Lesson #388: French Indochina

One of my favourite books (Marguerite Duras’ L’Amant) is set in Vietnam during the French occupation. And, oddly, Indochina came up among my friends last week because one recently bought a new suit from a company that was named something similar (I think it was “indochino?”) and two friends and I asked, legitimately, I felt, “were they Vietnamese?” and he kind of stared blankly.*

So I decided today to go searching for why Vietnam was called French Indochina during its colonial years. Well, not the French part. That part’s pretty obvious.

Turns out that technically speaking, Indochina — which is an actual geographical thing — is made up of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. But because I learned history in American schools, I know way more about Vietnamese history than I know about the rest of Southeast Asia combined, so I never learned that Indochina is an actual geographical place.**

Fun thing I also never learned in school because America never fought a protracted war in Cambodia or Laos…French Indochina covered all of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as a small Chinese enclave, Guangzhouwan.

At its inception in 1887 — though the French had been in the area for more than 200 years before this — French Indochina was made up of Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia was annexed in 1893, and Guangzhouwan followed in 1900. It remained that way until Guangzhouwan was returned to China in 1946. And then there were a lot of people in the antebellum years — particularly in that part of the world…Africa didn’t join the party until about a decade later — who weren’t particularly impressed with the whole colonialism bit. This led to the First Indochina War,*** which ran from 1946 until an agreement was reached at the 1954 Geneva Conference — at which France agreed to relinquish control of all its holdings on the Indochinese peninsula. Unfortunately, neither South Vietnam, nor the United States agreed to the accords, so things went a bit south after that…

Not a lot of good sources online — most mention Laos and Cambodia as briefly as possible before moving on to Vietnam (this is what I was talking about above), but the wiki article actually has a pretty good bibliography listed. I’m slightly impressed.

*He’s delightful, but he’s not that bright.

**Though, if I’d thought about it for just a moment, I’d probably have realized that it being situated between India and China would make the whole thing pretty self-evident.

***Which included the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which you should be familiar with if you’ve ever listened to Billy Joel. Or Miss Saigon. Or you had any course in French or Asian colonial history. Probably one of the two former ones though.

Lesson #386: The Lottery

I was hanging out, recently, with a friend and another guy we know from the neighbourhood. He was talking about how the Final Jeopardy question the night before (category: literature) had been something along the lines of, “her 1948 story led people to write to ask where this town was and how they could take part”, at which both of us immediately guessed, “Shirley Jackson?!?”

Because literally (and I do mean that in the proper dictionary sense) everyone who went to high school in America has read The Lottery, which is one of the most disturbing pieces of fiction I’ve ever read in my life,* and I love dystopian literature.** But seriously, can we talk about how people wanted to actively participate in this sort of violence? Because…dude. DUDE! This is a story about the danger of conformity! The entire plot is a bunch of people stoning one of their friends to death for no other reason than because tradition mandates it, and that person was unlucky enough to draw the dot! This is the one short story that I can mention to anyone and, without fail, watch them cringe.

But here’s a fun piece of knowledge: although it’s never explicitly stated, Jackson based the town in her short story on Bennington, Vermont. I found this fascinating because, in my head, this story has always taken place somewhere out west. I don’t know why, to be honest; it just always has. I’ve always imagined a dusty kind of a place.

*I’d also list Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ for very different reasons.

**I like dystopias because I find them an interesting study in revolutionary theory and how and why certain cultures revolt…one of the chapters of my MA thesis is actually titled ‘Ideas are Bulletproof.’ But I also really enjoy post-apocalyptic literature as well because I find the concept of how people act and react in the absence of “normalcy” fascinating. This probably shouldn’t be news.

Lesson #381: The Smallest Capital City

We got here today by way of my dad, even though he doesn’t know it. He sent my brother and me a link yesterday that had a video of Americans trying Canadian snack foods, which included maple sugar candy*, nanaimo bars, all dressed chips, and poutine.** I posted this to Facebook, and a discussion ensued, which eventually led me to Iqaluit (because of course it did), which is the capital city of Nunavut. It has a population of fewer than 7,000. And that led me to wonder what the smallest population is of any country’s capital city.

The answer is dependent on whether or not you choose to acknowledge protectorates. If you do, the answer is King Edward Point, capital of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which boasts a population of…

Eighteen.

Yes, you read that right. 18. One-eight, of whom only nine live there year-round. But that sort of makes sense when you find out that it’s really just a research station in the Antarctic.

If you choose not to acknowledge protectorates, the answer is Ngerulmud, capital city of Palau, the population of which is 391.*** Sort of. The thing is, that’s the number of people who live in the entire state of Melekeok, where the village of Ngerulmud is located. From what I’ve read, none of it from credible sources, there’s no actual population in Ngerulmud, just a capitol building.

You can find the whole list of capital cities by population here.

Bonus lesson: in my reading, I learned that Syria’s capital, Damascus, is the oldest continuously populated capital city, which makes sense if you have ever read anything ever.

*My favourite part of the video was the guy who tried the maple sugar and then pronounced it the sweetest thing he’d ever eaten like he was surprised that something with an ingredient list that is literally maple syrup and nothing else would be so sweet.

**I wish they’d had them try Canadian Oreos, which are better than American Oreos in every possible way; the cookie is crunchier, the icing tastes like something other than oil, and most importantly, the filling can be peeled away from the cookie and rolled into a ball, as nature intended.

***It should probably be noted that until 2006, the country’s largest city, Koror (home to 11,200 of Palau’s 20,000 residents), was the capital.

Lesson #376: Nova Scotia’s 42 Cranberry Lakes

Cranberry Lake, Nova ScotiaI was on the phone with my mother today and we got to talking about how I’d met a guy at a neighbourhood meetup on Tuesday who spent a lot of time at his family’s cottage on Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks. This sent us off looking at whether Cranberry Lake is the source of the river that flows behind my parents’ house (it’s not). That, then, took me to a Wiki disambiguation on Cranberry Lake in Nova Scotia.

Cranberry Lake, HalifaxOf which there are apparently 42. I’m not even joking. There are 14 in the greater Halifax area alone.

Lesson #158: North Sentinel Island

There is an island in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal that is illegal, by Indian governmental decree, to approach. There are somewhere between 50-400 people living on North Sentinel Island, but any and all attempts by anthropologists/biologists/government people to establish a line of communication with its residents and learn the language and culture of the indigenous tribe have failed. When the Sentinelese shot a volley of arrows at them. This isn’t just a one or two time thing; it is a consistent occurrence. They really do not want to be bothered.

Legally, this is fascinating because it means that they have never been conquered or occupied and are therefore not technically speaking under the governmental control of anyone. They are, however, considered to be a de facto autonomous region of India.*

*More information here and here.

Lesson #91: Greenland and Stuff

Okay, so we had a geeky night in tonight that involved me, my friends and my housemates sitting around drinking and wondering about things that most people don’t think about…like the population of Greenland and whether or not they sent a team to Vancouver, the origin of the Celts,  moving an entire Swedish town, polar bear habitat, and self-fellatio for both men and women. I have no idea what people did before wireless internet.

The answers are: about 56,700 (though we never did discover what the population distribution was) and no, modern day Austria, the town of Kiruna, northern Canada/Alaska and parts of Greenland, Svalbard and Russia, and dear God, I’m not sure we wanted to see that, but apparently it can be done.

I may or may not get around to expanding this entry later. It depends on how ambitious I am…and how much I want to explain the flexibility and physics of what we thought was impossible and/or myth as regards masturbation on a blog my parents read.