Tag Archive | "cooler than you"

First person named Cooler Than You in 2013

First person named Cooler Than You in 2013

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Cassandra Chiu shows you how to unlock your achievement one at a time.

Cassandra Chiu and Esme, her guide dog.

This is Cassandra Chiu. She has trouble seeing. And that is her guide dog Esme.

But that hasn’t stopped her from unlocking her achievement: A Master of Science degree in Professional Counselling.

And today, she is 33 years old and she is a psychotherapist.

But it has been a long journey.

Genetic condition

Her troubles began when she was 7 years old. In Primary 1, she couldn’t copy notes off the blackboard. And as she couldn’t judge distance, she broke her arm when she fell off a chair while spring cleaning in class.

Doctors diagnosed her with Stargardt’s disease, a genetic condition that eventually causes blindness.


She was teased in school. Cassandra said: “Probably ‘blind’ was the kindest word they used … They would say, ‘When you grow up and marry, you won’t even know if your husband brings another woman home. Then again, you probably won’t be able to get married.'”

A swimmer, nonetheless

She picked up competitive swimming in Primary 4.

But after she failed Primary 4, her mum wanted to enrol her in a school for the blind. Cassandra refused.

She said: “I wouldn’t be seen by the neighbours going up the school bus that says ‘Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped’ (SSVH).”

She transferred, instead, to the extended stream at another primary school.

Qualified for Express stream after PSLE

At 14, she eventually enrolled at the SSVH. But refused to use the white cane she was given. She did not learn braille, instead relying on audio aids.

When she finally took her PSLE, her scores qualified her for the Express stream at Dunearn Secondary, but her vision had deteriorated to the point that she only saw people as blurred shadows.

Unable to see well, what did she do? She picked up bowling and joined the school team.

Qualified for polytechnic engineering courses

Susequently, she took her O-Levels. Questions were recorded on audio tape and she dictated her answers to a resource teacher who typed them out.

She qualified for engineering-related courses at the polytechnics.

However, she was unable to do those courses. She said: “… engineering was a job I would never be able to perform. It’s just like asking a blind person to be (a) surgeon, it’s not possible.”

Instead, she worked as a secretary at an insurance firm where her cousin worked and paid S$10 a day.

Only to find out one day that it was her mother who had been paying her salary.


So she turned to singing. Having sung in a kids’ choir before, she obtained a licence from the National Arts Council in 2000.

For the next nine years, she busked at places like Raffles Place and Orchard Road. She made S$1,500 to S$2,000 a month.

Got married

In 2001, Cassandra got married. She met the man who would be her husband five years earlier at the Independent Society of the Blind. They had their first child, Katy, in 2006 and, two years later, having amassed enough savings, she pursued her degree.

She applied to several universities but, was declined.

Went to university anyways

Finally, the Melbourne-based Swinburne University of Technology said it was willing to give it a try despite its lack of experience with blind students.

She would scan her school notes, textbooks and research material into her computer using specialised software, and a book-reader would read them back to her.

In her final year, she took a job as a full-time counsellor with a company providing counselling services to prisoners. She quit after four months – denied a pass to get into the prisons, she had found herself doing office paperwork instead of counselling.


Finally, unable to get suitable work in her field of study, Ms Chiu set up The Safe Harbour in October 2011 with a classmate – it provides counselling on marital and child behavioural issues.

She also set up The New Perspective in May last year to break new ground with holistic rehabilitation services for the blind in Singapore.

And her doggy?

In 2010, Ms Cassandra Chiu applied to the Guide Dog Association for the Blind for a guide dog

She also flew to Melbourne to train with Esme, a two-year-old trained Labrador, for a month. While Esme functions as Ms Chiu’s eyes in Singapore, not everyone welcomes the duo.

She was turned away from a restaurant even after showing them a letter from the National Environment Agency.

Some places are welcoming of guide dogs, though, like the Regent Hotel, CapitaMalls and Frasers Centrepoint Malls.

“I can go to malls like Ion Orchard, Lucky Plaza, Plaza Singapura… They are understanding enough (and) I am grateful,” Cassandra said.

All words stolen from here.

50-year-old woman to trek 250km as birthday present

50-year-old woman to trek 250km as birthday present

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Marathon runners eat your heart out. In this edition of Cooler than You, we find an endorphin addict who’s running across the Himalayas for fun and for charity.

A visual guesstimation of Mika's stature: Lolface is 170cm tall.

“I like pain”, the sweet woman said with a tiny grin on her face.

Ah, don’t we all…

But while the rest of us mortals stay content with the whip-and-handcuff variety, she takes self inflicted, enjoyable pain to a whole new level.

Mika Kume, a pint sized accountant hailing from Japan, has just turned 50. Not content with the usual loud party with a hundred-strong guest list, she decided that running 250km in Nepal would be a more memorable birthday bash.

And it’s not just any old 250km. Come Nov. 20, Mika will be on her way up the Himalayas for a week, braving altitude sickness and zero degree temperatures. The race has a total elevation gain of 9,000m and she will be fighting 1,500m of gravity every single day.

But of course she’s not running the full distance. That would be insane….. for a triathlon champion with an existing calf injury. So she’ll be trekking instead; 40km each day – against doctor’s orders.

In any case, it’s not as if she’s any stranger to extreme endurance sports. Marathon runners eat your heart out – aside from her usual doses of triathlons and ultramarathons, Mika completed the 2009 Sahara Desert Race ( also 250km), and was the 2nd woman to cross the finishing line.

Endorphin addiction notwithstanding,┬áMika will be using this race as an opportunity to raise money for the victims of the March quake in her native Japan. She’s pledged 1,500 pounds, to be raised on this website.

NewNation.sg‘s not getting a cut of the donations that she’s pledged. We’re only doing this because she’s insane and cool beyond belief.

Cooler than you.

Follow her progress in the official event site here.

Donate to help victims of the Japanese quake here.

New series: Cooler than you

New series: Cooler than you

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NewNation.sg is on a quest to find the coolest people in Singapore.


Cool as a cat. Photo: Eptin

Too often, Singaporeans bash themselves on the head and grumble about how the country is full of boring conformists.

We’re never good enough in our own eyes, it seems.

Cooler than You, a new series of human interest stories we’re debuting, is an effort to prove them wrong.

Yes, there may be plenty of no-life complainers around, but there are also those who are making a difference. Read the full story