Dine In the Dark 2015: Food for Thought

by Tasharani Palani (16S03P), and Trudy Chak (16S03D)

Photos by Raffles Interact, and Bryan Goh (16A13A)

“Good luck, and don’t get lost!”

The usher at the door chirped before we plunged into almost-swallowing darkness. I could barely make out the faint outlines of bulky banners surrounding the entranceway. Well, how bad could it be?

Once the door had shut, we were plunged into swallowing darkness. Even more, we were sent into complete disorientation. The mild buzz and hullabaloo within the hall mirrored that of turmoil, all in a dither. Faint yet shrill rings of traffic light beeping, high-pitched jingles and clanging of tambourines and bells all clamoured for attention. Is this confusing mess what the blind deal with everyday? How do they garner the patience and strength to handle such stress and disorientation over and over again?

With the lives of a human train of eight participants as my responsibility, I walked and groped around in the pitch-blackness, trepidation and mild excitement overlapped each other at the back of my mind. What if I fell? Would everyone come tumbling behind me and end up in a massive heap of impossible-to-disentangle flailing limbs?  How could I make sure everyone- a jolting pain smothered my face– I had hit a wall.

Confusion erupted behind me, a chain reaction resulting from my vocal yelp and jerky halt. From then on, prioritizing the safety and well-being for my diners became my sole mission for the night. Get them to the table. Actually get each of them on the seats. Get them talking. Get them food, drinks, ice cream, second-helpings, tissue, anything and everything. Get them to the washroom. Get them back safely. Satisfy all the needs, and prioritize their well-being above all else.

Behind the scenes, the set-up in Albert Hong Hall just before the arrival of the diners.

Behind the scenes, the set-up in Albert Hong Hall just before the arrival of the diners.

It’s interesting to look behind the scenes of Dine In The Dark such as the above described ushering experience and wonder how the entire event was pulled off in pitch-black darkness. “How on earth did they manage to make the hall completely dark?”, “How do they even find their way around?” and other murmurings along those lines were common questions overheard from the diners throughout the event. For all they knew, maybe each one of us Interactors wielded Deluminators. In particular, the self-assembled obstacle course segment, In Their Shoes, raised a lot of buzz amongst diners.

The obstacle course was designed with the idea of experiencing walking in the shoes of the visually handicapped on a daily basis in mind, incorporating activities such as crossing a road and using tactile paving for guidance. In the words of the Organizing Team, they “wanted to simulate how bewildering it is to navigate in a crowd of noise and people without sight.” It clearly served its purpose well though. During the event dry-runs, us Interactors realised that even with practice and familiarity, it doesn’t get any easier. What more for first-time diners? A J1 diner mentioned that she found it difficult “because I really couldn’t navigate my way through” and “felt vulnerable and helpless”, and finally came to the conclusion that “sometimes as normal people, we can’t really empathize with the blind so I felt that really was an eye-opener for me”.

To add on to that sentiment, most are unaware that the term ‘visually impaired’ doesn’t necessarily mean being completely blind. Most of the visually handicapped suffer from eye conditions that still allow them to see, albeit partially. As a result, they require costly visual aids and do face a fair amount of stigma in society for not being ‘truly’ blind. The hugely insightful sharings by Mr Leow and Ms Christina, who are both representatives from SAVH, gave both Interactors and diners a deeper perspective of how a visually impaired person’s daily life is like and any challenges they may face. The Q&A session in particular received quite a few laughs especially when we heard about Ms Christina’s encounter with a stranger off the streets of New York. However, I was most struck by Mr Leow’s empowering sharing that while he may have lost his sight, he didn’t lose his vision. It gave me renewed respect for the visually impaired and reminded me that they too have their own hopes and dreams in spite of the huge challenge they face.

Following that, the presentation of audio-described movies Up, and The Avengers, was a unique highlight of the event which added another dimension to the experience for diners. It allowed them to further better understand the lives of the blind via experiencing first-hand how audio description is capable of making visual media such as theatre, cinema, and television, more accessible for the blind and partially sighted people. For the curious, audio description is a form of narration that involves a narrator describing happenings on screen during natural pauses in the audio, or otherwise, for those who may have difficulty seeing what goes on on screen.

With a creative twist, the programme continued on with wittily-named games such as ‘Blind-Fold’, where all diners were unknowingly tasked with folding origami hearts and paper planes, ‘Private Eye’, where during dinner, diners were encouraged to take a stab and pen down their guesses about the enigmatic mystery dishes. In addition to that, the lottery ‘Spot On!’ had diners scrambling for their tickets in an attempt to decipher what their numbers were. The lucky numbers were printed in Braille lettering onto diners’ official tickets, an innovative addition to the concept behind the event as a whole, which aspired to provided diners with more insights into the lives of the blind.

