Our Journey to the Wii, by Sajjan

Me and Sumi were sitting on the stairs one day and he was asking me, ‘Dada, I wish I could have a Wii. Maybe somehow we could get it.” So we went downstairs and we asked Baba if we could have a Wii. Baba said, “Maybe if you complete a goal.” Then Sumi said, “Like what?” And Baba replied, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll think about it.” A few days later, Baba said, “If the three of you combined earned 500 art points, 1000 brain points and 1000 athletic points, Aai and I will buy you a Wii.” Part of me was thinking I could do this. Part of me was thinking those are quite big numbers. But, wow, for all these years Baba has said, “No no no!”, and now he has given a way for us to get it. From then on, me, Tai and Sumi were really excited. This all started in August, 2014.

To earn an athletic point, you must walk or jog 1 kilometer. For example, when our whole family hiked 10 kilometers, me, Tai and Sumi got 10 points each, so 30 points was reduced from the 1000. It all averaged out very well – we each did about 335 kilometers. Because we didn’t have a car, lots of our errands would be done on foot. These points were quite easy because if we had just gone on a walk to run errands, then immediately we’d get the points. It’s kind of like two in one! We also hiked a lot to prepare for our first trek that we were going on with a few school friends. It took us eleven months to finish walking 1000 kilometers.


The maximum amount of kilometers we walked in one day was 12, earning us 36 points!

There are many ways to earn an intellectual point. Here are some of the ways:

  • doing my homework well, depending on how hard it was (1-2 points)
  • completing chess workbook problems (1-4 points)
  • playing chess games on http://www.chesskid.com (1 point)
  • playing chess games in real life with notation and analysis after the game (1-3 points)
  • completing Sudoku or logic puzzles correctly and quickly (1-2 points)
  • writing in the family blog (5-10 points)
  • reading school books (2-8 points)
  • playing word games such as Scrabble, Boggle and Bananagrams (1-4 points)

Collectively, we needed to earn 1000 intellectual points in order to complete this element of the challenge. These were quite hard but I still kept going.


Most of the time, I wanted to do chess because that earned me quite a lot more points.

To earn an artistic point, I drew pictures or played tabla. I drew things like scenes, symmetrical castles, and flags of countries. For each drawing, depending on how good it was, I would earn 1-7 points. Playing tabla for 15 minutes gets me 1 point and if I did an hour of practice in a row, I would get a bonus point earning 5 points. The amount of art points we were aiming for was 500. This element of the challenge was the hardest because I had only a few ways of earning points and they weren’t as enjoyable.


Playing with Tai can be pretty fun, but I usually speed up or go to slow.

We tracked our points using Microsoft Excel. There were three pages, one for each element of the challenge. Baba taught us how to use Excel so we could track our own points. There were eight columns in each page named: Date, Description, Janani, Sajjan, Sumanth, Total, Cumulative and Points to Go.


I always remembered to track my points. I also sometimes remembered to track Tai and Sumi’s points too.

About a year into our challenge, Tai and Sumi started wanting different things instead of a Wii. Tai was interested in getting a new sitar because she hadn’t gotten one yet and she was learning to play it. Sumi wanted a Lego set, a really huge one, because he wanted even more Legos. So Tai and Sumi weren’t contributing to the challenge for the Wii anymore. I was left to do this challenge all by myself. I started to get discouraged when Tai and Sumi gave up. I was quite motivated before, but for those two or three months after they gave up, I wasn’t earning as many points. Then I got back into it after a few months. Since I was already at about 300 intellectual points, Baba reduced the goal to 400. And I was at about 80 artistic points and Baba reduced the goal to 200 points.

Amazon doesn’t work in Nepal and we cannot buy a Wii in Kathmandu, so we had to do something else. When I had almost finished the goal, Baba was going to China for a work trip. He said, “How about I get the Wii there? We can get it a little bit in advance but you won’t be able to play it yet.” When he went to China, he couldn’t find it there. There were only Xboxes and PlayStations. China is like one of the highest selling countries. We probably got this laptop, my backpack, my shirt and almost everythingl from China. So, I was really shocked.

