Returning from her vacation, my teacher had not only given my hands an
unforgettable aesthetic treat, but also
aroused in me a lasting curiosity for things unknown. Capturing the essence of
her task, she had created in me a wondrous will to observe, an encouragement to
wonder and an environment in which to ask genuine scientific questions.
awakened, my curiosity knew no bounds. Picking seashells along the Tunnels
Beach, I longed to know their names and the habits of the animals that built
them. Legend has it that the puka shell-necklace craze began here in the 1960s.
Miss Alohi willingly parted with some of her prized possessions and my
classmates bought me souvenirs of the sea from their oversea trips. By the
following year, the beginnings of my collection in decorated shoe boxes expanded
when my father decided to purchase a showcase to store my little friends and
notes about them.
Kono enthusiastically read aloud books and Internet articles
since the existing Braille books in libraries were wholly inadequate. While he
read, I transcribed names of places, descriptions of shores and facts about sea
life. Kono illustrated my notes, filling page after page with faithful Braille
renderings of sea weeds, jellyfish, crabs, shells and fishes. With this
extraordinary dedication, my family broke the information barrier by making
available to me the full richness of the print media.
My obsession was often
likened to any boy's fanciful dream of
becoming an astronaut or lawyer. My parents knew their handicapped boy would,
sooner or later, settle on a career consistent with his limitations. Yet, I
received only unanimous and unreserved encouragement as I made my way through
school and managed to succeed as an undergraduate at Princeton University.
was intent on pursuing doctoral studies in marine biology and oceanography. The
Australian National University was my preferred choice as I learnt that
researchers there were doing exciting work on clams. Convinced that only through
face-to-face meetings could the varsity judge me adequately, I
requested for interviews as a selection criteria.
The Director of Graduate Studies at the Biology Department had an air of
benevolent authority but his skepticism was palpable. Handing me a shell
specimen from the university museum, he graciously asked, "Do you know what this
is ?" My fingers and mind raced a I felt the wide and glossy ribs and
confidently stated, "Harpa major". Another shell passed hands. "Channeled
suture, narrow opening. It's oliva sayana," I declared. The Director was
He had planned the little exercise to test my capabilities. Now
that I had passed, he underwent an instant metamorphosis. Full of enthusiasm, he
promised me his support and I left, knowing that my acceptance was assured.