My Daily Reflections

Day Two (3 November 2011)
Venue: Jiuhua Resort and Convention Centre (Beijing, China)Time: 2157 hoursWeather: FoggyTemperature: 9 to 15 degrees Celsius
It's been an enjoyable stay in Beijing so far. But there are many things that we have not settled in yet; one, the food (Northern China cuisine is unfamiliar to Singaporeans like us). Two, the censorship (our enthusiastic minds filled with Facebooking and using YouTube to lullaby ourselves to sleep sadly were unable to materialise) on social networking sites and even YouTube. Three, the weather, because we have only been exposed to sunny summery weathers in Singapore, and not these winter cold days in Beijing. It is exactly because of this cold that we had to sleep in non-air-conditioned hotel rooms with no privacy at all - toilet glass windows were translucent and easily seen from outside, and there was no door lock! Nonetheless, under the accompaniment of our friends, we have undergone this period with much ease and laughter.
Enough said, let's move on to the 3-2-1 Reflection! :)

3 interesting things that I would like to share with friends / family (OK, Buy 3 Get 1 Free!)

1. China is such a different country from Singapore, in terms of both politics and even social media. With that, it can be said that I, together with all my friends here, prefer to live in the modernised metropolis, Singapore, because of the ease of using and accessing the social networking sites which had slowly but surely morphed into part of our lives, as the years passed. These include Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube for the songs that help us through our work. Sadly, here, there is no such pleasure. Television channels are extremely boring, even. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"; with that, I'm sure we will all treasure the networking sites we are able to access from Singapore.

2. China is such a huge country. In such a competition, it is notable that practically all the teams participating are from China. The different prefectures and city states are all represented by their respective mathematical geniuses or "top-brains". When I turned around, I spotted a whole row of Chinese groups; from Macau to Changchun, and from Beijing to Yancheng. China is gradually becoming a rising dragon in many sectors and even including Mathematical Olympiads. To keep up with this rising powerhouse which is bound to gain ultimate control over the world together with traditional international powers as of the current day, we have to improve - not merely in the economic sense which I believe Singapore has managed to achieve, but also in the academic sense including such Mathematical Olympiads like these.

3. (Last but definitely not least,) friends are very important to us. In such instances when we leave home to a foreign land with the school, our friends are the ones who support us and make us laugh. We have been through thick and thin, and together, in this foreign land of Beijing, we managed to tide through the innumerable difficulties and obstacles such as cultural differences and even cuisine unfamiliarity. Thus, our friends are really vital and we must definitely treasure them well! :)

4. Bilingualism is indeed a key tool to unlocking opportunities. In this international competition, there were many translators who spoke in both English and Chinese. Coming from bilingual backgrounds largely emphasised by both the school and the government of Singapore, we were able to easily comprehend the information conveyed through both tongues. This made it much easier for us to communicate. (Malay also helped me communicate with my Indonesian invigilator, or proctor, to whom I said, "Terima kasih", making him extremely cheerful.) This is unlike other countries such as Korea, because they were absolutely unable to communicate with the people in-charge due to their unfamiliar language not spoken of here.

2 lessons that I learnt today

1. When we are participating in a competition in a team, it is vital for the team to strategise prior to the event, because it would be difficult to segregate the group just before the event. This might cause unnecessary panic and hurry, which has adverse effects on the performance of the team. Fortunately, our group had previously strategised the day before the competition, so we were adequately prepared and unruffled just before the competition. (Sadly, the results were still not there.)

2. We should never have that mentality where we think that whatever questions have appeared in previous Olympiads or revision materials will never, ever appear in the actual Olympiads. It was the exact question that appeared in the Hong Kong Mathematical Olympiad School (HKMOS) revision material which we received last November during our visit there that appeared as Question 12 in our Team Round. Sadly, it can be said to be due to the complacency that we did not really revise those questions, as they were found to be irrelevant in the tested scope.

1 thing that I would like to learn more about today’s experience

1. I would like to learn how to solve the questions tested in the competition today. I have taken another look at the questions and attempted some of them, but out of sheer curiosity, I would really love to know the solutions and how to go about doing them! :)

Day Three (4 November 2011)

Venue: Jiuhua Resort and Convention Centre (Beijing, China)Time: 2212 hoursWeather: FoggyTemperature: 9 to 15 degrees Celsius

