Past blogs (1)

Last week I went searching for something I know I had posted online – one of my mum’s recipes but I could not find it. However I dug up a whole load of other blogs which I started and ‘abandoned’ – like 10 years ago. So I ‘m going to copy them here so that they do not get lost! Its not like any of them were very long.

Starting with The Maverick Monkey

The Maverick Monkey


Pronunciation: /ˈmav(ə)rɪk/


  • 1an unorthodox or independent-minded person: he’s the maverick of the senate
  • 2North American an unbranded calf or yearling.

– from the Oxford dictionary

I like the idea of being “unbranded” although not sure about the calf bit. It’s appropriate given that I want to write here what I can’t fit in elsewhere. We all have different identities and labels – disabled, woman, BME,  are some of the labels I sometimes carry.

Sun Wu Kong

And ‘monkey’ because when I was a child staying with my grandparents I spent a lot of my time listening to a series of stories on the Monkey King  Sun Wu Kong 孫悟空 on their redifusion because I couldn’t run out to play. I wanted so much to identify with him and his magical powers.

When I grew up I found out that Monkey King or Journey to the West is an “allegorical novel which is rich with Chinese fairy tales, popular beliefs, monster stories, legends, superstitions and many features of Taoist and Buddhist religions.” It didn’t matter I am so steeped in it that I am still enchanted and willing to suspend belief that his needle of a bar can grow to any size and that he can leap several miles into the air and travel across oceans. But it added another dimension to the fact that he dared to cause havoc in heavan against bureaucracy and injustice.

In short, I would like to use this blog to rant, rave and ramble in a personal capacity where I can’t slot in elsewhere.

Dec 21, 2013

Interview Failing….

I had a phone interview yesterday and they came back today and said I didn’t get it. I was not overly surprised because I knew I did a bad interview – here was the feedback

“The candidate has a strong track record in campaigning and working to eradicate barriers for disabled people. Unfortunately she did not have the specific experience needed for this specialised role. The candidate did not demonstrate significant experience of managing digital projects, although she did evidence her role in supporting the management and tender of digital projects. The examples given were of managing digital content within wider platforms – not the management of the platforms themselves.”

The rub was that I did have the experience but I didnt recall it during the interview since it was quite a few years when I was in charge of a database – it had completely escape my memory in those few crucial minutes.

I suppose if I had my application in front of me, I might have provided the evidence. I did write it in my cv. But maybe it was not meant to be.

One question that did come up in thought :

as a self employed person whose work is mostly web/text based, does that imply that effectiveness on a face to face (or by telephone) level is lessened or communication less persuasive than that which is facilitated by a keyboard?

It’s not a question of spoken skills with people but on a work level, I ‘m much better with a written text. I wonder if other people face the same problem. Emails are often composed in solitude, communication in meetings are focused differently.
Some people practise their interviews before undertaking one – are there such services/resource? So that thoughts and self marketing skills can be let loose before the all important event itself?

Dec 21, 2013

Not discriminatory..

Logo 2 ticks Positive about disabled people

We recruit through fair and open competition – ensuring that all disabled applicants receive a guaranteed interview if they meet the minimum criteria for any advertised post. We also consult with applicants before interview and make any reasonable adjustments for the interview/selection process.

This recruitmant position is regarded as helpful/concessionary to disabled job seekers. Some disabled people have disagreed and regarded it as a way of ensuring against discrimination charges. Those with impairments which are none too evident view it with distrust as a tickbox exercise and do not declare disability. Those with an obvious impairment are left with no choice, they have to declare but unless they are very confident people, they are always left with doubts.

Did they fail because the interview was a tick box exercise?

The whole premise of being shortlisted in a competitive process can be undermined by that. Is there a solution to this?

Dec 22 2013

Advisor role: TSIC Consultancy

Pleased and honoured to be asked to be the first Advisory Board member at the TSIC (The Social Investment Consultancy ) a global organisation with a network of experts committed to creating social change by Bonnie Chiu.

As part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we are in the process of building out our Advisory Board. We are excited to announce our first Advisory Board member – Eleanor Lisney.

