Monday, 25 April 2005

Mapping an Obsession

I've always had a fascination for maps. Whether it is real maps or atlases, or fantasy maps that look more like doodles than maps, I like poring over them and staring at them endlessly.

When I was kid, I used to sit in a nice litle sun-lit corner for hours and pore over my family's collection of atlases and encyclopedia looking for Malaysia, and marking interesting spots in the world I would like to visit one day.

I knew the tallest mountains in the world, the longest rivers, the largest lakes, and the five largest countries in the world, all in order (the order's probably changed a little now, but if I remember correctly, it should still be - Russia, Canada, China, USA, Brazil - in that order.) And I marked them all on my little personal world map.

Even though the map of Malaysia was smaller than a 50 sen coin on the atlas, I even had little dots marking Temerloh and Mentakab (the towns I grew up in), because I thought the mapmakers performed a huge injustice in leaving them out.

Damn I wish I still had that map. Don't know where it is now.

Anyway, my obsession with maps was not limited to world maps. I even made little maps of my neighborhood, complete with trees, fire hydrants, drains, street names, house numbers and even labelling each little square house as 'so-and-so's house', 'crabby neighbor', 'fierce dog' and so on. I wish I kept those maps though. Would have been great for a little trip down memory lane (and a good laugh too).

Once, I attempted to go BEYOND my neighborhood, cycling around the other tamans on 'mapping expeditions' but I soon ran out of A4 paper. Besides, it was such a hassle to draw the tiny trees and drains.

Today, I don't draw maps anymore, and though I like drawing little maps when people ask me for directions, because my drawing skills are about as good as a 5-year-old (probably even worse), most people can't understand it. Oh well...

However, I found another outlet for my love for maps - fantasy books.

Most fantasy books worth their salt would usually come with a map (though Terry Prattchet doesn't have a map of Discworld in his books), and some are even BORN from the maps that authors come up with first. David Eddings came up with his Belgariad and Mallorean books after he was doodling on a sheet of paper and er.. 'accidently' came up with a map of the world in those books.

Also, some of the best stories (to me, that is) were those with a nice map where I can actually keep track of where where the characters are or will be going.

Trust me, when it comes to fantasy stories in fantasy worlds, the maps come in VERY handy, because all the names are mostly made up, and there's sometimes so many made-up names and places that you can really lose track of where the characters really are sometimes.

But then again, it's also a lot more fun to go to cities and towns called Minas Tirith, Baldur's Gate, Sethanon, Gorthan Spit or Drasnia than just going to plain old Europe, New York or Timbuktu.

One kind of map I REALLY am not fond of, however, are street directories. I am hopeless at reading maps of the streets in KL. I know how to get around KL fine, but when it comes to following the directions on a proper street directory which has no landmarks, just street names, I inadvertantly get lost half the time. I even went half an hour reading a map upside down once. I'm THAT bad at street maps.

When I ask for directions, I latch on to landmarks more than street names. A lot easier to navigate with landmarks than street names or numbers, especially in the maze that is Petaling Jaya where the damn streets are all numbers and are usually ALL over the place.

Nevertheless, I actually symphatise with those guys who had to come up with maps of PJ and KL. The hell they must go through just figuring out how to add in the little drains and trees. What? They don't have trees or drains? What kind of stupid map is that?!?!?!

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