To be honest, there is an endless list of topics in my mind that I feel compelled to write about after my travels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam throughout the last five days. I could write about how incredible it was that my mom traveled over twenty-four hours to come visit me or I could write about the heart-wrenching realizations that I came to about the Vietnam War and the twisted truth that the American education system portrays about the United States’ involvement, but instead, I am choosing to write about a restaurant.
After spending the last two and a half months traveling independently, staying at questionable hostels and eating at whatever restaurant we can find on the side of the road, I was delighted to have my mom and her itinerary-state-of-mind planning out my days in Vietnam for me. As we were having drinks on Friday night, my mom was already planning dinner for Saturday night. It was when she started laughing hysterically, I knew that whatever restaurant she was about to commit to, was going to be particularly different than what we were used to. Before I even dared to ask what she had discovered, she began explaining to my roommate and I that we were going to a “dine in the dark” restaurant. My roommate and I looked at her downright dumbfounded as she began to explain to us that during this dinner, we would be dining in a pitch black room, not knowing in advance what we were eating and then following our meal we would be brought into the lobby area to be presented with pictures and descriptions of the meal that we had just eaten. As we sat there reading about this strange experience, we began to understand that this was not just a restaurant that challenges you open your mind to the flavor and delicacy of cuisine by placing you in a dark room, but instead this was a restaurant who employs individual with severe visual impairments or who suffer from complete blindness. The restaurant, Nior, employs these individuals as their waiters and waitresses with a resilient mission to provide opportunities for the physically disabled. Along with these waiters and waitresses, Nior also engages those with complete deafness and hearing loss to assist with the dining experience by serving drinks in the lobby, using the register programming system and providing a helping hand to the customers.
After fully understanding the rationale of this restaurant’s dining concept, we felt more intrigued, but still a bit nervous, about what this experience was going to be like. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted by a guide who spoke English and had no physical disabilities. This man allowed us to pick which particular menu basis we would like, choosing from either an eastern influenced meal, a western influenced meal or a vegetarian meal. After choosing our preferred menu, we were brought drinks and a game by a woman who was completely deaf. The game we were presented with consisted of nine removeable shapes that we would have to separate, mix up and then replace them in the correct place; however, we had to be wearing a blindfold the duration of the game. For me, this task took less than two minutes. I was able to feel the shapes and the board and place the shape in their original places quickly. After we had finished the game, we were taking to the entrance of the dining area where we were introduced to our waiter, Jake. Jake, who was born completely blind, arranged the three of us in a train form holding on by each other’s shoulders and lead us through a series of black-out curtains. As Jake brought us to our table, placing our left hand on the table and our right hand on the chair and began to explain to us how we would be using our sense of feel and remembrance of placements throughout this dinner, I began to feel like I was stuck in a one-person capacity elevator. No matter where you looked, it was black. There was no slight shine of exit lights, there was no separation of the curtains that allowed me to see a hint of shadows, but it was pitch black and I was overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia. As my mom and roommate were talking and giggling, I was sitting in my chair across the table in silent sobs. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t laugh and when my first course came, I couldn’t even move my hand to attempt to figure out how to eat what was in front of me, wherever that even was.
The majority of dinner was noised by small conversations of what we were eating and the clanking of dishes as we tried to set them back in the right spot on the tray. Honestly, I was thankful that the portions were small and there was little conversation because that meant we would be taken back to the light lobby as soon as possible. My anxiety was high, my hands were clammy, and I sucked down two vodka lemonades just to keep myself calm. As soon as we called Jake to take us back down to the lobby, I felt a sense of pure relief. The three of us sat down, had an after-dinner drink and got to learn about the specific dishes that we had had during dinner. After a lot of ooo-ing and ahh-ing about whether or not our guesses were correct, our dining in the dark experience was complete and we went on with our night.
For once, there is no inspirational conclusion that I have to rationalize my reaction and my feeling towards this experience. Instead, I realized that I wasn’t completely honest with myself about “going out of my comfort zone” because going out of your comfort zone isn’t always going to jumping off bridges and jumping out of planes, it isn’t always going to be joining a cooking class or beginning a new form of exercise and it isn’t always going to be butterflies in your stomach and feeling that on-nerve excitement flowing through your veins like I always think that it is. Sometimes going out of your comfort zone is going to make you cry—hard—, it’s going to make you feel paralyzed and it’s going to make you realize your fortunes that you have right in front of you instead of some courage deep within you.