I met Eleanor back in December 2016 through a RSA event and was amazed by her activism, creativity and resilience. We stayed in touch over the years, collaborated on one project and I am excited as we turn a new page in TSIC’s journey, that we invite Eleanor formally as an Advisor. We are so grateful for her time.

Here is their interview with me.


2 East Asian women, one in a wheelchair, both smiling into camera.
First meeting of Eleanor with Bonnie at the RSA 

A previous life

I moved to the UK in 2005, after returning to France from studies and work in the US. I started a website with a blog when I was in France – It reminds me of the time I was seeking for employment and settling for divorce in Strasbourg. Some of it is about disability and accessibility in France.

I went back to it today when I was looking up something. its interesting to see that I have not changed that much. I’m wondering if I should continue and update it.

My own update on this website is that I have not been super well energy wise but also I ve been reflecting a good deal on identity. I will be setting that here soon. 🙂



A chapter in Global Perspectives on Disability Activism and Advocacy

Karen Soldatic  asked me to contribute a chapter to the book below and it is published this year. More information is available in this link about the book (including contents and chapter titles).

book cover Global Perspectives on Disability Activism and Advocacy
Global Perspectives on Disability Activism and Advocacy

on the Global Disability Summit

Last month I attended the Global Disability summit.  Here is

an explanation of the summit and the International Disability Alliance involvement
Somebody asked me for a summary of the summit so I complied the news links below for her. I thought I might as well put them here.
I must say that the links below are given very much from a UK perspective and reactions.
An article on grassroots activists view on the summit
The first of the reports, in November 2016, found the government had committed “grave and systematic violations” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through its policies on independent living, social security and employment.

The second, last autumn, assessed the government’s overall record on implementing the convention, produced an unprecedented number of recommendations for improvements, and led the committee’s chair to tell the UK government that its cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

Ellen Clifford, who helped organise DPAC’s International Deaf and Disabled People’s Solidarity Summit, which took place two days before the government’s summit (see separate stories), had said that holding the Global Disability Summit so soon after the UN report was like the UK government “sticking two fingers up to the UN”.

But she said she welcomed anything positive that came out of the summit and was “particularly in favour of deaf and disabled people and our organisations making direct links internationally to support each other in our shared struggles.”

She said this could only be done “from the grassroots up”, which was why DPAC had hosted its own summit.

Clifford said that the Department for International Development, which had co-hosted the summit, had said DPAC activists could come inside the summit but would only be allowed in “if you don’t mention the UK government”.

DPAC rejected the invitation, and instead, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), an alliance of disabled people’s organisations which co-hosted the summit, supported DPAC in ensuring that its leaflets were distributed inside the summit.

The leaflets told delegates that the UK government had shown “contempt” for disabled people and the UN convention, had driven its “disabled citizens into degrading and inhumane conditions” and that it appeared to be “attempting to use this event to whitewash its appalling record on disability at home”.

an article on government minister’s response

In 2016, the UN’s CRPD told the UK government that it was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights through its policies on independent living, social security and employment.

There has been anger and disbelief that the UK was asking other countries at the summit to sign up to a new charter that calls for governments to be held to account for their progress in implementing the convention, when it had not accepted the CRPD recommendations last September, or in 2016.

Last year, DWP said it was “disappointed” that the UN report “fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives”.

And the previous year, DWP said that it “strongly disagrees” with CRPD’s conclusions that it had caused “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights and that the CRPD report “presents an inaccurate picture of life for disabled people in the UK”.

Mordaunt insisted this week that the government had not dismissed last year’s report on the overall implementation of the convention in the UK, and that Newton was now “working through” the recommendations, with announcements expected nest month.

But when asked four times whether she accepted the 2016 “grave and systematic violations” report, Mordaunt declined to do so.

She eventually said that the government had “issues with some of the aspects of the UN process”.

She said: “We think that we have been in some instances unfairly dealt with, but we will continue to engage in that process and I am confident that you will see progress.”

article on opposition party’s reaction

Labour’s shadow chancellor has described the UK government’s decision to co-host a Global Disability Summit – less than a year after its record on disability rights was dismantled by the United Nations – as “the height of hypocrisy”.

The result, last September, was “an outright condemnation of the role that the government has played”.

