[IMO 2012 Part 3] Luggage Carriers and Language Barriers

Who knew coming up with strangely cryptic and illogical but nice-sounding post titles was so much fun!?

Okay, this break in storytelling is mainly brought to you by generic summer laziness, as well as possibly a tiny bit of chemotherapy adverse effect. There is only a little perfectionism involved, and that’s because this post contains a long awkward situation (you might have guessed already). I guess this is what it feels like to have oodles of stuff to blog about, but not enough motivation. Heck, these few days with running the TAIMC have long filled my list of rant topics with juicy stories until it’s near-bursting. But I need to end this self-pity party before I get carried away, so… back to the action.

Stranded in a foreign country at least 20 degrees Celsius below our comfort zone, having worn the same clothes for 36 hours of airplane travel, and still with less than 48 hours until the contest and zero out of six compasses, we were running out of options.

A quick inventory of clothes showed that, after including the vests and caps in the backpacks we got, we probably had just enough clothes to survive the cruel frigid environment. So, reluctantly, we left the games room and hit the street to hunt down some underwear and socks to change into. Not to mention toothbrushes and some T-shirts and jackets for good measure, because the inside of the hotel was not the right temperature for full cold-resistance gear.

Some haphazard wandering up and down the streets later, we found a store that suited our needs and picked up some clothes. The underwear came in two sizes: too loose and too tight. We picked the latter. Oh well, it would only be for a day or so… right?

And so that was our first day without our luggage. We survived. My iPod finally ran out of battery the second day while furiously refreshing my email, trying to stay connected and update everybody. The schedule marched ahead without us.

IMO 2012 poster listing various amazing properties of 2012
Yes, item 10 does say “… is the year of the eighteenth anniversary of Justin Bieber’s birth.”

Morning of official day two of the IMO schedule. The opening ceremony began; we exited the hotel through the games room, noticing a surprising number of new features, such as a screen listing each contestant with their birthday on that day, or the poster above. The outside remained faintly chilly. Somehow or other, exchange problems found their way into our hands via other contestants and deputies. As we aimlessly bumbled along with the rest of the crowd, the Iranian team started singing loudly beside us. Then we saw the massive parade!

A vibrant array of red and yellow performers, covered in flowery dress and vivid logos, appeared in the street and guided us along. The percussionists slammed out a steady uplifting dum-dum-dum beat while the others shook everything they were wearing and waved umbrellas and flags at everybody with bright smiles. It was hard not to synchronize one’s footsteps to the rhythm. Random passersby on the street stopped and took photos — whether of the parade itself or of the confused mass of us strange-looking foreigners walking alongside, it’s hard to say. Dogs appeared out of nowhere and barked along. At the end I noticed the Austrian deputy, who had mingled with the drummers and joined in the merrymaking with a makeshift percussion instrument.

We reached the auditorium where the opening ceremony would be held and waited outside for a while, still listening to the drummers. A few moments later, we shuffled inside and up the stairs, where some sort of Argentinian travel promotion video was playing on the screen. Nevertheless, it was still impossible to hear anything other than the continuous dum-dum-dum of the parade outside. Time for waiting? Time for some more math, you mean.

Opening ceremony:

  • The Argentinian national anthem was played — we tried to figure out where it started and where it ended, and didn’t succeed.
  • A singer and a couple guys with accordions played the official IMO hymn, which had been written the last time they held the IMO in Argentina. It was in Spanish and my view of the English translation was blocked. The verse was a couple loosely-mathematical puns that they repeated so many times I lost count, which is a little ironic considering the puns mostly revolved around adding and multiplying.
  • Again in Spanish, important people carefully described how awesome an activity math competitions were and how proud Argentina was to hold the third IMO in the southern hemisphere. A translator gave us the gist.
  • Nazar Agakhanov, the advisory board chairman, came up, welcomed us, and noted that \(8\times 10^{2012} - 1\) was prime (I’m not absolutely certain that’s the right number but Java verification strongly supports it). The translator looked flustered.
  • The leaders and observers came by and waved. I couldn’t see them from where we sat below the balcony, so our deputy did that for us.
  • All the countries went on stage. No political intervention from the mainland government this time, so we simply followed the order, which was almost alphabetical but deviated significantly in a couple places. It was still made awkward by the fact that our flag and uniforms were all stuck somewhere on the way from Frankfurt. We made do with the only piece of clothing that all of us had — the pale blue IMO vest.

The trip back was unremarkable. Lunch came and went, and we went back to our rooms to keep ourselves in the mental math zone without becoming too distracted by the lack of our cursed luggage.

But distractions will always find a way…

The background, even though I don’t expect any readers who don’t know about this already: chaotic_iak is a guy from Indonesia whom I have bumped into far too often on Art of Problem Solving, which is a math forum where I spend way too much of my time online, and we had figured out that both of us were coming to this year’s IMO. At this time, he decided to come knock at my door. Because my iPod’s battery had died, I had ten seconds of warning from the instant KYL told me, “There’s a guy from the Indonesian team looking for you!”

Panic. Totally not expected. Nerves steeled, muscles clenched, thoughts truncated to sentence fragments that would make grammar textbook error examples look eloquent. What am I supposed to say or do?

…wait, it can’t be that awkward, it’s not like we haven’t had successful chats on Gmail before —

— actually, judging by what little remains in my memory after the curl-up-in-a-corner embarrassment reflex purged all of the worst moments…

…yes it can.

  • one joke about how Shaymin are supposed to have flowers on their back, because, well… it seemed like a reasonable idea some time ago
  • awkward laughter
  • “oh look I met an AoPSer! not counting any ambiguous awkward conversations last year where I doubted the other guy even knew I was trying to get this achievement” (“Hi your nametag says you’re from the USA and I wonder how you guys did… no idea? Okay bye”. So I should have had lots of reasons to expect an equally awkward conversation this time. Meh.)
  • more awkward laughter
  • hallucinatory flashbacks of the Awkward Situation Survival Guide
  • way too much awkward laughter

While trying to think of interesting conversation topics and creating coherent sentences from them, I was also fighting a valiant battle trying to parse his Indonesian accent. Later I’d learn that he had just as much difficulty understanding my clumsy unclear spit-clogged English through my mask. It’d be harder to imagine a worse set of circumstances for two internet strangers to communicate face-to-face for the first time.

Finally, the awkwardness had blown up past the critical threshold. I gave up and closed the door, attempting to resolve the problem by ignoring it, to get back into math mode with a couple feeble headbashes. We would meet again, of course. Five hundred contestants is not a large number.

The afternoon turned around, our guide came in and showed us our organizer-provided writing utensils, and they included compasses! I never bothered to try them, however, because WL said the compasses sucked and because our baggage, complete with our beautifully extensive array of primary and backup compasses, arrived! And so all was well. We got a taste of our heartwarming instant noodles that our stomachs were used to. The rest of the afternoon was spent idly in our rooms, storing energy for the four and a half hours of uninterrupted grueling mental work.

Bedtime. I didn’t really feel like sleeping, so I tried to write a blog entry to update everybody on what Argentina was like, until the time hit 11 PM and I finally admitted to myself that there was no way I would be able to get the post to a quality where I was satisfied with publishing it. Lights off.

The pinnacle of our trip was approaching, those fleeting moments we had to show off our months of preparation…

(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!)