A Story of White

The white color in the French Tricolor

flag originated from the royalist white flag under absolute monarchies before

the 1789 French Revolution, with the red and blue representing the heraldic

colors of the city of Paris. During the Second World War, Vichy-France

(German-occupied) used a plain tricolor flag while the Free French used a

“defaced” tricolor, with the Cross of Lorraine drawn on the white-color

vertical band. One could probably interpret the latter as the fight for or

defense of freedom.

In the film musical “The Sound of

Music”, “Edelweiss” is one of the most beloved songs. It is performed by the von Trapp family just before their planned escape from German-occupied Austria

so that Captain von Trapp could avoid being drafted into the Nazi navy. In the context

of that scene, the name of the song can actually imply the pursuit of freedom

(my own take) as well as an expression of national pride. In language, the word

“Edelweiss” is the name of a white mountain flower found in the Alps. Its

German origin actually means “noble white” (“edel” means noble and “weiss” means

white). In the 19th century, edelweiss was a symbol of the rugged

purity of the Alpine region, and in 1907 was established as the insignia of the

Austrian-Hungarian Alpine troops.

In my childhood days, I learned that the

color white is an unhappy color in the Chinese culture. It symbolized death and

grief. In those days, white clothing and white-colored hair ornaments used to

be reserved for funeral parlors and mourning rituals at home. Children who

innocently fiddled with white hairclip or other white trinkets on their hair

would invite immediate tongue-lashing from adults. It would be an unforgivable

faux-pas, for adult or child, to wear white to weddings and birthday banquets,

because one would accuse you of being evil-hearted as to wish bad luck on the

hosts and hostesses. In those days, only very few families were westernized

enough to allow their daughters to wear white bridal gowns at weddings. The

popular choice of wedding garments for a bride was a red satin surcoat with a

stiff high collar and a full-length red satin skirt, with the surcoat heavily

embroidered with silver- and gold-threads woven into phoenixes.

As I grew into adolescence, such

traditional color dogma was beginning to dissipate as society grew a little

accustomed to Western culture with the invasion of Hollywood films. White

weddings were becoming more and more common. White tulle frocks could be found

in high-end department stores but only movie stars and girls from very well off

families were able to afford them. Having a pretty white tulle frock remained a

distant dream for me the whole time. The problem was of course my mother

couldn’t afford to buy such luxury.

Here is my story about a white tulle

frock.

When I was in Form 3, I got baptized on

the persuasion of Catholic nuns at school. When the time came for my

Confirmation, I was thrown into mental anguish as I was required by custom to

wear a white frock for the occasion. At that time, my entire wardrobe only

consisted of my school uniforms and a couple of printed cotton shirts and corduroy pinafores

which were all hand-made by my maternal aunt. I never had a proper girlish dress,

not to mention a white frock. I had been to other classmates’ Confirmation

ceremonies previously and had admired so much some of their fancy white tulle

frocks with pretty lace trimmings and puff sleeves, which made them look really

angelic. What was I going to do? After a few weeks’ nagging, I finally got my

mother to ask around for a second-hand white frock among relatives. A cousin

happened to have a second-hand white tulle frock handed down to her by another

distant cousin and was willing to pass it on to me. When I heard the news I was

beside myself with joy. But the joy was short-lived. I should have known that high

expectations would more often than not turn into sour disappointments. I was instantly

reduced to tears the moment I laid eyes on the third-hand frock. It was a

pitiful, crumpled, off-whitish to yellowish bundle of limp, over-washed,

fabric. And it was too big a size for me too.

On the day of the ceremony, I felt so

dejected in that frumpy frock that I just hid myself in a corner of the school

playground and didn’t even had the courage to walk up to greet my godmother. I

waited till everybody had gone inside the chapel and then slipped myself in.

Shortly after the ceremony I joined the

Legion of Mary, where I learned an important lesson. Doing volunteer charity work

under the Legion made me realize that helping others could give me a sense of

satisfaction that no pretty white frock ever could.

Today, white is still my favorite color,

and for me, it still symbolizes liberty, especially liberty of thought.