Barista living with hearing impairment serves up a cup of hope in a world of silence

By Yuan Meng, Zhang Liya, Liu Ning, Peng Yukai (People's Daily Online) 17:03, September 23, 2021

The world of Zhang Long has become extremely quiet since a mishap with the misuse of medicine led to his becoming permanently deaf when he was only 2 years old.

“While I can just barely hear some outside sounds, such as the flow of car traffic and car horns, I cannot hear other sounds, such as people talking and knocking on the door,” Zhang said.

Zhang, 34, is a “silent” barista with some 12 years of work experience. Taking up simultaneous duties as the boss of three coffee shops in Beijing, his main responsibility is to make coffee, having invented his own series of new products.

Close to the Dongzhimen area in Beijing, his newly opened shop is only 10 square meters in size and features no background music, not even the frequently heard sounds of greetings offered up to guests. Though the shop’s business is not quite as good due to the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the venue can still receive more than 30 takeout orders and play host to a dozen guests per day, a monthly turnover that can at least pay for all the business’ operating costs by month’s end.

With the help of voice recognition software and orders placed via the use of QR Code technology, Zhang can take care of the shop while communicating with his customers and suppliers all on his own. Moreover, he is even able to communicate with the staff at surrounding stores, along with the regular deliver personnel who he’s since become familiar with, through the use of a single gesture and accompanying eye contact.

Zhang first encountered hand-made artisanal coffee when he was in college and was immediately attracted by its bold aroma. Though he served as a web editor after he graduated, he eventually switched to become a barista as a result of his fondness for coffee. According to Zhang, some of his shops have hired staff with hearing disabilities, which was also one of his motivating factors when he opened up his shops.

A world without sound can be quite quiet, an everyday experience that has also brought some inner tranquility to Zhang. “Of course, there are some moments when other people can hear and communicate except me,” said Zhang. “Sometimes, I am also concerned about facing communication handicaps with my guests, which might generate some misunderstands.”

It would appear that Zhang does not want to highlight his hearing disabilities if it can be avoided, which might be the reason why no signs or guides on hand language usage inside his shop. Even though he has the ability to read some people’s lips, and can produce some sounds through oral vocalizations, at times there are still some misunderstandings due to incorrect pronunciations or an inability to voice words. There were also times when customers left the shop while dropping the comment that this was “such a cold barista” after failing to reply to the customer’s queries, and there were other times when Zhang mistook a customer pointing to the menu as an order request when the customer in fact was just talking about items on the menu. There were even situations when customers had thought Zhang was a foreigner, trying to communicate with him using a foreign language.

Zhang would sometimes ask his customers to remove their face masks so that he could read their lips. “I wish that the face masks could be transparent,” said Zhang. However, there were also some happy moments when some fellow friends who with the ability to communicate using sign language came into his shop for a chat, which always left him grinning ear to ear.

Zhang said that he lives a simple life. He gets up at 8 a.m., leaving for his shop by motorcycle at 9:30 a.m., and then start his workday at 10 o’clock sharp. Usually, he’ll order some takeout food for lunch, and then closes up his shop at 7:30 p.m. to wind down the day.

Life has been nothing but tranquil, though this changed somewhat when Zhang and his wife had a baby about two months ago. “My wife provided me with enormous support when I started my business,” said Zhang. “Now our child has become my biggest motivation day in and day out. Sometimes, I even want to leave work early to see my kid.”

With the halcyon days continuing on and on, the couple’s newly born baby has become a new source of inspiration for Zhang and his family. However, this new inspiration has not prevented Zhang from holding onto his own long-cherished dream. “I hope someday I might be able to hear the sounds of this world, to hear my parents call out my name, and the sound of my child calling me ‘daddy’,” Zhang said. 

(Web editor: Zhang Wenjie, Liang Jun)


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