Our sense of sight is something that we often take for granted. We are so accustomed to using our eyes to describe colors and shapes, to navigate, to observe our surroundings, and more. We are so used to seeing things and people every day that we can’t imagine what it would be like and how we will function normally if one day, we suddenly lose our eyesight.
In 2012, I visited Dialogue in the Dark, a one-of-a-kind 75-minute exhibition where visually impaired guides led us and took us on a tour in a pitch black room with various simulated scenes and attractions in Hong Kong. Here, I was able to “see” the world around me not with my eyes, but with my other senses. I went by myself and joined a group of 7 people (all of them knew one another, and I was the only “outsider” in the group!). Though I did not know anyone in the group, I still had a great time. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me, and I wanted Mike, Eric, and Paula to experience it as well, so for our Hong Kong Trip last year, I booked a tour for all four of us. It was great timing too because Eric and I were celebrating our birthday, so we were able to get a birthday discount, which is applicable when guests visit on their birthday month. Technically, our birthday month is February, but since there was no February 29 (leap year baby problems!), the staff of Dialogue in the Dark (especially Eres) were kind enough to extend the birthday discount to me and Eric even if we went in March, so instead of paying the full price of HKD 160, we only paid HKD 80. I love the Dialogue in the Dark staff! They are all so kind, and they reply quickly to e-mails too.
When we got there, we were expecting to join a group of other tourists, but luckily, we had the tour guide all to ourselves! At least I didn’t have to worry about accidentally touching Mike’s bum in the dark room, only to realize that it’s someone else’s bum!
When I say “dark,” I mean that not a single glimmer of light can be seen. We could not bring anything that emits light, like glow-in-the-dark watches (that’s cheating!). We had to fumble our way through the hallways of absolute darkness with the help of nothing but a walking stick, which is provided at the beginning of the tour, and the soothing voice of our guide, Jen. If you’re afraid of the dark, or if you’re claustrophobic, this tour might shake you up a little… or a lot. Once you’re enveloped in darkness, your other senses will be heightened – touch, taste, smell, hearing, feeling, and yes, even fear. You could worry about smashing your knee, falling off a step, getting lost, or even getting left alone in the dark while everyone else goes on with the tour without you. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Besides, there are CCTV cameras installed so the staff can track your whereabouts. Just think: if the visually impaired guides can get out of there alive, so can you!
When we got inside the exhibition area, Jen asked us for our names, and she identified us by the sound of our voices. She would repeatedly say “Follow my voice,” because her voice was our only map around the area. Though this was already my second time to do this tour, and I knew it was completely safe inside, I still felt a tinge of panic whenever I felt like I was already too far away from my group. But Jen always made sure that we were all still complete and that no one was left behind. Whenever one of us was falling behind, she would wait and patiently lead us to the right way.
Jen instructed us to feel the wall on the left, slide our hands on the wall until we feel a slight curvature, keep walking to the direction of that arch, and so on, until she told us to stop and asked us, “Where do you think we are now?” The place suddenly smelled like the fresh scent of trees and grass, and we could hear birds chirping and dogs barking. She also asked, “Can you feel the ground? Do you know what you are standing on?” The ground felt softer and a little wet, which was a contrast to the hard carpeted floor we were stepping on earlier. It was grass! We were in a “park” in Hong Kong!
Then later, she took us to another area. This time, the ambiance felt less serene and a little more chaotic. We could hear voices of people talking or yelling, car horns honking, and lots of drilling. Then Jen asked us to get down and feel something – it was a car! Without using our eyes, we knew we were in a busy pedestrian street in Hong Kong. Jen said, “For you, it is easy to cross the street. But for those of us who can’t see, how do you think we cross the road safely?” That has honestly never occurred to me before. I have 20/20 vision and know that the red traffic light means “stop” and the green one means “go,” (the blind don’t even know what red and green look like!) and I can see when cars are coming, and yet I have almost been hit by a moving vehicle more than once. How do the visually impaired manage to cross the road and make it to the other side in one piece, using only sounds and a walking cane? That was definitely an eye opener – no pun intended.
