I was an angry man last week
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 21, 2013, Saturday
THERE is a child in me who has never grown up. At this age, I am still a big fan of that time-travelling blue-coloured robotic cat in Japanese manga fondly known as Doraemon. The earliest encounters I had with this adorable cat was in a bi-weekly Chinese children’s magazine that my mother used to buy for me.
Imagine my delight when I found out that 100 life-sized Doraemons posing with his various gadgets would be on display for 100 days at an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur beginning last week. It was an opportunity that I did not want to miss, especially since it was so close to home.
The tickets were priced at RM25 for adults and RM15 for children aged four to 12. At the same time, the organisers thoughtfully extended free entrance to senior citizens above 60 years old, children below 90 centimetres and disabled persons with one companion.
We were directed to get tickets from the ticket counter by a crew member at the entrance. The woman manning the counter wanted my wife Wuan to pay for a ticket. I pointed to the notice displayed prominently on the window mentioning that a companion could enter for free too. After checking with her colleagues, she confirmed that we need not pay anything indeed. She did not issue any ticket to us and indicated that we just had to inform the crew member before going in.
When we went back to the entrance, we were asked to show our tickets. I explained to the crew member that disabled persons and one companion could get in for free which was also noted in the banner that was right beside where she was standing and that the woman at the ticket counter said that we did not need tickets.
From that point onwards, we were asked to show our tickets several times by different crew members along the way. Those incessant requests started to irritate me. The crew member at the final point before the exhibition hall adamantly refused to let us in, insisting that Wuan must have a ticket. I explained to him but he refused to listen.
I thought that asking him to go read what was stated in the banner would clear up the issue. He refused to do that too. A lady who was observing the altercation from a short distance away approached and asked us what the problem was. She introduced herself as a staff of the company that organised the exhibition.
So, for the umpteenth time, I repeated the condition stated in the banner and poster while the crew member who had refused to let us in continued blabbering away to try to justify his refusal. In the midst of that commotion, another crew member butted in and rudely demanded that I show my disabled person’s identification card issued by the Welfare Department.
In all my years as a disabled person, I have not experienced such indignity while visiting exhibitions and events that required entry fees. I had paid for tickets many times. Paying for tickets was never an issue. I would have gladly paid for two tickets to get into the exhibition. I do not subscribe to the notion that disabled persons are entitled to discounts and privileges. I will never demand for them. However, when courtesies such as free entry were extended by the organisers, I appreciatively accepted them.
Never once was I required to produce the identification card previously to substantiate my status as a disabled person. My wheelchair was already an obvious indication. Still, I would have shown my card willingly at the ticket counter had there been a request.
What I found most unacceptable was the demand for the card as an afterthought and the fuss Wuan and I were put through just because the crew members were not aware that we could go in for free. It made me feel as if we were freeloaders and that I was faking an impairment.
We were allowed into the exhibition hall eventually when a senior crew member confirmed Wuan’s eligibility. The lady from the organising company apologised profusely for the kerfuffle but the incident had already spoilt the excitement of my anticipation. Needless to say, I was an angry man after that.
Dealing with rude people is a test of my patience in many ways, particularly when they treat disabled persons condescendingly. It is exasperating. It makes me angry. I have mellowed over the years. I do not get angry very often now. When I do, it must be something serious.
Where I once allowed my anger to rage on unproductively, I now channel it into getting positive outcomes. Like the proverbial saying, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” As I look back, it was anger that fuelled the passion in what I do as a disability rights activist. It fanned my motivation to speak out against mistreatments of disabled persons instead of meekly accepting them. Anger, in that sense, had been a good thing for me.
After coming back from the exhibition, I went looking for the email address of the organiser. Having found it, I sent a terse email outlining my awful experience. I have not received a reply at the time of writing. It does not matter if I do not get a response. All I hope for is that the organiser is aware of the issue and will educate the crew members on handling matters like this with tact and respect in the future.
As for Doraemon, that experience has not diminished my love for him. Apart from being cute, there is always a lesson to be learnt from his manga and anime, be it honesty, humility or respect. That is what I like about his stories. Additionally, I have a figurine of him with a silly grin sitting on my work desk. Looking at his demeanour always make me happy. And that is not the child in me talking.
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