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Extended Audio Sample Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing, by Alan Paul Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (201 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Alan Paul Narrator: Alan Paul Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “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, New York Times bestselling author

  • “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, New York Times bestselling author

  • “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.”

    New Yorker

  • “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

  • “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

  • “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 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 of One Billion Customers 

  • “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

  • “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

  • “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

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Pam | 2/20/2014

    " 3.5 stars. Alan Paul's wife is posted to Beijing as the Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief & their family of 5 lives the expat life -- with a twist. Although they reside in an enclave of non-Chinese whose standard of living is immensely increased by the disparity in salary to expenses (servants! huge house! fancy car! private schools!), they truly do try to sample some of "actual" China. His own journalistic creds (writer for Guitar Player & Slam magazines) made for very engaging writing. Never confident of his guitar skills, but a huge lover of the blues, he finds some Chinese musicians who encourage him to sit in with them. Eventually, they form a group & are voted Beijing Band of the Year! Then -- back to New Jersey & real life, so to speak. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Julie Laporte | 1/16/2014

    " I think it'd be pretty hard for me to give an unbiased review of this book--it was riveting to me, as I was soaking up information about relocating one's family to China. However, I think the music scene and the development of a band was fairly interesting as well--I just wish there were less of it. I couldn't get enough of the cultural bits! Well-written, easy to read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Converse | 1/3/2014

    " Allen Paul, a journalist who worked for Guitar World and the basketball magazine Slam, got the opportunity to live in China for a little over 3 years when his journalist wife, Rebecca, applied for and got a posting in Bejing with her employer, the Wall Street Journal. They were in China during the 2008 Olympics. Allen, in the lingo of expats the "trailing spouse," found his time in China the opportunity to play music instead of just covering it and found himself in a mostly Chinese blues band. They started out doing covers but fairly quickly started playing their own compositions. After their first public performances, in which most of the audience were friends of the band members and were mostly westerners, they ended up playing at much larger venues to almost exclusively Chinese audiences. Paul comes across as friendly guy benefiting from his willingness to go outside the expat compound he lived in and mix with ordinary Chinese. The other band members were interesting people and excellent musicians. Paul is good at describing what being a westerner in China is like, the odd "fake rich" (as he stays) lifestyle of expats on expense accounts, and his musical experiences. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Alicia Duell | 12/24/2013

    " Nowhere else have I seen the expat experience described so heartbreakingly and exuberantly well. "

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About the Author
Author Alan Paul

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.