8 Maps and Globes That Will Change Your Perspective of the World

8280671002_19c064bddf_nLast week, out of the blue, my 7-year-old son said, “Guess what?”

(He doesn’t really want me to guess. When I try, I’m always wrong.)

“Guess what? The earth doesn’t have an upside down.”

Of course, he’s right. But you wouldn’t know it if you look at our maps and globes. Isn’t north up and south down? How else would you explain Upstate New York, Manhatten’s Upper East Side,  Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia’s location “down under”?

And, of course, north is better than south, since up is better than down, right? According to a 2011 study, that seems to be the perception in the US. The results, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, show that 72.5% of participants in the study would rather live in the northern half of a hypothetical city, because, they assumed, that’s where the more affluent people live. And when the map was flipped, with south at the top, participants no longer saw the northern half as better, since it was now on the bottom.

Also, side to side, we all know where the center is. It’s Europe. So Saudi Arabia is in the Middle East and Japan is in the Far East. Just look at any map, and you’ll see it’s so.

Well, not any map, just most of them . . . at least in the West. But the West doesn’t make up the whole world, or even most of the world.

When I was in Taiwan I saw a wall map centered on Asia. It makes sense, since the Mandarin word for China is Zhongguo, meaning “Middle Kingdom.” That map opened my eyes to seeing the world in a different way.

So here are five maps to help us all see our global neighborhood differently. Each is available for purchase online, though some are quite pricey. Display these and listen to the conversations begin.

  1. Upside-Down Maps

    These are more than just regular maps flipped bottom to top. What makes them special is that all the names and notes are printed right-side up on north-down images of the countries. Get them from Maps.comODT Maps, and Metsker Maps.

  2. Center-Shifted Maps

    These two Pacific-centered maps (physical and political) from Maps.com put the Western Hemisphere on the right. And their Asia/Europe-centered map even has the gall to split North America in two.

  3. Azimuthal Maps

    An azimuthal map puts you at the center, showing the world spreading out from that center in all directions. This means that distances can be measured from you—the center point—to anywhere on the globe using a straight line (unlike with traditional rectangular maps). It also means that the farther away from the center, the more distortion there is. (This map is truly egocentric). ODT Maps offers a USA-centered and an Africa-centered map, as well as custom-made maps centered on any city in the world.

  4. Imaginary-Underground Maps

    Contemporary artist Chris Gray has produced a creative collection of maps showing an imaginary global system of subway lines. Versions include Asiocentric, Eurocentric, and Antipocentric (Asia-centered and upside-down).

  5. Earth at Night Maps

    These cool maps are actually compilations of nighttime photos taken from space and show clusters of light from cities around the globe. Two renditions, with different results, are at National Geographic and PosterRevolution.

  6. City Lights Globe

    This globe puts the “earth at night” map on a sphere. It’s an automatically rotating daytime globe that, when the lights dim, illuminates the cities of the world. Available at Innovatoys. Waypoint Geographic’s Earth by Day and Night, at World Wide Globes, is a similar globe that lights up when turned on.

  7. Replica Globes

    Authentic Models has a line of reproductions that mimic famous and beautiful globes from years gone by. The physical world hasn’t changed, but the borders and place names certainly have. Each of these globes, available at OnlyGlobes.com, is a lesson in history. Replica globes show us the world the way it used to be seen.

  8. Upside-Down Globe

    I was sure that someone would have made one of these, but alas, I couldn’t find one. Too bad. The closest thing I could come up with is the inflatable Astronaut View Globe from Jet Creations—available at Ultimate Globes. It is, as the name suggests, what the world looks like from space. Since there’s no printing on this globe, you could easily turn it south side up, which is actually the way NASA’s famous “Blue Marble” photo was originally taken (as shown here).

Maybe I’ll have to get somebody to make an upside-down custom-made globe for me. Maybe Mr. Bellerby, of Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, can give me a hand. (Update: see An Upside Down Globe: The Wait Is Over, Now the Waiting Begins)

(My favorite quotation from this video is “The whole way of making anything using a sphere as its base, as its centerpiece, is fraught with different problems and issues because you’re multiplying every error by pi.”)

All this has got me thinking: What else do we in the North and West take for granted? For instance, in my post Les Images de France 5, the creators of the TV idents describe their images this way: “Everything travels from left to right,” and “this is of course about moving forward.” Why is rightward movement usually associated with progress? Is this because we read from left to right? If so, then is it the same in cultures that read right to left, such as in Arabic-speaking countries? Or is progress, for them, a right-to-left thing?