He added: “It was the height of hypocrisy then for them to host this event.”

He said the summit could have been so much more successful if there had been an “honest discussion about what’s happened to disabled people across the globe but also learning the lessons of what’s gone wrong in this country, and the lessons of what’s gone wrong are that disabled people have born the brunt of austerity”.

article from a leading disabled journalist, Frances Ryan, in a national newspaper

The first ever Global Disability Summit took place in London last week, with more than 700 delegates from governments, charities and disability organisations around the world.

In a speech last year to herald the event, Penny Mordaunt – the international development secretary and former minister for disabled people – said the summit would showcase Britain’s “commitment to transform the lives of people living with disabilities”. Theresa May was similarly enthusiastic, pledging the summit would be dedicated to “transforming the lives” of disabled people, and showing how “committed” Britain is to ending disability discrimination.

I can’t help but be reminded of a scene in The Handmaid’s Tale in which the rulers of Gilead put on a grand show to impress visiting international delegates; with the bruised handmaids kept hidden, they are free to present their nation’s treatment of women as something to aspire to.

reported speech from Minister for Women and Equalities

As Minister for Women and Equalities as well, I am particularly conscious of the double discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities – marginalised for their gender as well as disability. That’s why DFID is committed to amplifying the voices of women and girls with disabilities.

Through the Girls Education Challenge Programme (GEC), UK Aid has supported over 46,000 girls with disabilities to access education. Through the programme’s new Leave No One Behind strand we will back another 15 projects and support 10,000 girls with disabilities.

We are also providing additional funding to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls with disabilities.

I am wondering if she also includes disabled women in the UK


Not all UK DPOs disagreed with the UK government

A national disabled people’s organisation is facing accusations that it “betrayed” the UK disability movement after its deputy chief executive failed to condemn the government’s record on rights at a major international gathering of disabled people.

Sue Bott was sharing the stage with a senior government civil servant less than a year after the chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) said the UK government’s cuts to disabled people’s support had caused “a human catastrophe”.

They were appearing at the Civil Society Forum, an event headed by the International Disability Alliance and intended to “amplify” the voice of disabled people the day before the UK government’s sister event, the Global Disability Forum, was held in the same venue on the Olympic Park in east London.

Bott (second from left) was asked on Monday by the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of disabled people, Catalina Aguilar, what she would like to ask the UK government to do.

But in front of an audience containing disabled people from organisations across the global south and the UK, Bott failed to criticise the UK government.

Instead, she laughed, and said DR UK wanted to “collaborate” and “learn from disabled people around the world”.

if I may put in a quote by myself….

Eleanor Lisney, a leading disabled activist and member of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance network of disabled people and their organisations, said she was “astounded” by Bott’s speech.

She said: “Given that it was such a strong examination by the CRPD she didn’t mention it at all.

“It is not something that is hearsay. This is the UN.”

She said that one of the UN’s key conclusions last year was that one of the strongest elements in the UK was its disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

Lisney said: “She didn’t mention that, she didn’t give credit to DPOs in her own country, she said she wants to learn from the countries the UK government is giving help to.

“She’s not there for DR UK, she’s there for DPOs in the UK.

“It’s a betrayal, that’s what I call it.”


taken at the protest outside the summit

A new year …2018

I was going to make new year resolutions but I decided against it – knowing that I break them every year.

Consciously, I have been submerging or trying to submerge myself in Chinese – preferably in Cantonese (my mother tongue) but mostly Mandarin putonghua because it is more dominant and easier to access through the internet /films/ serials/ music.

Part of my impairmant seems to affect my memory, my language skills seem to be going…it s scary in part and iritating too, especially when family picks on me when I forget people and words – or even grammar mistakes (never my strong point anyway). I think it is disableism of a form but I find it difficult to combat that type of gaslighting (yes I do think it is a form of gaslighting albeit not with actual hurtful intent). Having a physical impairment for most of my life, I have yet to come to terms with hidden impairments – how does one explain them?

As an experiment, I am trying out Gestalt counselling. I am learning more about counselling and therapy  – and self awareness. Hope to have more to report on later in the year.

I will leave with the theme song from The Game of Hunting with Hu Ge – having just finished watching the series about head hunting in China.

