There are 3 different kinds of worlds; visual pictorial world, deaf world and hearing world.
A visual pictorial world is an earth full of drawings and pictures with no spoken or hand languages involved. It is like as if I am living alone in earth. No other people exist. Nobody can understand my world well.
A deaf world is another earth full of deaf people where sign language and deaf culture is heavily involved. We are able to understand one another through hand gestures and sign language. (Note: sign language is different from gestures) Sometimes, we can understand one another without communication.
A hearing world is another earth where languages are written and spoken everywhere. Words are everywhere. Magic happens when a person speak to another person using his voice. A spoken message is aired directly to another person through sounds.
Since birth, I have come into earth and experienced my own world: a visual pictorial for first six years of my life. In the visual pictorial world, I fascinatedly kept around everything around me. I do not understand why every person, animal, object are in different shapes and color. Before l learnt English in later age, everything around me communicates with me visually without any language involved.
Lines. Shapes. Sizes. Smell. Color. Textures.
I saw crayons, colored pencils, water coloring paints for the first time. I immediately took then and drew anything randomly. I doodled on my parents’ cupboards, walls and everywhere at home. Drawing was extremely fascinating to me. Drawing gave me fresh ideas and energy. I copied what I saw around me. I started drawing more often and no single spoken and written language had existed for me yet. It was like as if I build up my computer (brain) with a lot of drawings as small files and puzzles.
Before anyone taught me how to use objects, I knew everything is created for a specific purpose. For instance, my mother passed me a water bottle for school. I instantly knew that the water bottle was used for drinking without my mother teaching me how to use it.
What I had observe around me in my daily life was based on my senses:
I watch people eat, talk, play, run, laugh at home, outside and on TV. Because of this, I thought every person is similar to me because we have same body shape. Hair. Eyes. Hands. Legs. Arms. Face. Mouth. Ears. Skin.
I was transported to the Deaf World from my first visual pictorial world.
After I was enrolled in Canossian School for the Hearing Impaired (which is now known as Canossian School), I got scared and I was separated from my mother for the first time. Everything in school was totally foreign to me. I found myself seeing classmates my age. I made friends with them easily. We are able to understand one another through basic hand gestures.
Being unaware initially of my total hearing loss, everything and everywhere was totally new to me. Then I wore the hearing aids for the first time and I heard weird sounds for the time. I did not understand what sounds were like. It woke me up from my dream of living in my own visual world. The hearing aids sometimes gave me a headache and therefore, I only wore them in school.
We were provided with a FM System, which was designated to listen to the teachers who used microphones connected to the FM System.
I was trained to speak audibly and orally from the day I was enrolled. The teacher took my hand and put it gently on her voice box. Whenever she spoke a word, a sound was made. If it didn’t not work out, I watched her lip move. The cycle repeats till I succeeded. It was time-consuming and tiring.
English was a totally alien language to me. I could not understand anything in the classroom. I did not bother to learn anything. I still kept drawing in my free time and watched TV cartoon shows at home after school. No family members talked a single word to me. I kept failing all the exams. No progress. No single improvement. No communication with the hearing world.
I declared to myself, “I will be an artist in future. I want to paint for a living.”
Life went on like this till I was 13.
It was a turning point of my life when I noticed that I was retained multiple times while my former classmates proceeded faster. I was dropped to Primary Three from Primary 5EM2 while they were already preparing for Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). They did academically better than me. I was a failure. I failed everything except Art, the only subject I excelled in.
I forced myself to read books. I went to the library to borrow books from the Hardy Boys series randomly. I had to read books in order to build up my vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures. I learnt as much as I could in school. I revised my homework at home without any help. No family members communicated or taught me subjects yet.
I learnt good news about my classmates’ PSLE results. All of them qualified for secondary schools. I told myself, “If they did it, I can do it as well. I must pass PSLE.”
