Farewell, New York: Back to Asia

After nine years in New York City, a period in which my wife earned her Bachelor’s degree and became an American citizen, we’re on the move again. Determined to keep the dual-continent lifestyle, we’ve uprooted our lives for the second time in a return to Asia that is not “forever”, but “for now”.

nearly empty room
Last day

Leaving was not easy, but it went nearly as smoothly as possible. I could have done a better job of last-minute preparations in the final week (when X had already departed), and I am deeply indebted to Piers calling me on my last day in town and inviting himself over to help out. “Bory,” he said upon walking into my apartment. “You are not ready to leave!” This was about two hours before my car to the airport would arrive. Continue reading Farewell, New York: Back to Asia

New Passport

Nas is suing for copyright infringement

I just got my brand new US passport and it is the most patriotic document I’ve ever held.

The inside cover shows a colonial sailor pointing towards the land, where Old Glory is proudly flying, and overlaid are the concluding lines of the national anthem, written in a font that recalls the quill pen:

O say does that star
spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
and the home of the brave

The opposite page shows the national seal, overlaid with the flag, and at the top, in bold font, all-caps:

AND THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE, SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH.
Abraham Lincoln

Continue reading New Passport

Twenty Ten

Don’t call it Two Thousand Ten or Two Thousand and Ten. We’re done saying “Two Thousand” now. It’s a relic, appropriate only for history professors or others who want to sound dignified. That’s my two cents. We can still hang out.

Two Thousand Nine was a cool year, I think. A lot of people are down on 2009, with good reason. Lots of lost jobs and houses, for sure. I don’t want to sound insensitive to that, but things are going pretty great for me and I’m happy. I got problems, sure, but I don’t have life-threatening problems. And I’ve got a lot of good people around me to help out, starting with Xianyi, and extending through my family, to my friends all around the world.

What else was cool about Oh-Niner? I saw a bunch of good concerts, which was a goal of mine, so – mission accomplished. Black Keys back in February kicked it off. Phish on the lawn at Merriweather, where I ran straight into my cousin Nick while roaming the grounds and shared a beer with him. Phish again, this time at the Garden, with the incredible light show courtesy of Chris Kudora – WOW.

I was twice at Carnegie Hall, once as a date to the symphony with Xianyi, and once with her, Dave and Tom for Arlo Guthrie. Amazing theatre. My goal for 2010 is seeing more historic NYC venues – Beacon top of the list (sidenote: too bad Cirque de Soleil’s 6-month run will block the Allman Bros from doing their gazillionth show in a row at the Beacon this March).

We did two great weddings this year. One was an entire adventure vacation, and the other was an intimate affair at home, and our first trip to the Cape.

Finally, at year’s end, I managed to launch two sites for family members that I’d been working on with them. Check them out at alexanderbabies.com and suzannekellow.com.

Xianyi is in China right now with her parents, her Xiao Niang, and DouDou. They are probably waking up right about now to have some tang yuarrrrr… don’t forget,

吃八个

Pros vs. Joes

The annual golfing tradition known as Pros vs. Joes took place recently, and it was not pretty for the Joes.

The pros – Pete and Remy – were looking to avenge their losses in the first two installments of the Fall Finish last year, when Johnny cakes and I destroyed them twice – first at Hackensack, then at Ridgewood.

One of the benefits of being a looper is that you can play top notch courses for free, by virtue of your friendships to the people who run these places. When the fancy clubs are closed to members, there are opportunities for the workingmen to enjoy themselves on the fairways and greens.

This time, sadly, it was more often the rough and the sand for me and my partner. It started off with a bad sign: I lost an entire brand new sleeve of Titleists on the first hole. Two in the water off the tee, and a third, dropped behind the pond, also failed to clear the drink. All day, the Joes won 2 holes, I think. The final verdict was a $36 dollar defeat.

We had a beautiful day for it, though. Late October, leaves changing color, a crisp breeze but sunny skies that meant the sweaters could stay off most of the day. Afterwards, three of us went down to the Hudson Tavern for a kingly feast. The pros were gracious enough to pick up the tab.

The US Open

Torrey Pines is on fire this year.

I’m watching the end of yesterday’s second-round coverage (love DVR) and it is such a thrill. Tiger and Phil are paired together with Adam Scott (who is being ignored, more on that later) and they are going shot for shot down the stretch. The USGA really did a great thing putting the number one and number two (and number three) players together for the first two rounds.

