Ambassador finds imagination in old maps

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Ambassador finds imagination in old maps


When Google Earth was developed, people were awed. It shows in detail major cities in North America and western Europe, the shots taken from satellites and aircraft and even shown in 3-dimensional graphics in some areas. Despite the site’s strengths, however, the visual representations lack one thing ― imagination.
Dato’ M. Santhananaban, the Malaysian ambassador to Seoul, has collected maps for about 20 years. But all his maps are at least 200 years old, which he says allow “open interpretation.”
It’s very interesting to look at old maps because they show how the nations were viewed at that time, Mr. Santhananaban said. “Malaysia was determined by Europeans,” he said of his homeland, which at different times has been under the rule of Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. “Many Asian nations were also determined by others,” he added. Take the example of the Yellow Sea, he said, “Who would call the people living there yellow?”
The ambassador studied history and international relations at the University of Malaya.
Interestingly, one of his maps printed in 1635 by Milliaria Germanica Communia shows Korea as an island, detached from the Asian continent. Mr. Santhananaban assumed it was drawn that way because the cartographer hadn’t been to Korea, so felt the nation was isolated.
Two maps in his collection clearly show “Sea of Corea” for the controversial zone now called either the “East Sea,” or “Sea of Japan.” One of them is titled “A New Map of China, By J. Bayly, Geographer,” printed on May 1, 1782.
Mr. Santhananaban’s collection now amounts to 100 maps purchased around the world, but he hasn’t added any from Korea yet. He usually buys them from map dealers and searches for items, information or prices on the Internet.
“Unfortunately, however, I don’t have a map of a treasure island,” Mr. Santhananaban joked. However, for him, the maps themselves are a treasure. He hand-carries the most expensive ones, worth up to $10,000, whenever he transfers to another nation.
When asked what his criteria are for purchasing a map, Mr. Santhananaban said “the condition” of an old map was always his priority. He also checks the type of paper on which a map is printed ― acid-free paper or rice paper are best for longer preservation.
It’s also important to discern the real from the fake, he said, as some maps are colored just to look older.
Mr. Santhananaban said that it’s hard to find a good old map in Seoul. He is also looking for a shop to frame some of his maps.
The dining room at the ambassador’s residence has dozens of framed maps hung on the walls. These were framed in Argentina, which was his former post as an ambassador.
Mr. Santhananaban, who is Hindu, said that he visits temples in Korea often. “I sit down and pray for an hour.” He said that compared to the number of Buddhists in Korea, not many Koreans seem to go to temples.
Mr. Santhananaban currently lives in Seoul alone, while his wife, a stockbroker, and five-year old daughter live in Malaysia. Every six weeks, they visit each other.
Malaysia is rising in preference among Koreans as a destination for learning English. Mr. Santhananaban said about 50,000 foreigners currently go to international schools in Malaysia, of whom 3,000 are Koreans.

by Park Sung-ha
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