Breaking out of the cocoon (5)

this is part of a set of blogs in preparation for a chapter in a journal which asked me to write  ” on your work in relation to your personal activism and advocacy with the onset of austerity, and the intersectional tensions as a disabled women involved with a diverse set of communities. In particular we thought you may want to contribute a chapter about your personal reflections, that rigorously capture the new and emerging issues for disability activism” …..

In the 1990’s, I went to USA on my own – one of the people I met was at the Asia Watch: Human Rights Watch office, Sydney Jones . I went back home to Strasbourg and the impact on me is obvious in that I wrote one of my first poems, Cocoon:

I stay in my tight cocoon

warm, snug and sheltered

from famines, war and strife

human rights violations

I watch you at your valiant job

in the asphalt jungle

teleconferencing across frontiers

being au courant with the latest events

in some far flung dictatorship

I am envious of you

the modern day Jeanne d’Arc

My domaine rests

with getting children places on time

school, music leassons, gym, swimming classes

cooking meals, dressing dinners

sorting out clothes, battling dust

mine is the mundane

that I am plotting,





this cocoon is well spun


silken nest

books lined on shelves

discussing, describing

the world without

exciting, inciting

the world within

an indolent world

so redolent of

a pampered expatriate existence

lotus eating

I am loath

to seek

lotus sitting


this chrysalis

home and hearth

I cannot shed

bonded and bounden

my surviving abuse

for inaction/standstill

lax self discipline

like the hermit crab

scuttling with its borrowed shell

not showing its soft underbelly

in deadly fear of


written in the 1990’s

I loved my children and adored being a mother, I enjoyed the priviledges of being expatriate in a beautiful city, playing host to the many visitors and new residents that it attracted (and still attracts). I had dinner parties almost every week, reveled in cooking for them all. I’ve even helped cook for two Archbishops of Canterbury, being part of the English Anglican community.

My French was rudimentary but it was sufficient for what I needed to communicate. I was in a bubble of an idylic existence. I did Zen meditation with a French Dominican priest. I had no idea of what my disabled community was doing in the UK – living amongst mostly white, non disabled community. I went to the university women’s association formed to welcome expatriate and sometimes, diplomatic wives. Learned to have vin noveau tasting sessions, how to make kugelhopf.

strasbourg cathedral with street of souvenir stalls
strasbourg cathedral with street of souvenir stalls

Seeing Sydney awoke something in me, the activist maybe. I started chafing at being the homemaker. The children had grown older, I was unhappy and our marital relationship deteriorated. Something in me broke and my mental health took a knock and it exacerbated my post polio syndrome. I fretted, scolded like a fishwife and at the time, there was a lot of roadworks. Strasbourg was being dug up for building the tramlines in which made Strasbourg the accessible city it is now. But at the time, it made me feel like a prisoner. I wrote this poem during that period in my life – kitchen table blues.

I grew to understand what loneliness meant when you re not alone. I understood what violence can mean which is not physical – the gaslighting and financial abuse. The inability to ask for help, the helplessness in not able to articulate the failure of a relationship when you have no one close to hear you. Everyone knew us as a couple, what looked like a wonderful caring spouse. The lack of support when you re a disabled person is even more acute when you re dependent on the one person. Strasbourg has also a transient population, some of my best friends had also left.

However, one of the most influential event during that time for me, was a Redemptorist retreat I did in Dublin lead by a nun from California. I left a family holiday to do a retreat for some time on my own. I cannot remember the details but the lesson I took away was that women should not let themselves be martyed whatever the figure on the cross signified. The message came with more strength in that it was from a nun.  I might be wrong in my interpretation of that message but it gave me an impetus that I did not have to stay in my unhappy state inspite of an innate feeling that I would be abandoning my children who are my responsibility – however I realised that my mental health was at stake. What use would I be if I became mentally ill? I should say I had no doubts that they were very well grounded and they had no problems in school with consistent good results and their schedules were filled with after school activities. In the end my children had never accused me of abandonment but I believe my ex did.

p/s I now know the nun mentioned here is Rosemary Chinnici who wrote the book  Can Women Re-Image the Church?

read previous blog



Slow to feminism (4)

This past weekend I was with other disabled women at the Sisters of Frida peer led facilitating course. Wonderfully lead by Nim Ralph and Lani Parker, we shared experiences, ideas and mentioned skills we can use for the project. It was an intense experience.

