Big in China
My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing
By Alan Paul
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061993152, 272pp.)
Publication Date: March 2011
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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 childrenages two, four, and sevenand 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.
Alan Paul wrote "The Expat Life" column for WSJ.com from 2005 through 2009, and he was named 2008 Online Columnist of the Year by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Paul is a senior writer for Slam and Guitar World magazines, and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, People, Sports Illustrated, and many other media outlets. He has contributed to The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Guide, The Insider's Guide to Beijing, and several other books. He lives with his family in Maplewood, New Jersey.
“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.”
“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