Room with a view
by Peter Tan. Posted on November 23, 2014, Sunday
IN the serenity of the morning, the iconic Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building glowed golden in the embrace of the rising sun, perfectly complemented by the silvery whiteness of Fort Margherita just a stone’s throw away.
Greenery, man-made structures and paved surfaces slowly warmed up to greet another new day. The mighty Sarawak River glimmered as it wound its way to the South China Sea. A lone boatman steered his craft near to the bank, leaving an expanding wake behind.
Along the Waterfront, an old couple ambled, he holding a walking stick and she holding on to his other free arm. My wife Wuan came and stood behind me. We watched in silence from our hotel room on the sixth floor until their frail figures were eventually obscured by the canopy of the rain tree.
That was a loving and beautiful sight on our first morning in Kuching and one I do not mind waking up to every day. Indeed, it is great to be back in this beautiful city. What is even greater are the rekindling of old friendships and the forging of new ones.
We are here to attend the three-day international conference on “Disability Studies: Heading In The Right(s) Direction?” that began on Thursday. This was organised by the Centre of Excellence for Disability Studies (CoEDS) anchored at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Universiti Sarawak Malaysia (Unimas) and is the first and only institution of higher learning in Malaysia promoting the programme on disability studies.
I would like to note with appreciation that our journey to Kuching, lodging and participation in this conference were made possible by the generous sponsorship of Sarawak Consolidated Industries Berhad in close coordination with Director of CoEDS Associate Professor Dr Ling How Kee and Unimas Senior Social Work lecturer Gill Raja who made sure that my accessibility needs were met.
My contribution to the conference was a presentation titled “Where Rights Are Being Ignored & How Equality And Full Participation Can Be Realised” during the plenary session on the first day. The organisers had also allocated a two-hour slot for me to facilitate an introductory Disability Equality Training workshop for today (Saturday) which concluded a while ago.
After following the proceedings by the presenters comprising academics, researchers and advocates for the entire duration of the conference, I discovered that the field of disability studies is wider and more diverse than I previously thought. It involves the entire spectrum of life and living, cuts across all levels of society and affects more of those who are marginalised and disadvantaged by poverty.
The amount of knowledge shared in this conference was staggering. It was here that I was suddenly struck by the realisation my knowledge in disability is a mere drop in the ocean. The more I learnt, the more I found out how little I knew. This humbling discovery has again perked the desire to deepen my understanding in this area in order for me to do what I am doing more effectively.
A previous endeavour at pursuing disability studies through distance learning with a university in the United Kingdom renowned in this field fell through because I did not possess sufficient academic qualifications. Moreover the tuition fees for foreign students were beyond my affordability.
This time, I want to seriously consider how this renewed interest can be seen to fruition.
Since the day we arrived, Wuan and I have been fortunate to experience Sarawakian hospitality at its best. I especially relished meeting Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah. She is all the good things I heard so much about – that she is approachable, affable, unassuming and more.
Most importantly, Datuk Fatimah’s passion in working towards the inclusion and full participation of disabled people has earned my utmost respect. From the brief conversation we had, her genuine desire to change the situation for the better was apparent. I would love the opportunity to work with her and my peers in Sarawak to achieve that end.
Wuan and I are also blessed to have very good friends who took us out and fed us with delicious food in the evenings. We loved it. The flavours that are uniquely Kuching have made us want to savour more this city has to offer. And I am happy to have made new friends with the same orientation in advancing disability rights.
This is one conference that has enriched me in so many ways. Wuan and I cannot stay back to listen to the summation and witness the closing ceremony due to the timing of our flight back to Kuala Lumpur although I wish we can.
It has opened my mind to new perspectives that will prove useful to the advocacy activities and trainings I conduct in the future. Dr Ling and Gill deserve the credit for the transformation and opportunity to develop myself further by extending the invitation and arranging the logistics to enable me to attend this conference.
As I looked out the window for one last time before checking out, I know I will be waking up the next day missing the familiar scenes of the river and activities of the Waterfront. The next time we return, it will be to explore the heritage and follow the food trails the city is famous for.
Unknowingly and unsuspectingly, Kuching has grown into me. My life will never be the same again after this.
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