Seeing the light in the dark

WHAT would happen if you went blind? It is something a lot of us do not think about because we often take our eyesight for granted.

Here is what you can do — try being blindfolded for an hour during the day and go about your usual business, except driving or handling machinery, of course! Scary, disorienting and nerve-racking isn’t it?

Now imagine a visually-impaired person leading you around a room while you are blinfolded. Well, that is what I experienced last weekend at the Dialogue In The Dark exhibition in PJ Live Arts.

Co-founded by Stevens Chan and his wife, Kaye, Dialogue in the Dark is an experience where one’s senses such as touch, smell, taste and hearing are heightened to compensate for the complete loss of sight.

However, instead of being blindfolded, we were led into a completely darkened theatre and given walking canes to experience being sightless for an hour.

My sense of foreboding came over me as I gingerly made my way into the darkened room, only because I really didn’t want to trip and fall on my face. Luckily, the competent guides and facilitators put us at ease with their vocal navigation.

“Just reach out and hold on to the wall on the left,” said a voice.

I felt a hand on my arm and heard someone say, “Hi, I am Zul. We are walking towards a table now.”

Zul, who was one of the visually impaired guides was calm and collected while my free arm was flailing in front of me, trying to feel anything in my way.

The first part of the exhibition had us testing our sense of smell by identifying objects in a basket of fruits and vegetables. With five of us at the table, we each took a stab at it. We passed with flying colours by correctly guessing tomato, grapefruit and cabbage as well as two others.

The next challenge tested our sense of taste. A plate of tidbits was placed on the table but before we could sample it, Zul asked if I was the writer and told me to write down what each group member had tasted.

After that, I can safely add writing in the dark to my resume as a new “skill”.

My equally “blind” friends each described their mystery morsel as I took notes.

Next, we had to identify sounds. After the familiar sounds of a fizzy drink being poured, a modem dial-up tone and a heartbeat, everything went quiet.

“Sorry, we are having some technical difficulties... the sound of silence is not a sound,” said guide Boey Lai Kwan to much laughter.

In the meantime, our sense of touch was put to the test. We were supposed to assemble a wooden train track. Eight-year-old Eugene, who was at my table with his mother Angie, was such a trooper, connecting the tracks and cracking jokes to everyone’s delight.

“After connecting the tracks, you need to assemble the trains as well,” said Zul, whose full name is Zulkarnain Abu Bakar.

I discovered that my other senses were heightened to compensate for the fact that I couldn’t see anything and people seemed to talk louder.

“This is very frustrating,” said one of them, followed by “Are we finished?”

After 15 minutes, we managed to assemble a circular train track, with the trains arranged correctly.

Dialogue In The Dark was created by Professor Andreas Heinecke from Germany in the 1980s after a colleague lost his eyesight in an accident.

Chan, 50, who lost his sight to glaucoma at the age of 45, said Dialogue In The Dark was something new in Malaysia, comprising exhibition and corporate team-building workshops.

“The funds we earn from Dialogue In The Dark help us to sustain the non-profit SOSM, which creates awareness about vision disabilities and organises community eye-health screenings in Malaysia,” said Chan, who used to work as a business consultant.

He added that their initiatives helped the visually impaired experience different career paths instead of being just masseuses, masseurs or telephone operators.

They also organise Cafe in the Dark at shopping centres where people can step into a black box for 20 minutes to have coffee and chat.

“It is something fun and a message to people not to take their eyesight for granted,” he said, adding that the next venue would be Sunway Pyramid sometime this month.

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