At 13, Wang Hsiang-ming (王向銘) is like most boys his age who enjoy outdoor pursuits. With his father at his side, he appears to have no problem keeping pace as they walk along the Jiantan Mountain (劍潭山) hiking trail in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) on a Sunday afternoon.
Wang takes each step in a calm and confident manner and without an ounce of hesitation. Few people would ever notice anything different about him, were it not for the fact that he was holding on tight to his father’s hand and the sound of his father occasionally warning him to watch his steps.
Wang has been blind almost from birth, but this has not stopped him from pursuing his love — hiking.
“I went hiking for the first time when I was a kindergartener. Because I had just learned how to count from one to 1,000 at the time, I figured it would be fun to count the number of steps I took to get to the top,” he said.
Wang said he enjoys hiking so much he completed all 20 hiking trails in Taipei when he was just 11, although he cannot see the breathtaking mountain views at the top.
He still remembers his first hiking trip and the number of steps needed to finish each of the 20 trails.
“Whenever I met people who were only halfway up the steps and were too tired to continue, I would cheer them up by telling them the exact number of steps left before they could reach the summit,” Wang said.
Wang added that his lifelong dream was to climb to the top of Yushan (玉山).
Wang was diagnosed with optic atrophy when he was only four months old. His mother took him to the doctor after discovering that he was unresponsive whenever she tried to hand over a toy to him.
Wang is virtually blind except for some light perception, said his father, Wang Shang-chih (王尚智), adding that the cause for his condition remains unknown.
“My wife had a really hard time accepting the diagnosis and suffered from depression. It was not until my son began talking when he was two years old that she came to accept the reality,” Wang Shang-chih said.
Wang Hsiang-ming also had great difficulty adjusting to his visual problem.
He once burst into tears in the middle of an exam after struggling to read Braille with his fingers. His visual disability also made him the target of ridicule by some schoolmates, who called him “blind man” or “moron.”
Despite the learning barriers and verbal humiliation, Wang managed to complete his primary education while pursing an unlikely hobby — photography.
“Before I took a photography course at school, I did not understand the meaning of photography, nor did I want to be photographed,” Wang said.
Wang said he was inspired by a Korean exhibition showcasing works by visually impaired photographers.
“I said to myself: ‘If others can do it, so can I,’” Wang said.
Wang said before taking a picture, he would first ask his father to describe the view his camera is pointing at and then press the shutter himself.
Wang Shang-chih said he discovered his son’s aptitude for hiking during a family trip to Jiaoban Mountain (角板山) in Taoyuan County seven years ago.
“At the time, most of us were too tired to continue after walking about a quarter of the trail, except for Hsiang-ming, so I had no choice but to keep walking with him until we reached the end of the trail,” the father said.
Five years ago, Wang Shang-chih took his son to climb the 508m-high Taipei 101. Accompanied by a security officer, the pair made it to the 91st floor of the skyscraper, the highest floor that is open to the public.