Thursday, December 10, 2009

One World, Many Timezones

Going to catch a plane in a moment...

One of the things you do before traveling is to check the timezone difference of the destination. In this case, there is obviously none because Taiwan (where I am going) and Singapore are both 8 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), ie GMT+8.

Experiencing timezone difference can be a pain. Biologically, our bodies have been conditioned to the local timezone and will push the "auto shutdown button" when it is time to snooze. This gives rise to the one of the most hateful side-effects of traveling - jet lag.

A timezone is a region on earth that has uniform local time. In 1675, the GMT was established to help the seamen to tell the longitude at sea. In 1868, New Zealand officially standardized its local time to 11h 30m ahead of GMT. It was probably the first country to adopt a standard time based on GMT.

The GMT timezone essentially is determined based on the rotation of the earth, which interestingly, is not going on at a constant rate. Such a flaw in precision is not well tolerated in this modern time. In 1972, a new timezone standard was used.

The new time system is known as 'Coordinated Universal Time' (UTC). Its abbreviation of 'UTC' is derived from the French term, 'Temps Universel Coordonné'. With this new standard, the local timezone for Singapore is expressed as UTC+8. However, I do find 'GMT+8' to be more commonly used. I guess most men on the street can live without such precision in timezone.

There is an interesting history behind the Singapore timezone.

Before 31 may 1905, Singapore was 6h 55m ahead of GMT. In 1920. the idea of adopting 'Daylight Saving Time' similar to that in England was mooted (Singapore was a British Colony). After years of deliberation, Singapore had 'Daylight Saving Time' of GMT +7h20m in 1933. This was later adjusted to GMT +7h30m in 1941.

Later, during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), our local time was adjusted to GMT+9 to follow the local time in Japan. After the Japanese surrendered in Singapore, the local time went back to GMT +7h30m.

In 1981, the Peninsular Malaysia (a.k.a West Malaysia) moved its local time from GMT+7.30 to GMT+8 to match the timezone in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). Singapore, which is just a stone throw below the West Malaysia, would be in a rather awkward position if the 30-minute timezone difference was maintained. So, for practical reasons, Singapore followed suit and the adjustment took effect on 1 Jan 1982. (I cannot imagine having to adjust my watch each time I take a short ride across the border.)

Can anyone remember that 'ceremonial' moment when half an hour was added to all the timepieces when the clock hit 12.00 midnight on 31 Dec 1981?

Come to think of it, we never had the time between 0000hr to 0030hr on 1 Jan 1982. I supposed no one in Singapore was officially born during those 30 minutes? Another way of looking at it, those born before 1982 are indeed half an hour younger than they now officially are.

OK, same timezone or not, it is time to sign off. I will not be updating the blog until a week's time. Do stay tuned for more sharing.

Click here to see the Singapore local time.

"Yesterday is a canceled check;
tomorrow is a promissory note;
today is the only cash you have - so spend it wisely”
~Kay Lyons~

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