On March 29th 2016, I had just played tabla for 15 minutes and when I was tracking on the score sheet, I summed up my whole column and then I saw the number 200! I was very proud. We ordered the Wii on http://www.amazon.de because Baba was going to Germany for another work trip. From when we had ordered the Wii, I was counting down the days until April 25, 2016, the day Baba came home with the Wii! The challenge was really hard but now I’m really glad I went through all that delayed gratification.


I’ve been waiting about one and a half years for this moment. And I can’t believe that I’m actually holding it and it is actually in our house, finally!



Family Trekking in Nepal

Basic Stats:
* Duration: 6 days, 5 nights (March 20th to 25th)
* Trekkers: 13 total — 4 women, 2 men, 7 children age five to eleven (4 families)
* Staff: 8 total — lead guide, assistant guide and 6 porters
* Distance walked: 38 kilometers (23.6 miles)
* Elevation gained: 2,600 meters (8,530 feet)
* Highest elevation reached: 3,580 meters (11,745 feet)
* Approx temperature range: 0 – 26 degrees Celsius (32 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
* Route: Kande – Pothana – Forest Camp – Badal Daada – High Camp – Sidhing – Lumre

Trekking is THE most popular activity in Nepal for tourists. The simplicity, grandeur and peacefulness draw people in. Majestic views, clean air, limitless greenery and calm quietude are a welcome change to our urban realities. Foreigners of all types trek – young or old, super fit or moderately in shape, conquering- or free-spirited and financially wealthy or penniless – usually coming solo, with a partner or small group. Trekking as a family or with several families, however, is a whole different affair… I’d pass up Disneyland any day for it!

Countless people have asked us why we trek as a family, how the kids handle it, how we get our kids to walk for hours and hours, and why we repeat the episode the following trekking season. Here are some answers…

What are the tea houses like? In general, tea houses are family-friendly and very safe. The tea houses on the Mardi Himal route are very basic, but do the job. The 7 to 10 rooms have two wooden beds with thin foam mattresses, thin plywood walls between rooms, dirt or cement floors, a small openable window, and a door with a lock. They have one common dining area which was fairly spacious and warm (from a wood stove). There were 1 or 2 eastern-style toilets for all guests to share (3 of the 5 lodges did not have bathing facilities). And there was plenty of outdoor space for the kids to explore and play. The hospitality, simplicity and freshly prepared food made it restful and enjoyable. The kids usually do just fine with the rustic lodges and often have much simpler expectations than we do.

What do you do during the non-walking times? In a given day, we would walk 4 to 8 hours leaving a fair amount of downtime. When the walking ends, the adults want to sit for a while, freshen up and unpack. Kids, however, are like another species… they reach the lodge and immediately start playing – catch, tag, exploring or making ladybug homes out of sticks and grass (constant movement!). Before and after dinner, we played card games and sang or listened – half the group could sing and we heard almost everyone’s whole repertoire over the six days. Taking TVs, phones, computers and tablets out of the equation was blissful – we had time and mental capacity to focus on nature, simple entertainment and one other…


We enjoyed countless plates of french fries and games of cards!

Do you worry about altitude sickness? No… Reputed health organizations recommend keeping children lower than 3000 – 4000 meters, and we’ve kept the upper limit in mind while selecting which path to trek. Also, our guides are trained to recognize signs of altitude sickness. Thankfully, we have never experienced altitude difficulties while trekking with our family.


Seven sweet smiles… and a memory that most of them will keep for a lifetime…

What is the weather like? Peak trekking season is spring and fall and weather is usually phenomenal. Days are warm and sunny and nights are cool and calm. As we ascended, the temperatures dropped, especially at nights, but with the right gear (down jacket, hat, plenty of layers and a good sleeping bag), we were just fine. We even experienced snow on the trail! As we approached our lodge on Day #3, it started snowing and didn’t stop for several hours. Thankfully, the clouds cleared overnight and blanketed everything with a crisp whiteness – it was truly spectacular. Reaching our highest point surrounded by snow was unforgettable (a bit dangerous with melting snow making the trail a muddy mess, but simply beautiful).