Throughout the night, there was a general feel-good buzz in the atmosphere and a distinct energy pulsing in the hall. Perhaps it was the good music that brought it about, thanks to the astounding musical talent performing, with the likes of Ampersand, Triumviratus, and our very own Interact Band taking to the stage with upbeat crowd pleasers. Ampersand ignited the good vibes for the night with a soul-searching rendition of Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men. Across the afternoon and evening, Take One took us back to the instrumental basics for both lunch and dinner, performing their creative takes on various songs such as Somewhere Beyond The Sea by Frank Sinatra and Oppa Gangnam Style by PSY, as well many others between lunch and dinner.

From the Faith Music Centre, we had the pleasure of hosting Cactus Rose and the Visually Impaired Band (VIB), both of which gave outstanding performances. Notably, one of the performers in the VIB hit the ripe old age of seventy-three this year, yet he still continues to perform with gusto and delight.

Possibly the brightest part of the event was right before it ended, diners were told about the hidden light sticks under their chairs and pulled them out just as the Interact Band burst into a rousing performance of See You Again. Amidst good music and a glowing sea of lights, Raffles Interact had its first Dine In The Dark photo!

However, due credit must be given to our esteemed seniors who ensured that the event went along smoothly without a hitch. We asked Vint Seng (15S03H), one of the OT members, about his experience and speaking on behalf of the OT, he shared that, “For this year, we wanted to go back to DITD’s roots; it was always meant to illuminate a world of darkness so we can see the light that is the courage of the visually handicapped.” Judy Hong Ruilan (15S03R) noted that “When we were conceptualising the experience for 2015, we wanted it to be more than just the food or the performances; We wanted to showcase the strength and the talents of the visually handicapped. We hope that DITD provided some “Food for Thought”, and motivated diners to act in whatever capacity they can- be it by donating, volunteering, or offering help to any of the visually handicapped who cross their paths.”

The J2 Organizing Team at DITD! (Not pictured: Abraham Lee, Gabrielle Ong, Goh Yiling, Joyce Lee, Kathleen Ng, Megan John, Nadia Nasuha, Nicholas Tan)

The J2 Organizing Team at DITD! (Not pictured: Abraham Lee, Gabrielle Ong, Goh Yiling, Joyce Lee, Kathleen Ng, Megan John, Nadia Nasuha, Nicholas Tan)

The unanimous echoed sentiment of an eye-opening, enlightening and extremely meaningful experience was evident we asked diners about their experiences. If any indication of the event’s success, people have mentioned that it really lent greater awareness as to how the visually impaired feel and how they now have added respect for their independence and even greater appreciation for sight.

To quote Tan Kai Wei Felix (15S03U), he mentioned that he “definitely got a better idea of what it is like being completely blind and the difficulties that they face.” Jia Wei (16S03O), another J1 diner noted that “there are many things that we take for granted but should actually be thankful for”.  Along the same lines, a few J1 Interactors reaffirmed the hope for diners to be able to “now empathize a bit more with the visually impaired”. Apart from all the fun and games, they wished for diners to “realize just how hard it is to be visually handicapped, so that they may cherish their vision more.”

Personally, as an Interactor, the entire experience raised an extensive number of questions and provided a thought-provoking range of insights into the difficulties faced by the blind. It has compelled me to reflect and build upon my at best- skimpy understanding of the very real challenges faced by them.
In retrospect, Dine In The Dark 2015 will be remembered for its good food, great music, and most importantly, the very best of dining experiences- where dining is more than just a meal. Raffles Interact would like to thank all who came down to show their support and hopes that everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously! We will (not) see you next year!

In addition, Raffles Interact would like to thank these talented student performers for coming down to perform!

Ampersand: Wu Bing Anthony (15S06L). Ian Ho Jin Yi (15S06H), Thia Zhang Wei (15S03G), Lorraine Fong Rei (15A01C) and Jonathan Pong (15S03G)

Take One: Ding Yu Chen (15S06E), Casey Chan Fay Ching (15S06H), Ian Ho Jin Yi (15S06H), Wu Bing Anthony (15S06L) and Chua Zhe Xuan (15S06J) 

Interact Band: Pong Jia Jing, Jonathan (15S03G), Saik Chin Wen, Sharon (15S03O), Daniel George (15S06D), Megan John (15S03F), Gabrielle Ong Hui Min (15S06A)

Triumviratus: Ethan Ong 4P, Muhammad Syazwan Bin Ramli 4C, Yeo Jun Wei  4C, Ganesh Gunasekeran 4D

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