PixelFish (pixelfish) wrote,

Relative Size

I was checking out a link to the Strange Maps blog, when I stumbled across this post:

The post takes the provinces of China and replaces their names with countries of the world that have the same population. The largest province has the population of Germany, for example.

And that reminded me that when we went to visit James and Weng-Chen, I asked her about her hometown. And she said, deprecatingly, that we would never have heard of it. (I think she said it was Changchun, but I could be wrong.) But then James added drily that even though that was true, her hometown, this place we would never have heard of, was in fact, a city of several million people. And my brain kinda stumbled and fell over that concept. Because the way I've been raised, as a US citizen, is to see the US as the centre of the universe. I mean, I expect that people visiting the US will have heard of New York and San Francisco and LA and Chicago and Boston and possibly Miami, Dallas, and Seattle. But San Francisco (the largest city I've lived in) has a population of only 900,000 at usual times and after the dotcom collapses, it even dipped down to somewhere in the 700K range. (San Jose, for example, is bigger.) Granted the greater Bay Area has the 47th largest metro area in the world (another fact gleaned from the pages of Strange Maps) but can you imagine a city in the US that had several million people (suburbs not included) and people not knowing about it? I suddenly realised the magnitude of my US-centric worldview, that I would expect people to know about San Francisco, but I wouldn't know about a city into whose corners you could easily tuck San Francisco.

I'm a fairly geographically aware US citizen, thanks to my dad tossing me the globe every morning and telling to find places like South Georgia Island. (And he was evil. He didn't add the Island part. Just said, "Find South Georgia.") But Weng-Chen was right--I hadn't heard of her hometown 'til she mentioned it.

It actually made me think of a scene in Justine Larbalestier's new book, How To Ditch Your Fairy, where one of the characters has transferred to a school in New Avalon. I can't remember where he came from before, but he has the usual amounts of culture shock, and eventually he blows up at our main character, pointing out that she thinks New Avalon is all that and a bag of chips, but she doesn't know any of the people he references, and they're all really famous outside of New Avalon. (Justine, for those who are unaware, comes from Australia and spends half her year in Sydney and the other half in New York. I expect she wrote that scene from her own experiences.)

When I lived in Canada, they were all completely aware of the things I knew, culturally speaking, but most of the time, I had to be seriously educated on the aspects of Canadian fame and culture that many of them took for granted. (Except Gordon Korman. I already was a Gordon Korman fan before living in Canada.)

It still boggles my mind slightly to think about this vasty place that has its own culture and celebrities and whatnot, and I'm totally ignorant of it, even though it is, compared to every place I have ever lived, a mammoth. You can probably get through fifteen Chinese metro areas before San Francisco even pops up. And I'm unware of any other than Shanghai and Taipei and Beijing. My knowledge is full of gaps.
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