Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the fifties, Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.”
We have fallen deaf to such sayings from years of listening to our parents, teachers and siblings tell us whenever we are faced with an obstacle. We know it but that’s not to say that such sayings have prevented us from feeling depressed or lifted us. We accept them and continue to strive although we have had our doubts. However, theAsianparent met one Singaporean who has not only made this his motto but lives by it daily. Meet Mr. Alex Kwan, 52, a Comfort taxi driver.
Mr. Kwan was stricken with polio at 3 years of age. Such a condition not only affected the movements of his limbs but also forced him to be hospitalised for a long period of time during his childhood. Mr. Kwan, at 12 years of age, recovered a little but found himself being turned away from schools because of his age. However, with sheer determination and self motivation, Mr. Kwan taught himself the art of self study. During this time, he was fully aware of his mother’s silent worries about his future. Mr. Kwan realised he had two choices. He could either take the easy route and depend on his siblings in the future or make an example of himself and not be a burden to anyone. Mr. Kwan decided on the latter.
If there is one thing that Mr. Kwan remembers about his younger days with passion, it was his involvement with sports. Not a person to let his crutches or wheelchair get in the way of sports, Mr Kwan participated actively in basketball, tennis, swimming, and his favourite, marathon running. If that doesn’t make you gasp, then wait till you hear this. Mr. Kwan even went to a point of representing Singapore in the Paralympics. “Sports taught me that my disability is just something that is not going to hinder my ability to try anything but just make it a little harder. I have learnt so many things from being able to participate – patience, teamwork and best of all, fun and acceptance. It was my realm that I was able to control” he explains.
The long and winding road
Although Mr. Kwan used sports as an arena to excel, he still had to get used to the idea that sports was not going to provide for him in the future. Working really hard, he landed himself a job that involved auditing. In April 2006, Mr Kwan was given a bonus with his pay. However later in the same year, he was asked to leave with an extra month of salary given to him. “I have never understood why I had to leave. A side of me suspects being the only disabled person there, the people around just found it difficult to work in the presence of me. It’s sad but I do not want to waste my time brooding about it” he says.
Wasting no time, Mr. Kwan picked himself up and looked for jobs. Holding a driver’s licence, he wondered why taxi driving could not be an option. After all, his own father was a taxi driver. He contacted his friends who were part of the taxi world but many discouraged him, telling him LTA just would not give the green signal. Never to let anything stand in his way, Mr. Kwan went to LTA which gave him a straight no, citing reasons that he would be a danger on the road. Despite, Mr. Kwan assuring LTA of his many years of driving, LTA still did not wave the ‘GO’ flag.
LTA then advised Mr. Kwan to get a physical done which he had to personally fork out $300 for. Positive results and a recommendation letter from the doctor in hand, Mr. Kwan marched up the steps of LTA. Regardless of all, LTA still shook its head without a clear reason. Not standing for such negativity, Mr. Kwan threatened to pull LTA to court if need be. He was fully aware of his rights and his capabilities. Faced with such a gung-ho attitude, LTA finally relented and gave him the cab licence. A year on and Mr. Kwan has been on the road with a smooth record of driving.
Love me tender, Love me true
Mr Kwan cites his wife as his motivator. For a person who had never even thought having a girlfriend would be possible, Mr Kwan today is a happily married man with two children who are 19 and 20 years of age. He jokes that he got his driving and motorbike licences to be able to transport his wife whom he was dating at that time. “There’s nothing more attractive than a man with his own means of transport” chuckles Mr. Kwan. He talks passionately about his first meeting with his wife.
They met when she had a government project that involved the Disabled Association of which he was a part of. She saw him for who he really was and he for her and the rest is just a sweet fairytale that he claims he never tires of telling. Although Mrs. Kwan holds a stable job, Mr. Kwan has never seen that as a reason to idle his time away and shares the old fashioned sentiment that a man should always provide for his family, come what may.
Today, Mr. Kwan enjoys spending time with his family and meeting interesting people when they flag his taxi. Doctors occasionally call him to give talks to patients who have lost the will to live. With his crutches tucked away safely in the boot, Mr Kwan zooms around the island in his taxi with confidence and positivity.
His advice to people faced with emotional or physical disability, “there will be people everywhere telling you, you cannot do it or try to stop you. But don’t give up on yourself. Because when you do, the world does!”