It's that time of year again, but for the more than 120,000 visually impaired people in Hong Kong, the baubles and illuminations of Christmas can only be fully appreciated with the help of descriptions.
Langham Place, the Hong Kong Society for the Blind (HKSB) and Barrier Free Access (HK) are changing that. They have joined forces to create the Illuminated Forest - a 4D installation featuring 200,000 LEDs and a cornucopia of smells, sounds and tactile items. A white train with fluffy seats in the shape of polar bears, penguins and reindeer can be hugged, felt and, well, sat on. Some 20 pine-scented trees, festooned with lights, stand by the tracks, as a train's whistle, the sounds of galloping reindeer and (for some reason) the barking of sea lions play in the background.
"It's a nice experience - not only for the visually impaired - because usually you aren't allowed to touch anything in these shows. Here we are allowed to feel everything," says Gary Leung Siu-wai, who battled nyctalopia (the inability to see in low light) before losing his sight entirely.
Leung and other volunteers from the HKSB will host free guided tours for regular-sighted visitors, who will be asked to wear glasses that simulate various degrees of visual impairment.
"It's a public-education opportunity - it allows participants to experience what it's like to be visually impaired and how we perceive the world," Leung adds.
Illuminated Forest will run until January 1 in the atrium of Langham Place (555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok). Blindfolded walks will be held today and next weekend. Braille Christmas card workshops will be held every weekend this month. Call 3520 2800 for more details.