Charlee and I have been frequenting a coffee shop across the street and around the corner from the hotel - they have the iced coffee that we've been looking for all over Tianjin and they even have guitars to play. Along with the best coffee we've found for a reasonable price is just a nice quiet place to hang out in the middle of this crazy city. We'll go to grab coffees and end up sitting there for a few hours while we write in our journals that attempt to record our crazy travels here, and I'll take small breaks to sit and play guitar and sing for a little, while Charlee hums along.
One of the times that we stopped in the café this week, the owner, this friendly, quirky, and stout Chinese woman, gave me about 10 minutes to relax before she put the guitar in my hands herself and told me to play. Her English is very limited but it's much better than any Mandarin that I could ever come up with. She'll give us free tea or coffee drinks and the occasional beer while she taps along on her little tambourine, clapping and saying how she likes every song that I finish.
Before we were leaving on that particular day, she told us that she had a friend who would be playing there that night at ten and that we should stop back so we told her that we would try. We ended up following other plans and missed him, though she said he would be back that night when we went there to hang out the next day - so we promised we would come back. I was expecting to go back to the café and see this guy play a small show, more or less, and as soon as we walked in I understood exactly what this lady meant for us to come back for.
The café must've been closed as there were only the owner, a friend of hers who only spoke Chinese and Italian, another guy who called himself Antonio who could speak some English, and Allan - the one she told us about. The four of them must have been sitting there for quite awhile, just hanging out before we got there - the table they were at was already filled with beer bottles and the ashtrays already overflowing with their spent cigarettes.
It turns out that Allan is an English teacher here and has also spent five years living in Germany and a year in New York City. They instantly invited us to sit and the owner went back to grab some American beers for us. Conversation flowed so easily between all of us - except for the language barrier, of course - though Allan and Antonio would translate for everyone so we were all a part of the conversation and song. We all had so much to talk about whether it was music, Germany, our travels here so far, - anything and everything. We knew many of the same songs so as we passed the guitar around the table we would take turns singing along to each other's playing. I play a lot of American folk music and bluegrass, which they had never heard before and they loved it. I loved being able to sit around a table with warmhearted people and enjoy some beers and guitar playing - and singing.
At that point in the trip the only things that I was really homesick for were my guitar and the chance to sit down and sing for about an hour or two a day and release through music. Sitting around the table with those people that night was exactly something that I would have been doing halfway across the world in Duluth. Had my friends been running a coffee shop and met some interesting people who also play music, they would have done the same and invited them back to hang out and enjoy. It's amazing to me how generosity and open minds are a common accompaniment to music. Charlee and I sat with that little crew of ours until almost 1:30 in the morning and loved every second of it.
I've been spending most of this trip noticing blatant differences in the ways of life here, though it was incredibly striking to experience the exact same warmth from people and music that I was missing so much from home.