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Where am I ?

This question rarely arises nowadays as we all pretty much have a good idea of where we are. However, if we don't, mobile telephone technology can give the user a crystal display of where he or she happens to be. Judging from the facial expressions of some mobile phone users, that must be a good thing because many of them appear to be lost some where in outer space.

Centuries ago, it wasn't an easy task to know where one was especially at sea. Ancient mariners, coupled with the discoveries of land bound scientists and astronomers, were able to use the sun and stars for navigation. This was fine for calculating where one was latitudinally (North/South axis) but establishing longitude (East/West axis) was little more than a "best guess". While Christopher Columbus was confidant that he wasn't about to sail off the edge of the world, he didn't know exactly where he was (or was going) and neither would any other explorer until the establishing longitude (East/West axis) was little more than a "best guess" until the establishment of the Greenwich "O" Meridian outside London. Thus longitude was born and marked in degrees, eastward, around the globe. Navigators, explorers and map makers, could now get a better "handle" on what was where and this simplified matters for all concerned.

Prior to the latitude/longitude grid, map making was a very inexact science but, even so, the results were closely guarded secrets. Portuguese and Dutch mariners were particularly adept explorers of the Orient as witnessed by the earliest European "bases" of Goa, Malacca, Macao and, of course, the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Although maps of those days were extremely simplistic (nevertheless, jealously guarded from maritime trading rivals), the long peninsula of Siam was identified from early times. In earliest times, Ptolemy's "World Map" clearly shows the southward-reaching peninsula of Siam and, in 1570, Abraham Ortelius's map Indiae Orientalis also depicts the Siamese/Malay peninsula.

From the infant beginning of navigation and map making, Siam (Thailand) has been identified if not in detail then certainly in awareness in the minds of European scholars, sailors and thinkers. During the period of Ayutthaya, when Siamese monarchs began to participate in international trade with neighboring countries, Japan and Europe, maps of Siam became much more exact and detailed. Beautifully hand drawn maps of Ayutthaya and Siam, from the time of King Narai (see separate article) remain in the hands of museums and private collectors. An example is Jean Baptiste Nolin's Royaume de Siam produced in 1687 in Paris.

The art and skill of the cartographer had long featured this ancient area and, as you read this magazine, we can tell you, most likely, you are in Chiangmai which is part of the old Lanna Thai Kingdom of northern Siam. The author, too, is in Chiangmai, Thailand his mobile phone tells him so.


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