Stories from Magelang

Categories Astronomy, Blog

I followed last year’s IBO post title for this title. Again just like last year’s IBO, this year’s IOAA was hosted in Indonesia as the supposed host was not able to do it. I have no idea why Indonesia likes to become a host. There may be some guesses like getting a gold is much easier at home and on the other hand the government may be able to…. okay I think Indonesians would understand.
Anyway as some have requested, I will post anything on my mind about this IOAA, but I think I would not make it in a timeline to make it not like a story. I try to be as honest as possible.


A departure has always been exciting for me because, well I just love to fly. Especially I got free Garuda Indonesia return CGK-JOG flights, on my birthday. It felt like a birthday present for me. However, I still prefer to celebrate my birthday at home, something that I may not be able to do anymore in the future. Hugs from my brother, mother, and father before my departure were not enough to satisfy my need; so I might have looked not so happy in the airport because of it. The story must go on, though…

This volunteer training was shorter than the one in Bali because we had 2 days of training – same as in Bali – but we departed to Magelang on the first day itself instead of the day before. Jakarta delegates arrived in Yogyakarta at 11.20 AM and could only arrive in Magelang at 1 PM. The training itself was actually pretty much like those in Bali where we can get to know each other, although this time was easier because I had known some (if not most) earlier and the number of people was not as much as last year. Then finally in the evening we went surveying to Borobudur.

In the next morning, I got a birthday surprise from the putas! That time the putas has not been formed yet – just most ex-IBO peeps plus Dhany and Zhifa – but since this proto-putas have been quite close since we met in CGK then the info (that it was my birthday) could easily spread from Dhany. I had seen it coming though – Dhany was hiding his phone through our journey back from Borobudur to hotel the night before – but I tried not to expect too much because well, I hide my birthday on Facebook and I learn not to expect anything. Then we had a hotel tour (well Puri Asri Hotel is very huge and steep – I often felt like climbing a mountain) and we went surveying to Taruna Nusantara afterwards. It was a sunny day, so it was so hot in Tarnus.

After coming back to hotel, we had lunch and after that the schedule was packing souvenirs for participants. I escaped (not really, though) this session because my friend – Mikael Harseno – was in Muntilan to accompany his sister to her new school there and he decided to visit me in the hotel. We had a nice conversation and it looked like his mindset really grows in US – I learnt a lot from the conversation with him – and he really thinks about the future. Luckily the logistics arrived late in hotel, so technically I did not escape from the session. Done with that, in the evening we had a final short briefing because the day after we had to wake up at 3 AM!


So here’s why we had to wake up at 3 AM – we had to go to Semarang at 4 AM. The journey to Semarang took around 2-2.5 hours from Magelang, and the earliest arrival at Ahmad Yani International Airport was 6.50 AM from Jakarta. Due to the far distance between Semarang and Magelang, the organizer could only pick up the volunteers at one time – which was obviously from the beginning. I was assigned Singapore team on which was scheduled to arrive at 3.35 PM, but I still had to go from the morning. Things went even worse when the bus came late, and eventually we left Magelang at around 5.15 AM.

We finally reached Ahmad Yani International Airport at 7.15 AM, but miracle happened that Garuda GA230 which was scheduled to arrive at 6.50 AM was delayed for one hour so we were not late practically. Okay, it was nothing to do with me and since I still had a lot of time in Semarang then I went to church (the only allowed reason to leave airport though). I went to GKI Peterongan Semarang, a bit far from the airport but Samuel goes frequently to the church so he knows the schedule and the most risk-free option for us anyway. After that we had lunch at Java Supermall nearby, and rushed back to airport because Valentino received an info that suddenly Czech team arrived with earlier flight.

Being back at the airport, I really had nothing to do there (oh I wish every airport is as awesome as Changi). Although SRG is not as small as Bandung’s Husein Sastranegara Airport, it is still freaking small and crowded. I could not even do planespotting because it was not allowed by the committee, so all I could do was playing cards and becoming “tim hore” when a team showed up at the arrival gate. Sometimes I took pictures of them and send it to media team/Twitter as well.

