The Power of Geography

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 02, 2004 was originally posted on December 06, 2004.

DAY 411:  My family has a history of geography contests.  When I was in the seventh grade, I was chosen to represent my middle school in the statewide Geography Bee, proudly run by New York Knick-turned New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.  I made it to the semi-finals, a written test with a bubble sheet answer form, but didn’t advance because, from what I suspect, I used a No. 3 pencil instead of the required No. 2.  Either that, or my Power of Geography simply ran out of steam.

Five years later when my brother, Blogreader markyt was in the seventh grade, he was chosen to be a contestant on the popular PBS geography game show, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, based on the highly-popular educational computer game.  Markyt used his Power of Geography to put fictional baddie Robocrook in jail, and made it to the final round, a round where he had 45 seconds to identify eight African countries by placing a marker on each one on a huge map of the continent on the floor.  Markyt‘s Power of Geography ran out at that point — he only identified three, but hey, Africa’s hard enough, let alone on a big confusing floor map — but at least he got the privilege to command the rock acapella group (appropriately named “Rockapella”) to “do it,” “it” being sing the theme song for the closing credits.  (To see the video highlights clip of markyt on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, go to [the old Articles By Region page] and click on Madagascar.)

The study of geography isn’t just about capitals and the shapes of countries on a map.  It is a blend of anthropology, history and geology, all rolled into one social science (or as we used to say in the seventh grade, “soc sci”).  Little did I know that morning that my family Power of Geography would come into play again.


MY LAST MORNING IN CHIANG MAI went by fast.  It was a non-stop series of errands — typing up a Blog entry, packing up, checking out, shopping for a new towel at the locals’ market, and mailing a package home.  Afterwards I met Lot for breakfast at the Zest garden cafe in town, where I had my final session with my latest Dutch partner-in-crime ever since Pepjin (Pepe) in Ecuador.  We ended up at our usual high-speed internet cafe with the easy USB connectors, where coincidentally Hans and Claire were for a final farewell.  The group would disband that afternoon with everyone going his/her own way.  I was the first to go; I was picked up at 12:30 by a minivan that would take me and a group of others to Chiang Khong, the Thai border town with Laos, five hours away on a road that sometimes reminded me of California (picture above).

“What’s your name?” I asked a guy from my minivan when we sat at adjacent tables during a mid-way lunch break at a roadside restaurant.

“Hoib.”

“Herb?”

“Huyb.  H, U, Y, B.”

“Erik.”

“And you are from the States I’m guessing?”

“New York.”

“And where am I from?”

Without having to think too hard, my Power of Geography came to life.  “Holland.”

“That’s right!  How did you know?”

“I’ve been traveling with the Dutch for the past week.”

“I try and hide my accent.”

“I can tell though.  There’s something that you put on the end of your words.”  I couldn’t really place what it was, but it’s the same subtle sound that Mike Myers did so well as his Dutch character Goldmember in the third Austin Powers movie.)

“And you’re going to Laos?” Huyb asked.

“Yeah, aren’t we all taking the slow boat to…”  I couldn’t remember the name of our final destination.  “...the one that starts with an ‘L.’”

“Luang Prabang.”

“Yeah, that one.” 

“Good, so I won’t be alone then.”  Not everyone was taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang.  The two girls he sat with in the back of the minivan and now at the table before us weren’t traveling with him like I originally thought; they were going to take a bus from the border to some other town in the north.  My Power of Geography couldn’t deduce where they were from — European? Israeli? — but I figured that they were from the UK or something, not only because of their slight British accents, but because one of them, Jenny, reminded me of British actress Keira Knightley.  We chat over our Cokes and Thai Chicken with Cashew Nuts, discussing snake and spider phobias (you either have one or the other) and that town most of us were headed to in Laos.

“I forget the name again,” I said.

“Luang Prabang,” Huyb said, smiling.  “You have to study your cities!”

The Power of Geography only lasts so long.


THE SCENERY GOT MORE RURAL the farther we went and three hours later we finally arrived in the sleepy border town of Chiang Khong by sundown.  We checked into the guesthouse included in our tour packages and sat at the dinner table to eat our complimentary last Thai dishes for the meantime.  It was then we met a husky German guy who we eventually invited for drinks — after we could figure out his name that is.

“What’s his name?” Huyb asked.

