Vincent Wan Tsz-wai lost his hearing when he was a toddler, but thanks to a cochlear implant – a medical device that goes inside the ear to replace the functions of the damaged parts – and sign language, he lives life without too much hindrance, and hasn’t let his disability stop him from following his dreams.
One of Vincent’s dreams was to be able to communicate with marine animals using sign language, which until recently was not something he thought possible. The SuperHero programme, that encourages Hong Kong youths to pursue what they love, chose Vincent as one of 10 winners who were offered the chance to make their dreams a reality.
“I’ve seen videos of people using sign language and hand gestures to talk to animals, so I thought maybe I could do the same,” the Lutheran School for the Deaf student told Young Post through Wong Hin-man, an interpreter and social worker. “I never expected to win.”
Vincent said his favourite animal is the penguin, which is why he went to Ocean Park earlier this month to learn all about what a penguin trainer does day to day, as well as getting a chance to “talk” to them.
Vincent spent an entire morning learning how to care for the three different species of penguin that live at the park, and how to prepare food for the flightless seabirds.
Penguins normally eat fish, and he discovered different kinds of fish are prepared for the king penguins, southern rockhoppers and gentoo penguins.
“Learning how to differentiate the fish, and how I should feed them to the penguins was super interesting,” added Vincent. It isn’t just fish that the birds eat – trainers need to learn how to add supplement pills and vitamin to their diets, too.
Vincent watched as a trainer showed him how to prepare the fish with chopsticks and how to stuff pills into the gills. When it was his turn, he was given a thumbs up from the trainer for getting it right.
“Deaf students concentrate well, and they tend to be very quick learners,” added Kara Chow Pui-wah, Vincent’s head teacher who was with him at the park to help interpret. “He was able to complete the steps even without me translating the steps for him.”
Her interpretations came in handy though, when Vincent wanted to know why the steps were taken, not how – like why penguin parents need two pills, not one (the answer is to supply them with extra nutrients).
Adorable ambassadors from the Animal Discovery Fest at Ocean Park showcases animal kingdoms from around the world
Vincent also learned how to weigh penguins and to check their feet for sores. A penguin’s sole is a vulnerable spot that’s prone to injuries, chiefly because of how much penguins weigh, the trainer explained to Vincent. He was then led, with a bucket full of fish, to the pool in the enclosure to get up close and personal with more than 90 penguins.
“Once you throw the fish, the penguins go straight for it – that was really funny and cute,” he said, recalling the moment he fed them. That was, he added, the best part of his day.
Gestures, much like the sign language Vincent uses in his daily life, are used by trainers to communicate with the penguins. A simple hand gesture, for instance, was all it took for the penguins to hop up on a machine and line up for their foot check.
The trainer told Vincent to clap three times before holding his arm straight, to see what his favourite critters would do. To his delight, the penguins immediately jumped into the water and swam away.
“I really want to become a real trainer one day,” he smiled.
Chow said although all of Vincent’s classmates at Lutheran School for the Deaf were very jealous that he got to go to Ocean Park, they were very happy for him.
“But what I want is for Vincent to become a role model for them,” she added. “I want this to be proof that their dreams can become a reality, too.”