Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Walk in the Dark

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” an age old famous quote by Confucius. These motivating words catapulted into my mind as I sat at the Malaysian Association for the Blind’s office visitors’ area waiting for Zainuddin, a job placement officer. Zainuddin had kindly volunteered to teach me some mobility skills after learning that I have not had the opportunity to attend the orientation and mobility skills program at MAB. There were so many questions that I had in my mind but somehow I was not sure how to put it into words to ask Zainuddin. Yes, nerves were getting into my body system, could be due to the early Wednesday morning chill sitting in the air conditioned office.

“Good morning, Mr. Yam” Zainuddin said, his polite mannerism and way of announcing his presence. After a couple of minutes of exchanging warm greetings, we walked out from the office into the outdoor compound. Well, Zanuddin asked me if I would like to start the lessons for the day in familiarizing with MAB’s various departments and the other common areas. “Not necessary for the present time” I replied, explaining that I did get some assistance from a couple of V.I.P friends (Visually Impaired Person) who had unselfishly showed and guided me around the MAB premise. He then recalled and reminded me that I had, in our earlier meeting, highlighted to him that I had set myself a target to be able to walk independently from MAB to KL Central Commuter station, take a train ride to the nearest commuter station located near to my house and vice versa. Oh Gosh!... I realized then that Zainuddin was going to put me through this task. Adrenaline rushed and a flash shot into me like a thunderbolt. I was not prepared nor have I psyched myself for this mammoth task so soon! “OK! Lets do it” said Zainuddin who was unaware of my mental state of turmoil. I stumbled for words but instinctively, started to walk with the ole faithful walking white cane leading the way out of MAB premise towards the direction of KL Sentral station.

I silently kept reminding myself to stay calm and to stay focus and listen to instructions from Zainuddin who was following closely beside/behind me? I had to be mindful of the steps I took, and registering the various markers/landmarks highlighted to me from time to time. Really, full concentration and extreme focus came into play while I was taking a walk in the dark. As we approached the main road junction, beside Public Bank, Zainuddin explained that due to ongoing construction works nearby, I had to cross the main dual carriageway at the traffic light crossing located in front of Public Bank. He advised me that I should ask for assistance to cross the busy roads if/when I start to walk on my own especially in the initial stages when I was still not so confident in walking across the busy main roads. We continued to walk and entered the main station terminal building. Next, he guided and showed the way in walking up the escalators, identifying the various markers/landmarks and I finally made my way to the KTM Commuter ticket counter and the main staircase walking down to the respective platforms for boarding the trains. There were so much to register and remember and I really did try my very best to absorb all the information. We repeated the walking steps again starting from the top of the escalator until I was about confident in forming a clear mental image in my mind. Zainuddin even showed me the tiled walking tracks which were not so easily detectable using the white cane. Surely, the people walking past must be wondering why the two adult guys were squatting down on the floor, touching the tiles. Well, Zainuddin was showing and getting me to feel the slightly rough walking guide tracks on the tiled floor. Yes! There were differences in the tiles at this station.

As mentioned in my earlier blogs, I still cannot comprehend why people had the tendency to knock or bump into me despite the fact that I was holding the blind man’s white cane and tapping loudly to let them know of my presence. It was no joke having people bumping into me as this could easily cause me to be caught off balance suddenly or causing me to fall resulting in unwarranted injuries. Well, there and again, there are people who are sighted but yet cannot see!

Gosh! There were so many obstacles along the route. Zainuddin kept reminding me about the numerous pillars, sign posts, barriers, the indiscriminate parking of motorbikes on the walking pavements and the safety precautions to be adhered to when crossing lanes and roads.

When we finally arrived at MAB after the long morning walk, I was drenched with sweat. I was more mentally than physically exhausted. I know I will have to have a couple more such practices before I could eventually venture out on my own to the KTM Commuter station. Slowly but surely, I will get there.

“That’s one small step for man but a giant leap for mankind” the first word spoken by Astronaut Neil Armstrong when he first step foot on the moon in year 1969 following a successful Apollo 11 lunar mission. Indeed, I have taken a baby step walking in the dark but definitely it is a quantum leap into independence, striving in the pursuit of achieving my goal of becoming self reliant.

Phew! More challenging times ahead!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Matter of Timing...!

Over the past several months, on every Wednesday morning, a visit to the Elderly Blind Centre located at MAB, Malaysian Association for the Blind has become a weekly scheduled routine in my personal calendar. Of late too, I started visiting the NCBM, National Council for the Blind, Malaysia. My key objective of the visits was to meet and get to know new VIPs friends (Visually Impaired Persons). As a ‘newbie’ to the blind world, I realized that there is so much to learn from other VIP friends. Knowing too well that I could not turned back the clock, I had to continue to push ahead and constantly motivate myself to move forward and make the best out of life, no matter what obstacles that could come in my way. I will continue and pursue to learn or re-learn, if necessary, all the living and independent skills available.


