After watching Jenn Chia’s video on YouTube depicting her experience going without hearing for a day, I was inspired. What would a day without hearing be like for a content creator such as myself?
For this, I borrowed a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones from a friend, which comes with a noise-cancelling function. I also put on earplugs to further prevent me from hearing anything. I realised that, even with both items, I could still hear my surroundings, so I downloaded a white noise track on Spotify and put it on an infinite loop. Now, I really couldn’t hear anything from the outside world. So as to not come off as rude, I’ve also prepared an explanation card in English and Mandarin, which I would show to the people I’m interacting with today.
I would also not be speaking throughout the entire course of this workday, as some aurally challenged people are born without the ability to speak. With that, I began my soundless, speechless workday.
My mother gave me a lift to my first event of the day: the launch of the Google Pixel 4 at Google APAC. This was when I put on my headphones, and the never-ending loop of white noise began. As opposed to not hearing anything at all, which was what Jenn Chia did, I wasn’t even able to listen to my heartbeat or my thoughts.
I waved goodbye to my mother and walked through the Mapletree Business City to the Google office. No one seemed to pay attention to me. Everyone probably assumed that I was listening to a playlist of the Top 50 Hits on Spotify.
Thankfully, registering for the event was relatively simple as my editor was with me, and he asked them for my name card. My editor and I communicated through simple gestures on the way up. He was also deliberately forming every consonant with his mouth, which made it easy for me to lip-read what he was trying to say
As I walked into the Google office, I started noticing stares directed at me, but I wasn’t surprised. After all, it is quite impolite of anyone to go for a media event donning a pair of headphones and not to speak.
My editor collected the Google Pixel 4, and I immediately got to work by taking product shots. We also changed our method of communication to WhatsApp messages for more precision.
The launch presentation began. Throughout the whole presentation, there were a few slides that were quite self-explanatory, but other than the description, there was no other form of subtitles.
There were also slides with just a single picture—what was I supposed to infer from these without hearing the explanations?
Not being able to understand a single thing from this presentation, it wasn’t long before I dozed off, and my editor had to shake me awake a couple of times.
The presentation ended, and the media invitees were split into a few groups for a demonstration of each feature of the phone.
While I was able to understand some features such as the touchless swiping, I could not comprehend what the presenter was doing when it came to previewing the sound features.
I then attended a Q&A, which was essentially a video conference with one of the developers of Google. I was thankful that the conference room had run out of seats; otherwise, I am certain that I would have fallen asleep once more.
I started making my way back to the office via the train. On the MRT, I had to pay special attention every time the train stopped, and I had to look out of the train periodically—I couldn’t hear the announcements that would play whenever the train stopped. It didn’t help that the map of the Circle Line on each door did not have the usual flashing dots to indicate which station I was at.
I switched over to the North-South line at Bishan. As opposed to trains on the Circle Line, the North-South Line trains had a flashing display on every door which would change each time the train passed by a station.
However, I was too engrossed in using my handphone, and I did not pay attention to the train stops. As a result, I missed my station and had to make a small detour. I wonder if this would have happened had I been able to hear the station announcements.
The next daunting task was to buy lunch. How would hawkers react to my inability to hear and speak?
This is where I am thankful for hawkers who label their food items with numbers. All I had to do was hold up a single index finger twice—first to show the food item I wanted, followed by the quantity. I then made the action of folding in my palms to indicate that I wanted to take away my food.
The hawker did not make any complaints and keyed the numbers into the cashier after confirming my order via hand gestures. I then showed him my lanyard, just to let him know that I wasn’t purposefully disrespectful by not taking off my headphones. He nodded in acknowledgement and gave me a thumbs up.
On the way back to the office with my colleagues, I started feeling left out. The two of them were engaging in conversation, but all I could hear was white noise. I knew that trying to join in the conversation through text messages would be a hassle as both of them had to talk to me at the same time, so I simply walked behind them in silence.
Thankfully, the hawker had gotten my order correct. That was my first win of the day. The rest of lunch went on quietly as I could not join in the chatter. All I could do was focus on the food in front of me.