Long story short, finally Singapore team arrived. It was a bit strange because I had met 3 of them at AstroChallenge (or maybe all of them) 2 months back in Singapore, just that I did not know them personally. I had told Jeremy there “You are going to IOAA? See you in Magelang then!”, Keven even had a tense discussion with me since I made a question wrongly and he was mad of it. But it looked like they did not remember me that much which was a good thing. But they had known that I was a gold medalist from Darren which was there with me in Volos – and Darren studies at the same school with Jeremy, Vint Ve, and Yu Jun. It was going to be another challenge as last year I led Kazakhstan students who were very shy and not that fluent in English and now I got Singapore that I know so much about typical Singaporean: fluent in ESinglish, so vocal and likes to complain.

I was lucky that late afternoon arrival could directly go to Magelang. Morning arrival participants had to go to Department of Education of Central Java office to be officially welcomed, and then went for Semarang city tour, then had lunch and learn Central Java dance, then finally could go to Magelang. This might have been the reason why the participants were highly recommended to arrive in Semarang instead of the closer Yogyakarta (and even transportation was only made available from Semarang), since the whole olympiad was funded by Central Java government they wanted to showcase what they have and the easiest example they could show is obviously its capital.

But they did not understand that participants just wanted to rest, especially after such a long and exhausting journey from their home countries. I remembered two years ago after arrival in Thessaloniki (CGK – SIN – IST – SKG), I still had to take a 2-hour trip by train to Volos and directly went to the opening ceremony because we arrived one day late from the schedule; and after opening ceremony I was already half-awake and became a zombie when I reached hotel.


The opening ceremony happened one day after (most) students’ arrival, in the evening after telescope introduction. The opening ceremony took place at Borobudur Temple, and the temple itself beautifully became the background of the stage. However, I was a bit confused that almost everything took place at Borobudur, including observational round venue was there. And the organizer smartly planned to park students’ buses… next to the test venue. With a lot of signs, in seconds students obviously realized that it was going to be their exam venue. The venue was not secret and sacred anymore.

I had an expectation that the opening ceremony would have been better than IBO opening ceremony since the people at Ministry of Education and Culture should have learnt from last year, but it was not better. It was worse I would say. Firstly we as the volunteers were tasked to force participants to go from dinner to their seats strictly at 6.15 PM. Okay, done it. But until 7.30 PM, we were just sitting there without doing nothing? I did not have time to have dinner because of volunteer briefing and I was almost assigned as snack distribution coordinator (which the snack never came). And it turned out that the reason for the delay was because Mr. Anies Baswedan came late and even after he arrived he still had dinner first at Manohara. Oh well…

It was not the only frustrating part. What was next? The ceremony was held in Bahasa Indonesia! Only a few times did the presenter speak in English, like when they called participants per country. Then VIPs relaxingly had their speech in Bahasa Indonesia, then the audience could only see the translated version on the screen; even Mr. Anies also had his speech in Bahasa first – to later be repeated in English. I am really sure that Mr. Anies have a good English, so there must be a shrimp behind the stone on why most part of the ceremony was done in Bahasa Indonesia. Do you want to boast our language? It was not the right place I think. I felt ashamed as a lot of participants around me complained.


The first exam for everyone, which I like because observational test is really unpredictable. It is either you success or you fail. Full of drama in observational test will usually lead to a dramatic olympiad. I remember in my year in Greece, the odds suddenly screwed up when both observational test attempts got cancelled and the simulation test had to be done.

This year the scientific committee has learnt from what happened in any observational round in Brazil 2012, Greece 2013, and Romania 2014. Somehow they were not confident with the sky in Magelang from the beginning, so they prepared a lot of tests just in case some must be cancelled. Naked eye test, telescope test, and planetarium test were prepared.

The whole observational round ran for quite long, it even started before this IOAA officially started as the telescope introduction ran in the morning before opening ceremony. The day after was full of observational test: in the morning participants were given parts of Spica telescope and they had to construct it as it would be used for the first part of the test. It was an interesting innovation of an observational round, and it reminded me of the old days of using Spica before OSN when I eventually broke one :’)

In the evening, participants were brought to Borobudur for the first attempt of the test. There were 2 parts of the test, so students were brought early to Borobudur so that when the sun set the test could have started directly. However, the test was delayed because the exam paper was not ready and still on printing process. What… IBO all over again where the tests were delayed! At the end the test started one hour late, and the sky was bad neither.

Everyone was guessing whether the second part would be carried out or not, but it turned out that the first group still got their chance of the test. The sky was slightly better that time, yet I had no idea about what would have been the test question. However when the first group finished their turn, the test was put on hold and eventually cancelled. To my surprise everyone was happy, contrary to in my year when everyone raged. The observational round coordinator told us that the reason was due to unfavourable sky, but I heard from technical team that the weather was very humid that the telescope optics condensed quickly. They needed a lot of hair driers to solve this problem, but the electricity could not stand high current and bam! the cable exploded.