The weekly socializing or now better known as networking, having a round of morning coffee and tea chats with a couple of VIP friends at a nearby coffee shop located near the MAB and NCIM offices has, too, become a regular outing to enjoy each other’s company and having a good chat and gossip. When Moses from NCBM said to me, “You were fortunate that you lost your sight now at this age and time”, it got me to think and reflect on the ‘timing’ of the loss of my sight. Yes, at my age it was a difficult time indeed to lose the battle fighting the severe bacterial infection.  The traumatic experience and the turmoil it caused my family were beyond words of description. And Yes, I do agree, to lose one’s sight at this age and time is considered fortunate. I am ‘fortunate’ that the loss of my sight occurred in this age of technology where there are various assisted ICT facilities in helping the blind to live a normal life. It gives me cold shudders to think how in the past the VIPs had to go through life without technology to assist in their daily lives. I truly salute those VIPs who had to endure such hard and tough times in the past.


I am simply amazed with the amount of information available in the internet for the blind community. There are numerous websites to browse to gather information about the blind world all around the globe. Locally too, the cyber sphere has certainly enriched the ability of the blind community in achieving high independency in living as normal a life as they possibly can. This has created and given me lots of inspiration in moving ahead with great positive strides. I know for a fact, that there are several VIPs who are on par or perhaps, more intelligent and IT savvy than several sighted persons and I do feel proud to be associated with them. Both my VIP friends, Moses and Mano have been kind and helpful in providing me with the various website links to explore, learn and discover the beautiful world of the blind community and what the blind are capable of achieving in this modern world. I am happy to append below some of the useful sites and I am sure it will provide everyone a good insight and a better understanding of the blind community.


Some interesting websites are:                   (National council for the Blind Malaysia)                     (Malaysian Association for the Blind)           


More challenging times ahead!        


Friday, February 6, 2009

Hello and Bye-Bye!

“Hello and Good Morning Doctor” I said as Hong, my dear wife guided me into the eye doctor’s consultation room. I could feel my heartbeat suddenly shot up at an uncontrolled rapid rate and I felt too, a lump in my throat as the nurse helped me to sit comfortably in the examination chair. As I sat down, staring into the world of darkness, I felt too, momentarily signs of my body getting weak and limp all over,  anxiously waiting for the Doctor’s next move!… Yes, I was starting to get panicky and a feeling of uncertainty about the status of the condition of my eyes and which the doctor would be updating me after he had done the examination. The last checkup I had was more than six months ago.


Yesterday morning, on the way to the eye clinic for my appointment scheduled at 1100hrs, with Hong at the wheels, I kept myself or perhaps, should I say, kept my mind from wandering off and not allowing negative thoughts to creep into my mind by listening to the radio throughout the car journey, from our house to the clinic located in the city. Upon registration at the clinic, we were shown to a waiting area for the nurse to call me into the examination room. Whilst waiting, my mind suddenly shifted into automatic mode with thoughts and memories of the past year resurfacing, experiences that I went through during the early days of losing my sight, the painful eye operations, the continuous pain in the eyes and headaches post operation and during the recuperation period. The one memory that was etched deeply into my mind which could not be erase, started to catapult into the present! I could recall vividly, the scenario in the doctor’s consultation room when he coolly informed me about the last option if the infection in my eyes did not settle and was still causing me pains despite having the eyes operations and treatment. The dilemma was most frightening and it caused me to have goose pimples!  My name was called and I snapped back from my reverie of the past. A nurse came over to perform some preliminary checks on my eyes, a standard procedure prior to the doctor’s consultation and examination. I told her I could not see, therefore, not necessary to check my sight by shining a light into my eyes. We shared a bit of a laugh and this helped me to temporarily forget about the frightening memory which had engulfed my mind whilst sitting on the comfortable couch waiting for my turn to be called. The nurse did put some eye drops into my eyes to dilate the pupils.  Next, another nurse came over and said Hello to me. She remembered my name and it was nice of her to enquire about my health. I too, could remember her voice as she was the nurse who attended to me during my early visits to the clinic for checkups. Again, I told her other than my good health, I still could not see and we had a laugh too.


Now, sitting on the examination chair, the doctor enquired if I still have the painful spells which I experienced in the early days.  I was very glad to reply that other than the occasional discomforts, there was minimal pain since. After checking my eyes with the aid of the optical instruments, he was pleased about the status of my eyes and I was informed that the general condition of the eyes was softer and better. However, the retinas remained detached and status quo! I was prepared for this so I could accept the comment. Deep down in my heart, I was glad that he did not remind me nor talked about the last option which gave me many sleepless nights in the past. If the infection had not settled down and I was still having pains in the eyes and suffering from the headaches, the doctor had recommended that my right eye ball be surgically removed! This would have been another blow added to the traumatic experience of not being able to see again.


