Monday, July 28, 2008

Closing Ceremony Held Today

US Physics Team with the Singapore Team at the Reception after the Closing Ceremony

US Physics Team at the Closing Ceremony
Back Row: (left to right) Paul Stanley, Warren Turner, Bob Shurtz
Front Row: (left to right) Rui Hu, Ed Gan, Tucker Chan, Josh Oreman, Danny Zhu

The closing ceremony of the 39th IPhO was held this afternoon. There were several speeches, several great performances - music and dance, and the awarding of medals. Our team received 4 gold and 1 silver medal. This is only the third time that the US has received 4 gold medals so we are very pleased with the results. There was a reception after the closing ceremony where we all had the chance to say good-bye to the friends that we made during the last 10 days.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


We shall let Vietnam and the organizers make the official medal announcements, but, after worrying about the difficult exams, the coaches finally have the results.

The coaches are pleased.

Ha Long Bay

The US team, riding on junks in HaLong Bay. We are the ones in the front of the boat dangling our legs off; in a moment, one of the crew will come and scold us and tell us to sit properly further back.

The boats remind us of motorcycles on the streets; so crowded, pushing and honking.

The bay, however, is magical. Ha Long? Not long enough.....

Afterwards we endure the long bus ride to return to Hanoi. The coaches go into meetings to talk about scores and medals.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

erm, soo.. the weirdest thing occurred just now. while danny and i are finishing singing "i want it that way" (dont ask), there was a knock on the door. when i opened it, a contestant from cyprus was standing right in front of the door, holding, in combination, the red HELP sign, and the white TOILET sign*, like this:

| HELP |

it took me quite a while to figure out what he was doing, but when i finally realized he actually needed to use our bathroom, i let him in. so he went in there and did his business while his teammate taped all of this with a camera outside. when they finally left, we laughed about it for a while and decided to blog about it. ergo, birth of post #18 on the physteam blog

* those are the signs were intended to be used during the examinations in case we needed help with the equipment or needed to use the toilet

Halong Bay

So today we went to Halong Bay, but first we needed to endure a 3 hour bus ride. Instead of letting the sleep deprived teams sleep at 6:00 in the morning, the bus guide wants us to play "games" and sing. This actually happens on nearly every bus trip, but it was really noticeable today because the trip to Halong Bay was so long. The trip was so long the US team made its first real purchase of food in Vietnam during the break in the trip. We bought a pack of 6 choco-pies (yes clones of the thing that hostess makes). Oh they were so good.

The games usually consist of the guide asking a riddle, and the teams on the bus competing to be the first to answer it. The guides of course understand that these are the best high school physicists in the world, so they ask us questions like "Where in the world does yesterday follow today?" See, the question incorporates the special theory of relativity, and the answer was "a dictionary". There were some other great questions as well.
"What's the saddest piece of clothing?"
"Why are dogs afraid to sit out in the sun?"
"What's the longest word in the English language?"
"In Oklahoma, you can't take a picture of a man with a wooden leg. Why?"
and like a bunch of other ones. Actually, we the tour guides didn't even get to ask us half the questions because the US team was so good at physics we knew the answer before the guides were done asking the questions. Yeah so the final score was like US: 11, UK: 4, rest of bus like 4 total. When the guides didn't feel like asking questions, we played Simon says for a while, and of course sang. The high point of that was probably our guide Quang singing a parody of James Blunt's you're beautiful.

The boats in Halong Bay were nothing like the ones we used to get to the Perfume Pagoda or to dodge the stalactites in the Eco-tourism centre. The boat we used for the Perfume Pagoda in particular was solid metal, floated about an inch above water level, and was powered by a 10 hoursepower, 4 cylinder, old lady. The coaches will probably post a picture of teh Halong boats pretty soon, but they were pretty standard two story group sightseeing boats. As a whole, these boats were more comfortable but less satisfying than the smaller boats we used in other trips because they were so high above water level.

The only place in Halong Bay that we actually made landfall on was the Heavenly palace grotto. The cave was incredibly big, and it was really eerie because fruity colored strip lighting was spread across the entire cave. Stalagmites and tites had fused so much that they formed dragon shaped statues. Hopefully the coaches will post pictures about the cave too, because it's kind of hard to describe its humongousness with words.

