Looking Back: The World Wiz Database from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

If I had to guess how I caught my insatiable case of wanderlust, I would have to say it’s partly inherited from my late grandfather as well as a result of playing too much Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as a child.

A few years ago I discovered that a YouTube user named Yoshikarter1 uploaded the videos from the World Wiz Database, an encyclopedia of sorts that players would use to try and decode the hints given to them in the game. So now that I’ve seen more countries than the years that have passed since I’ve played WITWICS, I’d like to take a look back on the videos that intrigued and inspired me to go out and explore this colorfully diverse world.


Greece

As a 7-year-old, I remember watching this video and thinking, “This must be what block parties are like in Greece.” However, I’ve yet to attend such a block party that involved breaking pottery, even after visiting the country that it’s famous for. I took a cruise through the Greek isles back in 2006, where we stopped in Mykonos and Rhodes, along with a short stop in Kusadasi, Turkey. Since my travels in Greece and Turkey felt like a mere blip on my first European trip, I often forget that I was ever there – even if they were the third and fourth countries I ever visited. That is why this country has remained on my “To Visit Again” list for over a decade. After all, I have little doubt that you could ever get enough of traipsing around a wall calendar come to life.

Indonesia

Realizing that the dancers couldn’t have been much older than me, I connected with this video in particular. I recall trying to mimic the hand movements, thinking that doing it too much could cause carpal tunnel syndrome even before I knew the name for it.

After having spent a week on Bali, the clip of the rice fields at the end really brought the idea home that, once upon a time, this place seemed so far and barely reachable, and now here you are – currently sitting in the same house where you first watched the video, having been there and even seen how the dancers’ outfits were made.

Italy

This blissful look at gondolas bobbing and gliding through the canals of Venice is most likely the video that I watched the most. I became particularly interested in Italy after meeting an Italian exchange student staying with my cousins and discovering that I was also part Italian myself. For some reason I began growing my thumbnail long to to resemble what I thought was a hand delicately holding the oar at 00:04. (I kid you not – it wasn’t until a few moments ago that I realized that this was not a hand, but the part of the gondola that helps hold it in place.)

Although I have visited Italy about three times so far, I have yet to visit Venice. Since most people I talk to complain about how crowded and touristy it is, and the fact that my ancestral village(s) and Naples are at the top of my list to visit in Italy, the floating city has been put on the backburner for me.

However, touristy or not, Venice is still definitely a must-see before it’s completely underwater.

Japan

This past Lunar New Year I visited the Osaka Museum of History, where there was a small exhibit on Bunraku puppets like the ones featured in the video above. In one part of the exhibit, you could try your hand at maneuvering the head of a Bunraku puppet. There was an inside joke amongst our group of friends in which we decided that whispering the word “skin” is one of the creepiest things a human could do. So naturally, we recorded a short video of me making one of the puppets whisper “skin” in a low, raspy voice.

Considering the shocking little moment at 00:08, I suppose you could say that I still manage to be equally fascinated and freaked out by Bunraku puppets after all these years. But then again, that may not be a very difficult thing to do in the first place.

Netherlands

Apart from the pretty colors, this video didn’t do much to sell me on going to the Netherlands. As I grew older, of course, I discovered what else cities such as Amsterdam had to offer. (Bike rentals and the Van Gogh Museum, DUH!)

Since I only spent a short weekend in Amsterdam when I was 18, I still feel I barely scratched the surface of what there is to see in the Netherlands. After all, I didn’t even get a chance to see the Anne Frank House OR rent a bike that wasn’t, for some strange reason, extremely difficult to pedal.

Singapore

This video, which features wayang, or Chinese street opera, made Singapore seem so much more strange and over-the-top than it was when I recently visited it. (But then again, this is a video clip recorded 20 years ago at the very least.)

Granted, the city nation is home to several ethnic neighborhoods including Little India, Kampong Glam, and, of course, Chinatown. As a country of immigrants, Singapore certainly gave off multicultural vibes, so that plus the English speaking almost made me felt as if I were in a future, Utopian version of the United States. Combining that with strict regulations over everything from drugs to durian fruit, it almost felt like walking through a more authentic Epcot World Showcase. What struck me, in particular, were the helpful maps located in the neighborhoods that helped you find local points of interest. How often do you find that in a city?

Unlike my first impressions, Singapore ended up feeling a lot more like an improved version of the familiar.

Spain

I’ve seen Flamenco performed on stage, in a cave, and unexpectedly at a house party. My time in Spain amounts to a total of about 2 years, so I have had many chances to catch a small crowd of musicians singing and dancing this heart-wrenching tradition.

But while Flamenco is usually one of the first things that come to mind when somebody mentions Spain, I’m starting to think of more specific characteristics of the country that speak to my experiences there. Just as I might think of having to tip at restaurants before the Statue of Liberty when someone brings up the United States, I might think of nights strolling through Malasaña or the concept of garrafón (or “bad liquor”) when somebody mentions Spain.

In a way, I’m glad that my automatic thoughts of Spain are connected to pleasant memories, rather than the obvious. That’s how I know I’ve truly gotten something out of my experience there.

Sweden

I remember not getting too excited about Sweden when I watched this as a kid. A country with nothing but a bunch of moose and a weird dude with a crummy motorbike? Oh, and it’s freezing cold throughout most of the year?

Fast forward to adulthood, after discovering all the benefits given to Swedish citizens and developing a strange, unwavering fascination with Ikea. I’ve become a bit of a Suecophile, and have remained one after the time I spent in Gothenburg. Now that I’ve logged hours on the train traveling from Oslo-Rygge airport to the country’s second largest city, rushed to the Systembolaget before close, and played a round or two of kubb on Midsommar, I can safely say that I would consider settling down in Sweden or another Scandinavian country.

Turkey

Ok, so I only spent hours in Turkey when I visited Ephesus and a rug factory. So I can just barely count this country as one that I’ve really been to. When I saw this video as a kid, I remember telling myself, “I have to see this country!”

Sadly, it seems that there hardly seems to be a “good time” to visit Istanbul or Ankara these days. A lot of the time I feel like I’ve missed the huge window of opportunity I had to visit the Hagia Sofia or watch the whirling dervishes do their thing in person.

United Kingdom

I could tell the narrator in this video was acting quite smug well before I knew the word for it. Perhaps it was yet another piece of media contributing to Americans’ sense of inferiority when it comes to interacting with the British. Though luckily, I never let a short video clip from a computer game determine my opinion of an entire country. (I let history and travel do that for me.)

As for driving on the “correct” side of the road, I honestly have to adjust my own memories of riding in cars and taxis in the UK, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Even though I know for a fact that the drivers are on the right-hand side of the vehicle, my memory almost always tricks me into thinking that they were on the other side.


Watching these videos as an adult who’s been to these countries was not just an indicator of how far I’ve gone or how well-traveled I’ve become. Above all, it was a reminder that even something as small and fleeting as a 30-second video clip can spark a lifelong desire to travel and see for yourself what this strange world has to offer.

7-year-old me must be proud of my current ranking.

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