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Black as the Devil, Hot as Hell, Pure as an Angel, Sweet as Love

Black as the Devil, Hot as Hell, Pure as an Angel, Sweet as Love

Like many other science students, Annabel Tong passes by cafe330 in the Chong Yuet Ming Amenities Centre of HKU every day.  No matter what one is looking for, either food or a serene environment conducive for retrospection and coffee, cafe330 is just an enchanted place which gravitates people with enigmatic forces.  Therefore, when Annabel decided to accumulate some customer service experience at the epilogue of her university life, the HEaRT@cafe330 programme organized by CEDARS had drawn a great deal of interest from her.

While conducting research for her job interview for working as a barista trainee in cafe330, Annabel realized that it is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting people with mental disabilities.  As an enthusiast of mental illness studies, she was thrilled to interact with people in recovery of mental illness.  She was confident that her rich experience in volunteerism could carry her to surmount the difficulties ahead.  Although her splendid charity records and dedication to humanitarianism got her the job, in retrospect, Annabel admits that it was a grave mistake to equate this programme with a voluntary work.

Firsthand experience of interacting with people in recovery of mental illness gives Annabel an impression that they are living a life out of balance.  She reminisced that, most of the time, their demeanor shares no difference with others.  To her surprise, in cafe330, some of them were very passionate about sharing customer service experience and coffee making skills with other trainees.  But when their symptoms relapse, the situation will go south at breakneck speed.  Annabel describes those situations as insurmountable ordeals.  On the one hand, Annabel was unable to fully support the cafe due to course work back then.  On the other hand, Annabel never has the qualifications to console them.

Previous voluntary experiences had given her a false impression of clear dichotomy between givers and receivers.  Annabel learned it the hard way that opinionatedly assigning oneself as a giver will blind one to the true needs of his/her clients.  But after redefining herself as a colleague, Annabel gained the ability of understanding her colleagues and discovered that they are in search of respect.

While most people will probably dismiss such aspiration as a pipe dream, Annabel begs to differ.  Based on her observations, employees in recovery of mental illness are capable of outperforming others.  The endeavours they demonstrated in coffee-making and their gratefulness to work opportunities inspired Annabel.  They have motivated her to be ever more perseverant and persistent to achieve her goals.  Therefore, Annabel hopes that her experience in cafe330 can influence people to be more open-minded towards those in recovery of mental illness and the ex-mentally ill in the workplace.  All in all, this experience is like drinking a cup of expresso.  While the first sip of the scalding liquid leaves a tingling bitter trail, the aftertaste is sweet and lasting.

Written by:
Cliff Tse
Year 3, Faculty of Arts
June 2018

Black as the Devil, Hot as Hell, Pure as an Angel, Sweet as Love