Friday, July 25, 2008

so thursday was the experimental exam. everyone on the team felt like he did very well, so we, as a whole, were pretty satisfied with ourselves that day.

today, we went to 2 buddhist temples in the morning. the temples were dedicated to 2 very important kings in vietnam's history. the temperature was hot

in the afternoon, we had an excursion to the ecotourism center. the name is relatively deceiving since there is no physical center to visit; but rather, we were split up into small boats that could fit 4 people and 1 rower, and snaked through the caves of a very beautiful lakes in the mountains. the scenery was very unique, and some of us managed to achieve zen from the pleasurable imagery that is our surrounding. the caves, on the other hand, interrupted the peace by providing us with an action packed boat ride that involved a lot of stalagmite dodging, for the ceilings were very low. o yea, and the temperature was hot

in the evening, we had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Professor Friedman of MIT about particle physics. however, most of the team felt that the lecture could've been much better had there not been a vietnamese translator repeating what the professor said after every slide in vietnamese. (disclaimer: this is not a complaint about the vietnamese people. we love the vietnamese)

tomorrow we will go to halong bay. hopefully we'll have enough energy to blog with more detail than this post and put up some pictures as well.


~~US Physics Team

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crushed by a rice pounding machine?

A simple, but effective device.

A rice pounding machine. Ask any IPhO competitor how they really feel about such devices....

The US team meets with leaders to discuss strategies for the experimental exam. This picture is taken at the end of the day of the theoretical exam; the US team felt as if the exam was interesting yet quite challenging.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bob's true colors?

Although Coach Bob Shurtz claims to be a Michigan fan, he was all smiles when he found an original Vietnamese Silk outfit in a Buckeye theme. This, in a back alley of the silk village. what are the odds? You be the judge....

Opening ceremony

The US Team, all smiles and eager to start the competition

A parade of teams, finishing with the US Team, followed by our hosts, Vietnam.

Talking with local fans- this one a graduate of a major US University- after the opening ceremony.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

today's schedule has been somewhat less eventful than our other days here in vietnam. we had breakfast at our usual time of 7 am, and then went right back to our rooms for a relaxed session of physics fun. obviously we did not study the entire time, as our alone times were periodically interrupted by the phone calls informing us of reporters waiting in the lobby, the actual interviews, and other general miscellaneous goof-off (this blog shaved off a little time as well). sometimes the phone rang to only yield a busy tone after it was answered, twice. so when the phone rang a third time, we picked up the phone with a greeting that consisted of what sounded like a tribal grunt. it turns out, as it usually does in situations like these, there was actually a live person on the other end of the line --- our student guide --- calling to inform us of yet another interview. that basically constituted our entertainment of the day.

~~actual members of the US Team

Off to the Perfume Pagoda

We took a 2 hour bus trip to a small village, and then climbed into small boats and journeyed about one hour upstream into the hills.

The boats were paddled by healthy, strong women. Women about the same age as our grandmothers.

We had an Enlgish speaking guide- Thuc- who warned us not to shift in the boats, for fear that we would capsize them.

We climbed for about an hour, maybe one thousand or more vertical feet, although Paul's GPS said that we were only at and altitude of 92 feet. The view from the top was spectacular, and inside a cave at the peak was the temple.

We prayed for gold medals.

Then set sail back down stream. Sweaty, tired, and well fed; a lunch of Vietnamese delights in our stomachs. And, yes, the boats were lower in the water on the return trip.

Tomorrow is the official arrival day; the day after is the opening ceremony. In three days is the theoretiucal exam. Maybe we will get some studying in tonight.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wainting at the aiport in Los Angeles for the outbound flight. It is shortly after midnight, and we now realize that although we started the day on the morning of the 15th of July, we won't see another bed until the evening of the 17th!

We are greeted in hanoi by our student guide.

At the B-52 mueseum we are able to look at pictures of John McCain.

The traveling team at Lake Hoan Kiem in the old quarter of Hanoi. This is shortly before the fruit lady fiasco.

A busy first day

Today was a busy day. We arrived in Hanoi yesterday morning, and we were greeted bby friendly Vietnamese hosts who escorted us to our hotels. And we do mean hotels; we thought that we would be staying in one hotel for the first three days, but instead we were divided up into three: one for the leaders, one for the observers, and one for the students.

The hotels are about 5 km apart, which is but a short 50,000 dong taxi ride. The taxi service is nice, but nothing compares to the pure adrenalin rush of trying to cross the streets through the sea of motorcycles. Some of us are pretty good at it: walk slowly, looking into the traffic, and steadily drift across three to six lanes of honking, swerving, belching honda motorcycles.

