Time Zone Curiosities

August 23, 2010

Some of my most recent blog posts have been about Newfoundland, where I spent a week or so earlier this summer. One of the things I failed to mention is the fact that Newfoundland has an odd and pronounced effect on the first time visitor from mainland Canada: you have to set your watch ahead—by a half hour. To the best of my recollection, that was the first time for me to exist thirty minutes out of synch with virtually everyone else in the world (by times I have been accused of existing thirty years out of synch, but never thirty minutes…).

This got me to thinking, surely there can be but a handful of thirty-minute time zones in the entire world, right? Well, as it happens, we have a new entrant into the club right here in our hemisphere: Venezuela, whose contrary president, Hugo Chavez, established the offset time zone in late 2007, presumably to give himself a half-hour leg up on his longtime nemesis, gone-but-never-forgotten US President George W. Bush.

For those not familiar with time zone implementation methodology, the original idea was that a) the day is twenty-four hours long, and b) the earth is a 360-degree sphere (sorta), hence c) the sun passes over fifteen degrees of longitude every hour (24 x 15 = 360). Therefore, each time zone occupies roughly fifteen degrees of longitude. Exceptions are made all over the place, to accommodate whole states or countries into one time zone; usually, however, this is usually effected in one-hour increments. The concept of an offset time zone was created for some off-the-beaten-path locations, like Newfoundland, as a means to set the noon hour when the sun was the highest in the sky. However, some offset time-zone countries are anything but off the beaten path. Take India, for instance, whose rather large subcontinental land mass is entirely encompassed within a single time zone set 5 ½ hours later than Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As a brief aside, I travelled by boat down the Thames from London to Greenwich one summer with my friend Paul, who commented en route that he hadn’t been to Greenwich since he was a teenager. “What have you been doing in the Mean Time?” I asked. (Cue rimshot…)

Iran and Afghanistan are on half-hour split zones as well (hmm, Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela…am I beginning to sense a commonality here?). Probably George W. Bush missed a great opportunity in not establishing an Axis of Evil Standard Time Zone, but it might not have worked anyway, as North Korea is in the same time zone as Japan and South Korea, both of whom seem firmly rooted in the Axis of Good.

But I have to say, all these anomalies pale in comparison to the ultimate hippie destination, Nepal, whose clocks are set fifteen minutes askew from its southern neighbor, India, or 5 ¾ hours later than GMT. What an additional headache for advanced mountain climbers, who may, upon arrival in the Himalayan republic, already be suffering from altitude-induced noggin pains of epic proportions. But perhaps I am making too big a deal of it: ace mountaineer Hirotaka Takeuchi, who, as you might guess, is Japanese, and has climbed an even dozen mountains each in excess of 26,000 feet, has a novel way of dealing with the Nepalese time issue. If your watch is set, as his usually is, to Japan time (three hours and fifteen minutes later), simply rotate the face ninety degrees to the right, and pay no attention to the numbers, the hands will be in the correct position for the local Nepal time. This may not make a great deal of sense just reading about it, but if you have a look at his website (http://weblog.hochi.co.jp/takeuchi/2007/03/post_9d1b.html), clarity will follow.