Life Is What You Make It (not the Hannah Montana song)
21 years does not mean you've lived your life. I know that much because my parents have taught me that.
Here's a mash up script of a speech I presented to the Royal Commonwealth Society back a few years ago.
An ideal way to introduce myself
Welcome everyone, thanks so much for having me here today. Risks. What are they? They are what make up everyday life. I’d like to share a poem, a great friend gave me on Valentines Day of 2012. The poem is by an anonymous author but it is one very powerful one:
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out to others is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to do nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave, they forfeited their freedom. Only the person who risks can be free
We have to take a risk everyday. I have to take a risk. My risk is stepping out of the house each day ready to face the day. Its not easy when you have the constant fear that people are going to at some point stare and make cruel remarks towards me or really, towards anyone who doesn’t conform to a certain society. I, like the rest of you, live in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a great place to live in, but also incredibly judgemental. You take a big risk when you tell someone what you do for a living. I happen to know that’s pretty much the same if you are an actor. As Richard E Grant mentioned in a few interviews, if one is unknown and unemployed in LA, you might as well walk around with a plaque stuck to your front saying “I’m a leper”. Whereas if you are unemployed in London, you’d fit in much easier because you’re not making a big deal out of it. I’m sad to say, I could liken Hong Kong to LA. Despite the fact that life is like an 8 ball for me, I refuse to allow difficulties hinder my life.
So many people tell me that they cannot believe that I can just walk out of the house with a happy smile plastered on my face. Let me tell you, it’s not easy and I would like to relegate that by delving into my past. Are you ready? It’s going to be a white knuckle ride!
I made my entrance into the world 22nd December 1992. I was not a normal baby. I was born with thick leathery scales of skin, resembling something like a person in a Harlequin costume, hence where the name of my condition comes from. basically, I have Harlequin Ichthyosis. It truly is a blessing that I am here talking to you because doctors originally beloved that due to the severity of my condition, I was not expected to live past the age of five. For those of you who don’t know what ichthyosis is, it is a group of genetic skin conditions which range in severity and put simply, Harlequin Ichthyosis is effectively the rarest of the lot and unfortunately, there is no cure. I am assuming that this was a main factor of me being given up for adoption after birth. But fast forward a few years and I was taken in and adopted by my parents, Tina and Rog, who I hope are somewhere in this room. My birth parents gave me up as I presume they just weren’t equipt to deal with a baby who wasn’t normal in their eyes. But I keep thinking to myself, if i was not adopted, I wouldnt be here talking to you now.
They took a risk in adopting me because when you are born effectively parentless and disabled, you might as well be forgotten by the government and placed at the very bottom of a pile of potential adoptions. Against the better judgment of so many, my parents ploughed on with the adoption despite warnings that I wouldn’t survive and quite honestly, they must have done something right because look where I am today, I’m in front of you, not cremated or six feet under the ground.
Yes, my early years were ploughed with problems, both health wise and socially. I faced and still do face discrimination, constant worries about my health and the like but the funny thing is, despite all this, my parents have never hidden me away or mollycoddled me. It really was a matter of do you want to have a happy day or a sad day?
I can still remember many many years ago, when I must have been about five or so, I would be lying on the floor with my dad all upset because I faced some kind of hardship during the day and in the way that you’d talk to such a young child, my dad somehow made it sound like it was going to be okay. As young as I was then, I was also relatively mature for my age because you kind of need to be when you face a daily battle against your will.
I will admit that I was not the easiest to handle because I could never accept that the true issue was that I could not accept that I was never going to be normal. But I believe that slowly, that is starting to change. I suppose I could like to an eating disorder; you may get over it, but it is always going to be there. Meaning that I might accept that I am not normal, but that insecurity will always be somewhere nearby.
Today, I would like to hopefully help you think of things differently whenever you encounter difficulties in your life. I’m not out to solve everything, but I’m sure that some of you are facing hardship or maybe you feel like the world is against you? I assure you, I feel that way all the time, just not now.
In all honesty, I don’t know how I “do it”. When I go about my business each day, I just go about things in an ordinary way. For example, I can happily ride the MTR, I can direct a taxi driver, everything. In fact what some people don’t realise is that I’m really just like the rest of you guys, I just happen to look different. Because of the constant desire to fit in, I tend to just ignore people who think they have a herbal remedy to heal me. This is a hard topic because it’s a daily reminder that I cannot have the same skin as anyone else. I possess the appearance of a burns victim and I reckon that is why people feel the need to tell me about chinese medicine. It’s hard accepting it, but I simply politely decline any offers because only I know that I will never look like you.
I try to move on in life by having a dry sense of humour. I also have the ability to be the little person with a personality of a lion. People who know me know that because I’ve never really been wrapped in cotton wool, I am a blunt person, I say things like I think they are. I think I’m just blunt because of the way people have tried to shield me from the truth which really irritates me. To people I meet, I try to command honesty and bluntness. I don’t care if the truth hurts, just tell the truth, it may offend, but you cannot always play mr nice guy. The truth has to come out at some point. It makes my friends and I laugh sometimes because let’s face it, when you see someone with a disfigurement or physical ailment, you might assume they might be a little challenged too? Some are amazed at some of the comments I come out with, few are out of the blue but that’s part of the fun.
I suppose you’ve heard of Nick Vujicic? The man behind Life without Limbs? I don’t know about you, but that guy inspires me enormously. Now I simply do not have the ability to sit and read a book. I’m not sure why, maybe I get distracted easily or I have to be seriously stimulated but instead of reading his book, Life without Limits, I’ve downloaded lots of his interviews onto my iPod to watch on the go and to me, that’s amazing because I’ve also met him in person.