On different wavelengths

Yoo Young Chun, Head Photo/Art Editor, Features Editor, Features Columnist

What do you picture in your head when you hear “fire truck?” You probably see a big truck, sometimes with a ladder on the left and sometimes on the right, and maybe there are words inscripted on the sides, saying, “God Bless”, or the name of the town on the front in fancy calligraphy.

All fire trucks are different, but they do share one trait: they’re red. Fire trucks are red because the color strikes attention, and in the case of an emergency when they’re rushing through a busy street, drivers see that red and know to make way. This is because red has the longest wavelength among colors and therefore can be seen best from afar. So, firetrucks are red because that just makes sense. Right? At least, that’s what I thought, up until last year, when I visited a fire truck factory.

After an hour of walking around a huge factory and getting to see how different parts of a fire truck are made, I was led into a small office and was surprised to see chips of all colors plastered on every wall. Our guide saw my confused expression and explained that fire trucks differ in color depending on the request of a state. Some can be green, blue or even pink. Imagine that, a pink fire truck! He told me that while red may be the color most commonly associated with a fire truck, any color works as long as it gets the job done. I would say this idea applies to most things in life. It certainly doesn’t apply to things like roadsigns or stoplights, but it could for, say, school supplies.

Since elementary school, when I walked into a math class, I always had a red notebook and folder in hand. For English, all my folders had to be blue, and social studies was always either yellow or purple.

I don’t know the exact reason why this was the case. The only explanation I have is that it just makes sense to me. If all of a sudden I was forced to use blue for math and red for English, I can say with all sincerity that I don’t have the confidence to do so.

This inexplicable notion could be from the fact that my elementary and middle school always provided boxes of supplies for students in the beginning of the year, in which the subjects were clearly defined by color: red for math and blue for English.

Perhaps I became attached to this labelling and carried it through for all my years of schooling for that reason. But if that’s true, then why do the friends I’ve kept since elementary school have different colors for their subjects? Why is their math folder blue and their English folder red? Why have I become more attached to the school color system than others, and an even better question, why do some people become attached to colors for their school supplies at all?

These are questions that I don’t have answers to. I don’t fully understand why my brain feels the need to categorize colors into school subjects in such a permanent way, and I will never get how other students around me can categorize them differently. In the same way, I don’t know why some states would order a turquoise or pink fire truck, since I have always associated fire trucks with red.

To my horror, some actually have no order to how they choose the color of their school supplies and find joy in choosing something different every school term. This is terrifying to me, since I wouldn’t be able to function in school without color coded subjects.

I realized, though, that the purpose of a fire truck is to provide transportation and materials to those who need help. Regardless of whether they’re red, turquoise or pink, they save lives. School supplies make learning possible, regardless what color they are.

Colors have different connotations and invoke different reactions depending on the eye of the beholder. Purple may have the universal connotation of royalty and power, but to me, they remind me of the deep purple flowers that grew outside the first home we moved into when we moved to the U.S.

Therefore the color evokes feelings of family and home for me.

In life, I’m always going to run into people who see everything, not just the color of firetrucks and folders, completely differently from how I see them.

Maybe I’ll never fully understand their point of view, but what I can do is take a step back and look at purpose instead of details.

We are on this Earth for our own purposes and reasons, and the differing factors that exist between all of us make it so that we will never fully understand someone who isn’t ourselves. The only thing we can do is to accept this fact and find the bigger purposes that we can all agree on.

But one thing is for sure: Science is always green.