Cover image for Big in China : my unlikely adventures raising a family, playing the blues, and becoming a star in Beijing
Big in China : my unlikely adventures raising a family, playing the blues, and becoming a star in Beijing
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York: Harper, c2011.
Physical Description:
x, 262 p. ; 24 cm.
Personal Subject:
Based on the Wall Street journal online column, "The expat life", Alan Paul tells his story of moving his family to Beijing and becoming an unlikely success as a blues musician there.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 PAUL 1 1

On Order



"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.

Author Notes

Alan Paul is a senior writer for Slam and Guitar World magazines. While living in Beijing, China, he wrote The Expat Life column for from 2005-2009, for which he was named the 2008 Columnist of the Year by The National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He has written several books including Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.

Booklist Review

*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.--Sawyers, June Copyright 2010 Booklist

Kirkus Review

A man's serendipitous rise from writer to rock star in China.In his debut memoir, Guitar World senior writer Paul recounts the bizarre chain of events that allowed him to achieve his American Dream overseas. When his wife was promoted to China's bureau chief for theWall Street Journal, the author gathered his family and transplanted from New Jersey to Beijing to support her career. Having grown restless in their suburban life, the family left their old world behind. While Paul's tale is weighted with the typical tropes of the travelogue (cultural and translation snafus, among others), the book's high point is the author's ability to "hit the reboot button on [his] life" and benefit from his decision. He soon became the guitarist and vocalist for a Chinese blues band, Woodie Alan (according to one MC, "Beijing's best band"), and their popularity took off, granting him a degree of fame he could have never imagined in America. Paul acknowledges that he and his Chinese band mates were a "novelty act," yet they drew crowds in the thousands. While in China, the author continued searching for glimpses of home, exploring the paradox of leaving a place in order to call it home upon your return. After Paul's father endured a bout with cancer, Paul writes that "the romanticism of being on the other side of the world vanished in an instant," leading him to understand that distance is irrelevant to the heart.A charming exploration of an expat's unlikely rise to fame, as well as the lessons learned along the way.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Seize seems too mild a word for what Paul did with the opportunities presented by his family's three-year stint in Beijing. Getting a family of five across the globe and settled into a new home, new jobs, and new schools? Check. Writing an award-winning online column for the Wall Street Journal about the expat experience? Check. Turning a piecemeal group of multinational musicians (including a U.S. Treasury official on saxophone) into "Beijing's premier blues and jam band"? Check. That's a whole lot of living to pack into three years, and it's reflected here in the exhilarating pace of Paul's writing as he bounces easily from domestic scenes to rehearsals and gigs to insights about culture and the human condition. The one constant is Paul's enthusiastic commitment to reflection and self-improvement, which shines through in every chapter. VERDICT A rollicking, inspiring narrative with plenty of memorable characters and scenes. Paul's career hot streak shows no signs of slowing with this entertaining memoir.-Neil Derksen, Gwinnett Cty. P.L., Lawrenceville, GA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Chapter 1 Come to the Edgep. 5
Chapter 2 That's What Love Will Make You Dop. 11
Chapter 3 Across the Great Dividep. 17
Chapter 4 Beautiful Sortap. 27
Chapter 5 Say What?p. 35
Chapter 6 Key to the Highwayp. 43
Chapter 7 When You Feel It, You Knowp. 49
Chapter 8 Into the Great Wide Openp. 55
Chapter 9 Sad and Deep as Youp. 65
Chapter 10 No Particular Place to Gop. 79
Chapter 11 Lonesome and a Long Way from Homep. 87
Chapter 12 Can't Lose What You Never Hadp. 91
Chapter 13 Cast Off All My Fearsp. 97
Chapter 14 Let It Growp. 107
Chapter 15 Visible Manp. 111
Chapter 16 Into the Mysticp. 119
Chapter 17 Bringing It All Back Homep. 131
Chapter 18 Bit by Bit (Little by Little)p. 135
Chapter 19 Them Changesp. 143
Chapter 20 I Will Darep. 149
Chapter 21 Teach Your Childrenp. 157
Chapter 22 The House Is Rockingp. 163
Chapter 23 You Ain't Going Nowherep. 169
Chapter 24 Giant Stepsp. 177
Chapter 25 Come and Go Bluesp. 185
Chapter 26 Mountain High, River Deepp. 193
Chapter 27 Beijing Bluesp. 203
Chapter 28 Games People Playp. 207
Chapter 29 Big in Chinap. 211
Chapter 30 Bittersweet Surrenderp. 219
Chapter 31 Tick Tockp. 229
Chapter 32 Baby Please Don't Gop. 235
Chapter 33 Tomorrow Never Knowsp. 241
Epilogue: I Shall Returnp. 247
Acknowledgmentsp. 259