Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dare to Dream

It was totally unexpected when I was told I was going to play a round of golf at Preswick St. Nicholas Golf Course, Ayrshire, Scotland. Jonathan Smithers, my son-in-law's father went out of his way to arrange a game for me with the Scottish Blind Golf Society when he learned I was going to visit him in Scotland during my recent holiday to the UK. It was my good fortune that the Scottish Blind Golf Society had in their calender, a golf tournament at Preswick during the time when my family would be in Scotland.

`Hello, you must be Jonathan and this must be Eric Yam, from Malaysia’, the first words I heard as we, the Smithers and the Yams, walked towards the clubhouse. `I am Gerry and my wife, Mary’ as our hosts introduced himself. We, then, proceeded to the clubhouse for some snacks before the tee-off which was scheduled at noon on that day. I took the time in between snacks to gather more information about the day's event. Gerry and I would tee-off together, two ball flight, walk the course with our caddie/guides. Jonathan was my caddie/guide for the day, his first experience in this role and Mary was Gerry's. This would be the first time that Hong, my wife, would not be my 'advisor' on the course. It was quite nerve wrecking, with the anxiety and thoughts that were in turmoil in my mind. Worse still, I was expecting a typical Scottish cold, wet weather, strong winds and was been wondering how I was to survive and complete the game. Another concern was that I would be playing with a borrowed golf set.

It was an exhilarating experience standing on the first tee-box, on this historical 160 year old link course, an experience, which I would not forget for a very long time. It was an impossible dream that became a reality. Golfing was the last thing in my mind after losing my sight 3 years ago due a severe bacterial infection, and now I am about to drive my first golf ball onto the fairway in this historical link golf course. Like many other golfers, it's a wish and a dream to play a round of golf in Scotland, the home of golf. The emotions and nostalgia got the better of me and cause my first tee shot to stray out of bound. No complaints though, as the satisfaction overcame the frustration. It was, after all, not a dream but real golfing in action.

Mary was ever so patient and was giving tips, advice and all that was to know about blind golf to Jonathan, a role he took up for the first time in being my caddie/guide. As we walked the course Gerry and Jonathan, too, described to me the scenic landscapes around the course, as we played the holes. I could feel the openness, the fresh scent of the plants, especially the gorse bushes found growing alongside many fairways, emitting scent similar to that of coconut. Every hole has a name and a story to tell. I could clearly recall playing the 16th hole, the Tom Morris signature, par 4 hole, which, I too, had a good drive and a shot to remember in my first ever Scottish golf experience. Not forgetting too, the elevated greens which were at my eye/head level, as Jonathan coolly informed me when my ball landed near and below the greens. He must had had wondered how he was going to advice me on how to play the next crucial shot, i.e. landing the ball onto the green! Kudos to Jonathan we managed.

Surprisingly, the weather was kind, with blue sky and the sun out in full force, and the cool breeze blowing, making the day a truly memorable one for all of us, especially Jonathan and I.

After the game, the Provost of Ayr, was the honored VVIP for the event. Gerry and Mary introduced us, the Smithers and the Yams to the Provost of Ayr. We were treated to a great dinner and I was pleasantly surprised to receive a Scottish Golf Society neck-tie as a momento to cherish from Gerry.
Gerry Kelly as I learned earlier was the founder of blind golf in the British Isles many years ago and truly a remarkable guy to meet. It was indeed an honor for me to have played a round of golf with him. As a matter of fact, I dare say that he was an inspiration to me in re-learning golf after my sight loss. When I first surfed the internet about information on blind golf, I stumbled upon Gerry's blind golf journey. Gerry's story truly reflected his determination to pursue his dreams of playing and introducing blind golf to his comrades in the British Isles. It did not dawn on me that one day I would have the opportunity to meet Gerry and not only that, I would also be playing a round of golf with him too!