“I don’t know,” Jenny said.  Her friend Karin didn’t know either.

“Hans,” I joked.

“Is it really Hans?”

“It has to be.” 

We looked it up on the guesthouse registration book.  It was Markus.


“WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” I asked Markus as we all walked down the small strip of bars, the only strip in the sleepy town.

“Germany.”

“I figured that.  I mean where in Germany?”

“The south of Germany, between Stuttgart and Munich,” he answered with a hesitation to tell me exactly which city because I probably hadn’t heard of it.

“Ulm?” I guessed.

“Yes!  Ulm!  You know it?”

I was there last summer,” I told him.  “It’s on the border of [the German states] Baden-Würtemburg and Bavaria.”  I continued to wow him with the trivia that it was the birthplace of Albert Einstein and that it boasted the world’s tallest cathedral.  My Power of Geography was in full force again.

His face lit up as he was completely amazed that someone had heard of this hometown, particularly an American.  Americans aren’t exactly known for their knowledge of geography outside the US, what with 90% of the population without possession of a passport, and people still not knowing how many states in the union there are (as proven time and time again by impromptu quizzes on the street by Jay Leno and Howard Stern).  Sad, when you think about it, but then again, how many of you Blogreaders didn’t know where Madagascar was when I told you to look it up?

Markus, Jenny, Karin, Huyb and I ended up at the Tee Pee Bar, a dark but cozy little place with posters of Hendrix and Marley on the wall, not surprisingly run by a Thai Rastafarian.  We sat on the floor around some tables while Markus entertained and fooled us with card tricks.  It was then that I saw my Power of Geography was fading again; Jenny and Karin were Swedish, not British like I thought, although I’ve made a similar mistake before — I originally thought Dutchman Pepe in Ecuador was British because he reminded me of British actor Hugh Grant.

“What do Americans think of Sweden?” Jenny asked me.

“Well, my entire apartment was furnished by Ikea.”

“So they don’t think we are all socialistic?”

“Uh, I don’t think Americans can think that far,” I joked.  “Just Ikea.  And meatballs.”

“In Germany we picture the [carefree] blonde girls.  The Swedish boys are big drinkers.”

“Oh yeah, we think that in America too.”

Jenny had broken the Swedish stereotype — she wasn’t a dumb blonde in a bikini, nor did she throw around rubber chickens and vegetables and go “Mork mork mork” like Jim Henson’s Swedish Chef Muppet — she was a pretty bright business student studying abroad at the National University of Singapore.  I suppose it’s never to late too learn something new in the vast study of geography.

And speaking of learning something, in case you’re still stumped on which one Madagascar is on [the old Articles map], it’s the island off the southeast coast of the African continent, dummy.






Next entry: The Wrath of Khan

Previous entry: The Occidental Tourist




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Comments for “The Power of Geography”

  • GREETINGS FROM LUANG PRABANG, LAOS… I’m still here but I’m headed off tomorrow on a long, day-long bus journey through the NIZ…

    That’s the end of The Thailand Episodes (for now); I hope to have the beginning of The Laos Episodes soon.

    DO IT, ROCKAPELLA!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  11:02 AM


  • AR was in Sweden last week and they went to Ikea.  I thought that was pretty sad - I mean, come on… there must have been better choices than Ikea.

    Posted by Liz  on  12/06  at  11:55 AM


  • Are you saying there’s an easter egg in your itinerary?  I’m clicking on Madagascar but nothing’s happening.
    And no, I didn’t know where Madagascar was, I asked 2 people and looked it up online.  :}  I lack the power.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  12:45 PM


  • Nice trick Erik, I knew where Madagascar was….the game Risk has left that impression on my brain!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:07 PM


  • RINA:  Do you have a pop-up blocker?  It spawns a pop-up window…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:35 PM


  • I cringe every time I see that clip….but that’s only when I’m sober…


    Djoubti!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:45 PM


  • Ah, I do have popups blocked.  I disabled it, but still nada.  I’m at work so maybe I’ll have better luck at home.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:47 PM


  • I always rocked “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” when I played along with the TV show or on the computer game. I lived too far for them to pick me, though… boo… But, the power of geography is something I’ve always had. YEAY! Except with all the small SE Asian counties. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:48 PM


  • NOELLE - you may have better mountains than us, but we got carmen sandiego grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  01:53 PM


  • Hey Erik,
    I stumbled across your blog yesterday from a link on lonelyplanet and haven’t stopped reading.  It’s definitely hurting my work productivity.  Keep it up!

