Monday, January 15, 2007

A Number of Challenges

As is true when visiting nearly any country, one must deal with the inevitable conversions that come with American hubris, and our non-adoption of the metric system. Why should we adopt the metric system? And, we'll call it soccer too while we're at it. I saw a relic in an Istanbul museum that confirmed that the "foot" and "inch" do have a historical foundation. What perplexes me more though, are the arbitrary and anachronistic comparisons that some nations still draw. Why does a stone weigh 14 pounds?

In India they have something called the "Lakh." A Lakh is 100,000, so a city of 10 lakh would be the population of 1 million. There, I did it... though it did take me a minute. Converting to lakh seems akin to revaluing currency. Or maybe a better analogy is that it's like putting the same amount of water in a short fat glass or a tall skinny glass... one glass makes you think there's less water when the volume never changes. When you have a population of 1.1 billion you've got to get creative. You can't measure your country in terms of people anymore because it sounds overcrowded and unappealing. Instead you have to invent new conceptions to group people to count them in smaller numbers... because India may be 1.1 billion people, but it's only 11,000 lakhs. China, in contrast, sounds appallingly crowded with 1.3 billion whole people!

This is not Indian logic, but I think that maybe it should be. Playing with numbers makes sense with lakh, but when you're at the gym curling 15 kilos you would appreciate if the dumbells listed 33 pounds. I know I would. It's the water in the glass again, but sometimes each glass just makes sense. Indians got it right with lakhs of population. Americans got it right with pound weights in the gym. Would you rather be the weakest strong person, or the strongest weak person? It's all perspective...

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