“After a five-hour night flight and another hour of commute, I finally arrived at the hotel. The last traces of tiredness that had settled in my body were quickly ebbing away; I was all ready to explore the city of Melbourne. Before I left the hotel, I folded the white cane I was carrying and stored it in my bag. It was an aid, but also a crutch. The cane seemed to magnify my disability and, in some way, my insecurities of appearing inferior.
I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of five, a condition that causes my vision to steadily deteriorate. It was predicted that I would be completely blind by the time I was twelve, but seven miraculous years had passed and I still had 10 percent of my sight. Everyday since has been a blessing to me, especially as I was acutely aware of the fact that I was seeing on borrowed time. It was for that reason too that I made a goal to catch as many of the most spectacular sunsets around the world as possible. Though this was going to be my 22nd trip abroad, it was the first time I was travelling on my own. It took my parents much convincing before they agreed to let me go. Bringing the cane with me was one of the few concessions I had to make; of course, I would have much preferred to rely on my heightened sense of direction and spatial awareness to get around.
As I stepped out into the streets, it hit me then that I was completely and frighteningly alone. And I couldn’t be more exhilarated.
My first stop was the State Library. As soon as I walked into the La Trobe reading room, I was left awestruck by the magnificence of its octagonal architecture. Natural sunlight filtered through the glass dome ceiling and bathed the massive library and the many shelves lining the walls with a warm hue. I made my way to a less lit corner to take a look at the books when I suddenly bumped into a low-level shelf that I had not noticed due to my night blindness.
Thud. Thud. Two thick hardcovers dropped to the floor – the noise they made as they landed was amplified amidst the deafening silence of the library. Embarrassed, I hastily shoved the books back on the shelf before discreetly leaving the room.
It was the first of several bumps and trips in an oddly accident-prone day. I reassured myself that I would soon get used to my unfamiliar surroundings. The bouts of clumsiness did little to dampen my high spirits, as I went about visiting various places of interests in the days that followed.
It was my last morning in Melbourne, and I had saved the best for last. I was finally going to see the best sunset, one I had heard so much about. I had woken up earlier than usual that day. I squinted and tried to adjust my eyes to the blackness around me. The room was shrouded in an unusual darkness. Panic coursed through my veins. It couldn’t possibly be today. I groped around for the light switch and turned it on. But everything remained the same. The world was pitch black.
I was momentarily lost. Losing my vision was something I had always anticipated, but was never prepared for. Furthermore, I had yet to be fully efficient with my white cane! The independence I had built for myself over the years was gone along with my vision. I reached for my cane and tried to get to the door. A routine that typically took six seconds was now a 60-second exercise, as I kept bumping into furniture and knocking over objects. It was frustrating that a simple task had become so difficult. Maybe this room is too cramped. Maybe it’d be better once I’m somewhere more spacious.
I got changed and slowly got to the street level after a slow and steady 30 minutes. It was indeed more spacious outside the safe confines of the hotel. But never had the bustle of a city sound more threatening than exciting. The rumbling of the subway in the distance, the cars zipping across the roads and the beeping of the traffic lights suddenly seemed overwhelming, and fed my growing trepidation. As I was figuring out directions to the convenience store, I heard a bicycle bell ringing from behind me. Which direction should I stay on – left or right? The ringing got louder. The norm is left, right? Is it the same in Melbourne?
I stood rooted to the ground, my eyes shut tight and my hands in clenched fists, hoping for the best as the bicycle came closer. While the bicycle missed me, it did nothing to soothe my irritation – I was unable to even walk down the streets. I decided this was it. I was returning home. Once back in the hotel room, I feverishly started packing. As I was searching for my cane that I had angrily tossed aside, I tripped over it and fell over. Warm tears trickled down my face as I pounded the floor in frustration. I felt utterly useless.
Just then, I heard my room door being unlocked, followed by soft footsteps. “Sorry to intervene, I’m the housekeeper. Is everything all right?” A lady’s voice spoke in a slightly accented tongue. She introduced herself as Jessica. I could feel her soft touch as she helped me up. With no one to turn to, I started pouring out my grief to her.
“My dear, never let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. Master your cane like it’s an extension of your body. Meanwhile, continue chasing your goals. It might be tedious in the beginning, but persevere and you will emerge stronger. You’ve lost your sight, but not your freedom or independence.”
“You’re a beautiful lady with a beautiful heart,” I told Jessica. “Ha! I’m not sure you’d say the same if you could see my face.” She took my hand and ran it across her face. I could feel a rough patch of skin on her right cheek, stretching from her nose to her chin. It was a massive scar.
“How did this…?” “I was a runaway bride from Pakistan and this was an acid burn that I got as punishment. I had no freedom back home. Thankfully, an NGO helped me and even found me a job here in Melbourne. I felt so relieved, I’ve never felt true freedom till I was here. So Alison, keep your chin up and embrace this new freedom. Stop packing and resume your journey!”
Jessica was right. Compared to what she had gone through, I was still in a far better state than she could have asked for. Life had to go on. Still fumbling with my cane, I headed out and continued with my city tour. By evening I was on my way to the Eureka Skydeck. During the 38-second elevator ride to the 88th floor, I felt adrenaline rushing through me. My ears were popping as we entered higher altitudes. As I exited the lift, I could hear the excitement of the children around me, presumably looking through the binoculars that were scattered around the deck.
“Look at the sun!” I heard several kids exclaiming. I tried to picture the sunset I’ve seen in my mind’s eye so many times. As I placed my hands against the glass panels, I could feel the heat emanating from the sun. Then, lifting my face to the sky, I let my skin bask in its warm rays. I imagined myself touching the sun. For the first time, I was ‘viewing’ a sunset with my entire body. It was a moment to remember.
It hit me then that I was completely and frighteningly alone. I couldn’t see. But I was at peace.”
Written by: Yu Qing
Edited by: Rahimah
The above is the original narrative story I had. However, I had condensed the story into a simpler 3-Act structure for my photo montage video.
- Building Action: Establishing character + goals + Journey
- Climax: Turn blind
- Ending: Achieve goal
I love films about man vs man and was inspired to create such a story. One of the main movie reference for this video was ‘Wild’ (2014) where the story revolves around protagonist, Cheryl Strayed, embarking on a journey of self-discovery and healing. The film often uses wide angle shots to capture the magnificent environment. More importantly, the background provide a narrative element of the scene.
Picking up from this, I had also used the same for my work.
During the week for filming, I happened to be in Melbourne. Hence, A number of my shots were taken there and then post-edited on Photoshop.
Another show I had referenced was Netflix series – Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt. The show is about Kimmy who had been away from civilisation for 20 years and only visited New York City after 20 years. Her bubbly disposition is expressed through her colourful dressing.
In order to present Melbourne city as it is, I only adjusted the vibrancy and had minimal colour distortion for the photos. Instead, the only scenes where I had greater control of colours was the climax where she had turned blind:
As for the background music, they are all from the movie Forrest Gump. Similarly, the show is about the ups and downs in Gump’s life journey, hence the music was largely relevant to my story.
Eureka Skydeck (Low Vantage):