Jurong Rail tunnel? Been there – underground and in darkness.
Kusu Island? They sailed, they saw, and they conquered.
A 44-km one-day hike across Singapore? Done that too.
Name any walking trail, nature park, PCN route, or obscure nook and cranny in Singapore, they have all done it. And you can also bet this group of Deaf and hard-of-hearing hikers have already left their footprints there – sometimes more than once!
Deaf Hiking Singapore (DHSG) was set up by husband-and-wife team Luo Yong Ming and Jessica Mak. It has gone from strength to strength since their first hike in mid-2018. Two years on, DHSG is a thriving community that organises regular weekend hikes popular with deafies across a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and physical fitness levels. The group even boasts its own DHSG-branded tees, neck gaiters, and bag tags!
Origins Of The Super Hikers
But how did it all come about? According to Jessica, she had come across her late father’s old travel photos which provided her and Yong Ming the spark of inspiration. Yong Ming’s abiding interest since the early 1990s in exploring and venturing to various “hidden and unfamiliar places” in Singapore was a key factor too. He was enthusiastic about planning and scouting routes as well as leading hikes.
A friend then asked them to organise an outing for a cancer survivors’ group called “Walk for Life”. This churned up interest among their deaf friends. They thought, why not organise their own outings? Things snowballed from there.
A Facebook group was created where they publicised the outings, set ground rules, gave advice on hiking matters, and allowed members (and their families and friends) to share stories of their adventures – whether hiking, mountain climbing, or running.
Describing themselves as “not hiking enthusiasts but ordinary hikers”, Yong Ming and Jessica say their goals for DHSG are to promote friendships and social interactions among deaf and hearing people.
They emphasised that everyone – deaf or hearing, friends, and family – are welcome as long as they are willing to learn and use sign language to communicate within the group. Developing a healthy lifestyle is also a bonus, they explained, because hiking also brings people out of their own comfort and give their legs and lungs a workout.
The duo has been heartened to see more people showing up for their weekly hiking fix. Each hike draws about two dozen to a record of 82 people – entire families have even shown up before. The youngest was a 4-year-old who gamely tagged along with his mother up the 394-meter-high Bukit Senaling!
The COVID-19 situation was no deterrence though DHSG temporarily halted its outings during the circuit-breaker. During the lull, they came up with other online activities as well as gave tips on routes for solo or small groups of hikers to try on their own. To the group members’ delight, the outings have since resumed – following safety measures of course – with the easing of restrictions.
Overcoming Challenges, Venturing Overseas
Teething issues in the early months include participants who turned up late, or were ignorant of safety rules or lack proper equipment. But these days, after more experience and exposure to hiking, the DHSG hikers are more prepared and responsible.
DHSG has also tested themselves by venturing overseas for tougher outings, mostly to Malaysia where members hiked various mountains such as Gunung Pulai, Gunung Lambak, and Mount Ophir. The duo cited climbing Mulu Pinnacles in Sarawak, Malaysia, and the 2,928m Mount Pulag in the Philippines (the country’s third-highest) as their most difficult hikes so far and the proudest achievements by DHSG.
The most memorable trip? Definitely, the time where five of the 14 deaf hikers on a mountaineering trip to Malaysia got lost in the dark and were stranded overnight in chilly temperatures.. thankfully all emerged safe and sound the next day.
What’s Next For DHSG?
Looking ahead, Jessica and Yong Ming hope to see the group continue to grow and have more members who can hike longer distances of 10km and beyond, as well as groomimg others to organise and lead hikes.
And true to their intrepid spirit, the couple also professes a whimsical wish.. for Singapore “to build a mountain!” (And no, Bukit Timah doesn’t count!)
To find out more about DHSG, visit their Facebook page and apply to join the group (subject to its terms and conditions, and acceptance by the administrators). You can also check out the DHSG Instagram page: @deafhikingsg. All photos courtesy of DHSG, with thanks.
By Alvan Yap, Editorial Team, Signal