It’s got me thinking.

Bonus Map #9: The Atlas of True Names
This set of maps, from German cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Pest, renames places with their original literal meaning. See my later post for a full description.

(Sanette Tanaka, “Study Points to Bias toward a City’s North Side,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2013)

[photos: “World Grunge Map,” by Nicolas Raymond, used under a Creative Commons license; “The Blue Marble from Apollo 17, courtesy of NASA]


Departures and Repatriations: Crossing the Great Divide

“Never die in Taiwan.”

That’s what the poor man at the American Institute in Taiwan said. AIT serves as a de facto US embassy in Taiwan, and I was there taking care of some routine matters. Others, like the student I met who had been so excited about navigating the city in a taxi by himself that he left his backpack and passport in the cab, had more pressing issues.

The man who turned away from the window in despair, who told us all, “Never die in Taiwan,” had just presented documentation concerning his recently deceased wife. He needed to prove that she had died to show that he wasn’t trying to remove his children from the country against her wishes. This was his second or third visit, and the person behind the window was sending him back for translated copies—from Chinese to English, or from English to Chinese—or for some other paperwork that seemed impossible to obtain. The man looked so defeated. The death of a loved one overseas must truly be a distressing experience, in so many ways. I can only imagine how hard it is.

Recently I was jumping around the Web and looked up repats just to see what was out there on the repatriation process, say, for returning cross-cultural workers. One of the top sites listed was repats.com. That seemed like just what I was looking for, but the text underneath wasn’t what I expected:

Funeral Repatriations – Rapatriements funéraire – Funeraire repatriëring

So repats.com is a funeral site. That means, I thought, that repatriation must refer to sending a person’s spirit back “home,” to heaven. What an interesting use of the word. But as it turns out (as most of you probably already knew), for funeral operators, repatriation means returning the deceased’s remains to the country of origin.

Obviously, there is a lot to take care of in this kind of repatriation process: There are laws to follow, the paperwork, the physical aspect of transporting the body, the expense, the disruption of normal day-to-day life overseas, the stress and grief, and the coordination of cultural and religious customs. Avalon Repatriation Services, located in the United Kingdom, gives the following overview of some of the varied practices around the world:

  • In France for example, a body must be embalmed and placed in a wooden coffin 24 hours after death.
  • In Islamic countries, it is the widely-held belief that the deceased should be buried before sundown or within 24 hours, without embalming.
  • In the United States, embalming is common practice. In many countries—when embalming does take place—it is a qualified embalmer’s job, whereas in some countries, for example Portugal and Spain, it is against the law for anyone but a qualified doctor to undertake this procedure.
  • Those of Jewish faith believe that the body should be returned to the earth it came from and are therefore against cremation.
  • Hindus cremate their dead, believing that the burning of a dead body signifies the release of the spirit and that the flames represent Brahma, the creator.

My misunderstanding the meaning of repatriation reminds me of the Japanese film Departures, winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It tells the story of an unemployed cellist, Daigo, who answers a newspaper ad titled “Departures.” He thinks he’s applying for a travel-agency job but instead ends up taking a job as a nokanshi, someone who ceremonially prepares bodies for burial. Daigo learns the trade from Sasaki, his boss, who becomes his mentor. And Daigo learns also to overcome opposition from his family and friends and to face his own fears, finding deep meaning in his new vocation.

This is a great film. It’s been one of my family’s favorites ever since my son brought home a copy. Just listening to the theme song in the trailer reminds me of the deep emotions that are explored in the story. I think it’s about time I watched it again.

(“Catering for Different Religions,” Avalon Repatriation Services)

[photo: “Go West,” by halfrain, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 1)

In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, a lot of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
5. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
6. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
7. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
8. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
9. You think Americans are loud.
10. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
11. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
13. You have to ask how to write a check.
14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
18. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
23. You realize international students are you’re kind of people.
24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
27. You wonder if organization should be spelled with an s.
28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
29. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
30. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”

(Part 2Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 2)