I know that with Gerry's inspiration and his much advice to me, it will spur me to work in realizing the first Malaysian Blind Golf society in the near future.

A note of thanks to Jonathan, for without him my dream of playing golf with Gerry at Preswick St.Nicholas would not have been realized.

More challenging times ahead!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Simulated In-door Golf

When I first received an invitation to participate in an indoor golf competition, I was puzzled. "What! playing in a simulated computer golf game competition, in an indoor golf club located right in the heart of the city."

However, curiosity took control and I was determined and much tempted to discover more about this indoor golf thingy. Since losing my sight 3 years ago, I have to re-learn almost everything, daily living skills, computer skills, orientation and mobility skills, etc. More importantly, adjusting and adapting to a new dark world, maintaining social interaction with others, living and doing things independently as much to my capacity as I could possibly do in my present circumstances.

On the appointed afternoon, together with another two friends, both visually impaired, very keen to discover more and to experience playing golf, we took the bold step stepping into the KL City Centre Golf club, situated at the Novotel Hotel, right in the heart of the city.

Mr. Hock Tho, the club's founder and owner, was there to welcome us. Hock briefed us about the club business objectives, promoting this indoor golf concept to the many busy top business and top corporate executives. More importantly, Hock stressed that he has never forgotten his social corporate responsibility. Kudos to Hock, giving an opportunity and a fine gesture extended to the visually impaired to enjoy this indoor golf at this premier club. Another unexpected great news was that all the three of us were given a one year honorary VIP term membership to use the golfing facilities to train and improve our golfing skills.

More briefing on the workings of the simulator and the computerize tracking of golf swings, ball traveling speeds and spins, balls traveling distances, putting distances to the pin are projected on the large white screen, located four meters directly in front of the playing area.

Hock handed me a 7 iron club and guided me to position and placed the golf ball in position enabling me to hit it just like at a golf practicing range. The driving range mode was selected via the console controller. I hit some balls and interestingly, all the important information was projected on the screen which was read out to me by my wife, Hong, my caddie for the day. The information allowed me to analyze my performance and to make the necessary corrections and adjustments to my golf stance and position, delivery of a good shot which is every golfer's dream, a neat and perfect shot each time. The initial sound of the ball hitting the screen was something that I got used to and got over quickly. As the game was played in an enclosed cubicle, a U-shaped area, the sound of the club striking the ball did seem to be louder than normal. However, the anxiety in knowing how the shot was delivered, over-rode this noise. Next, for a real experience, a popular US golf course was selected via the console controller and it was all system go, so to speak! The scores were automatically computed for the duration of the game. The feeling standing on the tee-box holding the driver in position prior to hitting the first tee shot to the fairway generated the same somewhat nervous feel similar to standing on any other tee-box on the normal golf course which I am accustomed to now, looking but not seeing. After completion of a few holes, the sound which I dreaded most was the sound of the ball landing into the water.. plonk! plonk! In contrast, the most beautiful satisfying sound was the sound of the ball dropping into the pin hole, a rattling clicking sound click, click, click! Not forgetting the continuous soothing background sounds of birds chirping away happily throughout the game.

Hock had the last words which left us with a `feel good' factor boosting our confidence and wanting to come back to improve our golfing skills.. "You guys are playing on a USPGA fully endorsed simulated golf course that many golf professionals also play on." Hock said.

More challenging times ahead!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Right to Quality Life

On May 7th, 2011, a workshop was put together by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the Bar Council of Malaysia to create awareness among people with disabilities of their constitutional rights. More than 50 people with disabilities and their care givers attended this event.

Yes, it is important to know and understand what our constitutional rights are whether you are able bodied or persons with special needs.

When I was invited to speak on this topic on behalf of the visually impaired persons, VIPs, I quickly went around asking my VIP friends what they face in their daily lives. My friends were eager to share their views.

