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February 11, 2015

Memorizing the geography of Asia

To memorize the geography of Asia and the Caucasus, let’s split this huge continent into pieces.

Before we begin, a few notes:

First, these segments aren’t designed to make geopolitical sense, although in many cases they do. They’re simply the best chunks for memorization, at least using my approach.

Second, the close-up regions aren’t exact in terms of shape and area. That’s a by-product of using GIMP (a Photoshop alternative) on a low-quality image.

Third, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve excluded border disputes, exclaves, and enclaves (more on that later).

Let’s start here…

Map of Asia with mnemonic regions solid

…and move from west to east (sort of, anyway).

If you’re having trouble seeing any map, click on it for a version with a solid background.

Caucasus region

Caucasus region solid

Park the car in the GArAze (GeorgiaARmeniaAZErbaijan, west to east).

It’s here we discuss our first exclave: Nakhchivan, which is part of Azerbaijan. An exclave is a part of a country that’s separated by another country.

An enclave, conversely, is part of a country that’s totally surrounded by another country. West Berlin was a classic example: to get there by land, you’d have to travel through East Germany.

Mediterranean area

When the end times come, this part of the world is going to be a waste land.

Middle East solid

From north to south, it’s T-S-L-I-J – almost like T.S. Eliot.

Note: For some reason I originally had “leaves of grass” as a mnemonic – I hope that didn’t cost anyone a correct Final response in the February 19 game.

Arabian peninsula

Arabian peninsula solid

Saudi Arabia is the keystone of this area. Hanging from the bottom of this… uh, phallic area are two manly countries: Yemen and Oman (YO!).

Those of you who live in New York will know about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which provides the acronym for the nations along the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Iraq, Iran, Kuwait

Playing pool against Saddam Hussein, I racked, then I ran.

Iraq Iran Kuwait solid

Just remember that Iraq invaded tiny Kuwait to get at its oil – as well as at the Persian Gulf.

Indian subcontinent and environs

Indian subcontinent solid

India and Pakistan are always at loggerheads, so it makes sense that they’d be next to each other. And many escapees from Afghanistan in our offensive there, including Osama bin Laden, went to neighboring Pakistan.

Another way to remember: In an India Pale Ale – I.P.A. (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan) – the bubbles rise toward Great Britain. (There’s a historical reason to use this mnemonic.)

Nepal and Bhutan are mountain kingdoms to the north of India. And Bangladesh, which has disastrous floods seemingly every monsoon season from the Bay of Bengal, is surrounded by India. It was known as East Pakistan until the Liberation War of 1971, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions, even) of Bangladeshis at the hands of [West] Pakistan.

India and Bangladesh have dozens of enclaves and exclaves, including the world’s only counter-counter-enclave – a piece of India completely surrounded by Bangladeshi territory, which is in turn is completely surrounded by Indian territory that’s surrounded by Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka is that island southeast of India.

The “minor” -stans

Minor stans solid

Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, is our starting point. Beneath it, to the west, are Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: K-U-T. (Uzbekistan is one of two countries that are doubly landlocked.)

To the east are another K-T combination: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

So we have two T countries. To tell them apart: Turkmenistan is closer to Turkey than is Tajikistan; it also has a U, like the country right above it.

The big boys

Big Asian countries solid

You should be able to memorize this one by rote. Hainan is just a big island, not a wannabe-independent country like Taiwan.


Indochina solid

The keystone here is Thailand. It really ties this area together – without it, it would be split into two.

Trader Vic’s in Hollywood used to make Mai Tais – MYanmar and THAIland, in that order.

Singapore, the city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, has the world’s nicest airport. That should help you remember that it’s next to Malaysia, which lost two airplanes (Flights 370 and 17) last year.

Malaysia also has another large parcel on the island of Borneo, surrounding the Sultanate of Brunei.

Vietnam is on the eastern edge of the area, along the water; the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution cleared the way for LBJ to escalate in the 1960s.

The Viet Cong invaded neighboring Cambodia, which is not Laos, the only landlocked country in the region.

The southern archipelagos

All that’s left are the Phillipines, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, which broke away from Indonesia for good in 2002, and Brunei, the sultanate surrounded by the Malaysian exclave on the island of Borneo. (Map to follow.)

  1. You left out the Maldives

  2. Mike M permalink

    Thanks, Keith! As a memory and trivia nut, I love your primers and how you focus on making it easy to remember.

  3. Ghada permalink

    I really liked the “stans” key of remembering them!

  4. Caleb Bliss permalink

    Yay thanks

  5. thank you very much but where the maldives

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