Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ryan Pyle Blog: What Time is?

I have been working on an assignment in Kashgar, China for the last few days and I am feeling a bit run down, my head just does not feel right and I can not figure out why.

At first I thought it must be the altitude, but Kashgar is only 1300m above sea level. Hardly high enough to cause any difficulties. And then it hit me, like a ray of sun light. As I took a moment and looked out my window, I noticed that at 800pm at night the sun was blazing through my hotel window and, as I was blinded, it dawned on me.

The problem might actually be that in Kashgar, the western most city in China, is the same time as in Beijing. At first that might not seem like much of a problem, but when you realize that Kashgar is 5000km west of Beijing one can begin to formulate the possible problems they could incur. It appears I was suffering from a bizarre case of non-jet lag.

China has 22 provinces, 5 autonomus regions, 4 Municipalities and 2 Special Administrative Regions. In short, its a vast country. When considering the entire country, China should span across five time zones, but instead it uses a single time zone. Some might ask, why is the this done. First off, China likes to be different. Second, it eases transportation schedules. Third, they adapted a single time zone for political reasons. Let's take a closer look at each one:

China enjoys being different. They love to buck the trend and pursue things at their own pace. A Canadian man in North America came up with the idea that the world should adopt time zones, this was in an effort to regulate the rail systems in the late 1800s. While most towns and cities across the world accepted their own "local time", the idea had never been standardized globally. China wasn't really interested in adhering to domestic time zones, or aligning their time zones with that of other countries in Asia, at this stage in their development. Furthermore, China is an incredibly proud nation and they often feel threatened when outside ideas are accepted above their own. Nationalism runs high in this country, and this has been a common trend for the country from the 1600s right up until about twenty years ago when China opened its doors to western investment and business practices. China today is still opposed to adopting domestic time zones because of mainly political reasons.

The easing of transportation schedules is a no brainer. The entire country has set its clocks to "Beijing Time' and catching at train at 20:00 in Beijing or 4000km west in Urumqi is all the same. There is almost no disadvantage. Traveling in China is a breeze because of their single time zone policy.

Lasty, China is held together by a series of lines. Indeed China should, by any account, actually be about 6 different countries. The territory is vast and the minorities and cultures that live within the borders are as distinct and has varied as any two nations. While the current government has fought hard for decades to bring the country together under one leader and one flag, the last thing anyone wants to do is give people an excuse to claim any differences which may lead to independence; like being in another time zone of having an excuse for being different from Beijing. While it may make less sense to a western educated mind, policies like this are at the heart of China's goal to maintain political stability in a country that is going as fast as it is.

So how does this affect me, well it's easy really. I just work double days. I still wake up at 730 in the morning and now I work until 8pm until the sun goes down, have an early dinner around 10pm and then head to bed around 1pm. It's a bit of a stretch from my regular routine, but as the saying goes, "when in Kashgar...".

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle

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Ryan Pyle