That weekend encapsulates a good deal of my day to day activism, my learning, my growing (and continuous growth) appreciation of sisterhood and feminism here in the UK. I cannot say I did not understand sisterhood when I went to an all girl school growing up in Malaysia. I have friends who have stayed like sisters to me from age seven when I started at primary school. But that type of communal childhood sisterhood also means your worldly experience is dependent on that – for me, with an East Asian perspective. I am not saying there are no East Asian feminists but that I was not exposed to those. I did not know about socialism /communism in China, I knew more about kings and queens in England. I did study Malaysian history but the only mention of a Chinese woman was Hang Li Po, supposedly a princess given to Sultan Mansur Shah in Melaka (Malacca) in the 15th century. No mention of any other woman of any other ethnicity. It might be my faulty memory but after racking my brains, I cannot, for the life of me, remember any. We did not study about the suffragettes…but I think we did have mention of the Dowager Empress (and her power). However my history lessons were supplemented by Chinese martial arts movies where women were just as strong and were not just bimbos to be rescued (and of course Chinese romance films as well where women were often victims, I also had a steady diet of Cantonese opera where I would be caught in the headiness of idolising female opera singers who play male roles. I never questioned the culture where genders can be changed in opera ) My best loved films were Come Drink with Me and A Touch of Zen  

woman in costume with sword and hat.
Cheng Pei Pei as swordswoman in film, ‘Come Drink with me’

Why do I mention films? There should be a note of explanation here, my education was entirely in English (the impact of being part of the British empire, even though Malaysia was independent by then, all education was still colonial). I was not in a Chinese school, I was mainly illiterate in my mother tongue. I imbibed Chinese culture through watching films, the radio and what was gleaned from my parents and relatives. Notably a blinkered view of the richness that is Chinese culture. I read Chinese poetry translated in English and then try to fit it with my limited Chinese vocabulary. Ironically it helps me to understand English people who tell me they dont ‘get’ Shakespeare. I read Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and comics with Wonder Women but there were none like my Chinese kungfu heroines who could fight as good as the men and win even.

Feminism was never part of my vocabulary or consciousness when I was growing up or even as a young adult at university. Are young women these days more aware? are we not all wrapped up with what the media choose to bombard them us on billboards, in magazines, in tabloids : how we should look and objectified. And young women are given how to behave and constrained by how they should comply with demands from male school mates so that they are on some kind of acceptance by their peers and included.

I was watching Korean series (as one does) Strong Woman Do Boon So     I wondered at the story line – here is a young woman seen to have incredible strength but her dreams were still centred on a young man who did not reciprocate her love and her boss who is a rich twat who tells her what to do (even though he pays her well to be his bodyguard ).  I found out that in South Korea, it is reported that there is an epic battle between feminism and deep seated misogyny.

I mention all these cultural type references because it is partly what motivates me to be the activist /campaigner I am today. I want to be part of the process of informing other disabled women /of colour about choices and alternatives. We do not have to conform to stereotypes – either those of our own communities with strong patriachal overtones or herein the west where it is not that much different except more nuanced perhaps – in that feminists can be judgmental and insistent that we conform to western ideals of feminism. I hope that because I have my experiences in either world, I can facilitate other women in their search. It is not an easy path when you juggle cultures, you can end up by being feeling alienated from all.

Having said that, I also understand the different journeys – just as I understand, in the different context – that it can take time to take in disability politics. I was slow to feminism, all my young life, I have been lead to hanker for a ‘normal’ life – to be a real woman, desired and be able to fulfil the feminine ideal. It is not easy to get away from the yoke of Confucianism, ironically my first lesson of feminism came from a Catholic nun from California when I was at a retreat in Dublin.


Feminism from further afield (3)

this is part of a set of blogs in preparation for a chapter in a journal which asked me to write  ” on your work in relation to your personal activism and advocacy with the onset of austerity, and the intersectional tensions as a disabled women involved with a diverse set of communities. In particular we thought you may want to contribute a chapter about your personal reflections, that rigorously capture the new and emerging issues for disability activism” …..