We survived that part. We weren't as lucky with the fruit ladies, who attacked us with such enthusiasm that before we knew it we had them taking pictures and giving us gifts of pineapple. Then they wanted out money. Not all of it, but certainly more than the pineapple was worth. Eventually we extricated ourselves from the predicament, with little more than a bruised pride. And several bags of rather juicy pineapple. And, we must confess, we were a few dong lighter.

We wandered through the dedicated streets of the old quarter, seeing shops and signs and smelling the odors of spicy cooking and glue and, you guessed it, motorcycle exhaust. They really are everywhere. Lunch was at a curry place. Tasty!

Then we went to see the prison where John McCain spent part of the war. The Hanoi Hilton. A prison built by the French, with walls topped with broken glass. We saw a real guillotine; and the cells where Vietnamese "radicals" were held in the early 1900's. And pictures of John McCain in the lake where his plane went down.

After that we had some more resting time at a coffee shop beside the lake. The flavored shakes are quite tasty, as is the Vietnamese coffee. Then a trip back to the hotels.

Tomorrow we venture on a day trip, complete with 4 mile hike and 2 hours of boat rides, to the perfume pagoda. Details soon....
hokay, so, here's the Earth, and we are halfway across it. most of us are pretty exhausted right now, and the only thing that we can possibly concentrate on is commenting on the contents of this post. the vietnam experience has been great so far: our hotel rooms are comfortable, the food is more than edible, and our exposure to the vietnamese culture can be put simply as "adventurous." On our first day here, we discovered that the streets did not have designated pedestritan cross times. in other words, people who've made the unfortunate decision to tour on foot have to weave through the continuous traffic of motorcycles, cars, and buses, much like a virtual reality version of frogger --- minus the virtual part. (Rui has made some efforts to record the near-fatal process so you readers out there will have a better understanding of the situation). we can cross some of the "easy-level" streets now, and are on our way to becoming professional street bravers.

We spent our first two days in Vietnam walking through the downtown narrow streets near our hotel. We were all cautious about buying from street vendors until we were attacked by a pair of old ladies selling, pineapples. It was so bad, they would smash a cone hat on top of heads, stuff a bag of pineapple into our hands, and then urge us to take a picture. Amid shouts for FOTO-MONNEE Bob hands them a ten dollar bill. That basically meant we would spend the next 10 minutes trying to get the money back. By repeatedly telling the lady, in english and with a stern face, to give the money back Rui eventually managed to get one of the ladies to hand back a five. Rui also recognized that the pineapples we ended up with were actually, oh man, LEVEL-18 pineapples, and was kind enough to try and sell it back to the next street vendor we met. Anyway, we eventually ate them because the food was really hot at the indian restaurant, and the pineapples were pretty good.

when we've finally returned to the hotel, we learned that teams from some of the other nations have begun to arrive. we were able to have dinner with the Argentines, who are a new team at the competition this year. we also introduced ourselves to the dutch, the chileans, and the brazilians, and the list will hopefully increase tomorrow.

it's 9:20 in vietnamese time right now. we are reeeeeaaaally tired, causing some of our sentences to be grammatically incorrect and logically unsound. LOL WHAT THE RANDOM AI AM SO TIRED GG. this post will probably be edited tomorrow. vivre la revolution. this is the last word. crap.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The end of Mini-Camp

The traveling team, just after lunch, before our departure to LAX. From left, is Ed, Tucker, Rui, Danny, and Joshua.

So, after four intense days of lab exercises, problems sessions, and a five hour theoretical exam, we are almost ready to depart to Vietnam. This morning we were up before 8 am with the painful realization that although today is the 15th of July, we won't see a bed again until the evening of the 17th of July.

The worst part about minicamp was the kludged lab equipment: the Iran experiment was held together with rubber bands, the battery for Spain was inconsistent, and the thin film for Singapore kept swamping the detector. And, during one of the five hour lab sessions, one of us had the hiccups, and kept distracting the rest of us.

The coaches, as usual, provide careful, kind, constructive guidance for our work. We worship them. Bob, Paul and Warren are really wonderful!
-the report from the traveling team......

Psst. None of us wrote that. It's all true (well, except for the worshipping part :-) ) and we are very thankful to the coaches for some great photography; we just wanted to clarify the true source of this post!