3 interesting things that I would like to share with friends / family

1. Forbidden City was built for the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty from the 15th century all the way till the 20th century. The entire city has a total of 9999.5 rooms (because ancient China used 4 pillars to denote 1 room), whereby the 9.5 represented eternal power and prowess of the emperor, which glorified him. There was a total of more than 500 rooms, which is extremely gargantuan in size and quantity, largely startling the few of us.
2. Beijing is an extremely crowded city, possibly one of the more crowded ones across the entire world. With an approximate population of 20 million and vehicular number of 5 million, Beijing is indeed one of a kind, not one which we would usually stumble upon. Its population density is 1,137 per square kilometre. Although this is a mere one-seventh of that of Singapore's, it is notable that Beijing's traffic jams are way more serious than Singapore's occurrences; our traffic jams are more often than not an aftermath of accidents, but the Beijing traffic jams are merely due to the peak hour season. An approximate idea of how severe the traffic jams are is that we had to take 3 hours to travel from Wangfujing to Jiuhua Resort and Convention Centre. This is way worse than Singapore's traffic jams which are typically way less serious.

3. China has been developing and implementing new measures and initiatives to eradicate the tourists' mindsets that all Chinese products are 'fake goods' and 'pirated ones'. With the exaction of the programme which aims to promote real goods being sold, Wangfujing was selected as the test road, so it is really a big leap in development for the Chinese economy, whereby the incorrect mindsets and old wives' tales are being eliminated.
2 lessons that I learnt today

1. Do not make fun of people's accents. Different people have different accents as they speak differently at the different corners of the Earth, so we have to accept them for their differences and not laugh or mock at them. Neither should we mimic them or imitate them as funny and hilarious antics, which we use to make others laugh and joke around.
2. Our heritage and history must be well preserved for our future generations to enjoy as well. For example, the Forbidden City served to be a historical monument for us, numerous generations after, to enjoy and clearly analyse the heritage of the relevant era. If we do not document or preserve our history or our current lives, future generations will be unable to view these places, like Forbidden City, which is undesirable. It is vital for people to know their roots and cultural traditions, so we must preserve our history well.

1 thing that I would like to learn more about today’s experience

1. I would like to learn more about China's history, specifically the Forbidden City. Although a brief description of the city has been provided by our guide Selena, I find that it does not truly suffice. I seek more and thus, will surf the Internet to seek out the answer. How do the Chinese preserve these monuments? Which methods do they use?

Day Four (5 November 2011)

Venue: Jiuhua Resort and Convention Centre (Beijing, China)Time: 2055 hoursWeather: FoggyTemperature: 9 to 15 degrees Celsius

3 interesting things that I would like to share with friends / family

1. The Great Wall of China is extremely long and there are innumerable steep slopes, both uphill and downhill, which means that it is very difficult to scale. Even a portion of the Wall is already extremely strenuous and difficult to climb, so it requires one with immeasurable strength to travel from one end to another, even if it is truly possible. Seniors and the handicapped may be unable to manoeuvre through the slopes and meanders of the Wall.

2. Almost all touchable bricks of the Great Wall had words carved on them, with the names of many people written on them. I believe this is for the visitors to leave a legacy of their own name there. I find this very interesting, because it truly involves the people who visit the place. On the contrary, I also perceive this as destruction of historical artefacts and heritage, so I discourage such acts.

3. Although our results were not as stellar as what we would have hoped such as one amongst the top positions, we were extremely pleased with the immense effort we had put into the job. We all achieved bronze medals for the individual round and the Team Merit Award. Upon going onstage for a photograph with renowned mathematician Sankova, we felt extremely proud of ourselves, because it was very difficult but we had put in our best, which is the most important.

2 lessons that I learnt today

1. Different family backgrounds, including the nationality of the individual, inculcate different traditions and cultures into the person. For example, Americans treat the same situation differently as compared to people from other countries, such as Singaporeans and even Chinese nationals. They emphasise on hygiene whereby common utensils are to be used, so that everyone does not “eat others’ saliva”, but we Singaporeans do not think so much about it, so we simply use our own utensils to feast on the food.

2. For everything, there must be some reason behind it. For example, our hotel has poor service and food quality. There is a reason ‘why’ behind this fact, because the hotel serves many Chinese nationals on business trips and company getaways. There is a fixed influx of patrons, added with the lack of competitors in the region, resulting in a lack of drive to make the hotel want to improve, so it does not require good service and food.

1 thing that I would like to learn more about today’s experience

1. I would like to learn more about the history of the Great Wall. I am currently only slightly aware of Qin Shi Huang being the one who ordered the construction of the Wall, but want to find out more. I will surf the Internet when I return to Singapore, to find out more about it.

