When I first got to China I used to see this old fella' playing his Chinese Fiddle (Erhu) nearly every afternoon on the steps of Wu Xing (Five Star) Department Store.

Sometimes called the barbarian fiddle, its two strings can reach 3 or 4 octaves. The sound box is covered by snake skin which gives the instrument a distinctive mellow and bright tone. I often gave him some cash and he was always very grateful.

The skin on the old man's face was like shoe leather and the rest of it was as thin as rice paper. He didn't have a single tooth in his head and when he smiled it was a horrible mess of abcess. Still, I treasured the smile because it came so easily. I never understood a word he said but after the first few days he would chat me up each time he saw me. He still had an intelligent spark in his eye and really picked it up a notch while I was taking this photo. He wasn't very good but even though his skill had diminished he was still an enthusiastic musician.

He stopped showing up one day and sometime later I heard he'd passed away.


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