Saturday 13th August 2022

James Xu: IMO 2022 Report

June 2022: IMO pre-training and mock 1,2

Similarly to last year, we had two mock exams before I left. Since I was better prepared this year, it went relatively well. However, I learned a lesson on my mock exams to write down everything I came up with and my ideas, because no matter how trivial the idea seems, it could have scored points (however I didn't seem to do that in the actual IMO and lost points again. Please don't be like me and only regret it, because rough work could be worth a lot of points!!!)

In the second mock, I made a dumb mistake when I did question 2 and was deducted 2 points for not checking. (Please remember to check after answering the questions! It's easy to lose 2 points, it's hard to get 1 point. This actually helped me on day 2 of 2022 IMO.)

July 1-2 Major issue realized before departure to Oslo, Norway

IMO2022 was held in Oslo, Norway. However, on July 1, the day before departure, as I was packing for my trip, I realized I had lost my passport. I was quite scared, having prepared for IMO for a whole year, and if I couldn't find my passport I would probably lose my participation. At the time, I was extremely worried and anxious and frantically tried to find my passport at home with my parents until around 3am. However, even then, I was unable to find my passport. The next day after searching for my passport without success, I immediately contacted Ross. Ross was relatively calm, but also worried about my situation, and had to go to Norway as planned while I continued to search for my passport. Although the process was arduous, we eventually searched every possible location in our house multiple times, almost eliminating the possibility of finding my passport.

July 3-5 Trying to find a passport to Norway, hopes fade

From the 3rd to the 6th, we turned our entire house upside down and searched every possible corner thrice, and still could not find my passport. I also collected the contacting information of all the places I could remember that I had been to recently, including test centers, shopping malls, banks, etc., hoping that someone would contact me if they found it, and I also reported the loss to the police to see if anyone would find it.

Meanwhile, Ross was in Norway trying to think of various solutions, including applying for remote participation and all other possible options. But all of these options were rejected by the IMO board. In addition, I was trying to contact the Norwegian Embassy to determine the possibility of using a Chinese travel permit to obtain a new visa for Norway. I called and emailed the Norwegian Honorary Consulate in New Zealand and the Dutch Embassy (which handles all Norwegian visa applications) to inquire. However, the results were disappointing, and I was told that it was not possible to have such a fast visa approval process and that it was not possible for them to issue a visa for a Chinese travelling document. At this point 5 days had passed since I first realized that I had lost my passport.

July 6 to 8 A single hope

On July 6 Ross found out that the IMO external test centers were in Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau, and possibly Singapore, so I started to confirm the accuracy of the information and the document requirements and epidemic control policies for each of these places. Coincidentally, on the evening of July 6, I spoke with a contact in China and learned that there was indeed an external exam center in Beijing. However, I found out that the COVID control in China is particularly strict and requires at least 10 days of quarantine, as well as many days of testing and quarantine of the COVID before departure. It was also confirmed that there is no external testing center in Singapore. However, this also led me to speculate on the possibility that other external test centers still exist. Therefore, Ross and Josie again asked the IMO board for a list of external testing centers.

Early on July 7, I received a notification from Josie who relayed the IMO board's message that the only possible external test center was in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as other external test centers such as Beijing, Macau and Hong Kong had strict segregation rules for the COVID. Therefore, we immediately focused our efforts to get to Mongolia in time.

As soon as we started work on the 7th, we immediately applied for an emergency traveling document from the Chinese consulate, because of the epidemic, the consulate was working online and could not submit the documents on site, we could only make an appointment online and drop the documents into the consulate mailbox. But even if we get the document on time on the 11th, IMO has already started. Luckily, one of the staff at the consulate was very helpful and told me to make an appointment online and drop the information in the mailbox with a description of the situation and that they would try to buy time for me. Thanks to the help of the consulate staff, we waited outside the consulate all day on the 8th and finally got the emergency travel permit at 16:45 pm.

The next issue that needed to be resolved was the entry visa for Mongolia. Luckily Mongolia uses electronic visa, I used a mock application for a visa with other people's documents in my family before I got the travel permit, and I could get the visa in about 2-3 hours. There is a four-hour time difference between New Zealand and Mongolia, so if the Mongolian Immigration Department also closes at 5:00, the time should be just right, but the risk is whether Mongolia accepts entry visa applications for travel passes, and the next week is the Nadam week holiday in Mongolia, the last 4 working hours for visa approval, will it be slower than last time?