Day 6 (7 November 2011)
Down with fever, excused from doing reflections... but I will do it anyway. Just that it will be a short one (mind cannot think... and kinda tired... *yawns*
3 interesting things
1. Yan An High School plays soothing music at around the 23rd minute of the hour, possibly to help students relax for a minute or so before resuming the lesson. I perceive this as a double-edged sword and can cut both ways, because it can both help to soothe the atmosphere and allow the students to relax as I have previously expounded on, but it can also serve as a distraction to students who are trying desperately to concentrate such as me during the lesson.
2. Yan An High School's classrooms still use blackboards and not the whiteboards that we have in Singapore. I guess this is to preserve the history and the appearance of how schools looked like the olden ages of China. This truly gives the classroom an oldish flavour, which is strangely interesting and (in modern terms) cool.
3. Yan An High School's classrooms (at least, the one I studied at) had the walls vandalised with drawings such as famous cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants and even scenery drawings of shooting stars amongst many other natural phenomena. This may be a place for students to relax and enjoy allowing their creativity to do the talking.
2 lessons learnt
1. It refreshed my memory on congruence of triangles, namely AAS, SAS and SSS. However, what is special is that I learnt that the method we call in Singapore as RHS (right-hypotenuse-side) has been referred to in China as HL (possibly hypotenuse-length).
2. I learnt to read the questions carefully. I often miss out on important clues such as "equilateral triangle", because I miss the word "正" and consequently, am unable to solve the question. I will remember to read these questions extremely closely, so that I am able to answer as many questions as possible.
3. (Extra) I learnt who my real friends were, after this incident where I fell sick. They were there for me and helped me in many ways that they could. Special thanks goes to Kee Xuan and Daniel who accompanied me during this period by wishing me to get well soon and even playing with me despite knowing the contagion of the disease. Miss Wang, Mrs Ooi and Mdm Cao also helped greatly, so I am very thankful to all of them.
1 thing I would like to learn more
1. I would like to learn more about knowing how to determine which method to use to identify congruent triangles. I am often unable to identify which method to employ at which point in time. This will definitely benefit me a lot in such geometrical triangle questions.
Day 7 (8 November 2011)

I did not go for lessons today, so my reflection will purely be on what I did today during the time... :)

3 interesting things

1. Shanghai has its own dialect and strangely, the doctors, even, often revert from Chinese to using Shanghainese to communicate with their patients. This is quite strange to me, because I always thought that doctors would use the official language of the country to interact with their patients, which is Chinese in this case. Fortunately, Miss Wang was able to speak in Shanghainese, or else there would definitely be a communication breakdown or even a miscommunication.

2. China's hospitals are totally different from what we have in Singapore. The major difference lies in the privacy element, I would perceive. It is more 'open', I would say. For example, the doctors carried out their diagnosis in clinic rooms with open doors where the other people were able to take a look at what is happening inside the clinic room. The blood test was even more funny; at the counter where your number was called, you would be asked to stick out your hand and then they would retrieve the blood from there directly. It was shocking, because everyone else was able to see you. (Perhaps, that's how they make introverts too frightened to cry or make a fuss!)

3. I like something about the hospital in China, which I think we can implement in Singapore itself. They have this automated reading machine which reads the names of the patients when they are called to enter the doctor's room. I was especially interested since I saw many different Chinese characters but yet the machine was able to read many of them, so it was impressive. Perhaps, it is not feasible in Singapore because there are many races and it may be difficult to read names especially those of other races.

2 lessons learnt

1. Relax during blood tests and there will not be a slight pain at all. It was because I was caught off guard that I did not really feel a thing during the blood test.

2. We should try to expose ourselves to as many languages as possible, so that we are able to communicate to many people of diverse backgrounds. For example, I currently know English, Chinese, Hokkien and conversational Malay and Cantonese, so I should try to learn more languages.

1 thing I would like to learn more

1. I would like to learn more Shanghainese terms besides these:

Day 8 (9 November 2011)

3 interesting things

1. The most inherent difference between teachers in China and those in Singapore can be said to be the speed at which they talk. Chinese teachers talk at a rapid pace whereby it is almost that we are unable to catch almost anything he said, whilst I would say that the speed that Singaporean teachers speak at is manageable and suitable.

2. It is interesting to note that Chinese teachers exhibit an extreme sense of interest and enthusiasm towards what they are teaching. Of course, I do not mean that all Singaporean teachers do not have a passion for the subject they teach, but the extent of the China teachers' passion is really immeasurable, especially in the case of the teacher who taught us in the afternoon. His large movements made us giggle, but this really hinted his act of immersing into the whole atmosphere of maths.

