[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]
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Hunter on Vacation

Very faint rainbow

Faint rainbow

So winter vacation started and parents had planned a trip to southern Taiwan, to get closer to nature and walk around and stuff.

Also, the MIT Mystery Hunt, the absolute granddaddy of all the other puzzlehunts in terms of age, structure, and size, happened this weekend. Originally, I didn’t have a team and just planned to look at the puzzles after they got archived and try solving some puzzles read the solutions while constantly thinking, “How could anybody ever solve that?” Because of that, I wasn’t planning to even bring my laptop at first; then I could force myself to study some long-overdue ring theory during the nights. I was taken aback by a private message on Saturday morning from somebody with many different names inviting me to remote-solve for Random Thymes.

Me: !!!!!!!!!!

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English Names

For some reason, everybody around here seems to think that adding English characters, no matter how broken or meaningless, confers an added sense of quality or superiority. I don’t really understand the mindset here but it’s the only explanation I can come up with. It’s certainly not to make the lives of our English-speaking population any easier.

We were sharing songs in Chinese class with literary techniques, and there were a bunch of songs, including mine, by this pretty famous singer with the stage name Fish Leong. Okay, it’s kind of cute and it’s a translated homophonic Cantonese pun, so it makes some sense, although I wonder what people would think the name meant if mentioned without any context. There was this more obscure guy a couple seasons back in the reality TV singing competition (see, no original shows around here) whose name was Quack. *smacks head* It’s also kind of cute if you only know that the word is the sound a duck makes, which probably holds for most of the audience. But still, it takes just five seconds to put it into Wikipedia. Oops?
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Let us talk about Taiwan’s media.

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t have anything to say about. There are health discussion programs and English-teaching programs and cooking programs and the toddler-education program where the guy dresses up as a grandmother and tells stories to puppets. Not enough satiric commentary on the news, but I guess our news stations are reliable enough (go ahead, guess which country I’m talking about; I’m pretty sure of this image despite it being mostly indirect inferences from Reddit. Zing!)

The regular news are quite acceptable, I suppose, if a bit deficient of international stuff. There’s a little political party bias in many of the news channels whenever anything involving election comes up, but it’s well within tolerance range (to me, but I’m only starting to grasp why we need so many people arguing over such meager stuff.) And there are the off-peak specials on absolutely whatever. Some have reasonable depth; some involve a bunch of people with sequences of letters after their name talking pseudoscience. There is Evidence for Bigfoot and the Big Mayan Prophecy of 2012 and Cool Japanese Inventions That Look Like Food But Are Totally Inedible. (Apparently they made a makeup bag that looks like a hamburger, because, I don’t know, it’s special?) Oh, and there was this time they were tooting about the toothbrushes with suction cups on their bottoms that could be put on a surface vertically, which I know can’t be a recent invention.

These few days, though, everything is about “Linsanity!” I’m not interested in spectating sports in general, and I’m not going to go out of my way to follow what’s happening too deeply in the NBA with Jeremy Lin, like everybody else seems to be intent on doing simply because everybody else is as well. (Facebook is overflowing with related posts. Tsk tsk.) In the news coverage, there are absolutely every sort of report on him possible. Reasonable bits on: Oh look the Knicks (I know that’s the team he’s on, but nothing else) beat this team and that team, watch Jeremy make three-pointers and assists, watch his after-game interviews, repeat about two hundred times. Then: Look at Jeremy’s family, they’re so excited for him. Watch his mom cheering and jumping! Again, in slow motion! (Why? Seriously? Is there something to be gleaned from her posture or motion? What is the meaning of this?) Then: Official Person X is excited and is going to watch him play, never mind that he’s supposed to be working in the government for our tax dollars. Then: Look at all the girls who made videos on YouTube proposing to him! (Can anybody actually think something like this has a chance of working?) Then: Jeremy Lin ate at this restaurant this evening to celebrate his dad’s birthday! They had a shrimp appetizer which costs Y dollars, and spaghetti which costs Z dollars, and for dessert, man, look at that chocolate cake, doesn’t it look delicious? By this point the news has crossed the so-bad-it’s-good threshold and the amount of enjoyment derived from watching is actually increasing. His name gets dragged into even the most unrelated topics: there was another debate on ractopamine-laced beef imports from the U.S. which is probably the single big international topic that everybody in Taiwan cares about now and a subtitle in the corner asked if Jeremy Lin ate this stuff.

