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  Rising against life's obstacles
Extracted from NST Online

09 July, 2007
By K.P. Waran

IN my eyes Wong Kim Kong stands tall. He is eloquent, has eyes that exude kindness and epitomises someone who has beaten all kinds of odds to become what he is. Speaking with him always sends a shudder up my spine, simply because he makes me realise all the little things that I take for granted.

"Can you imagine not being able to look into the eyes of your girlfriend when you walk with her? Nor hold her hand and point to the skies to show an unusual cloud formation or rainbow?" he asked.

The man who is happily married to a beautiful woman and has three sons was reminiscing of the days when he was dating his wife Serene.

Kim Kong (picture) was stricken with polio when he was three. The healthy and energetic boy recalled his mother’s words that he was splashing water on her as she was washing clothes and, after the bout of fun, went to bed.

He developed high fever that day and was shocked to realise that he could not stand or walk. Traditional and modern medicine did little to alter his state.

He has come to accept his condition for the past 53 years, including struggling to overcome his physical and mental handicap.

Kim Kong has published his life story in a book titled Living and Leading with Limitations. It will be launched on Wednesday at 7.30pm at PJ Hilton by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

The book is available at all MPH bookshops and most Christian bookstores.

Living and Leading with Limitations is an inspiring journey of his struggles through life, highlighting his faith in God, his pragmatic approach towards overcoming obstacles and his tenacity in achieving his goals.

Although, I must add, the book portrays his commitment to the Christian faith where he draws his strengths from the teachings of the Bible and he constantly advises readers to leave their "Isaacs" in the hands of God, many of the issues that he raises have a universal tone which are common in all faiths.

Kim Kong not only pours out his emotions in many of the passages, he is also graphic in portraying instances and incidents, which are bound to move readers. Describing his childhood, he says:

"My greatest anguish came from my lack of mobility, which denied me the freedom to enjoy the activities that all small, growing boys participated in. Like any other child, I longed to run and jump about, play hide and seek, be mischievous and tease others.

"I instead had to crawl around on the dirty floor. My hands, legs and part of my face were always covered with dirt. In order to join the other children in their fun, I ‘ran’ around with them on all fours. I would ‘run’ over rubbish dumps and crawl over bushes to catch spiders."

Kim Kong allows readers a peek into the world that he lived in and the emotional trauma that he endured as he leads us through his journey.

"Each time I talked to someone, I had to lift up my head to look at him or her. This physical position while we were conversing gave me the perceived impression and feeling that my friends were looking down on me. Feelings of inferiority began to brew in my mind and a sense of unworthiness began to emerge," he writes.

After reading his book, I stood in front of the mirror and tried to recall the number of times I had come across a handicapped or mentally- challenged person, when I was growing up, and how I had reacted.

Was there compassion, was I afraid or did I take the long route to avoid them? It was a different experience with different people but had I had the opportunity to read the book or had someone close who was suffering from polio, I would have reacted more caringly.

Had we all not noticed children teasing beggars, the handicapped and others and didn’t do anything about it? Well, those memories flooded my mind when I read this passage.

"The children used to call me Towkay tolong! (a beggar appealing for aid) to tease me because of my handicap.

"They also made all sorts of nasty remarks, calling me names such as bai keok lou or bai chai which are derogatory Cantonese terms meaning a crippled or handicapped. The phrase really made me feel degraded.

"At times, even the dogs barked more ferociously at me, as though I was a thief trying to break into their homes," writes Kim Kong.

This caring society that we profess, was it not there in the 1970s, I wondered when I read that when Kim Kong was offered a degree course in Economics at Universiti Malaya and went there to register, he encountered a strange administrator at the office.

"I was informed that my room was on the very top floor of Block E — which was also the furthest from the dining hall.

"I was shocked. It would be impossible to climb up and down the four floors a few times a day and walk to the dining room."

When Kim Kong, who at that time did not even have a wheelchair, pointed out his condition — the staff of the university had a simple solution — she told him to find someone on the ground floor to swap rooms with him.

He was fortunate enough to find someone to swap rooms with him.

Reminiscing his courting days with Serene, he writes:

"With the walking stick, I could only manage to walk a short distance at a time. We could not go out shopping and neither could we hold hands while walking, as I walk with one hand holding my walking stick and the other supporting my leg. We could not do many activities that other couples could."

And Serene, who devoted several pages in the book about meeting and marrying Kim Kong, writes:

"I had to forego romantic dreams of walking hand in hand along the beach during sunset, dancing cheek to cheek, or the chivalrous acts of a suitor who would open doors and carry heavy things for me.

"Rather, it is built on love, commitment, kindness sharing, humour, forgiveness, faithfulness, maturing... all of which Kim Kong had."

When asked what made him write the book, he explained that having met people from all walks of life from the upper crust of society to the needy, he noticed they had one common problem — weakness of the human character.

"Hot temperament, sense of guilt, shame, inadequacy and various types of emotional trauma which stifle the potential of individuals in contributing to society. I believe that my personal journey would have something to contribute to help them overcome some of their weaknesses.

"Although it is written through a Christian experience, many of the approaches are universal," he said.

Kim Kong, having written his journey, said he has a sense of fulfilment, that he can tell people there is hope, even though they may have limitations, and be able to live a meaningful and purposeful life.

While many in his condition may have thrown in the towel, Kim Kong persevered, got his degree and went on to become a teacher for 13 years.

Even then, the yearning to do more for people kept pushing him towards helping to establish a home for the handicapped and underprivileged, start a church, preach his faith, counsel and help anyone who knocked on his door.

As a youth, Kim Kong was uncertain about his future as he was unsure whether he would get employed after completing his studies. He was worried that if he did not get a job, he may resort to unethical means to survive and was equally troubled about getting a life partner in view of his handicap.

Today, he has overcome all those obstacles and had achieved the distinction of being an educator, social worker and made a name for himself as an international Christian leader and motivator.

He now has added author to his credentials.

For the many who whinge, moan and groan about the little things in life and blame others and the world for their shortcomings, Kim Kong’s life should be a lesson.

As he tipped his wheelchair back and pushed it up a raised platform and said goodbye, in my mind I saw a man holding his head up high, walking tall — an inspiration that there is nothing that you cannot achieve, if you set your mind and will to it.

To all those who feel life has been unfair to them, take a leaf out of Kim Kong’s book.


© Copyright 2007 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.

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