The test continued the day after, and this time team leaders decided to attempt both telescope and planetarium session as a precaution. The planetarium session was done first and it seemed like it run as planned. The students also seemed to be more bonded – everytime a group was called, the others would give a clap and courage. After they were done with planetarium test they had to wait for everyone to finish inside a bus before they could do the telescope session, however their wait was in vain as the weather once again was bad, forcing the telescope session to be cancelled.

How about the difficulty of each sessions? From some quick scanning and responses from students after the test, the first (naked eye) was pretty difficult. The moon was in full phase and it was in Sagittarius, but guess what – the objects asked (beside Moon) were in Sagittarius. If I did the test, I may have failed since my eyes are not that sensitive to light. To compensate, the telescope session should have been pretty easy since only M7 was asked. However the planetarium session was a bit difficult because it included calculations and some participants had to do it at the edge of the planetarium, increasing potential error in measurement.


This test was the culmination. I did not know why – maybe the stars aligned – but somehow the difficulty level seemed to rise exponentially. On the day of 2nd attempt of observational test, participants had to wake up early (after staying up late) to come to Taruna Nusantara to have a welcoming ceremony by the students there and to attend a SMK Fair; then we rushed to Borobudur so that they could have a proper visit to Borobudur as other visits to Borobudur were not for excursion. After spending only 1 hour there, we came back to hotel to rest and later came back to Borobudur.

Then on the theoretical test, participants collapsed one-by-one. We then remembered that the dinner we had in the bus last night had some mixed fruits and it tasted sour. Since I am a person who feel guilty to have leftover, I still ate all the fruit. Surprisingly I was okay, but most participants had a bit of diarrhea. Some participants vomit a lot of times throughout the 5-hour test, even some collapsed miserably on their vomit and had to be brought by ambulance to the school’s polyclinic. More than 10 students were brought to the polyclinic and it became so hectic in the polyclinic. I was also busy escorting everyone to toilet during the 5 hours of test. Later on, almost all participants did not want to eat box food anymore.

To add more torture to participants, the questions were very difficult. I had heard it first from Twitter, as the media team published an interview with Indian team leader who admitted that the questions were very challenging. Most students said this was even more difficult than Romania 2014 (so I was preparing if someone stressed out until he jumped from height like in Romania), but to my surprise some Indonesian students said last year was more difficult. I had to admit though, when I saw the questions they were challenging, especially long problem part. They really wanted to set the bar high, so that IOAA is more appealing to more countries.


The data analysis test was like a consolation for everyone. It was the easiest (but still not that easy though) test among all tests while at the same time some students have recovered better from the diarrhea everyone seemed to have had that time.

There was nothing to note from this test, other than the relief everyone felt once they finished the test because it was the last individual test. There was still team competition the day after (so that they could not get their devices back) but actually team competition only matters for some countries. So when they were given free time for the rest of the day after data analysis test, everyone enjoyed themselves by exploring Puri Asri facilities like swimming or playing other sports while what I did was just… sleeping.


The last test for everyone. Yay, the atmosphere seemed better that time as after that no more serious competition. However before the test, participants had to come to Taruna Nusantara to vote for poster competition as well as to attend a public lecture by Jorga Ibrahim, an Astronomy lecturer from Institut Teknologi Bandung. I heard it was boring (yap who wanted to hear such thing after finishing tests by the way), I did not attend because Jeremy – one of my student – collapsed and I had to accompany him at the polyclinic (to be honest I used it as a valid reason to escape LOL). I did not know why Jeremy fell sick that late though, as by the time he was at his worst condition everyone has already recovered.

That came with a cost. I and Jeremy were not invited to a group photo with all participants, and to make things worse we were left behind by the bus when we were going to go to Borobudur! Luckily there was still an ambulance left so we could go, but I was disappointed. When any students were late in hotel we waited for them, but when a student was sick they did not even bother to wait. Then when we reached Borobudur Jeremy kept vomiting, so at the end we decided to bring him back to hotel earlier by ambulance, leaving the other 4 Singaporeans for the team competition. I had to stay back there since I became the invigilator for Singapore.

