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Blind traveler shares stories of world travel

2019/02/17 19:10:18

Chen Nan-ting (陳南廷)

Taipei, Feb. 17 (CNA) Chen Nan-ting (陳南廷) lost her eyesight as a child but has not let that stop her traveling, having already visited America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

Over the past four years Chen, now in her 50s, has experienced the places she visits by walking, biking and running.

She has run marathons in Hawaii and on Taiwan's Kinmen and Matsu islands, rode a tandem in Japan's Miyazaki Prefecture and her latest adventure was a four-day 100km "sightseeing" walk in Taitung County in December 2018, Chen said in an interview with CNA on Sunday.

People often ask her why she spends her money on traveling and how she can enjoy it being blind, Chen said.

She tells them that despite her inability to see, she can still "feel the atmosphere of places through touch, smell and hearing."

Chen also served as a living book at the Human Library set up by the Taipei-based League for Persons with Disabilities at the six-day 2019 Taipei International Book Exhibition, which ended on Sunday.

Chen fell sick with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) at the age of nine and was left completely blind within a year.

However, her parents and sisters did not treat her as vision-impaired, Chen said, recalling that she attended normal elementary and high schools and was required to help with household chores.

"My parents' other gift to me was taking me traveling."

Such experiences allowed her to "explore" the world and satisfy her curiosity, she said. "Even though I am blind, as long as I make my way forward bravely, I can do anything a sighted person can do."

Someone once suggested she save her money and instead listen to travel programs on television, but "it is not real travel if you can’t feel it," Chen said.

When jogging, Chen is accompanied by a sighted escort who describes the landscape of the places they run past. At such moments she has an image in her mind, can smell the breeze on her face and feel the warmth of the sunshine.

"Different places smell differently," Chen said as she explains how she "sees" the places she visits.

Chen sometimes records special sounds in certain places, such as people celebrating local festivals, and can feel the road surface when running marathons in unfamiliar locations. She has also "tasted" and "smelled" Europe by touring wineries and perfume factories and rode a camel in the desert in Mongolia, she said.

Chen also collects models of popular tourist attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, so that she can "see them by touch."

"Adventures make life enjoyable. A sense of sight is not necessary for travel; there are also the senses of touch, smell, taste and hearing," Chen says like the courageous explorer she is.

(By Chen Wei-ting and Elizabeth Hsu)