As many of you know, currently the Seshat Databank project is focused on collecting data for all polities (states, empires, chiefdoms, archaeologically known cultures, etc) that intersected 30 geographic points (NGAs, standing for Natural Geographic Areas) depicted here:
So far I have visited about a third of these locations, and one of my goals in life is to visit them all. I found that visiting the places where historical societies developed, and seeing how the land lies with my own eyes, is really necessary. Book knowledge alone is not sufficient. Also, you get to see all kinds of relevant stuff in the local museums that never make it into standard history books, or even on the internet.
Thus, when I was invited to visit at Nanyang Technological University this August, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, here I am within easy traveling distance of two NGAs, Central Java and Cambodian Basin. A week ago my wife drove me to the Boston airport where I embarked on an Emirates airliner to go to the opposite end of the world (precisely 12 hours difference between Singapore and East Coast).
On the way to the stop-over in Dubai we flew over a lot of terrain I wouldn’t mind visiting one day. This is Lake Van, the heartland of the ancient kingdom of Urartu:
As a boy in the Soviet Union, I read a historical romance In the Ancient Kingdom of Urartu, which told the story of a common Urartian stone-worker who escapes with his family the invading hordes of evil Assyrians.
A short bit later we flew over some spectacular-looking terrain: Lake Urmia, or actually what was left of it:
The flight then took us over western Persia. Without doubt there was Persepolis down there somewhere, but pesky clouds prevented me from seeing the landscape. Oh well, one of these days I am sure to be able to visit it, especially now that the US-Iranian relations have taken the turn for the better.
We were delayed in Dubai for more than six hours due to the Emirates plane catching fire upon landing (fortunately, all passengers and crew were evacuated safely; unfortunately, one fire-fighter lost his life). We landed right next to the smoking ruins of the plane.
Finally, more than 24 hours after I started the trip, we drew near Singapore.
Singapore (in Sanskrit Singa Pura) means Lion City. But what struck me upon arrival was a jarring disconnect between first-world infrastructure and the tropical setting. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of tropical countries, and they all had signs of poverty all over them. Singapore seems to be unique.
The city and the university campus, where I am based, literally drown in a sea of green. I know this is a cliche, but the city drowns in vegetation. Here’s the view from my hotel room:
And here’s what the NTU campus looks like:
I’ve been very busy since arrival — so far I gave two talks (one here at NTU, the other at the National University of Singapore). On Friday I give another talk at the NTU Complexity Institute, and next week we are running a Seshat workshop on SE Asian history. So things are busy, but I hope to have a little time to continue my travelogue.