The participants were spread around Borobudur as each country had their own unique coordinates. The question was quite unique, to guess which constellation was at the background of Borobudur summit from their position; but rather it was too theoretical for me and could have been done by only one man. That was what happened on some countries, but Singapore did not.

Each team had 2 hours to finish the problem, but since the question was not that difficult some countries finished it within one hour. Then they had an impromptu free time and somehow it became the best excursion for me. We had already had a visit to Borobudur, however it was too rush and hot; this time as it was 4 o’clock it was already more chill and they can enjoyed Borobudur more. Actually we were not allowed to go up to the temple because the organizer only booked the field surrounding Borobudur, but who cares? I even took a lot of pictures with other people from up there hahaha.


The soft version of farewell night, because generally farewell night consists of partying all-night. I remember we partied in Volos – even until my guide got drunk – and in Bali we also partied until late night even though alcohol was not allowed. This time, the organizer wanted to show our culture, so they preferred to arrange a cultural night instead. Gala dinner was still there, usually first meetup between students and team leaders but this time in the morning they met for online simulation test.

The cultural night itself was a bit dull actually at some part since most performers did not really prepare much, however it was still enjoyable since on the other hand some still put their effort (particularly Indonesian, we are told to really perform our best as always). Some wore their traditional outfits, some performed their traditional dances. Too bad we had to fight with cold Magelang at night, and we could not stay up late due to Tour de Sangiran the day after.


To be honest, the most awaited part of an Olympiad is obviously the excursion where participants can enjoy the city or landmarks while they can get to know other participants. In Volos I got the chance to hike Mount Pelion, visit Volos Archaeological Museum, walk around Promenade, go to Volos beach, and even play bowling. In IBO 2014 in Bali, students got chance to visit Uluwatu Temple, Bali Safari & Marine Park, and Nusa Dua – only three but it was easy to make everyone satisfied of Bali.

So when we knew IOAA was going to be held in Magelang, obviously people would have thought of 2 places: Borobudur and Merapi, and if possible we could add Prambanan or any landmarks in Yogyakarta. Then IOAA page on Facebook kept promoting Semarang with all its landmarks. It was acceptable, Semarang would have been a decent destination though. However what actually happened was we only had 3 excursions: one to Borobudur, one to Taruna Nusantara (what?), and the other one to Sangiran.

The visit to Borobudur was actually too much since half of our events were held there: opening ceremony, observational round, team competition. But none of them was an “excursion”, so another visit was still welcomed. However, due to failed first attempt of observational round the organizer decided to squeezed the duration of visit to Borobudur to just one hour, at noon. You can imagine how hot it was, and one hour was obviously not enough to explore everything.

Then what did we do before going to Borobudur? An excursion to Taruna Nusantara. It was not an excursion at all, and the worse thing was we had to be in Taruna Nusantara at 7.30 AM while in the night before we had observational round until late. The organizer was so stubborn not to delay the excursion. The only nice thing that we had there was we were welcomed by marching band and guard of honor all the way from Tarnus entrance to Tarnus field. All Tarnus students were standing and making guard of honor for us, so we felt like VVVVVVVVIP. Then we watched Gita Bahana Nusantara performance, and after all I really appreciate what Tarnus students have prepared for us as they were really great. But it stopped there. After that we had to visit SMK (vocational school) fair, which was really unnecessary. My students complained throughout the visit to SMK Fair, but I could do nothing.

The last excursion was to Sangiran, on which the organizer said with appealing title “Tour de Sangiran” at the rundown. But we, volunteers, knew what is Sangiran and…. where it is. It is freaking far from Magelang! Obviously we could not take a straight path because there are Merapi and Merbabu so we took a detour and the route was Magelang – Yogyakarta – Klaten – Solo – Sangiran. We had voojrider accompanying us, but it still took 3.5 hours anyway and Semarang did not look far anymore. And we only spent one hour there! When most participants did not want to come initially, you know that the organizer had failed to choose a right place. Sangiran is a good museum for people who like history, but it was not worth the pain. I went to an archaeological museum in Volos, but it was in the city center.

