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Sudden blindness brings Mok Kim-wing a life full of surprises

By Vanessa Cheung

On a cool and breezy night at the Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground in Diamond Hill, the sea of runners practising for the Standard Chartered Marathon was joined by an unusual duo – Kim Mok Kim-wing and his partner Yeung Yuk-wing who guided him with a hand strap.

Mok, 48, is blind and Yeung is hearing-impaired. Both are members of the aptly named Fearless Dragon long-distance running team which has around 25 members, of whom around 15 are visually impaired while the others are hearing-impaired. On the track, one deaf runner is paired up with a blind runner to form a team in which the deaf runner takes on the role of a lead runner to guide his or her blind running mate.

Mok is a former blind athlete for Hong Kong and won a silver medal in the standing long jump in the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled in 1984. With his rich experience in sport, Mok founded Fearless Dragons two years ago. “Sport is not the ultimate goal, it is a way to provide a bridge [between the disabled and the rest of society]”, he says.

The team keeps growing and setting higher targets. Last year, the team took part in the 10 km event of the Standard Chartered Marathon. However, this year Mok ran in the full marathon event. The distance is 42 km, which is equal to the distance from Aberdeen to Lo Wu. After practising for two years, Mok can finish it in 5 hours and 46 minutes.

Apart from The Fearless Dragon, Mok also co-founded the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association. He believes sports can be a way to help the disabled build up their confidence and to engage with society. To this end he also organised golf and bowling activities for the disabled in the association.

Mok has devoted his life to helping other disabled people view their disabilities positively. But he did not always view his blindness so positively himself, in fact, he recalls a sense of desperation when he first lost his sight.

He says that when he was six years old, he was doing his homework when he suddenly realised he unable to see anything out of his left eye. Then, when he was 13 he lost the sight of his other eye when a classmate accidentally bumped into him and his retina became detached.

Mok was devastated by his blindness. “There is a lyric in a song sang by Roman Tam that asks ‘why you?’” Mok says. “Why me? I have two elder brothers and a younger brother, why am I the one to go blind and not them?”

Being blind changed Mok’s life completely, especially in his studies and when he was outside the house. He had to learn braille and listen to recordings to aid his learning and to adapt to the complete darkness.

“You can easily imagine. If you have experienced covering your eyes, you know that it is frightening to walk for 10 and more steps. Not just walking on a flat road, but also walking up and down the staircases, taking the MTR and buses.”

However, when he looks back on his life today, he is grateful for all the surprises his blindness has brought him.

Mok pushed himself to become the first blind student to study information technology (IT) in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) in the 1980s, when the subject was still new.

At the time, it seemed improbable that a blind student could take the exam. But Mok did not let his blindness affect his desire to try new things. He is reaping the rewards now, as the knowledge he gained of IT has inspired him to take part in developing new technologies for the disabled today.

Mok believes his life has been full of surprises and blessings. When he graduated from high school, he worked as a receptionist at a blind massage centre, then he worked as switchboard operator at the South China Morning Post (SCMP). In 1989, he joined Hong Kong Telecom’s directory enquiry services. His salary jumped from $1,800 for his first job, to $3,000 at the SCMP and $4,280 at Hong Kong Telecom. Few school-leavers manage to double their salary in the space of a few years.

But Mok was not content to rest on his laurels. With the encouragement of a supervisor at Hong Kong Telecom, he decided to study social work at university at the age of 31. He is still grateful that he came across this supervisor in his life. “I have taken her advice and thought that people should take one step forward to improve. She was not my mother or relative, but she cared about me,” says Mok “She believed I could do better even when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Although Mok is passionate about his social work profession, his first encounter with social workers was not a happy one.

After he became blind, Mok’s school social worker tried to counsel him by asking Mok whether he had heard about “winter melon people”, a term referring to those born without limbs. He tried to convince Mok there were those who were worse off than him. “Telling me I’m not the most unfortunate but not giving me hope when I lost my sight was not the best way to help me,” says Mok.

Mok’s impression of social workers changed when he met an intern social worker at the Ebenezer School & Home for the Visually Impaired. Mok still remembers clearly how the intern tried his best to repair a radio for his best friend.

“I thought, wow! This social worker is really nice, [he’s] not just shooting the breeze with you or saying how you’re not the most unfortunate.”

The sincerity of the social worker inspired Mok and made him realise that a good social worker who could think from the perspective of the needy could really help them. It was the principle that helped him complete his social work degree and graduate with first-class honours in 1998.

Since then, he has devoted most of his time to developing new technology for the disabled and trying to get them out of their comfort zone. Currently, he is working with the University of Hong Kong to develop software called E-guide. This is a “controller” for smartphones that can receive signals from transmitters set in shopping centres. The controller provides information about the shops in the vicinity to help the visually-impaired navigate around shopping areas with greater convenience. He also wants to help the deaf to “speak” by developing a wireless speaker which would read out the words typed by the hearing-impaired.

In line with his wish that other disabled people can experience the surprises and blessings that have enhanced his life, Mok is inviting the visually impaired to join Adventure-Ship, a sailing programme organised by Hong Kong Blind Sports Association, targeting youths with disabilities.

And he is bracing himself for more adventure in November, when he will be a member of the first team of blind and deaf people to take part in Oxfam’s Trailwalker. The 100-km hike for charity is a gruelling test of strength and endurance. The team will comprise two blind and two deaf members from Fearless Dragon.

Participating in Oxfam Trailwalker is Mok’s dream. He has no fear of the difficulties he may face in the race. “It may not be very difficult to fulfil your dream, but to keep putting in effort and persevering is the most difficult part,” he says. “When you take one step forward, you will be one step nearer to your dream.”