This is the sort of inaccurate hype that gets me the most, and now I’m going to go on to the board-game anecdote. Some random day a while ago Dr. Sun called us and said that the news channels were looking for some stories (read: filler content) for the off-peak period. The reporter wanted to do a segment on board games, and we were invited to play them in front of the camera (and they need me to read/remember/explain the English rules). Everything went as planned. The reporter rehearsed her tag line a couple times and films me explaining that you get 10 points if your pen with six spaces is completely full at the end.

The interviewing got serious. Dr. Sun talked about board games requiring more brain power than all those online flashy kill-everything-around-you RPGs (despite no longer actively playing anything like that on the computer, I disagree; to me the thing that makes board games worthwhile is the high depth and complexity of player interaction. An even further aside: I remember the time in sixth grade I was writing about the game our classmates had started and describing it as “a MMORPG in real life with friends!” I remembered all six letters in the acronym but not what they stood for or what they meant. I did not have any idea what people did before computers.) Then a friend gave a boolean response to “Is it fun?”. I felt sad I wasn’t asked for anything, as I could have said much more; I guess I wasn’t very telegenic with my face mask.

The footage was used up, the reporter rushed away to her next appointment, and the same evening we were struggling through hours of irrelevant segments for our fifteen seconds of fame. We learned that the news stations actually replayed some segments three or four times in the space of an hour. Finally the dramatically-truncated episode came up, and we discovered that the guys at the studio decided to append a table with four examples of board games. We mentioned Carcassonne, which is a great choice to give for an example: so far so good. Then Ticket to Ride and Zooloretto, the two games we actually did play in front of the camera: I’m not sure if they’re classic/mainstream enough but okay. Then, without any justification or research or quotes, the fourth “European board game” was revealed to be… Sudoku.

The news was already segueing (badly, I should mention) to some guy who gave head massages or something before I could react. Wat. How did they get that? How was forming this kind of misconception even possible? These are supposed to be professionals. They’re running a news channel, for goodness’s sake. Sudoku doesn’t even sound European. Consonant vowel consonant vowel consonant vowel, no accents or silent Es… it’s hard to think that it’s not Japanese. Have these people never flipped open a newspaper before? I am amazed.

Then there are the game shows. I believe that 90% of our game shows are copied — brutally and shamelessly plagiarized from other countries’ programs. There was this particularly egregious instance when the Japanese show in question, composed of a sequence of brief episodes with different people playing or trying different challenges for a million dollars or some nearby large amount in yen, found out about this. There was this electric current avoiding thingamajig where you had to slide a metal pole through a path of wire without it actually touching either side and completing a circuit, you know? Our show had duplicated the entire layout of the path pretty exactly, and they gathered all the Japanese contestants who had won the million dollars through that game and came over to participate.

It was a long time ago, and I don’t remember/know the details, although I think there were four contestants and one got the prize. The thing is that I learned all this from a sub-episode in the original Japanese program, which was also showing on a channel in Taiwan. I had never seen the copied show run, though. Dude. If you’re going to plagiarize and show the results on television, at least pick something not all of your viewers can see. This makes me ashamed of my country. Or rather, species.

What is there to be gathered from all this? Do the media suck because the media suck? Or is the lowest common denominator around here really that shallow? Matilda (the psychic-levitation Roald Dahl character)’s parents thought books were a waste of time because they had the telly. The reality, in our terrible unattentive society, is clearly the opposite.

(Oh no, now that I’m on WordPress I must choose tags responsibly!)