Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


Where is Wuhan?

Change is always with us; it is one thing that we can be certain of.

Life changes, the world changes. It has always been thus, but in our present age change happens more rapidly than ever before.

Think of geography, of the world you knew 75 years ago. How many Americans ever head of Wuhan, before this past year? Yes, Wuhan, China.

Back when you “After 70 types” were in 4th grade, you learned that China was in the Orient (can’t say Orient anymore - politically incorrect) rather Asia. The population was 550 million and the familiar cities were Hong Kong, Beijing (Peking, Peiping), and Shanghai.

Now the population is 1.4 billion and among the top ten Chinese Cities in population are: Tianjin. Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Wuhan.

A similar situation pertains to India. Population then, 360 million, now 1.3 billion

We were familiar with Bombay (now Mumbai), Delhi, and Calcutta (now Kolkata). Joining those in the top ten are: Hyderabad, Chennai, and Jaipur. The old days of Mother Theresa in Calcutta and the Great Frank Sinatra singing about a bar in “Far Bombay” are relics.

The world is shrinking.

Remember the South Pacific. New Guinea was a primitive island. Seemed as though the only Westerner who traveled there was the anthropologist Margaret Mead. Enter World War II and the South Pacific became familiar as American and Japanese troops clashed on previously unknown islands. A little later we learned more of the region thanks to the hit Broadway play, “Tales of the South Pacific”.

Here we are 70 years later, and we find couples, after being married (more or less) by a gritty sea captain in some bucolic setting, leaving for a honeymoon on Bora Bora or Tahiti. We learn of pharmacetical salesmen traveling at the drop of the hat to Thailand and “study abroad” students spending months in Vietnam or Madagascar.

Monumental change is underway in Africa. In fact it seems that most of the continent has been in turmoil since the colonial powers left more than a half century ago. For newly recognized countries, changing names as well as boundaries are a fact of life. Is there still a Zaire, or a Congo? Or a Timbuktu?

Transportation and communication are now almost instantaneous. A student tells me he is going to Seoul, South Korea to study for a semester; he says it will take him 17 hours to fly there. I tell him I traveled there about 70 years ago, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and it took 17 DAYS, on a ship just to cross the Pacific. Communication is even quicker. For instance, say your son is in Thailand, you pick up your cell or smart phone, call like a local call, seconds later he answers. 75 years ago, say you were in Italy and you wanted to call home in Buffalo. You located a Bell Telephone Center, had an operator place your call and waited. A few hours later you got a connection.

While discussing this matter of time and change with my friends, Jim the Chemist and Clem the Food Czar, they mentioned space travel and how that has changed our perspectives over the past half century.

When we were finishing college in the 1950s, Russia sent Sputnik into space. An alarmed and rudely awakened Eisenhower Administration quickly created NASA and the space race began.

America’s early ventures created bold headlines and new American heroes: Alan Shepherd, first American in space, followed by John Glenn, first American to orbit the earth. (Huge tickertape parades in NYC followed). A few years later President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon came true. Astronaut Neil Armstrong planted his foot on the moon’s surface for the benefit of all mankind.

In the years and decades that followed we read about more and more firsts (first woman in space, space stations, newly discovered planets) but the public seems to have become so used to reading about all the latest accomplishments that the news did not seem as awesome and the headlines not quite as bold anymore.

Not only is the world shrinking, so is the universe. Clem and the Chemist speculate that our great grandchildren in the next century (or before?) may be talking about taking a trip to somewhere in the planetary system, maybe even honeymooning in the Saturn area or? Who knows?

Meanwhile we now know where Wuhan is, and the world is dealing with the “Wuhan Crisis”.


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