Jen also took us to a market, and we knew it was a market because of the sound of loud voices that seem like they are engaging in some sort of transaction, and because we touched some baskets which contained fruits and vegetables. And we knew we were touching fruits and vegetables because, well, judging from the texture of whatever we were holding, it was either a lemon or an apple, or some other juicy treat.
We kept fumbling our way through the next room, but not without some unintentional groping. I think at some point, Eric was clinging to Mike, thinking he was Paula, and I held on to Eric’s arm, thinking he was Mike. And then I heard Paula calling out in a distressed voice “Where are you guys?!” It was crazy!
We got to a quiet area, which felt a little small to me because we kept bumping into one another and into things in the room. Jen told us to just explore the room. Explore??? That didn’t seem like the most apt word when you’re in a dim room where you literally can’t see a thing, but we did as we were told. Jen instructed us to touch something on the right, and we discovered that it was a table with a PC on it. Later, she asked us to move forward and take a seat. It turned out that we were sitting on a bed. And then, again, she told us to touch the object next to the PC, and at first we didn’t know what it was until she told us to open it and get whatever was inside. When we did, we realized that we were touching a drawer full of clothes. She then asked, “Are these boys’ clothes or girls’ clothes?” Normally, we judge if an outfit is a boy or girl’s outfit just by looking at it, but if we couldn’t see, how can we tell? That’s when the sense of touch comes into play. So a PC, a bed, and a drawer full of clothes – those things together in one room told us that we were in someone’s bedroom.
Before going inside the exhibition, we were asked to bring some loose change. When we reached our final stop, we found out why we needed them. We were going to a café! And we were going to buy some snacks and drinks – real snacks and drinks. We ran our hands over what felt like a bar counter, and sat on the bar stools. We were surprised when another voice greeted us from behind the bar counter. That voice belonged to Candy, the “bartender” in our tour. Just like Jen, Candy is also visually impaired. Candy offered us a list of snacks and drinks and told us how much they cost. I ordered some Oreos and gave her my money. Because I couldn’t see how much money I was handing her, I just tried to guess using the size and density of my coins as my clues. All I knew was that the cents were smaller than the dollars, the $2 was shaped like either a flower or the sun, the $1 and $5 are both round but the $5 coin is heavier, and the $10 had an embossed inner circle. That’s when I realized that Hong Kong’s coins are actually very sensitive to the needs of those who cannot see. You can tell how much money is in your hand just by tracing it with your fingers.
While we were enjoying our snacks in the dark, Jen told us stories about her journey as a visually impaired girl. When I did the tour back in 2012, we had the same experience with my tour guide. He had it much harder than Jen because he was not born blind and was actually able to see until he was 22, when he lost his eyesight due to a brain tumor, so he had to learn how to “unsee” and get through life without the gift of vision. What was common between the two tour guides was their sunny disposition in life. Despite their disabilities, they still maintain a cheerful outlook and they don’t let their impairments restrict them from living a good life. They go to work and earn, they walk around the streets of Hong Kong, they engage in recreational pastimes like “watching” movies or dining out – just like everyone else. It amazed me how they still “see” the world as a beautiful place and how they “look” at life in a positive way. Though we were in the dark, I myself was able to “see” (with my heart) just how strong these people are. My tour guide in 2012 said to my group, “After this tour, you will walk out of here and be able to see the light. But for us, there will be no light. This darkness is permanent. So I hope that when you finish this tour, you will always remember how lucky you are that you are able to see.” What an inspiring reminder!
After finishing our snacks and storytelling session, it was time for us to go. In movies and books, when people follow the light at the end of the tunnel, it means that they are ready to go into the great beyond. But at Dialogue in the Dark, after wrestling with complete blackness for what seemed like eternity, following the light at the end of the tunnel was a huge relief. That was also the first time we saw Jen’s face. We were so happy to be able to see again!
