[IMO 2012 Part 1] Dangerous Metal Chopsticks

It’s time to begin the epic blogging journey. The detailed version of this year’s amazing IMO, because I decided that a perfectionist guy like myself could not possibly liveblog and be satisfied with both the quality of the posts and being able to fully enjoy the actual event.

Our story begins in a hotel in Taiwan.

The night before departure, us six contestants and Prof. Lin gathered in a hotel. This was entirely necessary because our flight left at something like five o’clock in the morning. After checking over the flight plans and relevant phone numbers in a conference room, we enjoyed a pretty extensive buffet dinner, what would easily be the best meal we would get to have for at least a week, the highlight of which was a fish steak that looked and tasted exactly like fried egg. Afterwards we did some emergency shopping and prepared a convenience-store breakfast for consumption three o’clock the next day.

As I’ve complained before, we have an 11-hour difference to get used to, and that morning I had gotten myself to sleep as late as 6 AM trying (successfully, much to my amazement) to complete an iPod OS system update. I didn’t think I could pass airport security with the sort of consciousness I had when I finally slept that morning, so I reverted with the rest of the team to an 11 PM curfew. Oh well. The seven of us left the hotel after 3 AM, setting off in a huge 30-person bus for the airport.

Luggage drop-off was mostly uneventful. I realized that the airline didn’t seem to like passengers bringing two bags onto the airplane, and decided to distribute my bag with all the winter clothes in it into my luggage and my backpack. Little did we know what would happen to the luggage… Flight to Hong Kong, during which we got to play games on the in-flight entertainment system. At Hong Kong we saw what looked suspiciously the Hong Kong IMO team, but, for fear of awkward contentless conversations (sideways glare), avoided direct human contact. Then, the long-haul flights with Lufthansa which totaled over a day, and for once in my life, knowing English wasn’t enough to figure everything out. The only in-flight entertainment for both of these flights was the 30 audio stations. Well, less distractions from doing math, I suppose, which was something we could not neglect until the contest ended.

Some other things that happend on-board: the flight attendant offered everybody Cup Noodles as a snack. I hesitated a little (all my teammates last year found the Netherlands’ instant noodles rather gross, and started bets where the punishment was eating some) and she started to nag me: “It’s an easy choice — yes or no? You have to make decisions in life, you know.” Very deep, flight attendant. Thank you. I finally agreed to trying it, and found it not incredibly different from local tastes.

At the transferral at Frankfurt, my metal chopsticks got picked up by security, outside of their box because I used them for a meal on-board. Gasping sharply, the security guy who found them recoiled from their sight for a while. That is at least partially hyperbole, and in the end I got to keep them. Also, hot water cost us around one to two euros at the McDonald’s here. Traveling with an immunocompromised body is tasking.

While waiting for our final flight towards the IMO, we were starting to notice a great increase in IMO contestants. The clearest sign was people with T-shirts or backpacks from IMO 2011, and then I saw a guy sitting on the plane in the row in front of me drawing an obvious triangle geometry diagram. (We were approached by the Kosovo team, who, after figuring out we were IMO contestants as well, asked us “What books do you use to prepare?” We finally only came up with “The shortlists!” I don’t think that was an incredibly helpful answer, but it was really the most accurate.) It seemed like the flight attendants had somehow figured this out as well, because one told me “Good luck!” as we left the plane.

Welcome to Buenos Aires. We hurried through the passport check, waiting impatiently while the team in front of us got seriously caught up, and to the luggage pickup…

…uh-oh. It took a while to find an English-speaking official, but the news quickly became clear. Somehow, none of our luggage had made it to Argentina with us.

No underwear or large jackets or any extra clothes beyond what we had on our body, no instant noodles or any other safe food, no medicine, no chargers, no compasses.

Even though our team had been cautious enough to bring an average of more than two compasses per contestant, that was entirely useless if all of them were lost. Last year SCH’s compass got delayed after they found it in his carry-on and he had to check it, and then last year we didn’t have geometry on day 1. Are we going to have a geometry-less IMO, then? Yeah, what a fantastic dream.

Still trying to fully comprehend the horrific consequences of an indefinite amount of time without our luggage in this freezing foreign country, we met up with Ms. Tsai, one of our local diplomats and extremely enthusiastic about helping us, along with her family, including Caroline, a former classmate of mine, and some other friends. There were so many people welcoming us that I couldn’t keep track of everybody. My excuse is, of course, I was still in shock from our lost luggage.

Anyway, she got us ready with bottles of water, bags of fruit, alcoholic sanitizer, a local cell phone, some bread and pastries, and so on. No extra clothes, unfortunately, so after a good deal of conversation to make sure we had all the bases covered, we made do with what happened to be in our packs and rushed onto the bus with maximal speed.

The driver Ms. Tsai had gotten us could only speak Spanish, but she made sure he knew everything we needed. So we set off on a 5h30m bus trip to Mar del Plata.

It was slightly more comfortable than being on an airplane, given that we all had our eye masks. During the initial part where we weren’t supposed to sleep to fix jet lag, I played a startling game of Carcassonne on CPT’s iPad against CKY. About two-thirds through the game I set up two people ready to steal a huge 16-unit city of his, with exactly one remaining tile that would fit there, so depending on who drew the tile, there would be a difference of 54 points. Rather amusingly, the computer gave that tile to me as the very last one.

After a freezing lunch stop at McDonald’s, where apparently lots of local people took pictures of us, and a nap during the final stretch, we arrived at our hotel, finally officially part of the 53rd IMO.

[to be continued]

(note: the commenting setup here is experimental and I may not check my comments often; if you want to tell me something instead of the world, email me!)