Most of us find it easy to forget what real darkness is like. This is especially true living in and around cities, because not only are you surrounded by lights at every turn, but even the dark isn’t true dark, there’s usually some glimmer or glow that allows faint sight.
But you can quickly remember what real darkness is like, and the feeling it instills, if you just go out to the country, and perhaps on a cloudy night, without a flashlight, wander far off from your inn. That is real darkness. You can’t see your hand in front of your face.
You don’t know if there is ground or a gaping hole before each footstep. Real darkness is enveloping. It is challenges the senses, to the point of confusion and sometimes terror. I can remember once as a child as part of a nature retreat participating in a blindfolded activity, one that challenged the senses to deal without the sense of sight.
What to Do
We were brought together into a group, and expected to find our way following a wire. For what must sound simple intellectually, it was actually confounding at first, and even after some practice required great care and some guess work as to what was going on.
Finally, when the event ended, after what felt like a long and great adventure, we were able to take off our blindfolds and see. To my surprise, I saw that all we had done was walk in a simple circle around some trees. It had required all abilities, and a self-enforced calm just to do that simple task.
In a much more complex way, this is what Dialogue in the Dark, one of Hong Kong’s rare attractions aims to do; it seeks to provide a learning experience through the challenges of activities done in total darkness. It especially hopes to use these events to raise awareness of the blind in society as well as other “disenfranchised” groups.
Going through challenging activities in total darkness is not the first thing most visitors to Hong Kong think of as they plan to explore the region’s culture, history and natural treasures, but the reviews of the experience are nearly all positive, and recount it as a learning experience, both in empathizing with the blind, and in learning to work as a team through unique challenges.
Activities and Events
The main activity Dialogue in the Dark (hereafter DID) offers, which lasts 75 minutes, is a tour through a series of exhibitions which fabricate real-life scenarios in complete darkness; crossing the street, boarding a boat, visiting a park among others, and finally capped off by ordering drinks and discussing the experience with the partners on your team and the guide.
These events use sound, texture and even wind to convey these complex experiences to participants, sometimes very realistically. You’ll find yourself going through these darkened settings in a group of up to eight people, though not necessarily that many.
Another feature at DID is Dinner in the Dark, in which you and your team are served a four-course meal in complete darkness by blind waiters. DID also offers training seminars, which provide a business team 2 or 3 hours of activities in the dark meant to build teamwork and understanding. This experience is obviously not without its challenges.
Despite its popularity, some recommendations we’ve heard from DID participants is that bringing children might not be a good idea, and that because of the sometimes chaotic nature of the events, smaller groups are usually better than larger ones. You may just have to “see” for yourself.
While still a rarity, in-the-dark events are somewhat of a phenomenon worldwide. Switzerland and Germany both offer complete darkness restaurants in Blindekuh ("Blind Man's Bluff"), and Unsicht-Bar ("Invisible Bar") respectively. The UK has Events in the Dark, which like DID provides a variety of sight-deprived experiences.
Even more challenging may be Germany’s ‘Blinde und Kunst’ (Blind People and Art), which allows visitors to experience artworks through the other senses, including touch. On top of this, DID itself offers the same experience in twenty-one other cities worldwide, including several others in China.
Along with its many events, Dialogue in the Dark also provides employment for the blind and partially-sighted, over 6,000 so far according to their website. This is in contrast to the phenomenally high unemployment among the same group.
So for Hong Kong visitors who wish to help people during their travels, this may be one small way of doing so. Either way, a visit is sure to be a thrilling challenge to your senses and your understanding, one never offered by the many night lights of Central or Kowloon.