One of the courses that I teach at my university is on the states, society and history of South-east Asia. Every time I begin teaching this course I have an exercise for all my students – most of whom happen to come from the various countries of South-east Asia. I ask them to turn off their laptops and phones, then take out a blank sheet of paper. When they are ready, I ask them all to draw me a map of South-east Asia – from Myanmar all the way to Vietnam and also all of maritime South-east Asia.
After 12 years of teaching the same course, not once has any student been able to draw me a map of South-east Asia that can pass as a map of the region that is reasonably accurate. And yet it has to be remembered that most of my students happen to be South-east Asians too.