By Soh Gek Shuen (18S03B)
Photos by Amy Lim Zhi Ting (18S06O), Raffles Photographic Society
In Chinese, there is a phrase that goes 伸手不见五指, which means being unable to see your outstretched hand. Though commonly used in narrative essays, it is hard to truly imagine seeing nothing even with your eyes wide open. This year, Behind the Light gave diners a taste of all-consuming darkness.
I, for one, faced great difficulty getting around without light, somehow managing to drop my spoon onto the floor, where it was doomed to remain for the rest of the evening. Not to mention having to poke around for several minutes before getting the straw into my packet drink, though I daresay I’d have done it much quicker if my friend hadn’t passed it to me upside down.
Normally, we complete these everyday tasks without batting an eye. Isn’t it ironic, how easily we overlook the struggles faced by the visually impaired? Dine in the Dark, an annual event organised by Raffles Interact in collaboration with the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), allows us to walk in the shoes of these individuals by opening our eyes to their struggles. This year, Behind the Light aimed to raise awareness and promote empathy for these forgotten individuals.
By early evening, diners were milling about outside of the Albert Hong Hall, abuzz with excitement. Exhibits featuring personal stories and artwork from members of the SAVH provided some diners with their first glimpse into the lives of the visually impaired. Early attendees also participated in the sensory trail, in which they were tasked to shop for groceries in the dark. Participants had to rely solely on their sense of touch and hearing to get to the supermarket, by using tactile paving for guidance and listening intently to traffic lights. This was disorienting for many, who quickly came to realise that seemingly unremarkable tasks like crossing the road and buying groceries are not so simple for the visually impaired.
Diners were led into the Albert Hong Hall in groups of eight. “Hold on tight!” the usher at the door warned, as we were plunged into complete darkness. Stumbling around in human chains, participants were left to marvel at how the ushers were able to find their way around with apparent confidence and ease. The dining hall was abuzz with conversation and laughter, and every sound seemed to be amplified in the darkness. Jeers erupted all over the room whenever someone attempted to use their phones as flashlights, until the light was switched off.
The night was opened with spoken-word poetry by Writers’ Guild. Rayasam Harshini (18S06B) performed a self-written poem entitled ‘But What Do I Know’, while Aurora Chang (17A01E) performed ‘I See, Yet I Don’t’, written by Aiken Lee (18S06G). Taking the form of a dialogue between a blind and a sighted individual, the poem sought to challenge the notion that the visually impaired are worse off, emphasising that life is truly what we make of it.
Following this, clips of sports commentary and the audio-described movie The Lion King were played while diners snacked on Oreos and biscuit sticks. Audio description is the auditory narration of visual elements such as scenes, settings, actions and costumes, typically done during the natural pauses in the audio. These clips allowed diners to experience first-hand how audio description makes visual media such as film and live performances more accessible to the blind and the partially-sighted, who can still enjoy their favourite television programmes.
At long last, the first course was served. Diners tucked into their pizza with gusto as Raffles Rock took the stage. Osaka Sun, a J2 band, swept the crowd off their feet with soulful renditions of popular songs such as Lost Stars by Adam Levine and I of the Storm by Of Monsters and Men.
The visually impaired usually have a refined sense of touch, making them adept at art and craft. Between courses, each diner’s fingers were put to the test. They were handed a piece of paper and tasked to fold an origami heart according to the emcees’ instructions.
As the second course was served, Mr Muliana Bin Sali, a professional blind masseuse at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, took the stage to perform two songs. His heartfelt performance was met with enthusiasm by the supportive audience. Following this, Mr Chong Kwek Bin, an IT programme executive at SAVH, shared about his personal experience training other visually impaired persons on the use of computers and mobile devices.
After Mr Chong’s earnest sharing, Goh Chou Xuan (17S03J) and Jesse Tan (17S06J), finalists of Raffles Got Talent 2017, performed a catchy mashup of Stay and Sorry, as well as a mellow rendition of Bright by Echosmith that captured the hearts of many diners.
As the evening drew to a close, diners were urged to close their eyes and reflect on their experience. Glow sticks and pens were handed out to diners, for them to pen down their thoughts and feelings on the origami hearts they had folded earlier on. While the grossly misshapen hearts evoked laughter in some, it was a humbling moment for others, who began to see the extent of the difficulties faced by the visually impaired. For the very last act of the night, Loo Rui Jie (17A03A) from the Chinese Language Drama and Cultural Society performed a couple of classical Chinese songs, with Ethan Chia (17A03A) of Interact on the piano.
All in all, Behind the Light was an eye-opening and meaningful experience that gave diners a glimpse into the lives of the visually impaired. To quote Izzy Seah (18S03B), “I had no idea what I was having for dinner right up to the moment I got the spoon in my mouth, which was hardly an issue, though whether or not the spoon had food on it was a separate matter altogether.” Another J1 diner, Shermaine Loh (18S03D), noted that “even the simplest of tasks become tiring when you can’t see.” A mere two hours in the dark had thrust the very real issues faced by the visually impaired into the spotlight, promoting empathy amongst diners and lending them a greater appreciation for sight.
As Alden Tan (17S06L), the President of Interact, aptly put it, “Dine in the Dark is not just about having a meal in darkness. It is about truly appreciating the sight we are gifted with but so often take advantage of.” While the visually impaired face countless struggles in their everyday lives, it is their courage and determination that define them, more than any impairment ever could. Indeed, it is not always darkness that lies behind the light.
Raffles Press congratulates the Interactors on their well-executed event, and looks forward to seeing them (or not) again next year!
Dine in the Dark 2017 Organising Committee
Vanessa Chuang Zhen Xuan (17S06C)
Lee Yao En (17S06J)
Shashneetha D/O Yoganathan (17S06A)
Hoe Shi Min, Jessica (17S03I)
Mok Wei Tong (17S03L)
Lian Ying Xuan Ericia (17S03I)