On a bright sunny Sunday afternoon in Shanghai, the noodle scented warmth of restaurants, the little bursts of cool air, and the murmur of conversation between customers poured out from the bustling Yonkang Street.
But there is a rare scene. A dozen people surrounded a small, inconspicuous gray wall on the corner of No. 68 Yongkang Street. The wall has an uneven hole in it, through which a tiny bear’s paw waves at the crowd and hands a cup of coffee to a young girl. But the bear was naughty. It handed a paper straw to her, and just as she was about to grab it, the paw pulled the straw back.
Hinichijou cafe, a business which recently opened for a trial operation on Nov. 15, has adopted this new way of non-interactive purchases. Customers can scan a QR code hanging on the wall to order and the coffee will then be handed out from the hole by the furry bear’s paw. The little paw always makes fun of the customers and will also send out roses to them. The staff outside asked the customers to wait in a circle instead of staying in a queue, to leave enough space for the fun interaction.
Xingqi Liu, 23, was among the crowd. Seeing this, she laughed wildly and was eager to take a picture with the bear’s paw when it was her turn. Liu stated that she had walked 40 minutes from her home to Hinichijou, as she read a post on Weibo that Hinichijou provides jobs and training for adults with disabilities. She came here to verify the information and potentially help out.
The first wave of customers of Hinichijou was touched by the idea of a “bear paw” handing out the orders. But with Weibo bloggers like Huadaqian sharing the stories behind the coffee shop, Hinichijou went viral online. Though not yet officially opened, many people like Liu rushed to Hinichijou, with the idea to help the physically disabled. The cafe has also placed first in the public review network for coffee shops.
While waiting for her litchi latte, Liu walked up to two girls, hoping to share a few words with them about the cafe. Awkwardly, they completely ignored her presence. Instead, a female volunteer with the cafe approached her.
“They are deaf-mutes,” she said in a low voice, pointing to her ears. “See, they are wearing artificial cochlea.”
She presented her a piece of paper and a pen, explaining, “I am responsible for writing down the order numbers so they can know when it’s their turn.”
The volunteer later introduced that Hinichijou not only provided job opportunities to the disabled, but provided a free cup of special blend coffee to people with a disability certificate as well. Every day, the coffee shop serves many disabled customers.
Cheng, one of the founders of the coffee shop, confirmed the volunteer’s words. Nevertheless, he said there is some misinformation about the cafe’s disabled employees. Many say that the bear itself is a man with a burned face. Cheng explained in the phone interview, “‘The bear’ is actually a healthy person who helps call out order numbers. We have four to five staff on site, mostly disabled, and a deaf-mute shop manager, whose name is Yingying.”
Cheng understood the spread of the rumor of the impaired appearance of “the bear,” because when discussing the aim of this coffee shop, they originally had thought about opening a store to help people with external impairments.
To this end, they specifically found the disabled organization based in Shanghai; however, a staff member told them that people with impaired appearances did not come to their institutions for help and did not participate in employment training.
When they learned that their entrepreneurial project was to open a coffee shop, they recommended several qualified deaf and mute people. Yingying was one of the two people recommended by the organization.
“Yingying won first place in the coffee punch project at the 6th National Disability Professional Competition,” said Cheng with distinctive pride. “We make good coffee and sell it for around 20 yuan (about $3) per cup.”
When asked why the team named the cafe Hinichijou, a word which sounds a bit weird to its Chinese customers, Cheng explained that Hinichjou means “non-daily” in Japanese.
“Some people think of people with disabilities as ‘abnormal,’ and we feel that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else. The difference is that the things that we can easily do on a daily basis are harder for them to do. That is a general concept of ‘non-daily’.”
According to the National Bureau of Statistics and China Disabled Person’s Federation, in 2019, only 8.6 million disabled people were employed among an estimated total of 88.8 million disabled people in 2019, accounting for 9.6%.
Yue Sun, a Fudan University student, who came to the coffee shop for a behind-the-scene story, commented, “Though the taste is not the best in Shanghai, this coffee brings the city together. Its meaning speaks more than just the cost of the coffee.”
The bear’s paw gently pats a little girl’s head, her mom filming with a smile of dry amusement. The small crowd attracts others while the winter sunlight plays through the leaves on nearby trees. People enjoy the feeling of the warm sun on their shoulders and back. December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and Hinichijou chose that as its official opening date.