The most beautiful day of hiking…

How do the kids handle it and how do you get your kids to keep walking? Our secret weapon in trekking with children is very simple … bring other children! We’ve done countless weekend hikes with only our three kids and the complaints can be endless. Tossing in another little person or two does magic to the group dynamics, mood and purpose. We trek because we enjoy nature and simplicity. Kids also enjoy seeing snow-capped mountains, listening to birds chirp and leaves rustle underfoot, tasting daal bhaat after several hours of walking and playing with leaves and dirt. But this sometimes isn’t enough for our urban kiddos. Traveling with other kids adds an element of fun, community and fellowship that most kids thrive on. When they are with other little people, they can walk and talk for hours…word games, jokes, riddles, stories, trivia, and plenty of silliness. (Note: the other little people don’t have to be close friends with yours – they will become friends after spending several solid days together.)


Non-stop silliness!

Treats help too :-). Candy is not something we keep at home, but while on the trail, we bend that rule. Those inexpensive and artificially-flavored orange, grape, cherry, butterscotch and mint suckers taste amazing after you’ve been on your feet for hours! They go a long way for the children and the adults too… On the third night, Prakash bribed the children with full-sized candy bars, requesting some company to leave early in the morning aiming to hike higher than planned. Group dynamics and sugar are powerful tools – at the end of the conversation, all 13 of us committed to leaving earlier and Prakash emptied his wallet to purchase 13 candy bars at that elevation!

How much does family trekking cost? Family trekking with everything included (knowledgeable guides, insured porters, reserved rooms and all-you-can-eat meals) is approximately $100 USD per person per day. Trekking in Nepal can be significantly cheaper or expensive depending on your style and requirements. As we’ve always trekked in larger groups with kids, we prioritize having reliable staff and rooms reserved. After walking for hours, knowing we don’t have to sleep out in a tent or go to the next village looking for an available room is essential.


Ceaseless uphill climbs… but in the end, it was well worth it.

How does this trek compare to the other two you completed? The Mardi Himal trek was the BEST of the three, hands down. Poon Hill and Helambu both have beautiful views, but the scenery on the Mardi Himal trek is unparalleled. The snow covered mountains were so close, we felt we could just reach our hands out and touch them. It is an off-the-beaten-path trek with less developed tea houses, but the spectacular mountain panoramas make it more appealing.


All 13 of us at High Camp – we made it! Back row – Vidhya, Samir Nikhil, Sawmya, Shairose, Nita, Sumanth, Sajjan, Prakash. Front row – Nishant, Jayda, Ariana, Janani.

Who came on the trek and how did you get the group together? We were a group of four families with 1, 3, 4 and 5 members each. The Kaup family includes Saumya. She is a successful architect and mindfulness counselor from Maryland who volunteered in Kathmandu for four months. The Mawji family includes Shairose, Jayda and Ariana (twins, age 10). Shairose has a rich family history – Gujarati born in Tanzania and raised in Canada. She is a Kathmandu expat working with UNICEF and adopted Jayda and Ariana here in Nepal over 8 years ago. The Sodha family includes Samir, Vidhya, Nikhil and Nishant (ages 8 and 5) – they are originally from California, settled in Atlanta and currently expats in Delhi, India with the US Embassy. We rounded out the group with our family of 5.

Trekking naturally encourages successful group dynamics. You can chat with whomever you’d like, subtly maintain distance from another, or simply walk alone – without any awkwardness. You can be best of friends or new acquaintances and still share laughs and stories. So, we invited several families from all aspects of our lives creating a hodge-podge group. My pleading, coaxing and basic travel-agent skills helped, and we all went in hoping for the best. The positive energy and camaraderie was extraordinary – getting our whole group up and down the mountain was hard work and there were challenges, but anger and irritation never surfaced for eight whole days. Simply priceless…

What really do the guides and porters do? Due credit must be offered to our skillful guides, Asha Lama Tamang and Fursang Lama Tamang. They, along with our six porters, took care of everything – ensured we were on the correct path (trail markers appear periodically but trails are not nearly as well marked as in the USA), made reservations for accommodations (nearly every other trekker we encountered on the trail jokingly said, ‘oh you are the large group who reserved the whole lodge last night…we couldn’t stay there because of you!’), made sure we were well fed (acting as waiters and cooks to help the minimally staffed tea houses), helped the children whenever they needed an extra hand and entertained them a bit too! By the end of Day #1, it was apparent that our youngest member, Nishant age 5, needed some extra help. Fursang swiftly managed his duties as lead-guide alongside constantly holding Nishant’s hand, lifting him at large steps, and sweetly cajoling him down the trail.

