Chef Heman aka Ironman Chef, is multi-talented. He is first of all an accomplished restauranteur and author of three books, with another on its way. To add to the list, he is also a ceramic artist, with an upcoming solo exhibition, and a triathlete. One lesser known fact is that he is also dyslexic.
How did you first find out that you are dyslexic?
I was not as fortunate to have discovered that I am dyslexic during the early days. I found out only after my youngest son was diagnosed. After his diagnosis, I started tracing back some of the problems I faced when I was younger and found similarities with what my son is experiencing. Thereafter, I went for an assessment that confirmed my dyslexia.
What was going to school like for you?
It was very tough for me back then. As you know, dyslexics tend to learn more slowly and require more time to digest information. We are definitely not as fast as the normal kids. Especially in a classroom, most of the time teachers expect their students to be able to understand and grasp what was being taught quickly. But unfortunately, it does not work that way for us. We need a lot more enlightenment and guidance. Even today, although schools know more about dyslexia, how many teachers really have the patience to teach and guide our children?
What kind of psychological or emotional struggles did you have to deal with?
As I start to recall, I actually felt scared. I could not even complete and submit my homework properly. I would copy, cheat and do all sorts of funny things. Today, it would be even more scary. Why do I say that? We have google now and everything can be found online. If the students don’t know how to do their homework, they can google. But does that mean they understand what they’re learning?
During my time, the teachers were not as good or patient. They only knew that I’m stupid and that I don’t get it. I have had one Chinese teacher who took a blue tac, threw it at me and said, “你去死吧! 你这辈子会成功, 我的头砍下来给你.” (Translation: To hell with you! If you will ever be successful in life, I’ll give you my head). But today I’ve made it. One of the lessons I learnt is this, that even if you’re ahead of others, you do not need to be so proud of it. I was lagging behind then, but today, I’ve achieved something. I want to encourage all dyslexics that you can do better than the normal people, once you understand the ingredients properly. That’s the power of dyslexia.
What kind of help did you receive with your learning?
No help at all.
We know that dyslexics are very creative. How did you discover your passion for cooking, ceramic and sports?
All these were discovered over time. We are not born to be like that. Somebody asked me. They know that I’m a triathlete and wanted to know whether I was bothered if I was not amongst the top 10. I told them no. Not that I don’t have the fighting spirit. End of the day, I believe that somebody is born to be the top, 2nd, 3rd. We are all specially designed by God. If we know that, then we hold the design properly and do what is the best for ourselves.
You said you discovered your passion over time. Which one did you get into first?
Definitely cooking. It was what I got into first in my career. My dad and uncle are vegetable dealers. We supply vegetables to restaurants. That was when I was exposed to restaurant and cooking. I was very young then, about 12, 13 years old. Ceramic was when I was at the halfway house. I met Dr Ng who got me started.
Amazingly, all three categories help me along in my difficult journey. For example, when I take part in ironman races, it helps to make sure that I polish my skills properly because there is no short cut. Imagine having to swim 3.9km, cycle for 180km and finish off with a 42km run. When you’re preparing and training for the race, you need to figure out where you need to fine tune and do better at.
What advice would you give our parents to help them discover what their children are good at?
I would encourage parents to look at their children’s interests. I think at the end of the day, parents need to have patience and spend more time with their children. If you don’t, how do you know their talents? Busy parents like us work very long hours. I always ask parents why they want to have children. If it’s just to fulfill your obligations, then it is a little bit miserable. I think our children are our property. Not only our property, they are also Mother Nature’s property. We grow as a whole, we teach, we do it together, we learn. That is human kind. So spend time with them and find out what their interests are and from there, groom them.
Did you discover what your son is good at creatively?
Some gifts don’t come so fast. That’s why I say you need to take time to observe and let them develop. Because we change. Maybe at this point of time, we find that they’re very good in reading. But maybe in another five more years, they may be good in Science. While you know that they are good in reading, good in Science, I think you hold the 2 subjects back and along the way, you can continue to fine tune and see what is good.
I am a good example myself. Today, if my son is my kind of character, I would have a problem as a parent. Because I love cooking, ceramic art and sports, so what is my love? What is my specialization? I always tell people my specialization is all those. But unfortunately most of the time, the world wants a specialist. I think for dyslexics, you can’t just limit them to one area of creativity. So the answer is, we just need to have a little patience. Stay with them but along the way, they have to talk to people to fine tune and self-discover.
Is there someone in your life that plays a big part in influencing your outlook in life and belief that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to?
If you read my book, Dr Ng is one person who influences me a lot. He influenced me in ceramic art. If you know the whole entire art, first ceramic is 3D, not 2D. It involves a lot of techniques. Not just an art, art. You need to understand clay properly so that it will not dry up or crack along the way. You also need to learn how to fire properly, learn how to glaze and how to join. So the whole entire art teaches me, like what I said earlier on, that understanding the ingredients is very important.
Being a parent as well as someone with dyslexia, could you give our parents some advice on how to handle their children who are facing low self-esteem issues and are struggling academically?
I think the important thing is first, work with DAS. Let them help with certain techniques but along the way, while the help is in place, understanding your child and spending time with them is the other key thing. Don’t throw them aside. 不要让他们自生自灭 (Translation: don’t leave them to their own devices).
I don’t have a chance to really talk to the schools. The community is also important. They have to be more lenient to children with dyslexia.
I know that you were bullied as a kid. What would you say to these school bullies?
My classmates and the people around me thought that I was slow and stupid and that was why I was being bullied. But I changed my character and I became a bully myself. When I bullied back, it was because I was fed up, I wanted to defend myself. But that makes the entire world worse. That’s something I don’t encourage. But what I want to share is put in more love. The whole entire community needs to be more understanding of dyslexia.
Lastly, what words of encouragement would you give our dyslexic children?
The most important of all is understand yourself, polish your strength and build up your weakness. Do your best and be your best, regardless of how little you can contribute.
Professional services described as Davis™, including Davis™ Dyslexia Correction, Davis™ Symbol Mastery, Davis™ Orientation Counseling, Davis™ Attention Mastery, Davis™ Math Mastery, and Davis™ Reading Program for Young Learners may only be provided by persons who are trained and licensed as Davis Facilitators or Specialists by Davis Dyslexia Association International.