One time, back in the States, I was on a public bus and found myself sitting next to a blind man with impeccable hair. His hair seriously looked wonderful, perfectly combed without a strand out of place. Meanwhile, I had a mess on the top of my head.
“How the hell did this blind guy get his hair to look so good?” I asked myself. “He must have great hair combing instincts.” I looked down at the seeing-eye dog and noticed how well-groomed it was. If this guy was doing everything himself, it was beyond impressive. I’d never thought about it before, but how exactly do blind people comb their hair? I stared in awe, realizing that I’ve never seen a blind person with bad hair. Take that Bocelli guy for instance. Decent voice. Flippin’ excellent hair.
Since that day, I’ve often been intrigued by the world of the blind. If I had a blind friend, I’d ask all sorts of stupid, ignorant questions: How do you use the Internet? Is there a Braille computer? Do you have lower electricity bills than seeing people? Is there a blind alarm clock? How do you tell babies apart? Is it difficult to use silverware and, if so, how frustrating is it to bow to society’s norms and abstain from using your hands?
For an insight into that last question, I booked a table this past weekend at Seoul’s Blind Art Restaurant. The concept fascinated me: for an hour and a half, I’d be eating dinner in a sealed room that is completely 100% devoid of light. I would be going with my girlfriend, and we chose our dinner menu online beforehand. There are no menus at the Blind Art Restaurant. Nor is there the opportunity to use the restroom once you’ve been seated in the dining area. Going to the bathroom in the dark might sound quirky and fun, but that’s just because you’re not the one who has to mop the urine off the hand dryer afterwards.
We arrived at the Blind Art Restaurant a tad early and were seated in an elegant waiting room with several other couples. Each pair got its own little locker, where we had to store anything that had the capability of creating light. Cell phones, lighters, etc. The darkness must not be broken. Then everyone went to the bathroom one by one to avoid any accidents. One guy was dressed in a fine suit and spent a good 10 minutes fixing his hair in the bathroom mirror. “Why?” I wondered. The date is in total darkness. I suppose the Blind Art Restaurant would be a good place to book if ever you sprout a horrible pimple on the day of a date, or if you’re really, really ashamed of the person you’re dating.
“Hey, you know how you’ve been asking about having a double date?” you can tell your friend on the phone. “We’re in! It just has to be at the blind restaurant and you’ve got to meet us inside and leave first!”
Anyways, we were told that the dinner had a theme. The theme for the night would be “The New World.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it didn’t matter much, as soon we were lead down into the dining area, walking with our hands on the shoulders of the person in front so nobody got lost (the first person had her hands on the waiter’s shoulders, and he wore infrared goggles). Obviously, I anticipated the room being dark, and yet I was surprised. It was insanely dark. The first course was set down in front of us. I reached for it with my fingers. Having no idea what it was, I grabbed it and ate it.
“Did you use your fork?” I asked my girlfriend.
“Oh course I did.”
At this point, the New World theme was in high gear. We were told to envision ourselves in outer space (this was all said in Korean – my girlfriend translated) and new age music played. That changed when the salad course arrived. The new age music stopped and was quickly replaced by Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore!”
“Hmm,” I said. “The New World is a bit reminiscent of the Olive Garden.”
A major part of the appeal of a restaurant like this is the idea that the loss of vision will enhance the taste of the food. Did it? I’m not sure. I am sure that it brought out my inner Viking, since I fully disregarded the silverware and even tried to eat the soup with my hands. My girlfriend stuck with the knife and fork. Being the romantic she is, she kept trying to feed me, only to consistently whack me in the ear with steak.
Near the end of the meal, the host – a disembodied voice speaking from God-knows-where – said more about the New World. “When we step back into light,” my girlfriend translated, “it will be a fresh beginning. It will be a new gum.”
“A new gum?”
“What? Gum? No, a new ‘dawn.’”
“Oh, ‘dawn.’ That makes more sense. New gum isn’t quite as poetic.”
“I do like new gum,” she said. “It’s sweeter and has more flavor.”
“Yes, I agree,” I told her. “When we step into the light, it will be like having a new stick of gum. And this brand new gum will be ours, and we’ll be sharing it together, sweetheart.”
I went in to kiss her and planted a wet one on the back of her head by accident. Just then a waiter with infrared goggles approached, his face nothing but two glowing green circles, and led us back into the lobby, where a girl in black took our picture before our eyes had adjusted well enough to blink.