Carol Pang's brave escape from silence
Carol Pang Wai-yung is a star. The 17-year-old Form Six student excels at everything she takes up: she is an ex-Hong Kong rhythmic gymnastics team member, a Grade Eight violinist, and has a scholarship at a prestigious university.
She is blessed with talents but has struggled hard because of her disability - she is severely hearing-impaired.
Carol speaks like most people. The only indication of the effort she has to make are the occasional pronunciation mistakes. It is only after a few minutes' conversation that you notice how hard she concentrates on your mouth.
'When I listen, half of my understanding comes from lip-reading,' she explains. 'Listening to the radio or talking on the telephone is far more difficult. During Sars, when everybody was wearing mask, I had to put a lot more effort into communicating,' she adds.
The SKH Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School student was diagnosed as hearing-impaired at the age of five, three years after her mother first noticed her silence as a toddler.
She lives in a virtually silent world even now when not wearing a hearing aid.
It is very difficult for people born with a hearing disorder to learn to pronounce accurately but Carol has a supportive family who are determined to help. 'My mother keeps correcting my pronunciation, even if it takes a dozen times. My sisters read textbooks out loud and record tapes. They never complain,' she says.
Things could still be difficult outside home. Carol used to be reluctant to wear hearing aids because she wanted to avoid curious looks. But whenever there was dictation in school, she would bury her face in her arms and weep because she couldn't hear.
Life improved when Carol discovered rhythmic gymnastics at the age of eight. To her surprise, she achieved much more than she set out to. She put in so much effort and did so well that she has been selected for the Hong Kong team for the past six years. Last September she was crowned champion at the National Youth Rhythmic Gymnastics Contest in Zhuhai . Her accomplishments have earned her a Hong Kong Outstanding Youth Award and the title Healthy Exercise Ambassador.
When not performing gymnastic moves, Carol practises her violin. The instrument is considered difficult for people with impaired hearing because they find it hard to differentiate between high-pitched notes.
'It was easy at first, but it's getting harder because more accurate high-pitched notes are required as you advance to a higher level. My father points it out to me if I get the note wrong when I practise.'
All these achievements have brought Carol confidence. She no longer feels embarrassed about her hearing aid, and even uses it to her advantage.
'I switch off my hearing aid when it's too noisy. Then I can concentrate better,' she admits.
Carol volunteers at The Hong Kong Society for the Deaf helping other children with impaired hearing.
Now, she is preparing to face a new challenge. She has been awarded a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin - Madison in the US and will start a four-year course this summer.
'My English is weak because I get confused between some consonants, but I'm very excited about going abroad,' she reveals. 'I will devote myself to studying so that I can come back and help people like me.'