3. Ivan also got the rash which I am currently having, and we are all in a mist of unawareness, because we all do not know what these red rashes mean and encompass, their cause and their effect. Some say it is viral rash, some suggest allergy, whilst others speculate bug bites, such as bedbugs. Whatever lies before us is unclear, but I will do my best to fight this virus / allergy / bug (?) off so that I will be hale and hearty soon.

2 lessons learnt

1. Be passionate in what you are doing, so that others will be influenced by you and more people can be interested in that field.

2. Students cannot learn well in the afternoon, because the fatigue creeps up on them and they cannot concentrate on the subject matter at hand. (That is the exact case of what happened during the afternoon lesson today.)

1 thing I would like to learn more

1. I would like to learn more about similar figures which have more than 3 sides and their applications in daily life, be it for artistic purposes or architectural designs.

Day 9 (10 November 2011)

3 interesting things

1. I watched many television programmes including matchmaking shows and shows seeking to resolve disputes between opposing parties such as husband and wife, mother and son and many more. I find this culture way more open than self-conscious Singapore, where it is near impossible that people would dare to wash their dirty linen in public, but I guess Chinese are more willing to share their life stories with the rest of the nation, so I believe the culture is there.

2. It is really heart-warming when others help you. For example, Kee Xuan, Miss Wang and Mrs Ooi helped me take the meals. This really touched me because they went out of the way to eat earlier so that they could pass me my food, so that I was able to feast on the meals earlier. Here, I would really like to thank these three people once more! Thank you!

3. It is so fun to play Puzzle Pirates with my friends. After a lengthy day of lesson and work, we decided to chill out with our favourite game in Shanghai which is Puzzle Pirates. We have already played it very long since last year and we love it. We were participating in tournaments and pillaging on the high seas. Of course, there were squabbles and conflicts especially when we were facing off with each other in the tournaments (I met Ivan thrice in a tournament and won 0-2 [disconnected], 2-1, 2-1.)

2 lessons learnt

1. Be thankful and grateful to those who help you and are around you.

2. Different countries have different cultures because of their different upbringings.

1 thing I would like to learn more

1. I would like to learn more about the circle terms in Chinese, because I am still quite unfamiliar with them.

Day 10 (11 November 2011)

3 interesting things

1. For breakfast, we had Portuguese egg tarts. That totally reminded me of Singapore and my favourite local food, because Portuguese egg tarts is also symbolic to many confectioneries back home, such as Prima Deli. I really start to look back and think about home (but not to the level of homesickness, of course), because I miss my family and the local delicacies Singapore prides itself with, such as Laksa, Hainanese Chicken, my favourite Ban Mian amongst many others. I really love Singapore!

2. We have pretty much settled in China, no longer that aware of the accents of the people as well as the food and delicacies given unto us. Previously, we were nit-picking about the food (at Jiuhua in Beijing) but now, we are no longer that unfamiliar to the food and accommodation here in China. I guess, this is the logic of adaptation. :)

3. Ivan got suspended for 1 day 18 hours from Puzzle Pirates, because we had previously reported him twice (or thrice, kinda forgot) for spamming either public or private chats. Thus, he will only be able to join us tomorrow for a tournament or so! We're waiting for you, Ivan! 9316 :)

2 lessons learnt

1. When we are exposed to an environment for a relatively long time, we gradually adapt to the environment and do not grouch around that much.

2. Games, no matter how fun, are more fun when played with friends.

1 thing I would like to learn more

1. I would like to learn more about the Ceva Theorem and Menelaus Theorem, as well as their applications because I am not really sure about them.

Day 11 (12 November 2011)

3 interesting things

1. When we went to the book store (which we found should not have so much time allocated to), we went out of the shop for a breather outside. Ivan had previously met a woman who was on the plump side and wore a blue scarf. She had asked to read Ivan's fortune, and possibly extort money from him, as he said. We then went outside the book store in search of this mysterious woman, because we were not really into Chinese books and did not want to purchase anything. She was indeed outside the book store! We strolled up and down the street outside the book store and saw her trying to poach people. The woman, whom we called the "Fortune Teller" or "Ivan's Ho Pang Yau ('Good Friend' in Cantonese)", was even seen to be tugging people's sleeves and touching their hands. One man even fell for it and sat together with her at a desolate area, and he was even taking something from his briefcase, which looked like money. When the police arrived to mark people for illegal parking, she even vacated her post and entered the book store. After following her, she left through the optical shop and through the left exit, returning back to her spot after the police officers left. We left happily, not wanting to see her again!

