(On writing)

Every time I notice that I have hoarded a large number of strange assignments and essays from another school year of work I get all guilty. First there’s the knowledge about ancient Chinese dynasties and plant hormones that I only have shadows of recollections of, which makes me wonder whether all the time and effort invested by teachers, classmates, and myself have gone wasted.

I know, though, that given that I still sense these shadows, it shouldn’t be difficult to look up and relearn this stuff if I ever need to do so. This brings me to the non-factual parts of the learning, such as writing skills with all its variations. There’s persuasive writing, which I don’t use much because I can’t usually even persuade myself to take a side in anything, let alone others. There’s descriptive writing mode, which I don’t use much because the most vividly describable things I encounter are food, and the shallowness of piling flowery adjectives together to talk about food just makes me cringe nowadays. Previously, I wrote at least two such compositions in sixth grade. Blech.

I think all those school essays are supposed to count for one mode, and that my dozen-or-so assignments should have honed my skill somehow, but I feel like instead of actually trying to express ideas, I’ve really been taking the thesis-evidence-analysis pattern and filling in corresponding blanks. That’s definitely not what I think writing correctly should feel like. What do I know for sure that I’ve learned? No contractions are allowed under MLA format. There is a not-quite-standard CSS unit ch that represents the width of the zero glyph. Maybe, just maybe, I look out more carefully for wordy constructions.

I also have written a significant number of math solutions, but fully describing that in relation to everything else would involve going off on such a tangent (…sorry) that I’ll just skip it. And finally there’s this idea-vomiting mode I adopt for this blog that I have no idea how to refine, mainly because I’m not sure what I’m trying to accomplish with it.

Well, other than put off homework, of course.

A Geography Idiot’s Guide to Asia

Like I said, I suck at geography. I do not know if this post will change things, but one can hope that by processing everything on a map into words along with some completely random wiki-laddering, I’ll remember this stuff.

Getting at least a vague sense of where all the countries are was one of those tasks I thought that might actually be helpful but would take enough time that I wanted to do it during vacation. The fact that I actually am doing it shows how bored I am. (Okay, I still have a 1000-character Chinese book report. This is more interesting. There, I said it.) I remember watching the honors guys poring over a list of all the Asian countries, trying to memorize it. Probably not a bad place to start.

So, here are all the countries in Asia in an order that has some correspondence to geographical location, along with some rambling personal impression or completely random (and possibly inaccurate, if I’m unlucky) factoids, whatever jumped out at me when reading their Wikipedia articles, so the names aren’t just words without meaning. Countries are bolded so they stand out from the surprisingly voluminous rambling.

Wikipedia map of Asia, fully equipped for wiki-laddering
Asia map (PDF)
Middle East map (PDF) for the fuzzy parts

To the north: the incomprehensibly huge thing known as Russia, the largest country area-wise, and with the largest reserves of minerals, energy resources, and forests. I don’t know, I expected that last position to go to somebody in South America with their rainforests.

Moderately-west-central lies a mass of countries ending in -stan, which is Persian for “place of”. Kazakhstan (the world’s largest land-locked country) slightly large and on the northern end; Uzbekistan (doubly landlocked*, the only other one being Liechtenstein (spelling!) in Europe) and Turkmenistan in the middle, Kyrgyzstan (mountainous, country furthest from the ocean) and Tajikistan (mountainous, poorest and least-area country in Central Asia) on the right, I mean east, Afghanistan (well, the terrorist war; highest infant mortality rate) and Pakistan (nukes, neuroscience, first MS-DOS virus, what) on the south side. The way -tan is also used as a honorific for anthropomorphisms resulted in the name for manga depicting the history of a bunch of these countries. Random enough?

* def f(country): return 0 if country.adjacent_to(big_ocean) else 1 + min(f(x) for x in country.neighbors)
def doubly_landlocked(country): return f(country) >= 2
there’s no way this would actually terminate but you get the idea. Touching closed bodies of water are okay.

