ranks are cloistered together in compounds boasting well-maintained streets lined by large houses, with clubhouses, gyms and swimming pools. The kids go to the international school together and play at each others' homes. There are family sports days, barbecues, dinners with friends.

For many daily life is made easy by cheap domestic help - cooks, cleaners, drivers and nannies are par for the course, creating a luxurious lifestyle only a few could expect to have back home.

As Alan observes, it is all too easy to become immersed in this expat bubble - a world of privilege, ease and security.

Yet it is also one of sterility. And to his credit, Alan is determined not to become a prisoner behind the expat gates. Instead, he is keen to explore the China that exists for its population - to learn the language, make friends and taste the `real' China, from its food on up.

The picture of China that emerges is just as complex as the one gleaned from inches of newspaper and magazine columns, with all its beauty and ugliness. Yet it is coloured by great insights into the immense joys and frustrations that life in China offers for expatriates.

As becomes evident from reading Alan's book, China is hardly the easiest place in the world for an expat to move to. But what it does promise is one big and exciting adventure of life-changing proportions.

By Paul Allen, expat author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether It's Right for Yo
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Paul is eXpAt-tAcULar 6 Jun. 2011
Alan Paul, China's latest "it-pat," stormed the Beijing scene as an expat blogger for the Wall Street Journal, the frontman for an infectiously-enjoyable bar band, and father of three. His entertaining memoir explains how he became so Big in China.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book would make an amazing movie! 3 Feb. 2011
By PT Cruiser - Published on
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). 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 28 Feb. 2011
By Andy Orrock - Published on
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable reading experience 21 Feb. 2011
By B. McEwan - Published on
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. 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 15 April 2011
By Amanda Li - Published on
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 Expat Boy Makes Good 4 Feb. 2011
By Umm Lila - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Basketball and music journalist Alan Paul was in his early 40s when he and his wife decided to make a move to Beijing, where she took over the Wall Street Journal office and where he became a "trailing spouse" in the expat lingo. His kids became third culture kids, with a foot in China and a foot in the US. This memoir covers some of his expat life in general, including the adventures in food, driving and travel that are common to most expats (particularly in developing countries), but its focus is on how Paul achieved his dream of really becoming a musician, and performing in a blues band that became "Big in China." There was so much going on in his life, he could really have spent his years in China just writing about his family and their experiences. I give him a lot of credit for finding friends and building a band on the local music scene in Beijing and I especially am impressed because he did so at a time of life when most people are getting complacent and suburbanized. The only criticism I have of the book is his writing style; he could have added a lot more descriptions of people and places, and set the scene in a little more detail. Perhaps this is due to being accustomed to writing short journalistic pieces. I recommend this book.
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