Three of the six porters were in their early twenties and three were in their late forties. Even while carrying our 15 kilogram (~30 pounds) bags suspended from their foreheads, they walked significantly faster than us. On Day #2, in the late afternoon, our estimated 6-hour walk lingered well into an 8+ hour walk. As there were no tea houses between our origin and destination to stop for lunch, Ashta Lama encouraged us to eat a heavy breakfast and carry plenty of snacks. Around 3:30pm, with empty bellies and very tired legs, we spotted four of our porters ahead on the trail with thermoses of tea! They reached the destination, had their lunch, wondered why we hadn’t reached yet and graciously backtracked, refreshments in tow! They took care of us in so many ways, physically, mentally and emotionally. All we had to do was walk up and down the mountain…


All 21 of us near the end of the whole trek, a special moment! Ashta Lama, head guide, in back row middle (red jacket). Fursang Lama, assistant guide, in front row left (orange jacket).

So, in a nutshell, if your family enjoys nature, new experiences and unique challenges, trekking in Nepal’s Himalayan foothills with another family or two could be the perfect adventure… 🙂

Blog Comes Out of Hibernation

As we approach our two year anniversary living here in Nepal, I am determined to restart writing and actively reflecting on our experiences. Many of you have gently inquired, jokingly commented and sincerely missed our routine blog posts. The precise reason for the long gap is nearly impossible to pinpoint, but I’ll do my best to explain…

Year #1 in Nepal was blissful. All experiences, friends, incidents, sights, sounds and tastes were new and novel. It was the ‘honeymoon phase’. We were blessed with a smooth and seamless transition into life in Asia, thanks to an incredible school, supportive employer, devoted household helpers, cheerful friends and a relatively simple way of life (cycling as primary mode of transportation, fresh food diet and ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ atmosphere). Personally, delving into new activities like mountain biking and learning Nepali tremendously recharged me. Similarly, the kids thrived in school and picked up new hobbies (crochet, sitar, football / soccer and singing). And for Prakash, seeing and smelling a variety of air pollution sources every single day inspired his work at ICIMOD.

Year #2 has been strikingly different. The earthquake (April 25, 2015), our first home-leave visit as expats (July 2015) and unofficial embargo (September 2015 – February 2016) supplied us with countless challenges and growth opportunities…

The earthquake shook my whole world. My family, home, household helpers and close friends were all okay, but still I was shocked and paralyzed mentally and emotionally. Perhaps, it is like any other tragedy or life-altering challenge (natural disaster or accident, death of a loved one, divorce, parenthood), you never really know how you will truly ‘be’ in the situation until you actually experience it first-hand. The initial earthquake and the 450+ aftershocks simply threw my life out of balance, literally and figuratively. I stopped mountain biking, jogging and walking (felt disrespectful to tramp through areas of destruction for recreation), stopped learning (felt like now just isn’t the right time to enrich myself when neighbors are suffering with inadequate shelter, food and water) and stopped writing (all reflections seemed like complaints).

Many of my thoughts resembled ‘survivors guilt’… we had power restored four days after the quake (others received power after several weeks), we received a tanker-truck delivery of water at our house five days after the quake (locals waited over two months for the government water supply to be restored), our house had a few cracks but was completely safe to live in (millions of people were displaced from their homes), and our kids’ school reopened four days after the quake (local schools reopened after more than two months). We had SO much to be thankful for, yet I still felt tremendously saddened. In that state of mind, writing and reflecting just didn’t come naturally to me.

Two months after the earthquake, we made our first visit back home since moving abroad. I didn’t realize how mentally, emotionally and physically difficult a trip home could be. We jam packed our four-week visit primarily with seeing all our loved ones and purchasing essentials and nonessentials unavailable in Nepal. The nonstop schedule coupled with living out of a suitcase explained the physical difficulties. The mental and emotional adversities are a bit harder to describe. It felt very odd – like we had never left the USA, but mentally we knew we’d be returning to Nepal in just a few days. It was almost like an illusion for our hearts and minds. So much warmth, familiarity and coziness of our past life that we get a snapshot of, a quick taste, a short glimpse… Bittersweet it truly was…

And lastly, the bizarre political climate in Nepal over the last eight months also contributed to our blog hibernation. In September, Nepal adopted its first Constitution. Some northern states of India, where many Nepalis now live, were unhappy with particular clauses in the constitution due to inadequate representation of those living in the Terai or the lowlands of Nepal. Within days of the inauguration of the constitution, the border between India and Nepal closed. Petrol, diesel, LPG (cooking fuel), medicines and most atypical items that would normally have been delivered into the country by truck became scarce. Food supplies, surprisingly, remained fairly normal, however prices did increase.

