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Geographic Clangers


Geographic Clangers

by Kenneth Lyen

The Guardian newspaper reported that ignorance of geography cost Microsoft millions of dollars.

The colour-coding of the worldÂ’s time zones showing the disputed Jammu-Kashmir region as not part of India, angered the Indian government, leading to a ban of Microsoft Windows 95. This meant a loss of sales until it was rectified in the next Windows revision.

Microsoft employees were arrested in Turkey because their product showed Kurdistan to be a separate entity and not part of Turkey. However this was a no-win situation because while the inclusion of Kurdistan in the maps offended the Turks, its removal offended the Kurds.

Microsoft employees in China were questioned by the police because they referred to Taiwan as a country. Its software worldwide now no longer refers to Taiwan as a country, but as a region or district, no doubt antagonising the Taiwanese in the process.

The Korean government objected to a Microsoft software that showed its national flag in reverse, and the software had to be changed.

The hand-to-hand fighting game Kakuto Chan contained a rhythmic chant in the background which was taken from the Koran. It was regarded as an insult to the Muslims, but despite being advised to withdraw this chant, Microsoft left it in. Only when the Saudi Arabian government complained did Microsoft withdraw the game worldwide.

My own experience concurs with the observation that Americans seem to have little knowledge of the rest of the world. Indeed when I was living in Philadelphia, I was surprised that so many Americans had no idea where my hometown Singapore was. Several of them thought it was in China, and they even sent my mail addressed to Singapore, China. I guess the postal services knew better and the letters reached me safely (perhaps after detouring to China). But I guess this oversight is forgiveable, as Singapore is only a microsopic dot on the world map.

The Guardian quoted The annual National Geographic Survey, which showed that only 23 out of 56 young Americans knew the whereabouts of the Pacific Ocean. This is a bit more worrying.

Geography was never my strong point, but at least I knew where the major American landmarks were. And I also knew that Washington DC is a separate entity, and nowhere near the state of Washington. I bring up this point because when a friend of mine was off to study at the University of Washington, most of our colleagues thought that he should look up George Bush just round the corner. Luckily or unluckily he would not run into the President in a hurry, as the University of Washington happens to be located a tad further away, in Seattle. Almost as far away as Singapore is from China.