Tiger started off the first round with a double-bogey – after all the speculation about his knee (just coming off surgery 8 weeks ago) it was hoped not to be a harbinger of disaster in the offing. Tons of coverage means cute little features about things like Phil Mickelson growing up nearby in Rancho Santa Fe, where his well-off parents had a real green and sand trap in their backyard. The evidence of how many hours he spent out there chipping has been his amazing recovery shots from all over the place – including what looked like certain doom when he flew the 3rd green Friday and went downhill into the hazard. His flop shot was great but left him a long putt of at least 30 feet – which he drained with authority.

That was just a few holes after he’d flew another green and gone under the grandstands, taken a drop in the deep deep rough and plopped it out masterfully to about 2 inches. Nearly bloody drained it!

The crowds have been amazing – only getting bigger as times goes on. Just now (on my viewing schedule, at least) at the third, Tiger had to read his putt while a phalanx of photographers looked on from directly behind the hole. It underscores how good these guys are, Tiger more than anyone – that they not only pull off amazing feats of golf but they do it while being totally distracted by monstrous crowds. Especially at the US Open, there is not one shot hit without someone, immediately after ball contact, screaming “Get in the hole!!!” This is not Augusta National. This is America’s National Championship – the people’s championship.

Third Leg

That brings me back to Adam Scott, an Australian who has become more popular on tour in the last few years, winner of this year’s Byron Nelson Championship in Texas. He also happens to be the third-best golfer in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from the treatment he’s getting from the coverage. There have been more than one instance where they show Tiger and Phil hit, and then move on to some other hole, neglecting to show Scott’s approach or drive. He’s a few shots back, but so is Phil, and I feel like they could be giving him more respect. Then again, Tiger just made 5 threes in a row – including four birdies – so Scott’s repeated missed putts aren’t really providing any excitement in comparison.

I’m off to Kent now for my ten-year reunion, and then tomorrow golf with Dad and the boys for Father’s Day – after which we’ll retire to Dad’s to barbeque and was the finish – it promises to be an exciting weekend at Torrey Pines and here on the East coast…

One more note – it’s nice to see quite a few amateurs who are going to be sticking around for the weekend. This Fathauer kid is really deadly around the greens and there’s some 19-year-old college freshman who qualified as an alternate and was lucky enough to have some other player drop out.

UPDATE: As if he were reacting to my words, Adam Scott just hit the flagpole on the 8th hole and nearly had an ace. Nice kick-in birdie and let’s see him continue the momentum into the weekend. I really like this guy – his swing is beautiful. And something else that draws me to him is that he’s almost exactly my age. He makes me wonder if I ever could have been that good…

Lord Byron, RIP

Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson

The great Byron Nelson is dead. At the ripe old age of 94, one of golf’s greatest legends has passed on. The New York Times did a great obituary on this giant of the game, in which they said

Nelson won the Masters twice, the P.G.A. Championship twice and the United States Open once. His triumphs in those five majors were among his 52 tournament victories, placing him No. 6 on the PGA Tour career list. His 18 tournament victories in 1945 remain a single-season record. During a seven-year stretch in the 1940’s he made 113 consecutive tournament cuts, a total exceeded only by Tiger Woods, who passed him in 2003. He was named male athlete of the year for 1944 and 1945 in an Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters.

They should have added there (they did later) that part of those 18 victories in 1945 made up a stretch of 11 consecutive wins. Both records still stand, and will probably stand for all time. No golfer has come close to either. The great Sam Snead “only” managed 11 in one season, and Tiger, in all his glory, has only gone as far as six straight – impressive feats, nonetheless. And I believe Tiger has gone 6 in a row twice. But nobody has touched 11 and 18, and I doubt they will.

Another noteworthy part of the article says that Byron Nelson was once an assistant pro in my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, at the storied Ridgewood Country Club. Actually, the RCC is in Paramus, but hey, what can you do.

Here is my favorite part of the article, which I think sums up the way that I want to look at my own life, whether in golf, music, business, study, or anything:

“”What I did in 1945 was mostly a mental achievement”,” he recalled. “”In those days, I could drive the ball so well that I would really get bored. I just decided I was not going to hit one careless shot. Plus, I had the focus of the ranch.”” Nelson needed $55,000 to purchase ranchland, something he had long coveted. In his memoir “How I Played the Game,” his recalled: ““Each drive, each iron, each chip, each putt was aimed at the goal of getting that ranch. And each win meant another cow, another acre, another 10 acres, another part of the down payment.””