    Tom

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  02:08 PM


  • Oooh oooh! Me Me! Pick me! I know I know!  I know where Madagascar is!

    Silent blogger stepping out of the darkness to thank you for the opportunity to e-travel with you.  I’m a friend of Michelle, who is chasing penguins down around the south pole right now. In her blog, she had included a link to your “Would you” clip… and I’ve been addicted to your blog and poop-humor ever since.

    Take care Erik!

    Ok, back into the darkness…

    -Ali

    (BTW… wasn’t it the Sultan of Madagascar who thretaned to cut off your head…)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  02:23 PM


  • I’m SO jelous Markyt. I wanted to be on that show SOO bad!

    Every night I dreamt of that new computer complete with the encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  03:13 PM


  • TDOT - new comp with encyclopedia britannica??? 

    that was the prize on “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” the show that came after “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” ended….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  03:23 PM


  • Oh… I guess I got my Carmen’s mixed up. What was the prize on Where in the world? Besides the Rockapella CD?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  04:04 PM


  • If you got all 8 markers right, then you get a trip to anywhere in the US…

    if you don’t get them all (like i did) you get the a collection of world cds, a portable cd player (this was b4 skip protection features), and a globe basketball…

    i can easily see how an 81er can get their carmen shows mixed up…haha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  04:22 PM


  • LOL.. oh WHY couldn’t I have been born in ‘79?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  05:49 PM


  • Madagascar I knew, it was Zanzibar that had me stumped. It was then that I started colorizing a huge map Illustrator file I had laying around (this is an educational publishing company after all). Suffice it to say, most of the planet is now TGT2004 Blue.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  06:30 PM


  • BTW Erik, of the 50 states—that tragically too few Americans can find on a map—of those 50 which ones have you been to? I mean you’re travelling all over the world, but what about the good ol’ USA? I think my meager total is 23—including that 1 hour layover in Minnesota.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  07:00 PM


  • More pics of the girl who looks like Keira Knightley please. wink

    Posted by Anthony  on  12/06  at  10:19 PM


  • I think I’m at 30 - wow, that’s more than I thought!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/06  at  10:56 PM


  • TOM.M:  Awesome… glad I got you hooked, especially when you should be working! 

    Enjoy and spread the word!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:30 AM


  • ALI:  Hey there!  Thanks for breaking the silence!  Don’t be too vocal though; I promised Michelle I wouldn’t “steal” away too many of her readers! wink

    For a preview of Michelle’s adventures on The Ice, you can check out my Antarctica video at:
    http://www.theglobaltrip.com/videos

    (BTW:  No, it was my…  my misunderstanding…)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:35 AM


  • CHRISTY:  It seems that people I’ve met on the road follow the same mentality as me:  save the home country for old age.

    Hmm, let’s see…  NJ, NY, NH, CT, VT, ME, MD, VA, FL, GA, NC, SC, RI, PA, OH, IN, IL, AK, CA, NV, TX, TN, WV, LA, AL, MA, KY, CO, DE, MI, (DC)...
    30 + DC

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:46 AM


  • Oops, MI should be MS…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:48 AM


  • Erik, you haven’t been to Michigan!? Oooooh, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

    ALI: I see you!!!! hee hee.  Take care, see you in the New Year!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  11:24 AM


  • Cool! Over a year since Ecuador and I still get mentioned in dispatches. Twice! The Hugh Grant trick must have left a big impression.
    You still gonna hide in a bowl of rice now you’re there?

    Take care,

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:24 PM


  • PEPIJIN:  I’m writing this comment in a bowl of rice right now! 

    Still glad you’re reading a year after!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  01:37 AM


  • MICHELLE:  Is that an invitation to MI?  wink 

    Welcome back from The Ice.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  01:39 AM


  • You are welcome to Michigan any time! 

    It was very sad leaving the ice… I LOVED it.

    Hey what company did you use for your tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats? I?m on my way there…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  02:39 AM


  • MICHELLE:  I can’t remember the name of the office; it might be on my entry though… Make sure you don’t pay more than $60 for the standard desert tour…  Have them throw in the hotel night before departure too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  10:46 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
The Wrath of Khan

Previous entry:
The Occidental Tourist




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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