After learning on the 7th that there was an external test center in Mongolia, Josie contacted the Mongolian Mathematical Olympiad Committee from Norway and asked for assistance, and also set up a direct communication channel between me and the Mongolian Mathematical Olympiad Committee. Also fortunately, the Mongolian Mathematical Olympiad Committee was very helpful and agreed to create an invitation letter as soon as they received my document information and offered to assist in writing an email to the Mongolian immigration office explaining the situation. The Mongolian Mathematical Olympiad Committee helped to issue an official invitation letter in ten minutes after I received my emergency travel permit.

I was very lucky to get the visa approval within 2 hours after I submitted my Mongolian visa application. Although I was only given a 10-day stay, it was enough for me, and the next step was to see if I could enter Mongolia without any problems.

July 9-10th Travel to Mongolia

There is no direct flight from New Zealand to Ulaanbaatar, the fastest flight requires two transfers, one in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Incheon, Seoul. Only when I received the boarding pass, I was able to relax a little bit, and the next risky stop was Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.

The flight to Mongolia was not so smooth either. After arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I found out that my flight to Incheon was quitelate.

I missed my scheduled flight from Incheon to Mongolia on the 10th due to the delay of the inbound flight from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon on the second leg of my trip. However, there was no more flight from the same airline to Incheon on that day, so in principle, I had to change my flight to the same time on the 11th. I rushed to the airport staff, and after a period of intense communication, I was unable to resolve the problem of changing my ticket. There was only one other airline flight from Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, and it was the only option for me to take this flight. I discussed with my parents and booked a new ticket and prepared for my luggage to arrive the next day. Fortunately, the airline staff finally confirmed that my luggage could be changed to the next flight directly to Mongolia, but the ticket could not be changed for me, so I had to return it. Although the airport staff came back to me 2 hours later and said that the ticket could be changed again. But it didn't matter anymore. In the end, although this made my arrival slightly late, there were no serious consequences.

However, upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, something came up when I tried to go through border control with my travel permit and visa. At first, my visa could not be found in the system. After this problem was resolved (most likely because they were searching in the wrong category), another complication arose regarding the validity of my travelling document. Trying to communicate with the immigration officer in English to explain the situation was also very difficult, as English is not a compulsory subject in Mongolia and many of the border control officers could only partially understand. Finally, with an invitation letter from the Mongolian Mathematical Olympiad Committee and the help of a Chinese-speaking border control officer, I was finally allowed to enter the country.

After entering the country, I met the friendly Mongolian team leader who kindly showed me the surroundings and had dinner before dropping me off at the hotel.

July 11. IMO Day 1

I bought snacks on the way to the test center like the ones we were given last year. (It's good to bring some food for thinking during long exams.)

Due to jet lag and the long trip before, I was very tired at the beginning of the exam and I started to get confused. Question 1 was easy, but even though I had checked, I missed a simple case, which ultimately cost me a mark. When I tried to do question 3, the hypothesis I came up with at the time was just the opposite of what the question really was. This caused me to never get the question out. When I looked back at the question, I realized that I had gotten the question the other way around.

And because I didn't write out my thoughts completely, I only got 1 point. (Resting before the exam is very important! Especially if you go to a region with time difference.)

July 12. IMO Day 2

After breakfast, I went back to my hotel room and tried to rest a little more. However, while resting, I suddenly felt nauseous and then started throwing up and having diarrhea. This made me quite nervous because I knew it would definitely have a major impact on my performance during the exam. Therefore, I went and took some medication. After taking a little bit of medicine, I skipped lunch and went straight to the exam center. At the test center, I felt much better. (Prepare some common travel medications can be helpful! Also make sure to have good sanitation in place!) In addition, I asked for some hot water. With these physical conditions doing the questions slowly, I ended up not having enough time for question 6, resulting in only getting out the lower limit and getting 1 point in the end.

Some photo with the Mongolia IMO team

Some tour photos

July 16th to 18th Return to New Zealand

The journey back to New Zealand was also particularly tough, the whole journey took over 60 hours. It required two transfers in Incheon and Singapore, and each transfer was accompanied by more than 10 hours interval. In Incheon, there were always people talking on the phone in the sleeping room, while in Singapore, I couldn't even find a place to sleep. Although I later found a relatively comfortable couch, it was quickly taken when I went for a late night snack. Therefore, my sleep quality was very poor in those two days, and I slept for 16 hours straight after I came back to New Zealand. However, Singapore's airport view and food are still good, so it was the right opportunity to experience it properly.

Many thanks to Ross Atkins, Josie Smith, May Meng from the New Zealand Mathematics Olympiad Committee, Batbayasgalan Balkhuu, Otgonbayar Uuye from the Mongolian Mathematics Olympiad Committee, Matus Faro, the IMO invigilator, and my parents and sister for making it possible for me to participate this year.