Nelson’’s winnings in 1945 —- about $63,000 in war bonds -— enabled him to buy a 740-acre spread in Roanoke, near Dallas, that he named Fairway Ranch. It became his home for the rest of his life.

I’ll raise my glass to that.

UPDATE 9-28: NYT has a new piece on Nelson here (requires subscription) which includes this anecdote about Ridgewood:

Nelson hit the ball so straight, the caddies there once challenged him to try to hit the flagpole about 100 yards away across the practice green from the slate deck outside the pro shop. Together, the caddies put up about 55 cents. They put down three balls on the deck and gave Nelson three shots to hit the flagpole, which was about six inches wide.

“I used my 3-iron,” Nelson often recalled with a smile. “My first ball just missed the flagpole, then my second clanged off it. I picked up the 55 cents.”

Damn. And here’s what kind of a guy Lord Byron was, in the words of Ken Venturi:

“I once asked Byron why, wherever we went, he would always go into the pro shop and ask, ‘’What is the course record and who holds it?’’”” Venturi recalled. “”He told me: ‘‘If the home pro owns the course record, you don’’t break it. The home pro lives there. We’’re just visitors.’’ Now that’’s class.”

In for a Grilling

This is my piece in this month’s That’s Shanghai about being American in this city.

Uncle Sam

In for a Grilling

Waving the Star-Spangled Banner in Shanghai

Part of living in a foreign land means people often ask where you’’re from. A simple exercise for normal people, but a delicate one for us Americans in China, who learn to take for granted that our nationality will be readily apparent from the moment we open our mouth. We caught on to this after the first thousand times we answered “America”, only to have the questioner roll his eyes knowingly and say, “”Yeah, but where?”” Though we may, in return, feign interest in others’’ specific regional origins, rest assured we are merely being polite; we do not recognize any differences between Essex or Sussex, Nice or Lyon, Austria or Australia.

Americans have it tough. As the self-appointed leaders of the civilized world, we have to be sure we are setting a good example. When we’’re introducing backward nations to the joys of participatory government or entertaining the throngs with films of monolithic morality, we always strive to ensure our intentions are being perceived in the best manner. But though we are saddled with the burden of global empire, we Americans still have our small pleasures. And one of those is living abroad.

Here in China, Americans are afforded a privileged status among foreigners. When Chinese guess what country we’’re from, they always guess right. It must be frustrating for French, British and particularly Canadians to have to repeatedly admit that they do not in fact form part of the planet’’s preeminent population. Just the other day I was having lunch with a Kiwi friend at our local canteen and an old Chinese man asked us to join him.

““America!”” he said, ““Very good!””

And New Zealand? “”It’’s OK.””

Kiwis and other non-American English speakers have further reason to complain. While not entirely opposed to their own native tongue fast becoming the world’’s linguistic medium, they tend to rue the fact that Americans have engineered this development, as we have taken to abusing the language’’s normally benign powers of adaptation to create such colorful phrases as “”I’’m so there”,” and “”Where you at?”” Yet even as greater numbers of Americans are unable to write a coherent sentence, still our words ring out vociferously above those who sing the virtues of proper grammar, as well as those simply trying to eat their breakfast in peace.

America has no cuisine of its own, but rather gets its culinary traditions the same way it acquired its land: by taking what once belonged to others and making it uniquely ours. Thus Italian pasta became our macaroni and cheese, German beefsteak our double bacon cheeseburger, and indigenous maize our microwave popcorn. But there is at least one cooking method that we have pioneered and perfected.

Walking around Shanghai, one could be forgiven for thinking the title belonged to Brazilians; but Americans are the true champions of barbeque. So enamored are we of the charcoal pit that we have demarcated our summer grilling seasons with a beginning, middle and end: three holidays devoted to flying the flag and flipping burgers.

Memorial Day has passed us by and Independence Day is now upon us. Americans everywhere can once again be found outside grilling meat in honor of their country, even here in distant, foreign Shanghai. Whether in the backyards of Hongqiao or the rooftops of Huaihai, there is sure to be smoke rising from an American grill every weekend from now through the season finale on Labor Day -– and well beyond. So if you’’re craving an enlightening discussion of civics or geography, that is where you can find us at.