Firstly, banking, which is an integral part of our lives. It is without a doubt anyone can open an account with any bank including the VIPs. Then, it is the norm to progress to owning an automated teller machine card – ATM card. Do you know that persons with visual impairment in Malaysia are not allowed to hold an ATM card? This is downright selective discrimination. In the US and Australia there are already talking Automated teller machines which allow their VIPs to manage their banking transactions on their own.

The right to move around independently is of utmost importance to any human being in any country. This is so true for the visually impaired as well. Needless for me to elaborate and many of you will agree that there's still much to improve in terms of accessible facilities in public amenities e.g. banks, post offices, transportation hubs, etc. Accessible facilities for the VIPs include tactile guiding blocks, talking lifts, audible traffic lights, Braille notices, to name a few.

Web accessibility is another hot topic which I pointed out. In this digital age, even VIPs are learning computer skills to stay connected for social and professional interaction. In US, it is compulsory for all websites to be fully accessible to all walks of lives. It is the right of every American citizen. In Malaysia, many of our websites are still not fully accessible e.g. government and state agencies, some banks and commercial sites. I strongly believe it is our right to equal access to technology and communications.

In relation to equal access, I would like to share a friend's experience traveling on KL CAT from KLIA to KL Sentral. It is commendable that VIPs are offered a special travel fare concession on this train. However, my friend found to his dismay that he was only allowed to travel on the train that made a few stops along the way to KL Sentral and not on the non-stop express train. There is definitely an element of selective discrimination here. Are persons with disability considered 2nd class citizen?

I would like to share my experience traveling as a visually impaired person. Recently I traveled abroad on Air Asia X. When the announcement was made for the old, persons with special needs and family with small children to board first, I was happy to move forward as this denotes the right for this group of people to board ahead of the rest. My happiness was short lived as the airline service staff did not follow through on the announcement and control the crowd. The over zealous passengers scrambled and I was pushed back and had to retract my white cane to prevent any untoward accidents. An old man in a wheel chair was also pushed behind and had to queue to climb the stairs to board the plane. The rights of persons with special needs took a different meaning in this instance with sheer `tidak apa' attitude.

In summary, if the rights issues I have highlighted here today are addressed, I am sure it will greatly improve, enhance and empower our lives. Not to mention, this will also open up the windows of opportunities for employment, help to develop a knowledge base visually impaired community which in turn can contribute to the economy and growth of the country.

More challenging times ahead!

Dogs - man's best friend

Admittedly without shame, my feelings to be with and amongst the speciality breed of canines, GSDs could be described as a bag of mixed feelings, laced with both pride and emotions on the day. As a dog lover since my early primary school days, I could still remember vividly the first dog that became part of my family. Yes, a GSD named Lucky. He was a very obedient and an intelligent dog. Tasks such as fetching the newspapers, shoes, opening/closing doors were his primary duties and these were carried out diligently by Lucky and he was ever so happy all the time.

Years later, another GSD, mamed Mark became a member of my family. I wanted my 3 young kids then, to experience and learn from the special friend about love, communication and unselfish caring attitude, a natural trait in dogs. Mark, of the seiger line breed was with our family for 6 wonderful years. Mark succumbed to skin cancer and died a year later.

I dare say that Dog is the only animal that loves you more than he loves himself. Since losing my sight three years ago, due to severe baterial infection, my three companion dogs had instinctively knew my condition and became more protective and always staying close to my side when I move about in the garden of my home. The presence and the loving kindness demonstrated by the canines are truly therapeutic, especially during those early traumatising days of losing my sight. My canines certainly had a hand and played an important role in my tough battle, picking myself up and marching forward in my new life without sight.

More is needed to be done to dispell the myths about GSDs, particularly their misconstrued ferocious streak. Generally, public tend to be wary and shun away upon seeing GSDs and thus, creating and resulting in negative perception of such loving and the caring breed of canines.

My wishlist.. Proudly walking about independently with a trained guide dog by my side.

More challenging times ahead!