I’ll admit I scratched my head when I was wondering how to write about ‘feminism’ and its role in my life. Lani Parker asked me if I was a feminist in her podcast

Lani: We’ve talked about intersectionality a bit and identity politics, and moving towards the movement stuff. I was wondering, and we talked about bringing in women’s issues and race issues. I was wondering, what does feminism mean to you? Because you’re a very strong feminist.

Eleanor: Thank you. I’m not sure I’m a strong anything. I’ve not really studied feminism as a theory or gone to any feminism classes or courses, or anything like that really. I think for me, feminism is being able to do what you want to do when. Your gender shouldn’t limit your opportunities. Having said that, I realise that it’s not, even if you think you’re a feminist, there are a lot of things in this world that put a stop to your choice, because it’s just easier to conform. I know I got married quite young, and if I was a feminist, if I wasn’t a disabled person, I think, thinking back, I might not have got married at that age. And I think I got married then because I had this internalised idea of myself as not being worthy. And I think that if I didn’t marry the first person who asked me, I might never get another chance. Whereas I don’t think that I would think that if I was a non-disabled woman? So that’s why I’m saying that your choices are compromised, and that’s the intersections they’re kind of in.

I think back of the influences from my own background. My mother is a strong woman, she travelled on her own and escaped from the countryside to go to the city to study during the Communist takeover in Quangzhou. She supported my father in his business and was a businesswoman in her own right. But she stayed well in the family.

My first understanding of the misogyny and patriachal society is from church. One of my mentors, Mrs M committed suicide because of domestic violence and her deep unhappiness also from the fact that her Indian community gave her no support. Of course I have imbibed enough Chinese and Indian films to know how chances are stacked against women. Although I have to add that that Chinese kungfu movies (of which I am a huge fan) have always had strong women warriors and fighters.

Its nothing like the experience of despair and inexplicable resignation of a community when it unfolded in front of me as in the death of a respected member of the community. Everybody seemed to be resigned to it – nobody could/would help her. I raged – I did not understand why she didn’t have choices. I did not understand the patriarchal rules they adhered to. Nobody was denying he abused her. Even sadder was that her sister was given in marriage to help raise the four children she left behind.

I think it was that and another near suicide of another close Indian friend – also through domestic violence that I stopped believing in romance. It simply did not exist in my community. Women got married. They had children. Some men (friend’s fathers) had more than one wife. Even the school secretary but they are not mistresses, they are concubines, unless they are Muslims, then they are wives. We did not question it, it was part of life as we knew it. There was no judgemental bullying of the offspring of such alliances either.

But I got married at a young age myself. I think whatever I felt, I wanted to belong to the idea of the ‘feminine mystique’ . It is still a patriarchal society and as a disabled woman, I longed to belong as with a ‘normal’ ‘rites of passage’ as a woman. And I became a wife and a mother without ever questioning myself.

It was only after the birth of my second child, I decided I should also think of having jobs but soon we moved to Strasbourg (the opportunities for partner and children came before considerations for my own career.) I should say I was enjoying joining other women’s groups and disabled people groups in London at the time, so it was not an easy choice personally.

The logistics of making a new home, grappling with children’s routines, getting to grips with a different culture and language took all my energy and space at the time. I enjoyed expatriate life, made new friends and a new semi diplomatic status. But it had its own toll on me. I felt isolated and without access to my own circle of friends (since I didn’t work) and intellectual stimulation.

I started on a Masters in English Literature with the OU. This where I started researching and thinking about feminism looking at women revolutionaries in the 1790’s, such as Eleanor Ty’s Unsex’d Revolutionaries: Five women Novelists in the 1790’s

So my journey to feminism is not through the suffragettes or learning about them. It was from the voices of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays. I started noticing the absence of women’s work. I had collaborated and presented papers in Museum conferences about gender issues.

previous blog

next blog

Privileges and Politics (2)

this is part of a set of blogs in preparation for a chapter in a journal which asked me to write  ” on your work in relation to your personal activism and advocacy with the onset of austerity, and the intersectional tensions as a disabled women involved with a diverse set of communities. In particular we thought you may want to contribute a chapter about your personal reflections, that rigorously capture the new and emerging issues for disability activism” …..

