Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
Author: Alan Paul
Publisher: Harper Collins
Author: Alan Paul
Publisher: Harper Collins
The title reflects the personality of the one who created it. It is too modest! Like its creator, this title understates what is going to transpire from this semi-memoir and semi-travelogue. Indeed, Alan Paul is not only Big in China, but he is big nearly everywhere too. The three-year-stay in China of which this book relates the story will allow him to demonstrate the validity of this assertion.
Indeed, this book tells us as much about Alan Paul as a man as Alan Paul as a musician. First, without any trace of a male chauvinism, Paul not only accepted with grace but encouraged his wife to accept her transfer to be a bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in Beijing. Another husband would have looked askance at his wife's professional success while his career has not as much to boast about. Paul, however, can surely boast about being a caring and understanding father. He treats his children in a mature fashion: sensitive to their feelings, worrying over their shortcomings, stimulating them to open up their minds to different ways of doing things coming from an uncommon people. He placed a high priority on personnally taking care of his children: for example helping them dress up for school in the morning or to spend time with them going to places. To the chagrin of his friend in the plush neighborhood reserved for expats who suggested that he hired maids to take care of the early morning chores, he flatly retorted...to himself: " We didn't want to..., because those sometime-difficult mornings hours were also solid family time." (p. 31).
Why was Alan Paul big in China? First of all, because, from the first second after he landed in Beijing, he was determined to "go loca,,"
i.e. I had already met expats who spent most of their time trying to recreate their home life in China, and they were often seething with complaints and disappointments...Thriving expats accepted life in China for what it was and tried to take advantage of it all. I knew what my choice would be.
That decision entails many consequences. If you want to drive yourself instead of being chauffeured around, then you have to buy a car which is not a run of the mill activity in China! Next, take it on the road.
Driving in Beijing is a full body experience...You feel alive behind the wheel, maybe because of the very real possibility that you could soon be dead.
Then comes the traditional mishap inherent in the foreigner beginning to learn to speak Chinese; this one, however, is nothing like traditional. I try to summarize the incident:
...I tried to buy edamame. They were called mao dou: hairy bean....I stretched my brain as far as I could and remembered that mao means hair, but I could not recall how to say bean. Suddenly, the word popped into my head --bi. I approached the young woman from whom I just purchased cilantro, carrots...: Ni yo mao bi ma? Do you have any edamame? Or so I thought. She grinned oddly and shook her head no...[He learned afterwards] that I had been asking a series of young women if they had any hairy vaginas. [The word bi meaning female genitalia constitutes the central part of a cheer that Chinese crowds like to chant in national competition against Japan. [He had heard that word while watching such a match!] (p. 119-120)
Why Alan Paul was big in China had been accurately predicted by the editor of Guitar World, a musician's magazine. When Paul requested to continue to work for the magazine in Beijing, the editor acquiesced and added: "You could be the guy who brings the Allman Brothers to the Great Wall. Who knows what you might end up doing" (p. 13). It was exactly what Alan Paul was going to do: bring not only the Allman Brothers, but many more recognized names of American music to China.
It all started with his sending his broken guitar to be repaired by Woody Wu, a young Chinese guitarist running a repair shop and a music management company. Soulmates met; and Alan Paul's Chinese career began. After the repair was done, Woody invited him to try it out with a little jam session. From there, they performed at an "open mic" night in a plush venue catering to expats. They then gave to their budding band a fateful name: Woody Alan.
Woody Alan's fame grew. Before long, theirs became almost a Chinese household name and their band was selected to perform on more and more prominent stages all around China, until they reached in Hangzhou, China in 2008, the final stage, that of the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival, the world's largest harmonica conventioin, held every two years. It sure was a culminating event of a three-year stint in Beijing.
Big in China concretely demonstrates that music knows no frontiers. It paradoxically helped its author to be acutely aware of what being an American meant to me: a deep, personal freedom that had little to do with politics and everything to do with individuality. I knew that I never could have pulled this deeply held feeling out of myself without the prodding of these great Chinese musicians. That to me was the very definition of global harmony. (p. 225).
Click Here To Purchase Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing