Across China: Silent hotpot restaurant brightens lives of the hearing-impaired

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-15 13:58:44|Editor: Liangyu
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BEIJING, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Forgive Hotpot Restaurant in Beijing's 798 art zone is always packed, but most servers never talk to customers.

Greeting customers with a big smile and a welcome gesture, waitress He Hong stands silently at the entrance of the restaurant where a billboard noting "most of the staff in this restaurant cannot hear or speak, so please be patient with them."

He, 24, shows a few cards that say "How can I help you?" and "How many people, please?" to customers. They are also offered cards saying something like "Order dishes" and "Pay the bill."

Instead of verbal language, the cards have become their only communication tools.

He once studied food processing in a technical school in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province.

"I couldn't find a suitable job due to my disability until I came here," she wrote down on a piece of paper. "My colleagues are all the same as me. We help and encourage each other. I regained my confidence."

Covering an area of 140 square meters, the Forgive Hotpot Restaurant opened in July. It has 12 employees, and among them, seven are hearing-impaired people like He.

"I named it 'Forgive' because forgiveness is a good quality in humans. The hearing impaired should forgive their physical imperfection. As for those abled, we should be more accepting to the imperfect people and things in the world," said Lu Lu, the restaurant's owner.

The restaurant has become popular among local foodies thanks to its "silence." It usually serves more than 100 customers per day on weekdays and over 200 on weekends.

"I visit this hotpot restaurant because I'm moved by the staff's optimism," said customer Qu Bo.

On a billboard on the wall of the restaurant, numerous paper slips with encouraging words written by customers have been pasted up.

Lu called it the "love billboard." Anyone who would like to write something will get a discount on their hotpot condiment purchase.

"I hope the customers will express their appreciation to the servers and help them gain confidence in life," said Lu, 30. "We have not received any complaints since the restaurant opened."

Lu has been engaging in charity work since 2012 and has joined several social organizations. As time passed by, she gradually found that financial aid alone could not solve all problems faced by people with disabilities.

"Offering them a job to support themselves is a sustainable way of helping," she said.

She came up with an idea of opening a hotpot restaurant to recruit hearing-impaired employees. "I chose hotpot because servers and customers do not need too much complex communication in such restaurants," she said.

However, she still met many difficulties. Some hearing-impaired employees lacked confidence and courage to offer face-to-face services for customers.

With the help of her psychological knowledge, she spent over two hours every day providing counseling for her employees.

To give them a sense of accomplishment, she has even allowed the hearing-impaired employees to hold a 20 percent stake in the restaurant.

In the future, Lu plans to open about 300 such kinds of restaurants in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province, recruiting more than 2,000 people with hearing impairments.

"Now there are numerous job applications, and my e-mail inbox is nearly full," Lu said.