[CIMC 2015 Part 3] Monsters and Pandas and Tigers, Oh My!

My inner perfectionist is crying that I have to post this, in particular over my pathetic snowclone title, but my inner pragmatist knows that, judging by my old blogging patterns, it’s now or never.

18.06: 56%, haven’t touched it in a while, but I think I can do lots more on the plane.


As a non-contestant, I confess I feel totally uninvested in the results and find the Closing Ceremony boring. All contestants go up, country by country, and have their awards read off. No effort is made to make any sort of buildup to a climax. But maybe this is for the best; we don’t want anybody feeling shafted or discouraged from continuing to do math due to a mere elementary-/middle-school competition. Meanwhile, though, I’m browsing reddit on my phone.

After this ceremony, the entire Taiwan delegation spends some time walking around outside while the guides make confused phone calls trying to decide where we eat lunch. My parents offer me some potato chips they bought somewhere, which are (as the label is really eager to point out) baked, not fried. Some time passes this way; eventually, the guides figure it out and we go through amazingly long queues to eat at the cafeteria, as usual. Then we are sent to a massive shopping mall for the afternoon, a place so large that its exits have number labels that go up into the double digits so that people don’t get lost.

I take trippy failed panorama photos from the bus windows.

[trippy panorama of a shopping mall]

The exit our group is supposed to use and remember is number 9. However, since just about everybody else from the competition is clustered around that exit, we choose to enter through a neighboring one, which is somewhat surprisingly numbered 5.

This leads us to the food court. We get two cups of “juice” that are probably water with food coloring and flavoring, a couple boxes of takoyaki, and a meat pie of sorts. I am pleasantly surprised by the number of shops marketing food from Taiwan.

[cups of purple and yellow juice]

[Takoyaki]

[Pearl Castle Cafe]

[Taiwan Market]

Then we go shopping on the first floor and decide to buy me a suitcase for my upcoming travels and college life. It is black with yellow-green lines and a yellow-green button. On our trip back to the bus, one of the leaders notices me pushing the suitcase around and asks me where I bought it; after a confused conversation, he realizes it’s a suitcase and says he thought it was a stereo.

After shopping, we return. Then, with some other people, we walk to Walmart for more shopping. My family buys a big pack of cheap, sketchy pens, as well as lots of snacks. Culinary connoisseur that he is, Hsin-Po buys something like a dozen cans of potato chips with all sorts of exotic flavors that we haven’t seen in Taiwan.

[Weird chips]


The competition schedule is officially over at this point, but thanks to Dr. Sun, most of us Taiwanese visitors have arranged a trip via a travel agency for just ourselves that lasts two more days, visiting Changbai (/Paektu) Mountain. I only learned its naming was disputed after looking it up now. In order to get there, we have to go through a seven-hour bus trip, which is every bit as exciting as it sounds. A very crude estimate of how I spend the time:

  • 1/2 sleep
  • 1/4 irresponsible draconic daydreams
  • 1/8 Proofs from the BOOK
  • 1/16 eating chips
  • 1/16 futile attempts to get the car Wi-fi to cooperate

The area is near the Korean border so after a while, the signs become bilingual. Actually trilingual in some cases:

[Rest room, in three languages]

But we get there. First we stay at a hotel, which is okay; its most major flaw is that its basement floor is numbered −1 even though there’s no floor 0.

[Elevator buttons that contain 1 and -1 but not 0]

[Elevator displaying -1]

We get up the morning for the actual tour. The area around Changbai Mountain is a national park; since it’s Sunday, there are a lot of people queued up to get in. Before entering, we buy some sturdy raincoats to protect ourselves.

[Lots of people queued up to enter Changbai Mountain]

We have to exit our bus to enter the park, but there is more bus riding, and even more queueing, inside the park. The most important landmark is apparently Heaven Lake. Unfortunately, it’s misty and raining and frigid on top of the mountain, and the pictures I get all look more or less like this:

[The view of Heaven Lake: a guy in a blue raincoat and featureless white mist]

I think this is my best photo here because you can actually see a thing in it, a person in a blue raincoat, on the left. Most of our view in the apparent direction of Heaven Lake is the featureless white expanse to the right of the photo. Apparently this is normal — something between 60% and 90% of the days are like this, so most dedicated visitors try to set aside a few days in a row to visit. We are not that dedicated and have a tight schedule, though.