The country was paralyzed all over again. After picking up the pieces post-quake, this was the last challenge most people and businesses were ready to deal with. Queues for gasoline lasted days; lines of parked cars littered roadways near all petrol pumps. Traffic subsided for a short while as people had no choice but to reduce their driving. However, after the black market kicked into high gear, traffic was back to normal (a 100npr liter of petrol sold for 400npr, equivalent to $14 per gallon, and a 1600npr cylinder of cooking fuel sold for up to 9000npr).


A hugely common sight, fuel being syphoned into a vehicle using bottles, cups, tubes, canisters — anything that could hold or transfer liquid!

Lack of diesel for generators caused problems in hospitals, schools, businesses and homes. And the lack of cooking fuel made people resort to burn anything in order to cook. Those who couldn’t get gas, kerosene or firewood, ate beaten rice, a common product that doesn’t require cooking.


Queues of empty plastic containers and their owners waiting for hours and sometimes days for kerosene. LPG or normal cooking fuel, was and still is in very short supply.

Many restaurants closed down because they had no cooking fuel. Those restaurants that could remain open created ‘Temporary Menus’ eliminating those items from the original menu that take too long to cook. Last but not least, surviving the cold indoor temperatures (~ 50 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit) with no LPG gas really made many feel like we had reached ‘rock bottom’.

For us, the closed borders caused discomfort and frustration, but our basic needs were still always met.

  • After waiting three hours in a petrol queue in early November, I successfully managed to get twenty liters of petrol. And in February, Prakash received ten liters from ICIMOD. How we spread eight gallons over five months is mind-boggling even to me! We just stopped driving our car regularly… therefore didn’t use the car for errands or go out of the valley for our usual weekend hike or outing. We also avoided traveling within the country out of fear of inability to return home because of empty fuel tanks or canceled flights. In early March, I was able to get 35 liters of fuel… it felt like I just won the lottery! (We didn’t feel comfortable purchasing fuel on the black market because contributing to the corruption was unappealing and we had other available modes of transportation – walking, cycling and the ICIMOD bus for Prakash to get to/from work).


    The peaceful chaos near the petrol pump while I was sitting in the queue – dozens of cars, hundred of motorcycles and scooters and unlimited people waiting and watching.

  • We changed our cooking habits minimizing the use of gas (less chapattis, dosas, pizza or anything baked and more quick-cooking rice and lentils). At the peak of the crisis, we cooked rice and lentils outdoors using firewood and tea and vegetables were prepared on an electric induction cook stove. Gas was used at most once weekly for chapattis.


    Sonu, our house helper, is preparing curried garbanzo beans. Thankfully, we have plenty of firewood because our yard is large and has several trees.

  • We have two electric space heaters that we used when the electricity was on. We also have a woodstove in our dining room which we would use in the evenings for an hour or two. The high levels of emissions from the wood burning prevented us from burning more frequently.
  • To maximize body heat, we all slept in the same room. We placed one queen-size bed and two twin-size beds pushed together (equivalent of a king-size bed) in our smallest room. Each night it was like a game of ‘musical chairs’ to see who sleeps in which spot! A mountain of fleece, down and flannel blankets kept us reasonably warm throughout the night.
  • Bathing was difficult. The air in the bathroom was very cold and the solar-heated water just wasn’t very hot. In many parts of the world, bathing is a daily ritual. Not the case in wintery Nepal… It just isn’t necessary or practical. While bathing, it was so cold that steam emanated off our bodies just like steam from a hot cup of tea! We’d generally bathed once or twice per week… that is it.

Overall, circumstances tried our patience so much, we started strategizing how we could leave this country as quickly as possible (the opening of the border and thawing winter temperatures have alleviated our urgent desire to escape)!