(Part 1)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

31. You stock up on Mountain Dew because you never know when it won’t be available again, and you check the expiration dates.
32. You think the public schools are great because the teachers are all proficient in English.
33. You read all your junk mail because it looks important.
34. You don’t hang pictures on the wall in case you’ll be moving again soon.
35. You still have unopened boxes shipped from overseas, and you don’t have a clue what’s inside them.
36. For Christmas, you open up one of those boxes.
37. Even though you own a house, you still catch yourself turning the music down so you won’t “bother the neighbors downstairs.”
38. You’re invited to a bar-b-que and your first thought is “I hope they don’t give me the fatty part of the goat’s tail.”
39. You hand the cashier at Wal-Mart your credit card instead of swiping it yourself.
40. You put your hand lotion in 3 oz. containers just to drive to visit grandma.
41. You’re frustrated that you have to ask for chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant.
42. You have to ask what’s the right amount to spend on a wedding gift.
43. You give up trying to decide which shampoo to buy.
44. You ask your friends to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
45. People ask where you’re from and you just answer with the name of the city where you live now.
46. You skip reading the Facebook posts of your former coworkers overseas because it’s just too hard.
47. When you buy clothes, you check to see that the brand name is spelled correctly.
48. You stop telling stories about your old host country because people stop asking for them.
49. Now that you’ve returned, your family members can tell you they didn’t know why you went over there in the first place.
50. People who knew you before you left ask if you’ve “gotten that out of your system.”
51. You go to the hospital for surgery and you take your own towels and gauze.
52. Your high schooler is pulled over for a routine traffic stop and gets out of the car before the policeman approaches.
53. You question the waitress’s math skills until you remember she simply added tax.
54. You realize that Taco Bell isn’t quite as good as you remembered it.
55. Your daughter calls herself an “African American” because she was born in Africa.
56. You look forward to mowing the lawn, because you have a lawn.
57. You say “here” and you mean the US, not the town you’re in.
58. You take an umbrella outside when the sun is shining.
59. “Made in Taiwan” labels fill you with nostalgia.
60. People correct you when you pronounce foreign names the way they’re supposed to sound.

(Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 3)

(Part 1, Part 2)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

61. You describe a city as “small” because it has only a million residents.
62. You hear yourself saying at the dinner table, “Where’s the garlic?”
63. You pull out the winter coats when the temperature gets below 70 degrees; or you pull out the shorts when it gets above 40.
64. You get a bill from the doctor and you call to see whose clerical error made the amount so high.
65. Glade’s “Ocean Breeze” scent isn’t any substitute for the real thing.
66. You assume everyplace in the US has WiFi, just like in the city you used to live in.
67. Wearing your traditional ethnic shirt isn’t as much fun now that you’re not going back again.
68. You ask at the grocery store if they have KLIM powdered milk. When they say “No,” you ask when they expect it to be in.
69. You buy three cartons of Hagen Dazs ice cream because it’s one third of the price of Hagen Dazs in your old host country. When you get home, your spouse reminds you it’s still too expensive.
70. You reset your new computer’s clock to military time.
71. You need to convert to the metric system to make sure of distances and temperatures.
72. You get fully dressed to sit in your living room because someone may be peeking in the window.
73. Airports feel like home.
74. The thought of moving again sends you into a panic attack. But your spouse feels the same way about staying put.
75. Your college-age children resent that you took away their opportunity to go “home” for the summer.
76. You can’t remember why anyone would like pineapple from a can, the same for orange juice from concentrate.
77. You understand why the restrooms in LAX have signs saying, “Do not stand on the toilets.”
78. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
79. A friend sends funds to a scammer who sent out an e-mail saying he’s you, stranded abroad, and your friend believes it because, hey, you travel all the time and you’re always needing money.
80. You don’t know what to buy your parents for Christmas now that you can’t give them souvenirs.
81. You shed a tear after finally eating the last package of dried fruit that you brought back with you.
82. You do your happy dance when you find another package of dried fruit in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag a year later.
83. You cringe because you hear someone say she’s “starving to death.”
84. You realize that all the documents on your computer are formatted for A4 paper.
85. You tell your waiter, “I’d like my water with ice . . . if you have any.”
86. You get nervous about buying tickets at the movie theater, because you forgot what the “rules” are.
87. You still can’t drink water straight from the faucet.
88. Your children are happy to see that the US has Costcos, too.
89. You miss the familiar sound of the daily call to prayer . . . or a rooster crowing . . . or late-night traffic . . . or the song the trash truck plays.
90. You show up at a party 2 hours late because you don’t want to be the first one there.
91. You put your favorite DVD in the player and it says, “Region Unsupported.”
92. You understand that some things just take a lot of time.

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]