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German feels right at home in Hainan

Updated: China Daily

Mixing beer syrup, milk and espresso, Sebastian Hahn skillfully made a beer latte, a specialty of his cafe. "This tastes very particular and I quite like it," he said. The Berlin native opened a cafe about 500 square meters in size with his Chinese girlfriend this June in Haikou, capital of Hainan province, and embarked on a new career.

After graduating from Humboldt University with a master's degree in 2011, Hahn had a good job in Berlin, in charge of quality management at a company. "I thought it's not what I wanted to do for my whole life," he said. "Why do only students go abroad and learn a new language? I can do it, too."

So he quit his job and having considered Brazil, Vietnam and Japan, he finally decided to come to China. "Hainan is the most southern part of China, and I wanted to have a life without winter," he said.

In 2014, Hahn traveled by train all the way from Berlin to Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and then to Hainan.

There, he studied Chinese at Hainan University. However, when he returned to Germany a year later he found that his Chinese was not good enough, so he re-enrolled at Hainan University to continue his language studies while pursuing a master's in tourism management.

He managed to secure a Chinese government scholarship. "That was a very good opportunity and I'm very thankful," he said.

After graduating in 2020, he met his girlfriend, Tina, and decided to stay. "We had the idea of opening a cafe because we love coffee and we want to share our love with other people," he said.

It wasn't easy to make their dream a reality.

"We encountered a lot of difficulties because it was all new to us," said Hahn, adding that they had to learn everything from scratch, including how to design the counter and the kitchen.

He also said that management was their biggest challenge. "Every day you have new problems, and you need to solve them," he said.

In addition to the challenges of management, business was also disrupted at times due to COVID-19 outbreaks. "It was challenging, but I think we have made the cafe really good."

Compared to other cafes in Hainan, Hahn feels his is different. "We wanted to make it not just a place to drink coffee, but also a place to relax, make friends and talk," he said, noting that the second floor of the cafe could easily be used to host cultural exchanges as well as English or German language courses.

Hahn used to give free German lessons at his home once a week and is now planning to do it twice a week at the cafe.

"I'm not a teacher, but I like to share what I know, especially about my cultural background, so I really hope other people will take this opportunity to learn a foreign language," he said.

Hahn has lived in Hainan for eight years and is enjoying life there. "I really like the weather because there's no winter, and people are very friendly, and on the street it's quite safe," he said.

He has also seen great changes on the island.

"Hainan is developing fast, and it is opening up with more international universities coming here, so I think it's getting better and the environment for foreigners is also getting better," he said.

He thinks the construction of the Hainan free trade port is a good opportunity for the island to become better known internationally and attract more people, and feels that a more open Hainan will make it easier for everybody to live there.

"My plan is to develop the cafe and eventually establish a chain, so there's still a lot to do, and it's not easy," he said.


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