But… Surprisingly… Nepalis generally handled the embargo with significant peace and patience. Embarrassingly, our family who enjoys tremendous expat privileges, seemed more frustrated and unhappy about our circumstances than many others. In general, people were upset, but in a peaceful manor. Lessons this amazing country taught us in the last few months – graceful acceptance and undying gratitude – will hopefully stay with us lifelong.

The borders officially reopened in February yet supplies are taking time to restore to normal levels. Another lesson we learned early on here in Nepal – things take time! Our standard American values of diligence, timeliness, punctuality and efficiency just doesn’t translate here.

I must also mention the basic human tendency of ‘habit’. I simply fell out of the habit of writing and actively reflecting. The momentum required to restart a good habit is so much greater than that required to continue an existing one. Our imminent two-year anniversary living here in Nepal is the driving force to revive the blog…

Thus, a lengthy explanation for the hibernation of Five in the Foothills and a hope that Year#3 brings several new flavors to this grand adventure…

FOBISIA Math Competition, Guangzhou China, by Janani

I was so surprised when TBS selected me for this competition (It was a math competition with four primary students representing each British International School in Asia). Sometimes it felt like a distant dream. But I am glad I participated, because it was a great experience.

We left for China on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016. That day, me and my teammates couldn’t think about anything else. We had a late night flight so we came home from school and went to the airport at 8:15pm. At dinnertime, I started to feel kind of tired, but when we arrived at the airport, excitement pushed away my exhaustion. At last the time came to leave and we said goodbye to our parents. We were on our way to China!

I went with three of my friends, Meghana, Shivanshi and Nabodita, and two teachers, Ms Swift and Ms Manandhar. When we came to the airport, we seemed to speed through the lines. Our teacher told us to bring carry-on bags only. In no time at all, we boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! After the four-hour flight, we arrived at the airport. We were all very tired (it was still night time) and we soon made our way to our next gate. Finally we boarded our plane and flew to Guangzhou, China!

When we arrived in China, we started seeing other teams of four. Before going, I was completely confident, but seeing the other teams made me a little bit nervous. The FOBISIA staff picked up all the teams that had arrived around the same time and we drove to the hotel in a big bus. We couldn’t wait for the first day of the competition!

We had arrived on Thursday afternoon and the competition started on Friday so we had until dinnertime to do whatever we wanted. We showered and changed, then we played in one of our two rooms. We didn’t have many things to do, but we had fun just hanging out. We didn’t have as much free time as we thought we would.

Hanging out without our parents supervision is so fun!

Hanging out without our parents supervision is so fun!

An hour or two later, Ms Swift called us down to dinner. The hotel was very fancy and it served extravagant buffet dinners. I am a vegetarian and unfortunately, in China, they eat a lot of meat. Everything I could see was non vegetarian! Soon, I found a few things to eat. But then, I walked around the entire dining area and I found so many more things like bread, fruits, salad and even ice cream. Soon, we went to our rooms and fell asleep as fast as we could (we knew we had to wake up early the next morning).

On Friday morning, we woke up, excited for the first day of the competition. After a good breakfast, five big buses took all the participants and their teachers to the hosting school. I couldn’t believe that we had enough people to fill five buses! The school that hosted the competition was The British School of Guangzhou. We were in a huge room with one table per team. There were a few announcements at the beginning, but before we knew it the competition had started.

The first activities were noncompetitive, logic puzzles where we worked with other teams. I think it was meant for us to make friends with other students but some weren’t that friendly. The first competitive part of the competition was the team assessment. My team had practiced very hard for this so we were quite confident. There were much fewer questions than we anticipated. We went through the questions and solved most of them. We thought we did quite well.

"Is my hat black or white", a logic puzzle we solved.

“Is my hat black or white”, a logic puzzle we solved.

After a short break, we moved on to mental math. We had a challenge to square a double-digit number in our heads in less than two minutes! We were given a method at the beginning and we had 30 minutes to practice with our team. Then, a teacher came to our table and asked each of us two questions which we had two minutes to solve. We didn’t think we did very well, but we did learn a new technique to square numbers! In some of the activities that we didn’t do so well in, I was the only one with a positive attitude afterwards. I didn’t think that being negative was the right thing to do.

So much to do, so little time!

So much to do, so little time!

Soon, we had a tessellation investigation where we could just relax and enjoy doing art. We created our own geometrical patterns and shapes. I thought that was a very good activity at the end of the long day.

