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American urges bar patrons in Beijing to tell personal stories

By Mark Marino | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-24 07:18

Sven Romberg hosts weekly storytelling nights at 4corners bar in Beijing. [Photo by Mark Marino/For China Daily] 

Sven Romberg narrated a personal story in public for the first time as a freshman at American University in Washington in 2005.

As part of an assignment on local culture in the US capital, he had visited a popular jazz bar called HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz & Blues and bought a soft drink because he was then underage. He had expected to listen to jazz but a woman there walked onstage and said that the evening would be about storytelling.

"I was so terrified of public speaking," recalls Romberg, now 32. "I almost left, but ended up sticking around."

Romberg didn't tell a story that night but did so the following month at the same venue. He told his audience about his brother who "woke up" during a knee surgery.

Over the past three years, Romberg has been hosting weekly storytelling nights at 4corners, a hole-in-the-wall hutong (alley) bar-and-restaurant in Beijing, which mostly serves Canadian and Southeast Asian food. Every Thursday evening, he goes from table to table asking regulars and newcomers if they have a story to tell.

The venue's resident dog, Bojangles, commonly known as Bo, greets patrons at the door, while a board inside holds up the sign "Storytelling theme: Bully".

"Pow, pow," says Romberg, imitating a feisty young girl he once knew and punches the air in an attempt to teach the invisible bully a lesson.

He usually weaves his anecdotes with action and intonation. The night goes on as others recount and remember their own such stories-a woman who found out from her parents that she had bullied her brother during their childhood and a teacher who witnessed his students' pranks go wrong.

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