As I got out from the examination chair and walked out from the consultation room, I said “Thank you and Bye-Bye Doctor”. I could feel my throat choked up and I had mixed feelings somewhat, as I slowly walked towards the lift with Hong by my side. Again, in the lift, the lady security officer recognized me and too, asked me how I was. I repeated what I had told the nurse earlier that I was feeling fine and I still could not see. There was a sudden moment of deafening silence in the lift! As I walked out from the lift, I thanked the lady officer and said “Bye-Bye” to her.  There will be no more follow up visits unless………………………………………


More challenging times ahead!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Yee Sang without Chopsticks?

Yee Sang lunch or dinner? A popular suggestion among friends, colleagues, family members and relatives for a get together during the Chinese New Year. Yee Sang, is a delicious concoction of fine strips of raw fish, vegetables and fruits, crispy and crunchy crackers, plum juice, and spices. This is a definite ‘must have’ and is always the main dish served, be it at lunch or dinner, at restaurants and other food outlets. In fact, Yee Sang has become a Chinese New Year tradition for Chinese Malaysians.

My group of friends and I, being no different from others, will make it a point to meet up for the Yee Sang lunch every Chinese New Year within the 15 days and on an auspicious day in the lunar calendar, enabling one to hopefully kick start the new year on a good solid and sound footing! The get together lunch for this year with my group of friends took place on the 5th day of the Year of the Ox, a good auspicious day, according to Mr. SH Yong, a good buddy and pal who did not forget to organize the annual lunch, taking pains to contact the other friends. This year without fail ten people turned up for the lunch. It had all this while been a only male affair for many years. I could not remember how the annual lunch gathering evolved into such ‘discriminatory’ event. I shall remember to remind Mr. Yong to include the spouses for the next Chinese New Year do.

Well, the lunch outing was a rare occasion where I ventured out on my own without my dear wife Hong. Nervous? Yes, definitely. I was not sure how some of the friends would react, or not knowing what to say or how to talk to me as some have not seen me since I lost my sight a year ago. The lunch gathering would certainly be a first experience for some of the friends……. having lunch with a blind friend.

A kind friend, Mr Heng, came over to pick me up from my house in his car and we proceeded to the restaurant to meet the others. With his guidance, I managed to walk through the somewhat packed restaurant to our reserved table. I did not inform him about the techniques in ‘guiding and walking’ me and it served me right for feeling disorientated and uneasy for some moments whilst walking to the table. Yes, it was good to hear familiar voices of friends though I could not instantly recognize who they were for some seconds. Gosh! I quietly said to myself “How am I going to survive the lunch without Hong being there to assist me?” But then again, it was a good test of independence. Using my hearing sense and mind mapping skill, I started to ‘identify’ the sitting positions of all the 9 friends around the table by listening carefully to the source of their voices so that I could ‘look’ at them when I talk or response/reply to them. Perhaps, they did not read my blog, which I had given some tips to friends to either say my name or give a light touch of their hands to indicate that they are talking to me. I had to concentrate hard to listen to all the conversations, shooting all across and around the table. I had to ‘intercept’ when I suspected someone was talking to me. There were some moments that I stayed silent and perhaps again, appearing rude for not responding. So, my friends, do excuse me for the reasons stated and explained.

All got excited when the Yee Sang dish was served. I felt a pair of chopsticks and suddenly, I realized that since I lost my sight, I had gotten accustomed to the fork and spoon in eating my meals. None of my friends asked me if I needed the fork and spoon as they did not know that it could be tricky for me to handle the chopsticks. Nevertheless, I joined in the tossing of the Yee Sang and everyone tossed it with much vigor and enthusiasm, wishing each other a prosperous and a good year ahead. A friend sitting next to me, scooped some of the Yee Sang onto a small plate and it was a challenge for me to use the chopsticks to pick up the fine strips of food and ate it without spilling or dropping it all over the table and onto myself. Really, full concentration and focus came into play. I made sure that I cleaned off the food each time it was being placed onto my plate. I could feel I was handling the chopsticks well, feeling for the food, for example, the vegetable, chicken, slices of fish and the fine strips of Yee Sang salad. I guess I did not make a fool of myself nor created a mess, too.

Indeed it was an experience not only for me but also for my friends, as well, lunching with a blind friend. Whatever it was, we had a wonderful time, catching and updating ourselves with one another about our life journey. The lunch was sumptuous and we certainly, will get together again the next Chinese New Year, perhaps, with our spouses, too. As for me, it was a good outing and indeed, it was nice to have such wonderful and caring friends who took care of me during the lunch at the restaurant and sending me home after the outing.

Tips to my friends: When walking with me, it is better for me to hold onto your arm or shoulder as I feel more secure in following from slightly behind or by the side. For the food or drinks on the table, it is advisable to let me know the position by using the time announcement, for example, glass of water or cup of tea at 2 o’clock, bowl of soup at 12 o’clock, etc.

More challenging times ahead!