I think of myself as privileged because I knew my parents loved me unconditionally and my siblings are pretty good to me too. My parents were immigrants in Malaysia, they were barely out of their teens when I was born and 3 years later they had a second child and I was stricken with polio. They were very poor and I needed medical care, there was no NHS there and my father worked incredibly hard to afford the medical treatment I needed. My parent’s friends advised them to give me away to an orphanage and try again for other children but my parents did not, they hung on to me.

People at school marveled at my mother’s devotion to me, she carried me everywhere until I got too heavy. She fought for me to get into the right classes even if they were upstairs. She spent hours tirelessly teaching me to cycle on a little tricycle. I think my primary school bent over backwards to accommodate me as much as they could.

black and white photo of a solemn looking child in a dress, cross legged, seated on a round cane type chair. She has an anklet on my foot.
me just before my third birthday

So why do I say I was privileged being born of poor parents, in a developing country which was just gaining independence from England. Maybe I should just say I was lucky. I was priviledged because I had great parents – who knew not much about parenting who did not speak English (English as the colonial language was a perequisite for getting a good job in the civil service). I think having had a poor childhood made me realise that just how lucky I was.

Now when I said that once, a friend asked me quizically if I was having a Pollyanna moment. I could have been given away to an orphanage and left in a residential home in Malaysia where disabled children were given to make handicrafts to eke out an existence. I once visited such a home ran by a friend of my mum’s in an outskirt of Kuala Lumpur.  I do not know what kind of life they lead, I did not want to know. I was too keen on distancing myself from those I considered unfortunate.. My parents had been saving for my education – they saw that I needed it most and when the time came, they send me to England to study.

newspaper headlines ''Crisis laws after 39 die in riots' from the Strait Times'
‘Crisis laws after 39 die in riots’ from the Strait Times Source:

Now in that backdrop, I also grew up in the aftermath of the May13th racial riots in 1969. I remember being given strict instructions not to put my head out of the window or I might be shot.

Not so long after that boat people also arrived from Vietnam. I think it gave my father a disquiet – even if he had escaped from Communist China and he had made a good living as a citizen in Malaysia, he did not feel safe for his children. He saw the discrimination against ethnic minorities, I remember him telling me that having an English education would give us an advantage above having had a university education in the Malaysian system, if ever we should get kicked out of the country.

With hindsight, I can see it gave me my first lesson in politics – my father was deeply Confucian, he would not agree with engagement with any form of politics. But I understood the uncertainty of place and identity. It is in no way comparable to the plight of modern day refugees but I understand the fear and the uncertainty.

But my education of politics and the importance of social justice came from the Catholic church and my mentors who were deeply spiritual people. They taught me about liberation theology and inculturation. I went to a convent school. But no, my convent school did not teach me about liberation theology – where I started realising about social justice – but it gave me access to a different way of thinking and inculturation taught me that I can embrace other faiths without abandoning my own heritage.

I was very fortunate to have as godparents, Sr Teresia Mowe and Br John D’Cruz, who understood a curious young disabled girl searching love and understanding – as much as their own busy schedules allowed. If you watch the video  and see John’s work with slow learners, you will get the idea how open he is and his acceptance of people as they are. In my youth he was the one person who gave me confidence and taught me self acceptance and about relationships. I know over here, we hear much of the harm that the Catholic church but I learnt a path away from materialism and capitalism there, a thirst for learning and respect for spirituality. I am indebted to him for his brand of nurturing love and acceptance which was not at all judgmental even when I grew away from the faith.

One other person who had huge influence over my formative youth was my parish priest, Fr Surmon. He helped me with my homework and had an extensive library ( my hometown had no public library). He gave me books to read by Simone Weil and Teilhard de Chardin! So my reading consisted of Wordsworth, Jane Austin, Chinua Achebe, (school text books)  Mills and Boon, Georgette Heyer, (what was available in the bookshops)  and French philosophers (way over my head, my worst subject as an undergrad was philosophy!)


see previous blog

next blog