2. Also, along the street outside the book store, there was a group of people who are supposedly planning a riot based on the medical condition of AIDS against the government. When a polite Chinese national man came to ask us whether we wanted to pose for a photograph whilst carrying the poster on the revolt, we did not really want to participate in such riots as we are clear that we would be affecting the political stability of China. Yet, on the other hand, it would not really be very nice to reject him since he was so nice. Ivan immediately ditched us there. On the spot, I pretended and said in Chinese, "I do not understand Chinese." He then was shocked and asked if I could understand English. I was totally flabbergasted because I did not expect that from him! I anticipated his next move with a soft "A little bit". He was unable to hear it, so he lost confidence in his English, and so, apologised for disturbing us and left. It was a close shave with total embarrassment. We then had to avoid that group every time we were escaping the glances of Fortune Teller. The group left when the police arrived as well. (The sad thing was that when we are assembled together, the group returned and was standing right next to us. Miss Wang then briefed us in English and the guy was obviously shocked that I understood English. Fortunately, there was no Chinese briefing, or else... XD)

3. I was speaking to Ivan and Kee Xuan in Cantonese, and they were able to understand a little bit here and there. This was to create a smokescreen over the group that we spoke Cantonese. It was cool and fun, especially when we do not talk in the usual English or Chinese. I find Cantonese an elegant language and really love speaking it!

2 lessons learnt

1. It is cool trying out new stuff, like speaking a new language with friends. It is really enjoyable and worth a try! We really had a lot of fun speaking Cantonese amongst ourselves and speaking English when people stare at us like aliens because of the language difference. (It is okay to be different.)

2. In the world out there, there are many different people. Despite our disagreements with some of their behaviours, we must still try to tolerate and accept them.

1 thing I would like to learn more

1. I would like to learn more about the governmental system and bodies of the Chinese government, because as of now, I am only aware that it practises communism, and single-party system.

Day 12 (13 November 2011)

3 interesting things

1. We visited the famous and renowned Yu Yuan located conspicuously amongst a cluster of ancient China styled architectural buildings. At first, I had reservations on going into the imperial garden, because there was a fee and we barely had 30 minutes to explore the tourist attraction. However, it was definitely worth it to enter the area, because the scenery was absolutely magnificent and pleasing to the eye!

2. I have seen this on television from Singapore for innumerable times on Hong Kong dramas. It was always so interesting to see how children loved it and parents bought it for them. It is the 冰糖葫芦, which I finally got a taste of today. It was sweet on the exterior because of the sugar coating and then, very sour and a little bitter in the interior because of the fruit. It was fantastic overall! I really loved it.

3. The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum was extremely interesting because we were able to take a look at the high-technology gadgets and exhibitions including the Spectrum of Life and the 'live' animals which move and really looked lifelike both in the size and the movement. The museum, thus, was a great place to be. I learnt much and enjoyed myself.

2 lessons learnt

1. There is always a first time and it is always good to take that first step.

2. Places are famous for a reason, be it its scenery, its technology or even food (like the Xiao Long Pau which had a super long queue, but did not really taste that nice).

1 thing I would like to learn more (and 1 more, I'm so nice XD)

1. I would like to learn more about the Yu Yuan and its history, because we had no tour guide to explain to us the significance of the various parts of the garden.

2. I would also like to learn more about the topic on the movement of the Earth throughout history, since the start when all the continents were connected and formed one single continent. This was seen in the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.
Overall Reflections
I really enjoyed this trip to China, for a full 13 days. This has indeed been an interesting and enriching trip, which has allowed me to grow a lot, both mentally and emotionally. During the span of the trip, I have unravelled new friendships and fostered existing ones to bloom. It is really true that friendships blossom under adversity. From a young one who was unable to accept the food in Beijing to one who gracefully accepted the food after a few days, from one who grouched with the accommodation to one who learnt to ignore the flaws, I have indeed learnt much from the trips.
The Maths Olympiad lessons have definitely benefited me greatly, because it covers the scope of geometry which I am not that familiar with and am not so inclined to. Thus, with the numerous lessons, I can safely say that I have grasped many of the concepts taught and am able to apply them to other questions in coming Olympiads. However, an improvement I think would be better is to shorten the duration of the lessons as well as have less frequent lessons. Although I must concede that coming for the lessons is the main aim of this trip, however, it is necessary to acknowledge that we students, too, need time to rest and recuperate. Well, we would love to have, perhaps, a 2 hour lesson per day, like in Hong Kong. Afterwards, we would like to go out of the hostel and have some sightseeing, like in Hong Kong last year.
Overall, it was fun and I loved it very much. Thank you, teachers, for taking care of me when I was sick!
I really feel very thankful for your care and concern.