In the office, my colleagues found a new way to communicate with me—through pen and paper. Every time they wanted to ask me something, they would write it on a piece of paper, and I would reply to them the same way.
While this helped me feel a bit more included in their conversations, I was still unable to join in their usual banter. On a typical day, I would joke around with them as a distraction from work, but today, it was different. I wanted to join in and laugh with them so badly. But I held on to my journalistic integrity and left my headphones on.
I am unsure if it was because of the lack of sleep the night before, the white noise that was supposed to aid babies’ sleeping, my overall low morale from being left out, or a combination of all these factors, but I was feeling extremely sleepy. I decided to purchase a can of coffee from the vending machine and carry on with my work.
It was time to leave for my food tasting with the SETHLUI.com writers. Again, my colleagues were engaging in cheerful conversations throughout the bus ride, which I was unable to join. I resisted the urge to take off my headphones by reminding myself that it would be all over in a few hours’ time. Three hours to go.
En route to the tasting location, our bus was caught in a traffic jam for twenty minutes. There was some commotion on the bus. However, I was unable to hear anything. I learnt from my colleagues that there was an accident in front, which was the cause of the traffic jam. The bus driver then alighted everyone on board, and we decided to walk to the tasting location.
I walked past the accident site. Even though there were emergency response vehicles, as well as a crowd, It was oddly disconcerting that I could not hear any part of it—not the blaring sound of the siren, the irritating honks from annoyed drivers, or the mumbling and grumbling of passers-by. It was like watching a television scene of an active accident site on mute.
I was thankful that I had my colleagues with me. Throughout our walk, there were many cyclists and Personal Mobility Device (PMD) users who would zoom past us. As I was unable to hear their horns, there was a chance that I would have gotten into an accident by veering too close to them, but my colleagues who were with me understood my situation and pulled me away from harm’s way each time that happened.
We finally reached our tasting location. If I could talk, I would have definitely chided them for choosing to walk for an hour. Before we began our tasting, one of the food writers explained to the restaurant owner about my situation, and I showed him my explanation card.
This was my last hurdle for the day. I was to assist a SETHLUI.com writer’s food review. It would require me to communicate with the food writer, and hold up certain components of the dishes at a certain angle so that they can be photographed. Even with speech, this required a fair bit of coordination.
The whole shoot was a game of charades. In this example, she was telling me to face the chopsticks towards her—hence her hand on her cheek.
The owner would also come up to us to periodically explain the food items to us. I could only nod my head in acknowledgement. Communicating my opinion of the food also required me to use text messages—how do you describe taste through hand gestures?
Before we left the restaurant, I thanked the owner for his understanding by putting my palms together and bowing. It was finally time to remove my headphones. While I had the option of sticking it out and removing my headphones at home, I wanted to experience what the outside world would be like after hearing for the first time in almost twelve hours.
You can see the elation on my face after removing my headphones and earbuds. I was glad to be able to hear my colleague’s voice, which I usually found annoying.
While there was no ringing sound, for a good 15 minutes, every word I spoke echoed in my head. Surprisingly, the world around me wasn’t as loud as I expected. Everything felt normal. The only difference was that I found my voice foreign as from an audio recording.
While I am by no means likening this experience to being deaf or being hearing-impaired, this experience showed me just some of the struggles that these people encounter on a daily basis.
I was wearing a lanyard with an explanation for the whole day, but it is important to remember people who are aurally handicapped do not usually do that. I’m sure that they would also not like to have this label placed on them either. Like us, they too would like to live their life as any hearing-abled person would.
Through these 12 hours, I have gained a newfound respect for the aurally handicapped. I had already found it difficult to get through half a day, but these people have to go through not just the problems I faced today, but a lot more on a daily basis that the average person will not be able to comprehend. While they may be handicapped, I now know that they are some of the strongest people around for having to go through these struggles for the rest of their life. So show them some love—after all, it is the language that they will definitely understand.
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