All my efforts paid off when I passed PSLE with flying colors at the age of 17 and I scored 2Bs and A. I qualified for Express Stream. Normally, students my age would already be in junior colleges, polytechnics, ITE or even in the Ordinary Level in Secondary 5. I did not care about this fact. I jumped in joy. I could not believe my own eyes.
A month before the PSLE exams, my school organized a visit to a vocational school for us. This school only welcomed those students who fail PSLE. From my observation, I noticed that the students were trained to prepare themselves for the working world. I realized the environment was not right for me. I did not want to be like them and I worked my ass off very hard.
I got transported to the hearing world from my deaf world when I was 18.
I found myself being the tallest in a classroom of 13-year-olds. I did not understand anything in the classroom. Everything was totally new to me. The teachers taught faster compared to my primary school teachers who taught at a slow pace so that we could understand better.
Even the FM System did not work because of the fan noise, unless I sat at the front. I went home and I complained to my only sister that secondary school life was too hard for me.
I had a difficult time adapting to the new school environment. Every message was received between teachers and students in a few seconds while I only received messages written on the whiteboard or sometimes asked my classmates for help.
Interaction with my classmates was so-so. Some were lazy to write on paper and pen for communication. No one understood how I feel as a deaf person.
I had to self-study and do homework in order to catch up with my classmates. I did poorly in every subject except Art.
During Secondary 3, I studied other subjects too much and neglected my art.
I told myself, “I did not understand why I must study other non-art related subjects and why I had to pass those subjects. “
“Why am I the only one suffering in class? No one could understand my pain as a deaf student.”
I struggled with English and other subjects.
After my teacher reviewed my poor exam results, he discussed with me whether I should drop Art ‘O’ level. I only discussed with my sister. I couldn’t communicate well with my Chinese-speaking parents whose English is limited.
I still remember what she told me. What she said impacted me till now.
“Do not drop your Art ‘O’ level. It is your best subject among other subjects. Drop a subject where you struggle to memorize difficult terms.”
I clearly got what I wanted. I dropped Chemistry.
After months of stress and studying hard, ‘O’ Level was finally over.
“What if I can’t pass ‘O’ Level? I don’t want to retain again and repeat the history.”
That day ‘O’ Level results came. I sat nervously with my classmates in the hall. I was watching other classmates screaming and tearing in joy. I did see a few schoolmates cry in sadness. When it was my turn, I focused on the look of my teacher. I did not know why.
Our eyes met and his look was neutral. Neither did he smile.
After I sat down in the chair, he finally smiled at me and handed the results to me in a congratulating way.
I heaved a sigh of relief. I jumped and hugged him as if I was the ultimate winner. Four years of hard work paid off.
Suddenly, I did not know what to do next. But I knew in my heart, I was going to be an artist one day. Eventually, I chose Digital Media Design (Animation Specialization) in Nanyang Polytechnic. It was a different challenge from school. Nevertheless, I graduated on time after countless sleepless nights in school and one failed module.
Every time I experience a new journey, challenges and struggles always appear in front of me. Failures always come first before success.
I did not know what I wanted to work as. Then I happened to come across a French-American illustrator Pascal Campion blog. His good storytelling illustrations inspired me and thus, I decided to illustrate for a living.
After I explored some short stints, I decided to freelance from home. I know it is risky, as it does not guarantee any stable salary. But I enjoy flexible hours and choose projects I like.
Freelancing life as an artist is full of ups and downs. However, failures are my teachers. It taught me some valuable lessons how to solve these problems (i.e. why is my business failing).
During my freelancing career, I self-learnt everything from doing business administration to content marketing to project management to accounting to bookkeeping and many more.
What has life taught me so far?
I am forever grateful for the failures I have experienced in my whole life. Failures are helpful teachers. Failures give you many problems.
Self-education is the best. Till now, my family has not taught me anything.
I am thankful to have experienced 3 different worlds. I gained a lot from them.
This piece is submitted in loving memory of Tabitha Ho. She wrote this for her English class when she was 16, shortly before she passed away a year later. She left a little too soon but her wit, contagious laughter and love for poetry and French...
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