Joburg Expat: Geography Lessons: Part One

March 19, 2012

Geography Lessons: Part One

Indonesian flag from CIA World Factbook
One of the best ways to have a conversation with your teenager is to go driving someplace. I learned all about the Pitcairn Islands on such an occasion this week. Have you ever heard of the Pitcairn Islands?

But actually, let's start at the beginning. Today you will learn about Indonesia. This is how it started. Zax and I were going to the hairdresser. Prompted by him, I must add, not me, because it is the beauty of a school uniform policy that it is now someone else who urges your kids to get their hair cut.

While we were out, I decided to pass by the liquor store, as Noisette had requested some German beer. Which you or may not find at any of the liquor stores around here, but it's worth a try. So we were talking about the liquor store on the way home.

"Mom, why did we go to the liquor store?"

"To get beer."

"I thought you had given it alcohol for lent?" Smart cookie. Nothing passes by him. But I was on safe ground.

"Yes, but the beer is for Dad."

"And you haven't lapsed, like you did last year?" I swear to you, this kid remembers everything.

"No, I actually haven't." Which is true. I then thought about the whole idea of lent for a while, and how hard or not hard it actually is to give up something, and a thought occurred to me.

"I really think I want to try and observe Ramadan some day," I said.

"No way. Not even drink anything from sunrise to sunset?" Hmmm. I must say the drinking hadn't come up in my thoughts. I was just focused on eating.

"Not even water?" I ventured.

"Nope. But it CAN be done. Some professional athletes who are Muslim do it." Of course I should have known that his knowledge of such things would be based on sports trivia.

"I think it might be easier if I lived in a Muslim country."

"But we'd never live in such a country!?" This with a hint of suspicion only expat children can muster at the mere mention of another country. He then rattled off a list of Arab countries he knew I'd never want to set foot in.

"It wouldn't have to be any of these. Take Indonesia, for instance. You could live there."

"That's Muslim?"

"Sure. In fact, it's the most populous Muslim country in the world."

"No way."

"Yes way. It's actually the fifth most populous country in the world." 

I have to admit I sometimes throw out these statistics without knowing if they're entirely true. They might have been true a generation ago but things do change. Just like when I was blogging about Singapore the other day and Googled the size of its container port. I had been pretty close - it's the world's second busiest container port - but when Zax asked me later which one was number one, I realized I hadn't looked at the rest of the list. I offered Rotterdam. Well. I'm sure Rotterdam might have been the world's busiest container port in its day of glory, but nowadays it's only number ten. It turns out the busiest is Shanghai, and in fact pretty much all the other ports in the top ten are in China. Just as a side note, the busiest American port only comes at number seventeen. This is how things have changed.

So out the blackberry was whipped. Thank goodness for smartphones to fact-check crazy things your Mom might say. Zax was immediately busy punching "countries by population" into Wikipedia, his most trusted site for fact checking. I know teachers all warn their students not to trust Wikipedia, but really? Would they rather they use Bob's Musings on Geography or some such site instead? This is one area where kids are way ahead of their teachers. Anyway, I'm proud to say I won on both counts. According to Wikipedia, the list of world's most populous countries goes China India USA Indonesia Brazil. I only had Brazil and Indonesia swapped. Making Indonesia also the most populous Muslim country before Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey.

By the way, even at number four, Indonesia only has a little over 3% of the world's population. China and India are that crowded. It also ranks as the world's seventeenth largest economy, which I find impressive, and there are over seventeen thousand islands in it's archipelago.  And who knew that Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh all come before Japan?

But of course we didn't stop there. Zax was busy reading the entire list (and I'm sure committing every number to memory, to resurface and amaze us in future games of 30 Seconds) and continued throwing out snippets of interesting facts about the most obscure countries by the time we were long back home and lounging around the pool.

Next up: What you've always wanted to know about the Pitcairn Islands.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Very interesting. Driving can be an educational experience. I had the most fun in the car with my kids when they were sitting in the back seat with their friends and forgot that I was in front driving.

I learned things ;), especially interesting stuff when they were teenagers!

Sine said...

Yes, I've had some of those educational car trips as well!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Often when comparing economies the people compiling these list go by overall GDP. The best measure is GDP per capita. Doing so shows that China is nowhere near as wealthy as many suppose.

Another interesting tidbit and it goes for quite a few countries with large landmasses, China has plenty of room for its population and then some it is just that the bulk of the economic activity and more livable (for now) places are located closer to the coastal regions.

I read somewhere recently that demographers predict that Africa will contain the majority of the world's population by 2050. I'm not entirely convinced as it will depend on if Africa remains comparatively poor. Population growth drops precipitously as wealth increases. But maybe they are taking this into account and the high number predictions are expected even after steady growth. Interesting nonetheless. Also too, prediction often go wrong. I remember how in the early 80's it was predicted that Japan would soon have the largest economy in the world and would remain at the top for decades. Didn't happen.

Sine said...

Funny, Zax and I just talked about this yesterday, how birth rates drop rapidly once countries become wealthier. We googled it, because I was talking about a German term, "Pillenknick", which gets used to describe the overnight drop in birthrates after the introduction of the pill. or so it was thought for many years, except that it doesn't really match with the data. The birthrate initially stayed up after the pill was introduced, then dropped. Due to many factors. And Japan had one of the largest drops in birthrates, even though the pill is almost no factor there at all. Doesn't matter what race or religion people are, as GDP per capita rises, birth rates go down. Yeah, I read the same thing about Africa and had those same thoughts.