There are a couple other landmarks and places. We see a shop selling merchandise about Heaven Lake’s mascot, a lake monster. Aww, they’re adorable. ❤

[A figure of a lake monster in front of a store selling merchandise]

We also visit a forest area, which is, well, a forest area. With, you know, trees and stuff. Also there’s an electronic sign that purports to measure the number (个/個) of ions in the environment, for some value of “the environment”.

[Electronic sign showing the number of ions... somewhere...]

We are really behind schedule due to the queues, so we’re rushed around and split up and skip a couple visits, and one thing leads to another and we rush out of the park. Somebody has enough guts to propose that the Taiwanese team get their flag out (very politically taboo here, for obvious reasons) and take a picture of it. They succeed without getting yelled at; Dr. Sun even strikes up a friendly conversation about it and the math competition we’re here for.

[CIMC team with Taiwan flag]

We board the bus, eat lunch somewhere, and begin our seven-hour journey back to Changchun to prepare to fly back to Taiwan. I discover that wi-fi works on the way back if I refresh enough times, but is still far too weak to view normal pages; I end up reading obscure parts of the GHC user manual and learning about functional dependencies and compiler rules, because it’s the only interesting material I can think of that isn’t too bandwidth-heavy.

We eat dinner at 11:15 PM. It’s really good food but my stomach feels all twisted and acidic. I don’t know if it was the weird time to be eating dinner, or the shady orange-flavored food-coloring soda, or my decision to snarf down two stacks of half-raw onions. Probably a combination.

It is midnight by the time we reach the hotel, all exhausted. But for a change, the hotel is excellent! Mostly, wi-fi works!!! I can VPN out and check Facebook again! The only complaint I have here is that there’s a curtain between the bathroom and the rest of the hotel room, like the one in our hotel room at IOI; but unlike that curtain, this one is actually controlled from the side outside the bathroom. I don’t get it.

The hotel breakfast the next day is possibly the best meal of the entire trip. There are legitimate fruit juices and fancy salads and some sort of jelly.

[Last hotel breakfast]

And then… we rush to the airport… and we’re back!

[Clouds from an airplane window]


This was pretty anticlimactic, but here are a few tacked-on observations about China in general:

  • At two places, I saw an advertisement that said “Pandas’re Coming”. (No photos, sorry.) Contractions, how do they work?
  • There are a lot of fire safety billboards and informational posters everywhere. Even this anthro tiger firefighter figure. So fire safety is an emerging issue?

    [Figure of a tiger firefighter]

    There are also a few posters about not wasting food. Here’s an especially interesting one, which instructs readers to voluntarily pay 20 dollars if they waste food. I wonder how well that works in practice.

    [Sign instructing readers to voluntarily pay 20 dollars for wasting food]

  • Simplified Chinese is trickier than I thought. Some characters are simplified tremendously, whereas others that would apparently benefit just as much aren’t touched, and sometimes the contrast is a bit jarring. For example, “restaurant” 「餐廳」, the characters of which have 16 and 25 strokes respectively, gets simplified to 「餐厅」: the first character is not touched but the second one now only has 4 strokes. (Interestingly, these stroke numbers are all squares.)

    There is also the bizarre “wish” 「願」, whose simplified version is 「愿」; this simplifies away the 頁 on the side, but then complexifies it by adding a 心 on the bottom (since 原 is a perfectly good character by itself). Admittedly it still saves 5 strokes, but I always thought simplification was all subtraction and substitution.

  • Do not flush Chinese toilets too strongly. Take it from me, bad things happen. (I forgot to insert this into the proper place in the narrative and it’s probably too late now, but really, this may be for the best.)
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