Friday, September 2, 2011

Back to the Future

At Samoa's western most point for the last sunset
in the world on Dec. 31, 2009.
There will be no December 30th in Samoa this year! Those with a birthday or anniversary to celebrate on that day better make plans to travel to another country where that will be possible. The reason for this missing date is due to Samoa’s Prime Minister deciding to have the country switch sides of the International Date Line.

For a geography refresher—the International Date Line (IDL) is an imaginary line that runs from the North to South Poles, cutting a line through the Pacific region which separates where one day ends and the next begins. Currently Samoa lies just to the east of the IDL, making it the last country in the world to see the sunset each day. However, on December 29th, the IDL will be redrawn, and Samoa will then lie just to the west of the IDL, making it the first country in the world to see the sunrise, and thus loosing 24 hours of time and jumping to December 31, 2011.

So why all the calendar whip lash? Samoa’s Prime Minister made the decision because of economic reasons. Samoa use to have more business transactions with the United States, but in recent years, most of it’s trading and tourism has come from Australia, New Zealand and Asia—countries which all lie on the opposite side of the IDL. By Samoa switching to the other side, so to speak, it will be sharing the same day with it’s trading partners in the Pacific region as well as making travel for tourists more convenient.

In the past two years there have been times when I experienced the frustrations of Samoa’s location to the IDL. For example, once when I had a question at my bank on a Friday afternoon, the bank needed to call its main branch in Australia, yet it couldn’t since it was already Saturday in Australia. When Samoa switches to the other side of the IDL, this type of situation will be eliminated.

For the average Samoan living in the rural village, this all seems like a joke. Most Samoans I’ve spoken to about it don’t feel it is necessary. The Prime Minister has been bold in his agenda the past couple of years. In 2009, just a week before my arrival, there was the controversial “road switch,” where Samoans went from driving on the right hand side of the road to driving on the left. This was in an effort to allow more cars to be imported from New Zealand and Australia, where driving is done on the left.

The second big change Samoans experienced because of the Prime Minister was Daylight Saving Time, which was put in place last September.

Now that Samoa will be loosing its title as the “last place in the world to see the sunset,” who will be able to claim that title? The answer is American Samoa, the United States’ southern most territory which lies just 50 miles to the east of here.

None of this time traveling should effect me though, since I’m slated to leave Samoa a couple of weeks before the IDL is moved. Nonetheless, for a country that didn’t have clocks until 100 years ago, all this time changing proves to be a good riddle and perhaps serves as the perfect opportunity to re-watch Back to the Future!

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