And I thought the early twentysomething Thai native I met last summer who couldn’t find Malaysia, Thailand’s neighbor to the south, on a map was bad. Today I had a brief chat with a 20-year-old guy from Sydney who just arrived in Bangkok for a backpacking adventure, and he brought geographical cluelessness to new depths. I was surprised when he told me that he’s never been to Melbourne, which is a lot like being from New York City and never bothering to check out Boston, but it’s not completely unfathomable. I presumed he at least knew that Melbourne was south of Sydney, but by the end of our conversation, I wasn’t entirely sure.
Me: “So how long are you in Bangkok?”
Him: “Maybe a week or two. I gotta make my way to Bali on the 9th. Not really sure where it is. I’m guessing I have to fly, though.”
If there’d been a globe nearby, I would have asked him to pinpoint our approximate whereabouts on it, just to be sure he knew. I suppose that he should be commended for getting out of his comfort zone and seeing the world, but shouldn’t a key part of that process be knowing where in it you’re going to? Though I realize that my near-obsession with geography isn’t a universal malady — I can spend hours, or the entire time it takes to fly from Bangkok to Bali, staring at the maps in the back of in-flight magazines, but really, who else does that? — I figured that every Australian at least knew for sure that you have to fly to get to Bali. It’s like their Hawaii, after all.
I considered suggesting that he take a taxi there, but I resisted the urge to screw with him. I figured he’s got enough problems. Good thing he’s charming and pretty, I thought after taking my leave. Maybe he can use that to get to Bali.
Geography in Song
“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” Dionne Warwick
“Where’s the Ocean?” Toni Childs
“Can’t Get There from Here” R.E.M.