Sunday, June 29, 2008

I No Longer Hate Geography

I love geography. Well, now I do. I used to hate it because it confused me. Okay, it still confuses me somewhat. What can I say? I'm an American. Bad geographical skills are in our genes or something.

I became interested in geography when my son Jack was about two-years-old. In case you didn't know....he's kind of smart. So, we bought these educational placemats. One of them had a map of the world. I decided to try and teach him geography.

I got him to memorize the location of various countries by connecting them to something that might interest him. What country is Snow White from? Where does Pokemon come from? Where does Peter Pan and Mary Poppins live? Where do the Wiggles live?

It worked! My toddler knew basic geography! And then it got a bit scary because he soon knew more than the basics. The kid couldn't talk yet, but he could find places like Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

I loved showing Jack off to the world....exploiting my child. Although I didn't go as far as booking him on Jay Leno. We just stuck to friends and family.

Jack's interest in geography must have been contagious. Well, at least, I caught it. I found that studying a map helped me understand the world more. Things started to make more sense.

For example, I had kept hearing about Pakistan in relation to Osama Bin Ladin. I didn't get it. But once I actually looked at a map..... "Ah! Afghanistan and Pakistan are right next to each other." And I wondered. Why does Australia have so many Asian immigrants? Honestly, I never understand that. But then....Ah! Australia is very close to Asia.

There are still some things that confuse me in geography. Like the Middle East. What's the deal with that? Is it part of Europe? Asia? Neither?

And then there's Australia. It's the only country that has its own damn continent. Yet, it's also part of Oceania. What is Oceania exactly? Not a continent, right? A country cluster?

Anyway, here are some basic facts about Australia (I think most of these count as geography. Or maybe not? I really do get confused!)

a) Australia has about 8 million square miles. It's about the same size as the continental United States (that means you subtract Hawaii and Alaska...kind of rude if you ask me)

b) Australia is close (but not too close) to New Zealand, Papa New Guinea, and Indonesia.

c) Okay. Really weird. Well, at least we thought it was weird. I always thought that Europe was closer to Australia. I mean it still might be. But it's actually faster to fly from the US to Australia than it is to fly from the UK to Australia. Why? I don't know.

d) Australia has close to 21 million people. Now remember that it's about the same size as the United States. How many people does the United States have? About 300 million!

e) Most Australians live on the coast. Sydney has the most people. About 4 million. Melbourne has a little less than that. New York City has about double that. And New York State has close to 19 million. That's almost the same amount of people in the whole country of Australia.

f) Australia has less people than the state of Texas--where I live.

g) Australia has 7 states and/or territories. Okay, I honestly don't understand this exactly. I met some people from Darwin--which is in the Northern Territory. I asked them what it means to be a territory and not a state. They gave me an answer. I didn't understand it.

Should we talk about the states? Yeah, I guess so.


1. New South Wales. That's where Sydney is. Sydney is NOT the capital of Australia, but it is the capital of New South Wales. Canberra is the capital of all Australia. Canberra is IN New South Wales, but it's not a part of New South Wales.

2. Queensland. This is where Steve Irwin lived and his zoo still lives. It's also where you'll find the Great Barrier Reef. If you go way up north and you're a dumb tourist, you'll probably become lunch for a crocodile.

3. Victoria. This is where my friend Suzanne lives, and it's where my friend Tracey used to live. Melbourne is here too.

4. Tasmania. An island. This is where the Tasmanian Devil lives. It's also where one of my friends live.

5. Northern Territory. Uluru (Ayers Rock) is here. Before I was obsessed with Australia, I don't think I knew what Uluru was. Was I just dumb? Have most people heard of it....I mean outside of Australia? Probably. I mean hopefully I was the only one so dumb.

6. South Australia. This is where McLeod's Daughters takes place.

7. Western Australia. This is where Heath Ledger was from. It's also where one of my Facebook friends lived. But he never wrote me once I left Facebook. So sad.

Okay, done with the states. (Thank you, Australia for not having 50). Here's more stuff.

h) In the United States, the South is hot. In Australia, it's the North that's hot. I've also heard rumors that as the U.S North is snobby towards the South (especially the South East), the people in the Southern part of Australia can be a bit snobby about those up North. And probably for about the same reasons. I'll stop here before I get myself in trouble.

i)) Australia was once called terra australis incognita--meaning "unknown Southern Land."

Now we know it, and now we visit it.

If we're lucky, we get to live in it.

I'm waiting to get lucky.



j) Australia is sometimes nicknamed The lucky country but there's a kind of funny story behind that. Let's just say something was taken a bit out of context.


  1. Omigod, what country is Snow White from? Thanks for putting up that map-- I really had no idea where anything in Australia was-- now I have your map.

