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Adventures of July and August 2007 (YP, IChO and ESMC)

I should be doing some work, but I can’t be bothered so here’s some stuff about trips I’ve been on in the past two months…

Youth Parliament 2007 (Wellington, 8–11 July)

Getting free food like seven times a day was definitely a highlight, but getting to sit in those comfy green chairs was more of one.  Only being allowed one supplementary question (!!) meant that my speaking time was severely limited.  The debate was entertaining, some speakers drew applause, some abuse, some both, and the Green Party Youth MPs* managed to do the remarkable job of uniting both sides of the House against them.  Why they mass-abstained on the bill is still beyond me.  The final vote on the Household Response to Climate Change Bill was 53 ayes, 53 noes and 14 abstentions—disappointing, but pretty close.

Of course, there’s more to pretending to be an MP than free food, comfy chairs, and wearing a suit for four days.  We had select committees, spent some time at with our MPs’ caucuses (for Labour, we went to the Premier House), and had several presentations from Parliamentary officials.  And, of course, social events, including music from the Ukelele Orchestra (I forget their full name).

Am I more inclined towards a political career?  Well, to be honest, not really—it wasn’t carved out for all of us.  If there was one thing I learnt at Youth Parliament, it’s that I have peers who are more politically inclined than me.  People who truly believed in what they said—flat tax rates, more public transport, no minimum wage—and people who, unlike me, actually supported the party of the MP they were representing.  I suppose, I’m politically interested and I have strong views, but I’m not as passionate as my fellow Youth Parliamentarians, and I don’t know what party I support, either.

I expressed my lack of confidence to real MP David Parker at the caucus session, who assured me that we need people who aren’t all about expressing opinions in Parliament (the practical open-minded people, I guess), and that I probably wouldn’t find a perfect fit for a party, but eventually I’ll just join one and that’ll be that.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll meet an old friend there some day.

Oh, and—I have to mention this—I met the Ribena girls!**  Which, given that I did my level 3 chemistry extended practical investigation on Ribena, was pretty cool.

*We weren’t actually meant to representing our MPs’ parties, but a good proportion of us happened to be supporters of them anyway.
**The “Ribena girls”, also known as Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo, made national headlines when their school science experiment, which showed that Ribena does not have four times the Vitamin C of orange juice, paved the way for a Commerce Commission finding that GlaxoSmithKline breached the Fair Trading Act with its misleading advertisements.

International Chemistry Olympiad 2007 (Moscow, 15–24 July)

In a nutshell, an awesome trip.  Aside from the accommodation and food, really really awesome.  The only drawbacks were: the hotel had no laundry so we had to do all our washing in the handbasin, and the hotel food was getting lots of people ill and was almost soaked in butter.  You can get used to driving on the right and saying “спасибо” (spasiba, not spasibo as the Pakistanis would have it, and it means thank you), and not being able to understand any signs (there were a few we could decipher, like ресторан or интернет).

Despite having the longest trip there, we were actually the first team to arrive, and by a good half-day, too, so for the first half-day, the official photographer only had us to take photos of.  The result?  Well, we checked out the next day’s Catalyzer, the daily journal of the Olympiad, and there we were—half the front page!  We later managed to find ourselves in every Catalyzer except one or two, certain other countries got jealous.

Meeting heaps of people from that many countries was undoubtedly the best part of the trip.  I tried speaking French to the French but it didn’t really work—they could understand me (a good start), but they spoke way too fast for my ears.  Now I know how it feels when I talk to the less fluent in English!

In fact, if there is one thing that took me aback, it was the number of people that spoke English.  In short, everyone spoke English to some extent, and most fluently.  Maybe living across a large ocean from the rest of the world for too long makes you ignorant, but I mean, wow.  Of course, not everyone was fluent, so I learnt to slow down (shock horror) in my talking, but in the past month I seem to have regained my excessive speed, so yeah…

Whenever we weren’t at exams, we were on excursions or really long bus rides (our hotel was an hour’s drive from Moscow, so we got to know our buses really well).  We visited the Red Square, the Kremlin, the Sergiev Posad Monastery (heaps and heaps of gold, it’s almost scary), the Moscow Zoo, the Banana-mama Circus, and went on a couple of rides along the Moscow River.  We also played Paintball (so the first time I ever played Paintball was overseas) and had some free time and all.  Yes, I have lots of photos—they won’t be here any time soon, I have a dial-up connection (sorry!).

I have to comment on the supermarket we went inside.  Now, by this time we could read the Russian alphabet, so we knew what “водка” meant.  And the водка section was honestly, this entire wall, just lined with bottles and bottles and all sorts of price tags, from 100 roubles to 1000 roubles.  You walk past it, expecting to encounter a new section, and you look to your right again, and it’s still there!  Amazing stuff.  Never seen anything like it (not that I was tempted or anything).

Anyway, the exams were five hours long each, one practical and one theoretical, and boy, can you get hungry.  (Practicals are so much easier when you have equipment that actually works!)  But the exams were fun, and the New Zealand contigent came home with two silvers and two bronzes—not bad, considering we equalled Australia who spent a week in Cambridge in preparation for it.  Russia and China, as usual, scooped up four golds each, as did Poland.  Anyway, it was a good trip, though there was one comfort in leaving: not having to put up with that hotel food again.

Eton Press Senior Mathematics Competition 2007 Final (Christchurch, 16—17 August)

Now, having been to the Maths Olympiad Training Camp, and having failed miserably at it, and having been to this final last year, I know how good New Zealand’s top mathematicians are.  I knew that they only rank the top three people, and that there are more than three people better than me.  So, I wasn’t expecting much from it, just a finalist certificate, fifty dollars and a book.  I wasn’t wrong.  The book, this year, was Mathematical Mosaic, a collection of random bits and pieces of maths.

What it was really, was a chance to catch up with some of this year’s International Mathematics Olympiad team (and learn to play 500 and Mafia, and that a few of the IMO team are going to go for the Informatics Olympiad next), and to once again be persuaded by the University of Canterbury to study there.  There was no High Voltage Laboratory visit this year (L), and no chaotic pendulum.  One thing I hadn’t seen, though, was their computer science garden (yes, garden).  Who knew that you could combine the eight queens puzzle, the algorithm for sorting six objects, and the Seven Bridges of Königsberg in one garden?  Okay, it wasn’t that amazing, but still…

One night in Christchurch, catching up with people, missing out on four hundred dollars but getting fifty, another Eton Maths pen, and another two days off school.  At least I completed more than half the paper this year.

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