A Nobel Prize medal sits somewhere in his trophy room while the rest of the world goes about its business on the internet blissfully unaware of its nuts and bolts.
But if Sir Charles K. Kao appreciates anything more than the tools and laws of physics that earned him the sobriquet “grandfather of the internet” and “father of fiber optics”, it would have to be a painter’s brush and easel and an appropriate subject.
The latter has allowed him to regain use of his faculties and be reintroduced to daily life after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past 14 years.
“Since he started to paint two years ago, he has become happier and has been less irritable,” his wife Gwen said.
Kwong Miu-yee, a painter, has been Kao’s teacher for the past two years.
“He was not interested in painting at the beginning and he didn’t draw anything,” she said.
“But when I told him painting stimulates the brain and patiently encouraged him, he has been painting. I’ve seen a lot of changes and improvement.”
Kao loves to draw tools, animals and nature. Green and blue are his favorite colors.
Last year, on his wife’s 80th birthday, Kao drew her a birthday present and titled it “Birthday Present”.
Gwen said it’s her favorite painting.
None of this would have been possible several years ago at the height of Kao’s Alzheimer’s symptoms which included progressive memory loss, cognitive disability and deteriorating motor and language skills.
Since Kao took up painting, an increasingly popular alternative treatment for sufferers, his language skills have markedly improved, along with some of his mental and physical functions.
The change has been nothing less than dramatic.
On Nov. 4, on his 82nd birthday, Kao and Gwen attended a painting exhibition and shared their experiences of how brush and easel have changed their lives.
Kao spoke in complete sentences where he would previously struggle through a single word.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department is holding a solo exhibition featuring 32 of Kao’s works to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his Alzheimer’s foundation.
It’s a small gesture but for Kao and Gwen, it could be as important and meaningful as the 2009 Nobel ceremony where the Chinese American physicist was honored for his pioneering work on fiber optics that led to the internet as we know it today.
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