The International Date Line Sows Confusion
If it's 7:33 p.m. on a Monday in New York, it must be 12:33 p.m. on a Tuesday
in the Pacific. Or is it the other way around?
A strange thing happened last night. Somewhere around midnight, we left Sunday and entered Tuesday. This implausible turn of events is due to the fact that we crossed the International Date Line, and no matter how hard I try to understand the physics involved, I am left perplexed. Monday, to paraphrase Lynrd Skynrd, is gone with the wind--and that's the problem.
I can comprehend the necessity for the International Date Line. The world is spinning and we have to draw a line somewhere between today and tomorrow. Crossing said line actually makes you realize what a good thing it is that there is such an enormous stretch of salt water between Asia and Oceania and the Americas called the Pacific Ocean. If the continents ran in a contiguous fashion all the way around the world, then the date line would run right through a country and the temptation for people in that country to place all manner of illegal bets today for sporting events happening yesterday would be extreme.
My question is, what happened to Monday? I'm no lover of Mondays, though I don't loathe them nearly as much as Garfield. Still, where did it go? Here's what I think happened. We did, in fact, pass through Monday, but only for an hour or two, and in the interest of simplicity the ship just said, "We're going from Sunday to Tuesday." (If anyone thinks I'm still confused and wants to take a crack at explaining all of this, I welcome the instruction.)
I left New York on March 5th. As I type this, it is 7:33 p.m. in New York on Monday and 12:33 p.m. on Tuesday here in the Pacific. There is either a seven-hour difference or a 17 hour difference, depending on how you look at it, which means I am more than a quarter of the way around the world. Time is just as much a measure of distance as miles or kilometers. For this reason, I have chosen not to change the time on my watch when I enter a new time zone. The next time my watch tells the correct time, I know I'll be half way around the world.
This is also the reason I didn't learn how to take latitude and longitude readings on my GPS. I realize some of you were quite upset about this, but here's why: The GPS was initially brought along for one reason. I wanted to keep a detailed log of location, speed and elevation. It didn't take me long to realize that leaving the unit turned on at all times, recording data, would be pretty much impossible due to its voracious appetite for batteries. But I can still turn it on every few hours to get a fairly accurate rundown of my route across the world. Later, I discovered that the GPS can draw a little map of wherever I am. This has become my favorite function.
But as far as longitude and latitude go, they're meaningless to me. If I want to know where I am, I look out the window. Right now I see thousands and thousands of whitecaps and I know that I am a lot closer to Hawaii than I am to Hong Kong. Precise, detailed readings indicating my location seem trifling in the face of all this geography. There is no sense of place on the open ocean. The sky, the water, and the ship--each is moving in its own direction. Everything is in flux.
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