Fighting for acceptance ? Ping Yali and Lucky.
Photo: Bernardo de Niz
LUCKY, China's first seeing-eye dog who was trained with Australian help, is finding life in Beijing a trifle bureaucratic.
His new owner, Ping Yali, China's first Paralympic gold medallist, is thrilled with the golden retriever, who has graduated from the country's first guide dog training centre, but the pair are finding it difficult to be seen in public.
Ms Ping, who owns three massage clinics staffed by blind masseurs, has been told by the Beijing Municipal Government and local police that she cannot register Lucky because of his size.
Big dogs are banned in the capital and all dogs are banned from entering public places such as subways and buses.
Under a nonsensical police compromise, Ms Ping, 44, is now allowed to take Lucky out of her flat if they are accompanied by an able-bodied person.
Lack of understanding is not restricted to the Government. Ms Ping, who is sponsored by BHP Billiton as one of its athletic ambassadors for the Beijing Games, was to be a guest at last month's Australia Day ball, along with the former Australian Olympians Ian Thorpe and Raelene Boyle. Ms Ping wanted to take the dog with her to the ball but despite lobbying by BHP, which is the "medals and minerals" sponsor for the Olympics and Paralympics, the venue, the Shangri-La's China World Hotel, would not budge.
Ms Ping, who has also been chosen as a torchbearer for the Games, hopes to run the relay with Lucky, but is again awaiting approval from Olympic officials.
For now Ms Ping flouts the rules when she can. Her favourite times are when she and Lucky can walk to a destination, such as the massage clinic closest to her home in West Beijing, without the hassle of trying to talk their way into a bus, subway or taxi. During their first walk, Lucky helped guide her down some stairs, one of the more difficult tasks she faces. "I almost burst into tears at that moment."
As a teenager Ms Ping studied at a massage school for the blind. At the same time she was a natural athlete. "As a young girl without any pressure from making a living, my passion was on the field and track. I treasured sport more than study, this is how an athlete came into being," she said.
When she graduating in the early 1970s, the government assigned her to a factory for disabled people. In the early '80s as China began embracing market reforms, Ms Ping started dreaming of giving up the repetitive factory job and setting up her own business.
"There were quite a lot of handicapped-friendly policies at the time. If you set up a massage parlour, you could get free massage beds and if you wanted to study more, the state would pay to send you to schools for further study and if you wanted to start a business, the government would lend you up to 6000 yuan ($920)," she said.
In 1999 she started her business from home and after winning a national television competition against another 49 would-be entrepreneurs, she had 80,000 yuan to expand. Ms Ping promptly lost half the prizemoney when she opened her second clinic in a poor location. "Massage beds were piled in my house and I felt so irritated but after reasoning out the failure, I started a third business and ? I am able to pay for my son's college tuition by myself."
Ms Ping first learnt about guide dogs when she was in New York for the Paralympics. "I noticed athletes from Germany, England and the US taking golden [coloured] dogs to get on and off buses. It has taken China more than 20 years to get its first guide dogs.
"In the 1980s people felt great pity when they saw a disabled person and believed that as long as they had food to eat, that was enough. But now there is greater acceptance that both abled and disabled people live under the same blue sky and should enjoy the same rights."
In the past the medals for Paralympians were of an inferior quality to the ones given to Olympians but BHP Billiton has ensured the medals for the Beijing Games are the same quality.