The ability to listen to music – or anything at all – is something we take for granted. We pop on a pair of earbuds when on the MTR to drown out the conversations of other people, or call a friend for a chat when walking home from school. We don’t often think about what life is like for someone who is hearing-impaired. On June 9, during an orienteering race that was conducted entirely in silence, more than 80 people experienced what it’s like to live in Hong Kong without sound.
Participants in the Orienteering in Silence race, organised by the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf, had to work together to find a number of checkpoints around Ma Hang and Stanley within two hours – and they weren’t allowed to speak to each other. Instead, they had to put on noise-cancelling earmuffs, and rely on sign language, body language, and lip-reading.
The winners of the race were a group of students: 21-year-old Anson Mui Ho-lam said the most challenging part of the race was communication.
“We had a hard time understanding each other without [speaking],” the Hong Kong Polytechnic University student said. “It involved a lot of guessing.” His teammate, Gary Fung Sze-yui from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, added that having to wear earmuffs in the heat for the entire race was tough.
“The weather was hot and humid,” Fung, 18, said. “The earmuffs caused me to sweat a lot. It also made me realise how hard it is for people to wear hearing aids all the time.”
The winning team told Young Post the key to their victory was persistence and patience. Fung said that they just kept trying until they succeeded. “We didn’t give up when we couldn’t complete the tasks.”
Fellow team member Jacky Ng Wing-kei from St. Mark’s School, 19, said he thought the team’s planning and careful time management helped them beat 19 other teams to the top spot.
The race helped the team become more aware of how different life can be for people with hearing difficulties.
“I felt very lonely and helpless when my teammates couldn’t understand me,” Mui said. “It was really frustrating.”
Winnie Wong Ho Kit-yuk, the director of the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf, says the organisation is trying to increase public awareness of the plight of the hearing-impaired through activities such as the silent orienteering race.
Each participating team donated HK$500 to the organisation, which will be used to establish a Hearing-impaired Youth Development Fund to help nurture talented young people with hearing impairments in Hong Kong. The fund hopes to sponsor 20 teenagers in their pursuit of excellence in either sports or arts, because, Wong said, “all they need are opportunities”.
An opportunity was all Ben Ho Nim-ching needed to make a name for himself, Wong added. Ho, who suffers from congenital hearing loss, started learning taekwondo at the organisation’s centre when he was a child.
In 2009, at the age of 17, he won a bronze medal in the men’s 58kg taekwondo event at the 2009 Taipei Summer Deaflympics. He is now a taekwondo coach, and trains both hearing-impaired children and those with normal hearing.
“Many families of children with hearing impairments spend a lot of money on medical expenses,” Wong said. “This means they cannot support their children to develop in other areas of their lives. But they can be just as talented as people without hearing impairments.”
The students said the experience has made them realise they need to be more mindful of others in their daily lives.
Thomas Cheng Ho-yin, 17, said the race was a reminder that we ought to be more aware of the needs of others. “We get annoyed when things are slow in our day-to-day lives,” the St. Mark’s School student said. “Think about people with hearing impairments – they have to do so much to keep up with us. We need to be more considerate.”
Edited by Ginny Wong
tags: orienteering, deaf culture, Deaf, hard of hearing, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Society for the Deaf, Anson Mui Ho-lam, Gary Fung Sze-yui, Jacky Ng Wing-kei, Thomas Cheng Ho-yin, 17, Winnie Wong Ho Kit-yuk, Hearing-impaired Youth Development Fund, Ben Ho Nim-ching, taekwondo, Kelly Ho