December 31, 2011

Samoa Loses Friday To Adjust Calendar

In an attempt to realign its time zone with important trade partners and thus streamline business relations, the tiny island nation of Samoa has resorted to an unusual measure: They dropped Friday this week.

When midnight rolled around on Thursday, December 29, inhabitants of the tiny South Pacific island simply skipped Friday and went straight to Saturday, December 31.

Reports from the Associated Press say Samoans rallied around a centrally located clock tower in downtown Apia, the tiny nation´s capital, and rang in historic early weekend with fireworks, sirens, songs and prayers.

Officials of the small country say that the purpose of time jump was to shift Samoa west of the international date line, which runs a zigzagging lateral path across the Pacific Ocean and separates one calendar day from the next. This means that the island´s 186,000 inhabitants will now be the first rather than the last to flip their desk calendars each day as well as the first to ring in the new year.

More importantly, however, their clocks and calendars will now be in sync with most of their key trade partners in the Asia-Pacific region like.

The shift comes almost 120 years after American entrepreneurs convinced Samoan authorities to align their clocks with trade partners in California. The chrono-crossing is thus also reflective of a broader shift in economic alignments from its continental neighbors to the east to those in the west. In recent years, a number of Samoan businesses have found themselves increasingly interwoven into Australia´s and New Zealand´s economies–both of which were previously a full day behind the diminutive island state.

But the perks of the shift weren´t just for entrepreneurs and industrial magnates. Wage and salary workers across the country also got a pleasant surprise when the national government recently decreed that everyone scheduled to work on Friday would be given full pay for the nonexistent workday.

Moreover, Samoans believe that the shift will also bring a number of non-pecuniary benefits to its inhabitants. Most importantly, with some 200,000 Samoans citizens living abroad in Australia and New Zealand alone, Samoan families strewn out across the Pacific will now be able to celebrate holidays and birthdays together as well as travel without worrying about gaining or losing a day.

“We´ve got to remember that over 90 percent of our people emigrate to New Zealand and Australia,” explained Samoan Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi. “That´s why it is absolutely vital to make this change.”

The shift did entail a few temporary inconveniences for many Samoans. The country´s largest cell phone service provider Digicel had to shut down its network for 15 minutes in order to allow technicians to tweak its systems to accommodate the change. All of its customers were given advance warning about the temporary shut-down and asked to find an alternate mode of communication in case of an emergency.

Cartographers around the world are already at work readjusting their maps to reflect the changes. And the Samoan postal service has even issued a new stamp with the phrase “into the future” to commemorate the historical shift.

The Pacific date line is not formally regulated by any international organization. Traditionally, it cuts a jagged line from north to south approximately along the 180-degree line of longitude, making a number of twists and turns along the way in order accommodate the time preferences of the various Pacific nations.

Samoa is located about 2,300 miles southwest of the Hawaiian islands, from which it will now also be separated by 24 hours.


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