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BASIC BIITTNER - A Changing World

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The news of the recent flood in Myanmar brought this response from me : "Where is Myanmar ? - never heard of it." This type of reaction has been real common for me in recent years, I have often been confronted with country and city names with which I was unfamiliar. Bosnia? Darfur? Dubai? I didn't remember seeing any of those names when I was studying geography back in the 1960s. Where did some of these places come from, and where, exactly, are they located?

For any of you who are "Baby Boomers" or even older (if you can imagine that), I am going to attempt to list some of the places in this world of ours which have, over the course of the last few decades, either: 1) come into existence; 2) come into the public awareness; 3) changed their name; or 4) some combination of these factors.

First of all, "class," let's take a look at Darfur. Darfur is a region in western Sudan (in Africa, on the southeastern border of Egypt). An independent sultanate for several hundred years,Darfur was incorporated into Sudan by Anglo-Egyptian forces. The region is divided into three federal states: West Darfur, South Darfur, and North Darfur which are coordinated by a Transitional Darfur Regional Authority. The country has been suffering from internal strife and its citizens in need of humanitarian aid for several years now, but that's on the political scene, and the primary reason it's in the news and of concern to George Clooney. This column, however, is concerned today with geography, so I will tell you that Darfur covers an area of approximately 196,555 miles - just over 90% the size of France.

Dubai - where Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, and several other well-to-do celebs have homes - is situated on the Persian Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE),and sits roughly at sea level. Dubai lies directly within the Arabian Desert, but the topography of Dubai is significantly different from that of the southern portion of the UAE. The sand consists mostly of crushed shell and coral and is fine, clean and white. The population of the emirate was 1,422,000 as of 2006. Although Arabic is the official language of Dubai, English, Hindi, Malayalam, Persian, Urdu, Tagalog and others are widely spoken. In a recent research, the MasterCard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index™, Dubai was named as one of the world's top 50 cities that are the hubs of the new worldwide economy. Dubai's ranking positions the city as a leader in the Middle East, offering a strong business climate that supports further development. Dubai is considered to be an important tourist destination and its port, Jebel Ali, constructed in the 1970s, has the largest man-made harbor in the world. Dubai is also increasingly developing as a hub for service industries such as IT and finance, with the establishment of a new Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). A $3.89 billion Dubai Metro project is under construction for the emirate. The Metro system is expected to be partially operational by 2009 and fully operational by 2012. The metro will comprise two lines: the Green Line from Al Rashidiya to the main city center and the Red Line from the airport to Jebel Ali. The Dubai Metro (Green and Blue Lines) will have 70 kilometers of track and 43 stations, 33 above ground and ten underground.

Here are just a few of the 'name changes' which have taken place in the world since we 'baby boomers' were in school: French Sudan became Mali in 1960; Leopoldville, in the Congo, was renamed Kinshasa in 1960; Stalingrad became Volgograd in 1962; Northern Rhodesia became Zambia in 1964; Southern Rhodesia became Rhodesia from 1964-1979, then became Zimbabwe-Rhodesia until 1980, when it became just plain Zimbabwe; British Guiana became Ghana in 1966; The Belgian Congo became Zaire in 1971, but in 1997 became the Democratic Republic of the Congo; East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971; Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972; British Honduras became Belize in 1973; the city of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975; the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu in 1979; Burma became Myanmar (where the recent flood occurred) in 1988; Rangoon,the former capital when it was named Burma, returned to its original name of Yangon in 1991, after 136 years as Rangoon; Moldavia became Moldova in 1991; Leningrad changed its name back to St. Petersburg in 1991; Bombay became Mumbai in 1995; Newfoundland has become Newfoundland and Labrador; China's main city, Peking/Peiping, is now Beijing; East Gary, Indiana has been renamed Lake Station, Indiana; Pretoria (as in "marching to...") was approved by local government in 2005 to be changed to the more "African-sounding" Tshwane, but still needs to be approved by the central government.

Take a deep breath now -

Czechoslovakia has now been divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia; Tanganyika joined Zanzibar to become Tanzania; and Yugoslavia, which got that name in 1929 when several different regions from the area unified, split back into these states (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro) from 1992-2006, and since then, has become Serbia and Montenegro.

The countries of South and North Vietnam, East and West Germany, and North and South Yemen,of course, no longer exist, due to unification.

I'm sure I've only touched the surface of the many name changes which have taken place around the world since the 1960s. The bottom line is - if you own a globe, and it was manufactured before 1960 - you should probably consider purchasing a new one.

And you thought "nothing ever changes!"

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner