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Dispatches

Christmas trees, by the numbers; Alabama’s despot depot; spreading the word about Burgundy’s mustard; New Zealand goes global; the sun sets on a Samoan claim to fame

SAMOA
Back to the Future

Waving goodbye to the last sunset on earth

It’s just after sunrise, and Chris Peniata, a captain for dive operator AquaSamoa, groggily powers his boat into a shimmering peacock-blue lagoon off the coast of Samoa. When this tiny South Pacific island nation adopted Daylight Saving Time in 2009, Peniata was forced to leave on his morning runs a little earlier. That took some getting used to, but it’s nothing compared with what’ll happen Dec. 29, when Samoa skips not an hour, but an entire day — a feat achieved by moving the international date line from the island’s western flank to its eastern shore.

This isn’t the first instance of Samoa’s flexible attitude toward time: In 1892 it moved the date line west to facilitate trading with the U.S., in the process becoming the last place in the world to see the sun set on any given date. For years, tourists flocked here to toast the twilight with rum-filled coconut drinks; some even came for second helpings of special birthdays or anniversaries (arrive from, say, Tonga, and it’ll be nearly a day before you left).

Soon, though, Samoa will trade away that last sunset, hoping to better align its workweek with trading partners in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. It’s the latest in a string of reforms instituted by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who in 2009 switched Samoa’s roads from right-hand drive to left-, and later introduced Daylight Saving Time.

While local tourism officials bemoan the loss of the final-sunset honors, most people here seem unruffled by the changes. Kat Kupsch, Peniata’s boss, attributes that to fa’a Samoa, or “the Samoan way.” “Samoans take everything in stride,” she says. Even time travel, it seems. —AMANDA CASTLEMAN

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

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