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Alan Paul: Big (Opportunities) in China

Memoir recounts the trials and successes of expat life

Big in China author Alan Paul speaking at Asia Society New York on March 30, 2011. (Asia Society)

Big in China author Alan Paul speaking at Asia Society New York on March 30, 2011. (Asia Society)

Memoir recounts the trials and successes of expat life

NEW YORK, March 30, 2011 - Alan Paul's new book, Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, recounts the years that he spent in China with his family.

In the process, the book vindicates a decision to take a chance, and pull up stakes, that would have given many Americans pause. 

The adventure began when Paul's wife, Rebecca Blumenstein, was offered a job as China Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal. "I just had this incredible instinct and impulse that it was the right thing," stated Paul, despite the fact that they were comfortably settled in the suburbs with three young children.

Blumenstein noted, "I remember initially seeing the China posting, and thinking ‘that would be great,' but we have three kids and we live in the suburbs. How are we going to do that?" The couple ultimately decided to take the plunge and move their family half-way across the world.

And it seemed that Paul's instinct could not have been more correct. Much happened in their years in China-the Olympics, the Tibet uprising and the Sichuan earthquake. Against that lively backdrop, Blumenstein's career flourished and their children integrated into the life and culture of China.

But it was perhaps Paul himself who had the most life-altering experience. He began writing ‘The Expat Life' column for WSJ.com, earning him fans across the world. Yet it was when he formed his blues band, "Woodie Alan," when his celebrity really took off. The group was named the "best band in Beijing" in 2008 and played to crowds of thousands. "So many great things were happening to us, it was hard to even believe."

Ultimately, the experience for Paul was about keeping an open mind, and thereby allowing great things to happen. "One of the central themes I was trying to explore in the book was: what looks like sacrifice can be the opposite; what appears to be an anchor, can actually be a pair of wings; when you feel like you're dragging your kids behind, you may instead be granting them precious opportunities; and what others think may pull a couple apart, may instead bring them together."

Upon returning to America, the whole family quickly realized that their years in China had left a lasting impression. "Our oldest, he's now thirteen, he really misses China. Even last year if someone asked him if he missed China, he would be almost offended. He really made a lot of lifelong friends there."

The discussion was moderated by Michael Meyer, a long-time Beijing resident and author who originally traveled to China as one of the country's first Peace Corps volunteers. Meyer, Blumenstein, and Paul all spoke of Beijing so fondly that it's likely many audience members left feeling inspired to take their next vacation in China.

Reported by Rachel Rosado