Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 January, 2009, 12:00am

Kim Mok lost his sight in one eye at the age of six and went fully blind at 13. But this has not stopped him enjoying a full and successful life. His main aim now is to make use of his skills to improve the technology and opportunities for blind people

Kim Mok's fingers move confidently across the Braille keyboard. He checks his e-mails as a female voice emanates from the screen, reading each one out as he scrolls down. When he reads newspapers and magazines he uses a scanner, which translates the written word into Braille. For Mr Mok, technology is at the centre of empowering people who are sight-impaired to properly share the world of the sighted.

But he feels Hong Kong has a long way to go. Mr Mok, who went fully blind at the age of 13, founded the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association, to enable blind people to partake in sports such as golf and bowling. He loves canoeing.

'I love the speed, being in the sea, knowing that I am safe' - because he will not collide with other objects - 'and that feeling of speed.'

Mr Mok's mantra is all about positive thinking and stretching the minds and abilities of not only those who cannot see, but the sighted too, to ensure that everyone lives in partnership.

In September he organised Hong Kong's first blind golf tournament. He was partnered with actor Michael Wong Man-tak, his coach.

'What I would like to see is more partnership in sport. It would be great, for example, if blind people could experience what it is like to be in a racing car. It's about living in partnership.'

Mr Mok was born in a hillside shanty town in Wong Tai Sin in 1964. One of four brothers, he lived in a wooden hut where his father, a carpenter, had made the tables and chairs. There was one public toilet for the whole village.

'We were very poor. We lived hand to mouth. There was very little food. The hens provided eggs but in the evenings we had no meat, just a bowl of rice. We would wait until the hawkers selling vegetables had left and then go and pick up the scraps.'

Mr Mok was six years old when he went blind in his right eye. 'In Chinese tradition, if you give birth to a blind child, then you are supposed to look after him for the rest of your life.'

So his mother took Mr Mok out of school after he completed Primary One and it was only after a social worker's visit that he returned to school at the age of nine. He went to Ebenezer School for the Blind in Pok Fu Lam. At the age of 13, another child bumped into him and he became fully blind after the retina in his left eye became detached.

'I felt so hopeless, so sad,' he says of his world becoming dark. He describes what he remembers of the view from his school, the sky, the hills. But having learned Braille, Mr Mok began as a boy systematically reading all the books in the library. 'They were provided by the American Women's Association, who obviously liked novels and provided them in Braille.'

So Mr Mok learned to love Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. 'I often didn't understand all the words but I loved to read and in my imagination I saw the places that Charles Dickens created, and I realised that just because I couldn't see didn't mean I couldn't see inside my mind.'

Since then, Mr Mok has endeavoured to share that love of colour and life with others. Ten years ago he received an outstanding young person's award - at the same time as singer and actor Andy Lau Tak-wah, who has supported him with his work in the Computer For All programme. But 1999 was also a sad year. A friend felt he could not cope with a life without sight and committed suicide. That tragedy spurred Mr Mok on to dedicate his life to improving both technology and opportunities for blind people.

He was the first blind person in Hong Kong to take an IT exam at school and later became an expert on IT. He then trained to become a social worker. Using both those skills, Mr Mok now often travels to the mainland to help teach teachers of adult blind students how to augment their lives with technology.

'Many blind people on the mainland are frustrated. Often the only job available is to become a masseur. They don't want to become a masseur. They want to be musicians, lawyers, accountants. No employment means no inclusion. We should have the same opportunities as everyone else.'