After that, and after struggling through the obscurity, I have never felt so blessed and have never appreciated my eyesight more. But more importantly, I also realized that when you look at the world not only with your eyes but with everything you have, when you take the time to take it all in, and when you pay attention to the smallest details, you will see that with or without the sense of sight, the world we live in is pretty amazing.
If you’re looking for “Things to do in Hong Kong,” make sure that you make room in your itinerary for a Dialogue in the Dark tour. There’s a reason why it is #1 on TripAdvisor’s must-do list in Hong Kong. Not only are you going to help the visually impaired people in Hong Kong get or keep their jobs (as tour guides), but after the tour, you will also come out as a more grateful person, and you will learn to appreciate what you have.
Tips for Visiting Dialogue in the Dark (from the official website):
- All visitors are encouraged to arrive 20 minutes prior to their ticket time. Welcome Ambassador at front desk will give briefing to visitors before they enter the Exhibition. Late-comers will not be admitted due to the specific set up of the Dark Exhibition.
- Children under 12 are advised to be accompanied by adult. The Dark Exhibition is not recommended for children under the age of 8.
- Women with 7-month or above pregnancy is not recommended to join the Exhibition.
- As the entire Dark Exhibition is in complete darkness, all light-emitting devices such as watches, mobile phones/blackberries, cameras, or other glow-in-the-dark ornamentations are prohibited.
- Visitors will be provided free secure lockers to keep their personal possessions.
- Visitors who need wheelchairs are required to reserve manual wheelchair from the venue 2 days in advance. Electric wheelchairs cannot be used in the Dark Exhibition.
- To provide visitors a comfortable and secure experience in the dark, closed-circuit television is in place throughout the Dark Exhibition.
- Outside food or beverages are not allowed. During the Dark Experience, beverages and light snacks are available for sales. Visitors can purchase them with cash.
- Photography, video camera, voice recording will not be allowed inside the Dark Exhibition.
General online ticketing remarks (from the official website):
- Regular English tours: 11:30, 13:45 and 17:00
- Mandarin tour: 14:00.
- Please contact us at least 2 working days in advance for arranging extra English/Mandarin tour.
- Adult Birthday discount: Join tour within birthday month. Valid identification as proof upon registration.
- Please avoid using “e-Cheque” for purchasing tickets as the clearing process will usually take about 3-5 working days. You booking would not be confirmed immedately.
- Successful online purchasing: Received 2 confirmation emails.
- From Dialogue Experience, includes tour detail and confirmation reference
- From Paypal, includes payment confirmation detial.
- Adult – $160 (Tuesdays to Fridays) and $180 (Saturday, Sunday, and Public Holidays)
- Full-time student (local and overseas) / elderly (aged 60 or above) / Adult birthday month discount / People with disabilities – $80 (Tuesdays to Fridays) and $90 (Saturday, Sunday, and Public Holidays)
Tue – Sun & Public Holidays: 10:00am – 7:30 pm (Closed on Mondays)
How to get to Dialogue in the Dark:
By MTR (MeiFoo Exit C1 + walk from MTR station (7-10 minutes)
1) Take the Exit C1 from MeiFoo station
2) Walk across the road and turn right, walk towards Lai Chi Kok Gov’t Office
3) Turn left entering an outdoor carpark and then turn right towards 3 buildings in green (The Nob Hill)
4) Pass the public library (right hand side) and public swimming pool (left hand side)
5) Walk through under a flyover and across the road to Nob Hill Square.
6) Take the escalator to 2/F
7) Refer to videos or photoshots for landmarks (From left to right)
Get off at Lai Chi Kok Bus Terminal (Below The Nob Hill Square) :
- 6 / No.171 (http://www.kmb.hk/en)
- 904 / No. 905 (http://www.nwstbus.com.hk/)
Dialogue in the Dark:
Address: Shop 215, 2/F The Nob Hill Square, No. 8 King Lai Path, MeiFoo, Kowloon
Phone: (852) 2310 0833