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Time difference

December 14, 2011

Most people today has traveled far enough to understand that different part of the world has different time zone.  In fact, even before I have a chance to go to Johor Bahru, I already understood a need for different time in different country.  But if you’re uneducated (like my granny for instance), it’s going to be pretty hard to explain.  And every time I call her from this part of the world, she still assumes my time is the same as hers.  (Actually, sometimes our clocks are exactly the same, except one is AM and the other is PM.)

But what if I tell you that it’s not just the time, but the dates are completely different?  And I’m not just saying a day (at most) difference, but up to 10 days different?  And I’m not saying that one part is using the western calendar and the other is using the Muslim or the Chinese calendar (which tracks the moon, not so much the sun).

That is exactly what happened in Europe around the time Sir Issac Newton was born.  The old Julian calendar has a flaw and almost quite immediately, the rest of the Europe decided to switch to the correct one which had 10 day difference.  Every civilized country in Western Europe switched except Great Britain.  And so Sir Issac Newton’s birth certificate has 25th December 1642 while the rest of Europe would say he was born in January 1643!  For details of the discrepancy, read the Calendar Question of the Humboldt County Journal. A longer, more detailed and mathematical explanation by can be found here. Imagine how awkward it will be when someone (in another country) sent you a letter dated in the future when you received it?  And even during that time, it was pretty hard to explain to a typical layperson on the streets of London.

One of the most careful people when it comes to calendar and counting days, month, and year will probably be the Chinese.  Even thousands of years ago, they realized that counting the calendar by following the moon, will not give a complete “year” whether you choose 12 moons or 13 moons.  So they have 12 moons to a year in some year and 13 moons in a year in some other year.  They would have completely ignore the “year” thing if not for the fact that they track winter solstice each and every year to the very hour (no, they did not know about the earth goes around the sun yet).  Today, with better knowledge (and Mathematics), we know the solstice happened only momentarily every year at one single moment, experienced by everyone (all the world over, simultaneously).

So to digress, my granny always remember my birthday as the twentieth day of the third moon 月.  But of course, that’s just the lunar calendar 农历and it was totally unimportant to me because I quote “only old and important people get to celebrate birthday, and children get to be caned on their birthdays”大人生日吃肉,小孩生日被打!  So I dare not mention 生日lest my granny brings out the cane.

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