East-central: China (well, largest population in a country and dozens of other correlated titles), partly-surrounding (and this is not a legit use of “surrounding”, according to Bill Bryson) Mongolia (most sparsely populated country, coldest capital Ulan Bator with an easy-to-remember average 0°C) to its north in a loose clutch. Protruding southward from the northern end of the eastern edge are North and South Korea. North Korea is the one known for its dictatorship and the guy who just died. South Korea: 99% Korean ethnicity and K-Pop. Floating to the east is Japan (sushi and the endless random inventions that our news stations talk about when they can’t come up with anything more interesting), and to the south-east is us (semiconductors and polarizing cuisine). This is a politically correct description, I think.

South-central: India (only seventh-largest country by area but second by population, due to the demographic transition or whatever it’s called) protruding from the land-mass in a way that reminds me strongly of Texas protruding from the rest of the U.S., with Nepal (notable Hinduism majority, world’s only nonrectangular country flag) and Bhutan (biodiversity hotspot praised for conservation efforts, difficult tourist access) wedged into the north side of the east end, Bangladesh (significant climate change vulnerability, world’s largest mangrove forest) wedged into the south side of the east end, a moderately small island Sri Lanka (more fast growth and biodiversity, something about ceylon tea) to the southeast of the southern tip, and a tiny sliver, Asia’s smallest country by population and by area, the Maldives in the southwest ((bleached) coral reefs, threatened by rising sea level).

Just south of China, four vertical aka north-south strips from left to right, er, west to east: Burma (good resources but lack of development; rated worst health care system), Thailand (world’s largest rice exporter, has this national boxing martial art named after it), Laos (energy production, deforestation, beer creatively titled Beerlao), Vietnam (why do you have so many things floating around your letters?). Round Cambodia (more deforestation and wildlife, the temple Angkor Wat) is wedged in a position south-ish of Laos.

Thailand continues to stretch to the south in a long isthmus and then connects with Malaysia (even more biodiversity, terribly cool-sounding electronic identity card system). Taking up a cluster of islands almost touching its southern tip is Singapore (crazy diverse place with four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil). Malaysia further extends to half of an island to the east. On the northern edge of this island, there are two small bits which form Brunei (it has “Abode of Peace” in its official name for some reason), and the rest of the island is in Indonesia (wait darn second-highest biodiversity in the world and OVER 9000 ISLANDS), which is basically all over the place to the south except for the eastern half of an island in the southeast which is East Timor (officially the something Republic of Timor-Leste; “Timor” is Portuguese for “east”, redundant name is redundant?).

To the east, and our south, the Philippines (okay why is every other country noted for its biodiversity -_-… Southeast Asia’s largest arena). I really shouldn’t have fumbled over the spelling like I did.

Southwest, in the place where definitions of Asia become fuzzy: Iran (abnormally long history section; nukes and unexpectedly lots of string theory development), taking up a big chunk, tipped at the north with Armenia (good foreign relations with most countries except for its neighbors?) and Azerbaijan (9 out of 11 climate zones appear, people spend so much on funerals that they’re considering a law limiting that spending, chess masters), and on the northernmost bit Georgia (which contains two self-ruling states/countries not much recognized by the world…). To the west of the tip, Turkey (severe winters, “70% of people never read books”?), stretching east-west a little.

Further to the north, another big chunk called Saudi Arabia (second largest oil reserves and exporting, terrible gender inequality); the inbetween mass has Iraq (Mesopotamia! Tigris and Euphrates! I’d never remember this from seventh grade if it weren’t for those board game ads) taking up the eastern half and to the west there’s Syria (recent uprising from early 2011, Arab music) and Jordan (named after the river, notably high quality of life?), Lebanon (ancient ancient Phoenicians, positively notable civil rights efforts), Israel (unique Jewish majority, largest developed-country defense spending for GDP, wide solar power usage), and finally floating to the west is the island Cyprus (Greek/Turkish ethnicity; water shortage; a person from Cyprus is called a Cypriot). On the east edge of Saudi Arabia are tiny Kuwait (petroleum reserves make it surprisingly rich; quite good freedom of press), Bahrain (oil, pearls; name means “two seas” but nobody is sure which), Qatar (record-high GDP per capita, lots of peace-making internationally) and the United Arab Emirates (world’s highest net migration rate (population increase via immigration minus emigration, as a proportion); positively notable health care (?)) On the south side, two not-as-small countries Yemen (its name means “on the right”; some scary tourist kidnapping) and Oman (famous curved ceremonial daggers called the khanjar).

Now to pull this up mentally all the time at awkward moments to practice. Whee.