We’re glad to share his short autobiography (with his permission) on our blog for Singapore Deaf Heritage. Written by Mr. Lim Chin Heng on his Facebook, here are his 20 facts:
In the year of Tiger, I was born under the care of Nanny at my two semi-detached houses at Rose Lane, off Tanjong Katong Road. Totally stoned deaf since birth. The cause of deafness is mysteriously unknown. None of any illnesses during my mother’s pregnancy. None of any deaf relatives. None of any deaf genes from old generations!
My family lived near Kallang Airport (now Singapore Sports Hub). Aeroplanes (old models of 1940’s) flew up/down and to/fro. One day, a powerful huge airplane flew low over my house and its sound was very noisy like thunders. My parents walked quickly to their master bedroom and surprisingly saw that I slept sweetly on my baby bed. Dad thought the baby was so brave. Later on, my deafness was discovered.
At the age of 4 in 1955, Dad brought me to somewhere. Upon our arrival at Singapore Chinese School for the Deaf that was established by a deaf couple, Mr & Mrs Peng Tsu Ying, at Charlton Lane, off Upper Serangoon Road, I was shocked to see so many deaf children signing with deaf teachers. Mr Peng, the principal, showed me a book with pictures of animals and pointed at a picture of cow, using both “Y” signs to touch on the sides of head. This was my first one word I learned, comparing with hearing peers who already know nearly 900 words.
My classmates were Chinese Malaysians and needed to stay at Mr Peng’s hut houses as school residents. After school, they talked with each other in their dormitory rooms. During snack time in afternoon, they listened to Mr Peng’s storytelling on current affairs or Deaf world matters. Sometimes at night they watched knowledge movies in a big classroom as Mr Peng got a movie projector and movie film reels on free loan from U.S. Embassy. I was so envious of their learning opportunities while residing at Mr Peng’s school building.
As a home commuter, I came to school by riding the American-style big car with the Malay chauffeur. My schoolmates admirably looked at me like a prince. During recess time, the chauffeur served me with the snack and drink. I was very naive and ignorant. By 1pm, I always went home. At home, I did not have opportunity to learn something new and loved to play marble balls and home-made games with his siblings and cousins. My knowledge was so shallow. At school, I was unable to follow what my classmates communicating very actively.
At the Chinese Swimming Club, many young deafies, both oralists and manualists, gathered there. My friend warned me not to mix with them closely because they were gangsters, led by an oralist who was badly influenced by his hearing elder brother. I saw one gangster collecting money pledges from them. It was heard that the purpose of money pledge is to cooperate and help with each other financially when necessary. But something seemed fishy. Lately, they ended up dividing into 2 groups (one led by oralists while the other led by manualists) due to miscommunications.
In November 1960, the Singapore Sign School for the Deaf (SSSD, renamed in 1957 as requested by SADeaf) celebrated its first graduation ceremony. The Secretary of School Management Committee angrily spoke out against SADeaf in favour of the Singapore Oral School for the Deaf (SOSD) be given a whole school building first. Those newspaper reporters were there. The big highlight on newspapers roared over Singapore in the following day.
Dr Goh Swee Keng, Director of Social Welfare Department, took prompt action by paying a visit to SSSD. He inspected around the premises of the school in poor condition. He pushed SADeaf to look into a better solution for both deaf schools to be merged into a new school building.
In March 1963, the SSSD moved from Charlton Lane to Mountbatten Road and was merged with SOSD into the new building, namely Singapore School for the Deaf (SSD). There were 2 separate sections, namely Oral Section and Sign Section. The Sign Section had 7 classrooms on the 2nd floor and the Oral Section had 13 classrooms (3 on 2nd floor and 10 on ground floor). At that time, I was in Pr. 4 class with my 5 classmates.
The students of both sections were not allowed to integrate together during recess time and they had to separate at the different period. For the Sign Section, a prefect waved a green-coloured hand-flag along the corridor for recess time. At the end of recess time, I waved a red-coloured hand-flag outside the school hall.
The students of the Oral Section looked down on the students of the Sign Section and made fun with them by pointing at open mouth and waving open hand (insulting them “can’t talk”). The Oral Section was more superior than the Sign Section because they had auditory and speech equipment, 2 sound-proof rooms and well-trained Oral teachers. The Sign Section had nothing except sign language (free of charge).