There was something interesting. I heard from volunteers at team leader side that team leaders asked the committee to visit Merapi. The committee agreed, but they had to pay by their own expenses. And when hearing this, I started to think that Central Java really took control of this excursion. That explained why we did not visit Yogyakarta at all although Yogyakarta is popular globally (second most favorite tourist destination in Indonesia). Too bad that they may have had other agendas so they poorly chose the excursion destination 🙁


Luckily this ceremony was not late, but instead… it was early. Upon reaching Prambanan at 4 PM after having lunch in Solo (after “Tour de Sangiran”), we were told to directly escort students to their seats. And somehow the ceremony started even though the schedule was after dinner. More surprisingly, the proceedings of the ceremony was very short that we were surprised to hear (volunteers had briefing outside the area) that the medal distribution ceremony was starting soon after approximately 30 minutes.

Result-wise, some surprises were there like how last year’s overall winner Romania failed miserably with 1S 7B 1HM while they arrogantly mentioned upon arrival that they wouldn’t accept other than gold; or South Korea couldn’t even get a silver medal although I personally consider South Korea as one of the strongest competitor. Indonesia got 2 golds, 6 silvers, 1 bronze, and 1 HM; a well-deserved result based on Indonesia’s position on average and host factor added. I mean throughout the history only I and Lorenz (IOAA 2007) were able to get gold outside our own country, and moreover only in 2010-2011-2013 Indonesia managed to grab upper silver medals; so 4 golds like IOAA 2008 would have been too much and people will think that host factor this time takes huge part, same as how people suspected Romania when they grabbed 6 golds and 4 silvers last year.

The night continued with Ramayana show with majestic Prambanan at the background. I wanted to see, however Singapore team was scheduled to depart Semarang with the first flight so they had to leave Magelang at 2 AM; and therefore I had to help them going back. Actually I had to accompany them back to Magelang, however some alumni planned to have a photo session together and luckily some countries had to go back as well and one of their volunteers agreed to go with them. Finally, when the show ended and everyone finished taking pictures, we went back to Magelang and ended everything in the morning.


After the closing ceremony ended, the first group of participants leave Magelang at 2 AM. As Singapore is one of the country to leave in the first group, I was not allowed to sleep and I had to help them preparing everything, for example… bringing their luggage to the bus. In the arrival everything was done by the hotel staff and Central Java’s LO, but now only the guide and 2 staffs were there; and unfortunately my students’ rooms were far from the hotel road. Due to the chaos, the farewell didn’t seem to be so melancholic. And you may have guessed, “you guide Singapore students what, you can easily meet them over there”. Of course, that’s the reason (and now we plan to meet in December after their A-level exams). After they left, I could sleep peacefully although the feeling of sudden emptiness started appearing.

Then in the morning, the majority of the participants left. It was a sad moment as some participants were really likeable, and really close to us. Some of us cried a bit, and especially Iffa (hehe I remembered you cried even more in Bali, fa). But who on Earth likes a farewell if we’ve been comfortable? I also had to say goodbye again to Karolis from Lithuania who was my roommate in Volos. 2 years ago we were both so quiet and did not really talk much, but as now our English has improved I just realized that he is a nice guy. I am so happy to see him getting a silver medal, an increase from HM in Volos and bronze in Suceava.


Special mentions for the volunteers! Initially I did not expect too much from this group of people, especially given that some of my IBO mates did not make it to the group. For me personally IBO peeps were awesome as we worked nicely and I never heard of any drama or gossip among us, so I hoped that as many of us would have made it. But it did not happen. And to make things not so exciting, our whatsapp group before the event was not enjoyable. Only a few attention-seekers talked a lot. Later on, we were even polarized: Jakarta-Bandung group and Yogyakarta group. Those not in between can choose.

But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Since ex-IBO have already known each other, it was not difficult to get together. For Jogja peeps, they arranged meetup for a lot of times, so they got along nice as well. Then when both groups combined: it was crazily awesome! At the end I really feel blessed to have met these people, on which I am well aware that the bond in this group (for most members) is very strong compared to IBO; although student-wise I still think IBO students were more outgoing.

Well, I had thought that this IOAA would have been my last international olympiad. Never have been inside my mind that I would have joined 3 international Olympiads, but it happened and it really filled my last 2 years. A lot of new friends, global connections, priceless experience that might not be found elsewhere; and I am glad I accomplished my mission in this IOAA on which to make the best out of it. I am glad for every people participating in IOAA. If someday our path crosses again, do greet me! I don’t know how the future holds, but we may meet again sometime? I may be offered a chance to help Singapore team training, and if things go well I might eventually be able to go for IOAA 2016 in India as an observer. It is actually my fantasy, but not impossible hahaha. Just remember that, everywhere we are, we are always looking at the same sky and stars.

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