sabriye tenburken paul kronenberg

Have you ever felt lonely in the dark? Are you fearful of darkness?

I, for one, have been a little fearful of the dark, especially when I was a small boy. I would try not to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night as I perceived it was a long distance for me to walk from my bed to the bathroom.  On the other hand, there were many times during my kindergarten years (now the secret is revealed) when I would venture all over the home in the middle of the night on my little explorations!

In those days, the rooms in my home were partitioned by wooden walls that were about 6 feet tall but the ceiling was about 10 feet high. I would literally climb over those walls in darkness, patrolling the place. Of course, I would also sneak into my parents’ room, open up their drawer to get that almighty electric torch light and flash it around in search of unknown beings. I think it was the ‘unknown’ that fascinated me as well as scared me at night.

Nyctophobia is a term used to describe people who are fearful of darkness. I occasionally experienced that condition from time to time.

In Hong Kong, I did not know what ‘darkness’ really was as the place was rather well-lit and people couldn’t really stay away from the light from neighbors’ homes and/or the street lights. This was the same in Chicago, which was the second city I lived in.

I remember the sense of ‘complete’ darkness the first night I spent at my sister’s home in Toronto back in 1990. It was not 100% dark though as I could still see the tiny light beam from a street lamp far and away through the window. I remembered thinking to myself, ‘How relaxing’.

The other night in Singapore, I experienced something special – complete darkness!!

My wife, Moon, and I were at a talk given by Sabriye Tenburken, founder of Braille without Borders. This beautiful German lady shared how she slowly lost her sight when she was 9 years old. Now completely blind in her adulthood, she lives a full life, happily married to her husband, Paul Kronenberg. Sabriye founded a school for the blind in Tibet and developed the Tibetan Braille language. Together with Paul, she founded kanthari, an organization that develops individuals to be innovators and leaders for social change in their home countries.

Sabriye mentioned this one kid at her school saying, “I am a lucky boy and I am really happy.” When he was asked why, the boy replied, “Because I can’t see, that is why I am here learning at this special school, but now I am good because I am the only one in my family who goes to school. I can read, write, and even use the computer!”  Now, THIS is life changing work!!

After the talk, we went off for a dinner at Nox, to enjoy a meal in pitch darkness.  The lobby of the restaurant was like a regular diner but once we moved upstairs (in the dark) into the dining area, it was complete darkness. We literally could not see ANYTHING, not even if we put our hands in front of our face!! We had to be guided to our table! We even had to learn to eat (No one wants to have food in their nose, right?). Pouring water in the dark was another skill we learned that evening.

Our waiters were special too as they were visually impaired. So it was a fair game, they served us in darkness and all of us felt the same from a visual point of view except that they were ahead of the game. The fact that we had to be helped at various time points that evening and had to learn to be independent in a crash course mode was a humbling experience.

Our friend, Marc, who sat across the table, tried to leave for the washroom. Oh man, oh man, it was so difficult to find his way when he had to head back to his seat (with some difficulties too)! Also, seldom did I feel so happy and reassured when my waiter, a big size grown man, brushed against me a few times while he was serving me food and when he was removing the utensils! Close contact could not be more welcomed!

All right, it was not 100% dark at that restaurant – Nox has a CCTV camera in the dining room and there was a tiny red LED light glowing in the dark.

After that experience, I am happy to see my optometrist now even though he is not cheap.

In fact, I am happy to see anyone, anything, anytime… as long as I am using my own eyes…

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