Monday, October 26, 2009

Re-Centering Geography, or, How To Sound Like A Complete Jackass

I was talking to Ay-Leen the Peacemaker the other night about grad school options, and she mentioned that the University of California has "a very strong Far East Studies program". We were both surprised at this. And then I said, "that's kinda strange. You'd figure that the Far East for California would be more Near West."

Remember what I said about Eurocentrism? Part of it is reinforced by our geographical language. The Orient used to be the Middle-East, and began encompassing more of Asia as time went by, and it's a term used to center the European (or, now, neo-European) experience as normal, which everything else is measured against.

So I thought, maybe the next time someone calls Asia the Far East, I'll ask, "whose East? Yours or mine?"

When they inevitably ask why, I'll rightly point out to them that when I am flying to someplace like Chicago (which I've been doing to get to Halifax - since Halifax is right smack dab across the planet from Malaysia, it doesn't matter which direction I fly. Both ways take an equally long time), I fly east, to the United States, so where I'm thinking from, the United States are closer if I fly east.

This requires some mind-jiggering which could prove truly useful in re-centering our experiences and realizing just how different perspectives can be. For example, the Far East for a place like California would probably be Europe! The West, for East Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and the like, would be a place like Europe, but the States would be East of them!

The mind, it boggles. <3

1 comment:

  1. Another one that kills me is GMT. I had never even heard of GMT before I started working for a British organization, but every moment of every day is based on some imaginary line through the UK. And people actually want to schedule things in GMT - can't even be bothered to figure out the other time zones. Argh.