The ‘Dining in the Dark’ experience is organized by the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), as a form of raising awareness about the challenges that persons with vision impairment face in their daily activities. A sighted person can also get to experience what it is like to be blind without the use of blindfolds. – Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped
I can’t remember when/how I first heard about this, but I’ve always been interested in going for it. However, I could never find enough people interested to make a reservation… hence as soon as I saw the event being organized by the Meetup group Make A Friend Gift A Smile, I RSVP-ed immediately.
The group gathered @ the SAVH and after a short briefing of what is to come, we were led upstairs to a relatively dark ‘waiting area’, where we could leave our bags, before entering the dining room. With the limited light in the ‘waiting room’, some already had slight difficulty finding a place to put their belongings. Diners were led into the dining area behind a curtain in 3s by our visually impaired servers. We were told to put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, and follow slowly & tightly. As we waited for our turn to be guided into the pitch black dining area, I could sense people starting to get nervous. I was pretty apprehensive too. I wonder how I was gonna eat w/o being able to see, and I wonder if the darkness will cause my claustrophobia to kick in. I mean, logically, it shouldn’t kick in, but with my sense of sight being suppressed, I wonder if it would feel as if I’m in a confined place (i.e. a broken down lift / a locked closet) and trigger the same panicky sensation of being trapped.
Soon it was my turn.
Stepping into the room behind the curtain felt like entering into another world. Yes, it was TOTAL darkness. Within seconds, a feeling of helplessness started to creep in. That feeling was magnified when I was told to let go of the person in front of me and wait to be led to my seat. For that short time, I was alone. I didn’t know how the room I was in looked, I didn’t know what was around me. All I knew, that I was not alone as I could hear people chattering. The server for my table is a lovely girl called Ratu (am unsure if this is the right spelling). She is petite, slightly shorter & skinner than I am and very smiley. I got to my table unscathed thanks to her guidance, and felt around to identify the cutlery set in front of me, trying to remember what was briefed earlier. I recognised the soup spoon, knife & fork alright. Found my glass, serviette & dessert spoon too. By then, I was starting to get used to the darkness. It was still kinda disorienting, but I soon found that the simple act of closing my eyes brought some comfort… probably cos my brain recognizes that it’s normal for me to not see anything with my eyes shut, hence quelling the helplessness.
First challenge for us, sighted diners, was pouring our own drink. GG eh? 2 jugs were passed around. We were told that the one with flattish sides was the water jug and the one that feels roundish is the juice jug. To ensure that we don’t over-pour our drinks, we were taught to stick one finger into the glass and pour slowly till the liquid level touches our finger. Well… as I felt that sticking my finger into my drink was kinda gross, all I did was estimate the amount I poured via the weight of the glass. I think I ended up with like a glass that is two thirds full. LOL not too bad. Yum, orange juice with pulp!
Shortly, the first course was served – the soup. We approached by the server one by one, and instructed to place our hands on the space in front of us, palms facing up to receive the bowl/plate which we will then place on the table ourselves. The soup bowl was warm. Keeping one hand on the bowl, I felt for the soup soon in the darkness, dipped it into the bowl & tried to take a sip. Trust me, feeding yourself in the darkness wasn’t easy, but the body adapts and soon I got the hang of it. Gotta admit though, was drinking so slowly that I was contemplating just drinking off the bowl directly LOL I don’t know if it’s due to the darkness sharpening my sense of taste, or was it cos of the sense of satisfaction I felt when I manged to feed myself… the soup tasted great! We later found out that the soup was actually cooked in their own kitchen, by the visually impaired. Wow, respect! \(^_^)/
Next up, was the most difficult part, the main dish. k, we were actually already told what the item was by people who have dined there before, so we knew what to expect & had a mental picture of what it was. I can only imagine how much harder it is not knowing at all what was on the plate in front of me. Via the cutlery, of cos it’s gonna be a piece of meat… and since it’s halal dining, it isn’t gonna be pork chop. So what is left? lol ~ go figure. The meat came with sides of mashed potato & coleslaw. Cutting the meat in the darkness was @_@ lol and the most difficult part was as w/o being able to see, there is no way to know whether I’ve finished the food or not. It may feel like it’s finished, but eh there might be like a huge slab of meat on part of the plate that I totally missed!
Then came the dessert. A scoop of ice cream. k, that wasn’t too hard – I kinda cheated by putting my mouth @ the tip of the ice cream cup & just spooning it in. Hated not knowing what I was given to eat, being the picky person I am. kk, it was chocolate ice cream. I’d have preferred strawberry, and in normal circumstances, wouldn’t eat chocolate ice cream but since it was for the experience, I did. Thankfully it wasn’t vanilla – I would have pushed that aside LOL After the dessert, we were served our beverage – a choice of coffee or tea. I went with tea, and since I don’t generally put creamer nor sugar into my tea, I didn’t have to fumble with that part o(^^,)o
After ensuring that everyone is done with their dessert & started on their hot beverage, the lights were turned on. Finally we could see the mess we made / did not make, and the state of our dinner plate. This is mine…
Hey, I didn’t do too badly, did I?
Post-dinner, we had a short Q&A session with our servers, Ratu & Ramand (once again, not too sure about the spelling) who took the other table. We learned more about how the blind are trained to be independent, how they study, how they get around and most importantly, about some of the misconceptions that us, the visually able, have of them.
In order to be able to go to a certain place, the blind have to be trained for weeks… months. They memorize certain specific landmarks on their route (i.e. a slope, a certain no. of steps, a pole… etc.) and have a mental map of the place in their mind. This is something we don’t do as we can see – we might walk the same way to the bus stop every morning, but we don’t take a precise route. They do. Hence at times, they decline help from us to get to a certain place. By helping them, we actually might cause confusion as we bring them on a route unfamiliar to them, bypassing their landmarks. That doesn’t mean we should cease to offer help though. That just means that we should not get offended should our offer to help is turned down.
The same applies to when offering a seat on the MRT to the blind. We should offer, but we should not get mad if they decline. They might prefer to remain standing in the position that they are familiar with, that they are trained to remember, as vs sitting somewhere they might not have sat before. Yeah… it’s easy for us, we can see the door. They can’t. This, we have to remember.
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Reflections. I’m totally humbled by this experience. The relief I felt when the lights came back on was omg… I could see again. Then I think about how those who are blind – they will never have that feeling of relief. They will never SEE anything. I feel sorry for them. I know I shouldn’t, as they are productive people leading inspirational lives, they face challenges everyday and they overcome it… for that, they have already accomplished more than I ever did… and it kinda makes my problems feel really really small. Being ‘blind’ for like an hour & the half made once again reminded me how lucky I am to have all my senses intact. I am grateful that I’m able to do the things I’m able to do. Without my sight, I would never be able to play video games, do cross-stitch, hike, run… etc. etc. Gotta remind myself how frigging lucky I am, to wake up every morning, open my eyes, reach for my phone and see the display to turn off the annoying alarm. I’m gonna try to remember, to be thankful every single day that I live. For every single day that I can see, hear, touch, taste, walk… and do everything that I’ve taken for granted.
And as I am typing this, I can’t help thinking… who is the one who has been truly blind all this while?