Wearing a baseball cap, a black backpack and with a smile on his face, he looked the same as any other young man. Seeing all the Taiwanese cuisine in front of him—dumplings, braised dishes, beef noodles, he took pictures excitedly with his cellphone. Vaguely you could hear him say, “(Dumplings) very good!”
Isaac Liang lost his hearing at birth, and has been relying on lip reading to facilitate oral communication all of his life.
Taiwan is the first country that he ever travelled to on his own. He not only drew illustrations at a co-working space, mainly for foreigners, Planett, in Tainan, but enjoyed local food and making foreign friends. Although the one-month trip wasn’t that long, the experience of independent travel was unprecedented for him.
Despite having a hearing disability, he learnt to rely on himself in a foreign country for the first time. What’s more, his illustrations drawn in Taiwan were very well-received on his Facebook page, obtaining more than a thousand “likes” over the month.
Liang started to “talk” with his parents by drawing on the wall when he was six years old. His colorful illustrations filled the wall, and revealed his artistic talent. After majoring in Animation at NanYang Polytechnic, Singapore, he learnt to observe people’s physical movements thoroughly.
As a result, his sketches became even more vivid, with precise details, and won compliments from people around him. His passion for sketching gradually outran his interest in animation, and eventually became his current job.
Currently he is a professional illustrator for children’s picture books. Having a stable job now, he is keen to see more of the world and thereby enrich his drawings.
When he first told his parents that he wanted to travel to Taiwan on his own, his parents turned him down determinedly. “After all, learning Chinese is too difficult for me. I don’t understand traditional Chinese characters, and I can’t lip-read Chinese either. It’s natural that they were worried about it.” He understood his parents’ concerns, but he also knew that sooner or later he had to step out of his comfort zone. “I have been so well-protected, but I can’t live like that for my whole life. I want to illustrate the stories of people with hearing or speech disabilities. I hope more people can know about our lives. To achieve so, I think I should try to explore the world.”
Was he scared or nervous on the first day in Taiwan? He shrugged and said, “Not at all!” Nose Chen, the founder of Planett, recalled, “I was considering if I should pick him up at the airport, but he was already at the door when he texted me ‘I’m here’.” Friendly and kind-hearted, Liang soon made many friends. They are happy to talk with him slowly in English, and even asked him to share his drawing techniques. “Taiwanese people are so friendly! You’re very different from Singaporeans!” said Liang. He soon realized that all his concerns were totally unnecessary.
To illustrate this, he told us a small story. At one point during his trip he had arranged for a taxi to pick him up at 5 pm at the National Museum of Taiwan History in Tainan. The taxi didn’t show up. As night descended, he began to get worried—He was unable to make phone calls to book a taxi with his limited oral language skills; not to mention that he doesn’t speak Chinese at all. He then tried to ask for help from people on the streets. The first guy Liang met was riding a motorcycle. He told him to stay there and not to worry. A few minutes later, the rider came back with a taxi following him. “I was so touched, I almost burst out crying.”
On the day of the interview, we had dinner with Liang, and were about to accompany him back to the hotel. But he waved his hands, and said, “It’s ok. I know the way back.” Seeing the concern on our faces, he gave us an expression of “Don’t be silly!” and said goodbye. It seemed like he was truly able to enjoy himself in a foreign place, independently.
Pao-Chang Tsai, Co-Artistic Director of Tainaner Ensemble, once wrote an article, “Sympathy, is Actually the Greatest Discrimination?” He mentioned that able-bodied people tend to focus on sympathy and pity toward physically challenged people, and consequently lower the standard for them. “Maybe what physically challenged people need is not sympathy, but fair opportunities and treatment.”
Liang showed us his courage to go beyond the comfort zone, and his story has proved that his hearing disability has not stopped him from making use of his artistic talent, and living life for himself. No one should ever pity him, for he is living life to the fullest.
Isaac Liang (b.1986, Johor Malaysia) is a deaf illustrator living in Singapore.
Despite his disability and his learning challenges during his early years, Isaac persevered and graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore with a diploma in Digital Media Design (Animation) in 2011.
Today, his beautiful sketches have been published in books. He is also active in the Organisation Of Illustrators Council (OIC) Portraits After Dark Events and gets involved in the life drawing sessions during free time. He is part of Urban Sketchers Singapore.