It felt nice to take a break of math and do art.

It felt nice to take a break of math and do art.

Later, all the teams went to a barbecue dinner. It was okay but the weather in Guangzhou was completely cloudy and freezing (we didn’t see the sun the whole time). Then we went on a nighttime cruise around the city of Guangzhou. The cruise was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe how many buildings were fully lit up. The Canton Tower, a skyscraper, was lit up the best. It kept changing colors – red, green, blue and even rainbow. On the cruise, we ate snacks, explored the levels of the boat, and went up to the terrace. We even had a photo taken of us and put on a key chain! When we went back downstairs, the face changing show started. A dancer wore a mask and every time she swiped her face or turned around, her mask changed! It was kind of like a magic show. There were a few more performances and soon, we had to leave. We bused back to our hotel and went to sleep, very tired.

The next morning, we woke up still a bit sleepy. We got ready, had breakfast and went to the school. Our first activity was an orienteering challenge. We were given a quick lesson on protractors, rulers and compasses and we had to orient ourselves around the school. It was a competition of which team can complete the circuit first. We were sitting at the back during the lesson, so we didn’t fully understand how to score points. Soon we found ourselves running around the school completely confused! Afterwards, I somehow found it kind of fun, unlike my teammates.

Next, we did the individual assessment. This would not add any points to our team score so we were against everyone in the room! I had practiced a lot for this test so I was very confident. I practiced with last year’s 30 minute test, which had 15 questions worth one point each. This test lasted an hour and had 30 questions, each worth 1, 3 or 5 points. In the end I thought I did very well. When it finished, everyone was completely exhausted. Luckily we had a long lunch break and we were treated with pizza! It was so delicious and I don’t think they could have chosen a better time for it.

Later on, we did the most challenging mathematical activity I had ever done. We had a map of a race track and we answered geometrical questions about it. It seemed simple, but the arithmetic was very complicated. We had to multiply 5-digit numbers by 6-digit numbers, divide numbers with several decimals and things like that. At the end of the entire competition we found out that this challenge was meant for GCSE students. The surprising thing is that those students were allowed to use a calculator!

The race track activity had so many tasks! Our blue desk had turned white with dozens of papers!

The race track activity had so many tasks! Our blue desk had turned white with dozens of papers!

Fortunately, we had a break. The next part was the engineering challenge! I thought this activity was the most enjoyable. We built a marble track taking up the space of only one A4 size paper. There was no height restriction. We had five pieces of paper, scotch tape and a pair of scissors. Our design involved a spiral paper track around a rolled paper pole. We had a time limit of 1 hour and unfortunately we didn’t complete our track. When the time was up, a teacher came and timed the number of seconds that the marble ran on the track. Our time was 3.2 seconds and the winning team’s time was 11 seconds! At the end, we walked around and looked at all the teams’ designs. It was interesting how many different techniques there are to build a track. Finally, the competition finished and the award ceremony was coming up. Everyone was excited to find out which team won!

The hardest part was making the marble run down the track without stopping.

The hardest part was making the marble run down the track without stopping.

The award ceremony was held in a big hall in the hotel. When the competition director made the announcements, everyone was silent. There was so much suspense! Our team didn’t get any awards, but we weren’t disappointed (three out of thirty teams received awards). I didn’t expect an award in the first place. Then, dancers performed the traditional Chinese lion dance. Each lion had two people and they danced all around the stage. Towards the end, they did some really cool acrobatics which was fun to watch. But the whole time, I was enjoying my vanilla ice cream (my favorite!).

At the end, my teammates and I talked with the organizer and he asked us which activity was the most challenging. I felt the engineering activity was the most challenging and doable. The race track activity’s arithmetic was the hardest but not doable within the time limit. When things are too challenging and not really doable, you don’t feel like doing the challenge anymore.

Everyone received a participation award. Mine looked like real gold!

Everyone received a participation award. Mine looked like real gold!

The competition was very fun and I’m glad I participated. I was so excited to go back home. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it. The airplane journey was smooth and I bought a few souvenirs at the airport. When I think about it, I still can’t believe what I accomplished, but it felt really good to be back home.

It looks like a pot, but it's really a magnet!

It looks like a pot, but it’s really a magnet!