  2. I'm glad I could be of service. Speaking of....Jack and I have found your aussie vocabulary list very useful.
    We'd probably be lost without it.

    I think Snow White is German...the Brother's Grimm thing.....

    Actually, I think I knew that because at Epcot World Showcase, the German Pavillion has Snow White stuff.

  3. I thought so too because Snow White, or Snowie as I often say to her, is such a furkengruvin vienerschnitzel.

  4. Okay. I'll just pretend I know what you just said.....

  5. Canberra is also a state.
    NSW and Vic were arguing about where the capital should be so they plonked it in the middle of Sydney and Melbourne and made it a state of its own. :)

  6. I would think it's a territory. Although still not quite sure what the difference is between a territory and state : )

  7. You're right, it is a territory. :)

    The difference between a state and a territory is that territories (NT and ACT) have the power to self govern (i.e. they can each convene their own Parliament and separate themselves from the States). However this is just a technicality and they are for all practical purposes regarded as States. All this confusion was caused at the time of federation when certain bits of Oz didn't want to come to the party.

    I agree, it is weird!

  8. Thanks Anonymous!

    I think I understand things a little better.

    I hope you stick around. You might be able to help me in the future : )

    You're good at explaining things.

    Are you a teacher?

  9. I know all that. lol

  10. Yeah, it's like a state, only different, a bit like the difference between dogs and cats, cats are like dogs, only different. lol.

    My brother lives there.

  11. Tex:

    Glad you know it!!

    I think that's one of the thing that impresses me about most Australians. They actually seem to know their history, geography, etc.

    In college, I took a class on Judaism and a class on Black psychology. It seems the Jews did the worst in the Judaism class and the African-Americans did the worst in the black psychology class.

    I think a lot of people take their origins for granted and assume they'll know about it just because they're part of that group. Along the lines of. "I don't need to study about Judaism. I AM Jewish!!"

    And then the other people (who are not Jewish or black) actually study their butts off, trying to understand it all.

    Australians seem to be different though. At least from what I seem. They seem to have a lot of knowledge.

    I wish I could say that way about me and America. I'm getting better. Although sad to say....I did better on the online Australian citizenship test than the American one. Although the American one wasn't multiple choice like the Aussie one.

    Hey, also....We have 50 states to learn!!!!

  12. Hey, thanks. No, actually I'm a lawyer! I will definitely be sticking around, I love reading your blog.

    Yeah I dont think that we are particularly more knowledgeable, but there is just a lot less to learn so it's easier to remember! We also have compulsary geography/history classes up to year 10 in high school. I'm not sure if that's the same in America... :)

  13. Anonymous,

    I'm so glad you like my blog! Thank you.

    We have compulsary geography/history...I THINK up to grade 11. Maybe even 12?

    Americans have a reputation for being horrible at geography and for being very ethnocentric.

    I'm not sure how much of the stereotype is true and how they truly compare to other countries.

    It would be interesting to compare American social studies classes with classes from other countries...including Australia. Look at the different textbooks. See what the teachers say. Compare the knowledge of the students.

  14. Hi Dina - its always interesting to read a foreigner's view of my country.

    And yes, Canberra (where I live) is its own separate territory, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Kind of like Washington DC.

  15. Thanks, Ian.

    How is it living in Canberra?

    We're planning to visit next time we come over.

    I'm looking forward to it--although I feel a bit guilty since I haven't been to D.C yet.


  16. Hey, a post tagged for the Northern Territory!

    I live in Darwin. I have to disagree with Anonymous just a tad on the implications of living in an Australian territory. "Self-government" means we have our own parliament (which, btw, is a privilege granted to us by the federal gov't...before 1978, we were directly ruled by Canberra), BUT, unlike a real state, the federal government can intervene and override any decision whenever it likes. Case in point: 1997, the NT voted to legalise euthanasia. Federal gov't vetoed it. 2007, federal gov't decided to do a huge "intervention" in the NT Aboriginal communities and the NT gov't had no say-so in the matter. If we'd been a state, they wouldn't have been able to do it.

    We certainly cannot separate ourselves, and in fact, we cannot even become a state without approval from the federalies!

    (not that I'm bitter or anything... yes, it is LIKE being a state, but when the technicalities come up, you really notice the difference!)

  17. Oh, P.S. where in Texas are you? I come from the Rio Grande Valley, lived right near South Padre. (and that horrid hurricane that nearly tore off my parents' roof!)

  18. Tors,

    You explain things well. Thank you! Interesting about the Euthanasia. I can see how that would be a frustration. Free. Yet not quite free.

    We live in Fort Worth Texas. I think you were already gone by the time we moved here. Actually though my parents moved here in 1992 or 1993. I was in college and came back for summers. We moved her officially to live in 2000.

    How did you go from Sydney to Darwin?