In November 1965, I was the only one graduate of the Sign Section of SSD. Public secondary schools in Singapore did not accept any deaf students due to no deaf access facility available. Consequentially, my family wanted me to go to USA for higher studies.
Before going to USA, I received the private tuition in English from Mr Peng at my home for 19 months. One day, Mr Peng brought him to Singapore Motorsports Club near Paya Lebar Airport. Learned from Mr Peng who bravely communicated with hearing club members by using a pen and papers like voice and sound. The importance of writing skills is for our Deaf’s survival needs.
Mr Peng, an ace driver as reported on newspapers, took me out to various motorsports competitions held in South Buona Vista Road, Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, and Old Upper Thomson Road. Mr Peng’s Lotus 7 sports car was parked at the cement floor of my house. During the F3 Singapore Grand Prix race day, I was Mr Peng’s pit crew to show time board to Mr Peng driving past him. Learned a lot about various kind of car machinery from Mr Peng. (I am the F1 racing car fan now!)
At the age of 16 in September 1967, I left Singapore and flew to New York City. Met my cousin and my brother’s American business friend at the airport. Took a 3-hour drive up to the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in West Hartford, Connecticut state. This famous school is the first oldest school in USA (established in 1817). ASD is two years older than Singapore that was found in 1819.
Upon my arrival at ASD, my jaws dropped when I looked at the front of the beautiful and huge school building with a window tower. The high school principal introduced me to three foreign students (2 from Iran and 1 from Guam). I could not catch their names fingerspelling too fast and instead, wrote on papers with each other as I did not know ASL. I joined in Grade 10A (sophomore) class with 8 Americans and 1 Guam. I was the only one Chinese student at ASD. There was a Japanese boy as a senior student. Got a bit homesick there because of the different way of life, especially the American food and cold weather.
During my 3-year study at ASD, I got much inspired by many Deaf role models ~ Deaf teachers, Deaf sport coaches, Deaf driving instructors, Deaf dormitory counsellors, Deaf parents, Deaf leaders, etc. Actively involved in sports ~ a member of American football team for Fall/Autumn season (Sep-Nov), wrestling/basketball team for Winter season (Dec-Feb), and track & field team for Spring season (Mar-May) and club organizations ~ a member of Arts and Science Club, secretary of Athletic Club, treasurer of Class of 1970 and Junior National Association of the Deaf.
In May 1970, I broke a long record by making my history of being the first foreign student to win the Top Student Award plus 5 other awards at ASD’s graduation ceremony. All audiences watched speechless at me, receiving awards non-stop up/down on the stage. My late 3rd brother and Lee Poh Pin, the SSD graduate of 1967 witnessed there with much joy and pride.
During my 5-year study at Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., I felt much inspired by Deaf role models and strong Deaf Leadership on the campus. Actively involved in sports ~ member of cross country team (Fall of 1971-1975), track & field team (Spring of 1971-1975) and club organizations ~ treasurer/secretary/president of International Students Club and chairman of financial emergency sub-committee/business manager of Spring Carnival/treasurer of Greek fraternity. It nurtured an interest within me to be involved in the college community. Participation and involvement in all activities also brought about an awakening and motivation within me to strive for leadership and sometimes too a feeling of being a fighter or collaborator for some of the causes that I stood for. I owed it all to the Gallaudet University.
After volunteering at SSD and SADeaf during my 3-month summer holidays in 1974, I made up my mind to give up my thoughts of getting settled in USA and returned back home for good. My good friends were shocked to know of my decision and organised a surprise farewell party for me. They gave me a token of friendship ~ a wooden American eagle with their signatures on its back. It is now hanging on a wall of my home.
Upon my return home, I saw the need for the implementation of Total Communication and American Sign Language (ASL) and how together it has been a vital instrument in the successful education for deaf children in Singapore.
By implementing the right pedagogical approach and carrying out Deaf Leadership Training, I fulfilled my greatest desire to bring out the best in every deaf child and is instrumental in leading so many outstanding deaf students to fulfil their potentials.
“Don’t forget that 5 out of 1,000 are deaf and it is a very small percentage (0.5%) of population in every country, so our deaf leaders are rarely very precious. Let’s come forward to help grow more Deaf Leaders and build the Deaf Nation.”
(PHOTOS OWNED/CREDITED by Mr. Lim Chin Heng)