I have been reluctant about writing because my narrative isn’t perhaps the most reliable at this current moment. There isn’t a solution I can offer, no wise words or profound advice and perhaps that is the most infuriating part about it. I’m still seeking. Still on a road. Still curious. Still young. And although I am expressive, there are still a lot of things that needed to be discussed. I think we all can relate to a certain extent; the great complexities, faces and layers that we build within us human beings… but is it necessary? I want to grow, to learn, to flourish, to cherish. And if that includes discovering my most comfortable, exterior and outermost layer in the public sphere, then let it be.
I had the pleasure of experiencing different cultures, different faces and different “worlds”. But the more I integrated into crowds from these aspects of my life, the more I suppressed my frustration. Beneath the adventures, the spontaneity, the self-deprecating humour and the façade, this was something that I needed to deal with myself; the stigma attached to my wheelchair. Perhaps it is controversial to express such feelings, especially because it didn’t make sense until I understood what it meant to expand my comfort zone.
I didn’t realise that there was an active use of disabled stereotypes until I threw my wheels into new situations outside of Britain, basketball courts and group vacations. Perhaps it was because I was always surrounded by good people, those who took me as me and my many blonde moments – I’m more of a B–sian than an A-sian. Tragic. The other day I was close to complimenting a New Zealand friend on his incredible fluency in English thankfully having it confirmed with my dad that English was their mother tongue! And this, ladies and gents, is one of the many reasons why I am pursuing travelling. I originally planned to back-pack across Asia but wanted something that was less drastic as my first solo travelling experience. Never once did my wheelchair entered into my mind, nor did I expect it would be a hindrance. In some ways, it presented itself as a sit-com (get it?); the shock of six airport assistants in San Francisco ready to transfer me out of the aisle chair to my own wheelchair (how big did they think I was?!) – whilst they thought about what to do with a 4′ 8″ giant, I stood up, got into my chair, winked at the cutest guy and wheelie-d off the platform like the true independent lady I was who didn’t need no man. *in Peter Griffin’s voice* Holy crip look at that crapple roll!
Unlike the wheelchair basketball community, this had no clear route; no rules, no explanations, no expectations. Perhaps it was because I was growing up too, transitioning my perception from that of a child to that of almost an adult. I wanted to absorb, delve into the unknown, actively seek a way in and use what I learnt as an athlete; find my own voice and protect it.
It was the greatest myth to be told that I only exist to represent one face, one identity, one vision; we think the same thoughts, live the same lives and move in the same way. We represent those who come before us and those after us. Perhaps that was the hardest injustice of all, especially when looking for jobs or seeking to widen my horizons. The more I challenged that, the more I felt like a living oxymoron, somewhat baffling and perplexing to both myself and others. I was a new situation for most companies and organisations across the spectrum, but I found that those who are more willing to understand are those who are more catered towards my passion rather than my needs. Perhaps it provided a silver lining to trust my gut instinct more, hear my own voice… be kinder to self.
Was it maddening that I was striving for mediocrity, chasing normality? I didn’t want to fight a battle, represent a community or be inspirational – I wanted to earn that. But to live meant to acknowledge the situation I was in and neither be defined by societal perceptions or forcibly resist against it. Those who don’t get it, don’t. It should never have been my responsibility or anybody else’s to defeat every mind, belief and behaviour… That is a restless and suffocating life.
In order to grow, to learn, to flourish, to cherish… I needed to let go of the suffocation, the perfectionism and the resentment first. Because once you reached, breathed, slept and danced at the mountains, the forests, the waterfalls, the deserts and the snow… there was no lyrical beauty that quite compare to the simplicity of just you, your red whip (AKA wheelchair), your backpack and the hearts you connected with along the way. And if that meant taking moments of healing and consolation to revisit those places again, then let it be.
At this current moment, I am ironically training more than when I was an athlete; either doing lane swimming or using the rowing machine everyday as cardio, and full-body workout every other day. The more time I spend at the gym, the more I have come to understand my body (and the extent of my love for junk food – why have abs when you can have kebabs?). For instance, I do more reps on my legs than on my arms, probably because I can’t feel the muscle ache due to my spinal disability, which gives me the depressingly tempting illusion that I’m invincible. Call me Transformers? Or just Wee Lee (I once convinced a drunk friend that it was my Chinese name but that is for another day). And who said wheelchair users skip leg days? Me, until I met my personal trainer.
“By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.”
Disclaimer: I asked a few friends from wheelchair basketball to approve of my jokes to make sure that I won’t go to hell for them. And if I did (only stairs to heaven, right?) call me Hot Wheels 🔥
Pictured of Joy and I before we flew to Rio separately, Aug 2016. Or refer to us as Asian #2 and Asian #1, sorry sis.