Just one week before we left for Hong Kong Nick and I were having one of our nightly debates/discussions. The question was: Which sense would you LEAST like to lose? I insisted that sight would be the worst while Nick maintained that touch would be unbearable. The debate raged on over several days and surprisingly, when I was putting together the itinerary for the trip a few days later, I came across an exhibit called “Dialogue in the Dark“. Upon further research I learned that it was a 90 minute guided tour in which one had a chance to experience 5 different scenes as a blind person would. I booked tickets immediately thinking, “What a perfect way to put an end to our debate!”
We arrived at the exhibit somewhat nervous, not 100% sure what we were getting ourselves into. We were asked to stow our cell phones, watches and eye glasses in a locker and gather near the door. We were then given a walking stick to help us guide our way in the dark (it looked just like the one above). And then it was time…. we were escorted inside into complete and absolute darkness where we met our guide Julian, who happened to be blind himself.
Sit we did not. This was an active 90 minutes, full of navigating common scenes that a blind person encounters on a frequent basis. We explored a park and a home, crossed a busy street, ordered drinks in a cafe and even boarded a ferry. It was absolutely fascinating to navigate these basic scenarios and see how challenging they became when sight was taken away.
At first I noticed that I was very uncomfortable and kept worrying about being in other’s personal space as I bumped into person after person (there were 8 of us + Julian). I kept trying to see, resisting the urge to play the game ‘for real’. After some time I reconciled myself to the fact that I was going to spend the next 90 minutes in the dark and my other senses began overcompensating for the loss of sight.
One of the highlights for me was ordering in a cafe. We had a choice of 10 things and had to give actual HK$ to the blind barista who then made change and got us our drinks and cookies. Can you imagine making change in the dark? It was baffling! Honestly, eating in the dark was way more fun. I noticed that I savored the tastes more completely and ate much slower than I usually do. Might just have to do that more often…
Our guide Julian was incredibly patient, helping us navigate when we had gotten ourselves stuck in a corner. I started to get the hang of the walking stick after awhile too and was amazed at what a valuable tool it was. What was most fascinating to me about the experience was that I noticed my whole body downshift into this calm, peaceful place. I was totally and completely present in the moment, something I rarely am able to achieve! I imagine it had something to do with the lack of visual stimulus, which allowed my over-active brain to shut down and experience the world in other ways. I thought it would be a very sad existence, but actually it was quite the opposite. In fact, I was amazed at how quickly our bodies are able to adapt in a situation like that.
It was an incredible experience and I highly encourage you to check out the exhibit if you’re going to Hong Kong in the next few months. Those 90 minutes will forever alter your view of what it means to live as a visually impaired person!