Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Man Of Colour

I grew up being able to distinguish bronze-green from olive-green and an aquamarine from a zircon. Eleven years of age, I knew a hundred names for red. And I also knew I was colour-blind. It was September. My grandfather, always curious, always wondering and wonderful, asked me, "Do you see those orange flowers?"

My fateful answer was, "What orange flowers?"

Some tests later, I knew I had a rare form of colour-blindness. It looked superficially like standard red-green, but was almost equally bad whenever colours were pale or very dark, and seemed curable by intense concentration. Grandfather, the first person in Singapore ever to use penicillin on carbuncles, was intrigued enough to start me on stamp-collecting.

"What difference do you see between this stamp and that stamp?"

"Errr... one is fuchsia and the other one is some sort of orchid pink?"

"Do you mean fuchsia pink, fuchsia purple, fuchsia red or fuchsia rose? Is it more rose or orchid?"

And so, I became a man of colour. It took me years to figure out that there were tricks that a colour-challenged person could use to overcome his disability. Careful concentration allows a person to make better use of what remaining colour sensitivity he has. I got fairly good at it; I actually managed to pass chemistry and act as if I wasn't colour-blind at all. Mostly.

Army basic training, second month. "Soldier, run to that fence and come back! Go! Go!"

"Yes, sergeant! No, sergeant! What fence is that, sergeant?!"

BAM! My helmet reverberated like a gong. "That green fence with the yellow building behind it, soldier! Don't be a #&$^*&@*, soldier! Get your %(^&$)%# (*^*) and all your gear over there now, soldier!"

Of course, bright afternoon sunlight on a green chainlink fence + same sunlight on a straw-coloured building = recipe for disaster. There went all my remaining fighter pilot chances. I was posted a few months later to communications specialist school.


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