There are moments when Josephine Siao Fong-fong longs for the sound of rain, and times when she misses the banter of her family and friends.
For Siao, who lost her hearing in her right ear when she was two and whose condition has deteriorated in recent years, what hurts most is not the deafness but the tinnitus, ringing in the ear.
'[The] pain in the ears makes it hard for me to be with other people and to concentrate,' says the actress-turned-child-rights advocate. 'It's a bother to communicate with me. You have to speak slowly, repeat what you say, write notes and use hand gestures.'
Despite the challenges, Siao thinks her disability has done her good, overall. 'It reduces the distance between me and others. If they want to talk to me, they will have to come closer. Much of my communication must be done in writing, and that gives me time to think.'
Siao began acting in the 1950s when she was five. She became a teen idol who captivated legions of fans and later matured into a serious actress, bagging a string of awards, including the Silver Bear Award for best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1995 for her performance in Summer Snow, as a housewife who has to care for her difficult father-in-law suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She was also behind the popular television series Lam Ah Chun, while co-writing and co-directing Jumping Ash, both in the 1970s.
And, with hard work and resolve, she earned an undergraduate degree in the 1970s and did a master's in child psychology in the 1990s. Siao set up the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation (ECSAF) in 1998 and has since been a champion of the cause. She was drawn to the issue when a close friend told her she was raped at a young age. 'I saw her crumbling. There must be a way to stop these things happening. That was how this foundation came about.'
Siao has learned about humility from her work with the group. 'When ECSAF started, I had no idea how to raise funds. A friend told me it's simple. Just ask. So I met with a wealthy person. I had dim sum with him and his group. Then another day [we had dinner], and another day, tea. I was dumbfounded when his secretary told me they would not make a contribution. I had never felt so humiliated.' Siao remains serene by meditating and going for long walks. Reading and working also make her happy. 'As the Chinese saying goes: 'There are hurdles after hurdles, but one will jump over each and every one of them',' she says. 'My life has been like an equestrian event in which I am the horse. If a jump looks complicated, the horse needs a good rider. In films, I have had some very good directors and strong encouragement. In life, I have had good friends and wise advice.'