Math in Asia

As Vice-President, I represented the American Mathematical Society at the first joint meeting with the Korean Mathematical Society in Seoul in December, 2009. At a luncheon of society presidents, in excitement over the future of math in Asia, began plans for a six-country Asian speaking tour. My log begins in Pakistan. When I was in Islamabad, I had no idea that I was just 35 miles from Osama bin Laden.

Safe in Pakistan

When friends hear that I’m on a math visit to Pakistan, they often say something about safety. Actually, despite heightened security, I’ve felt completely safe and at home here. The culminating experience was setting up my computer well before talks at QAU, NUST, and GCU and finding I could leave it unattended, rarely the case in the US or anywhere else.

Incidentally, as of 2008-09, 46% of undergraduates in Pakistan are women, up from 37% in 2001-02. During this period total enrollment has more than doubled. Similarly 31% of PhD students are women, up from 20%.

Tech-Savvy in Vietnam

Mathematics is prospering in Vietnam, supported by the latest technology. Most classrooms have built-in computer projection, and they readily supply document cameras and wireless lavaliere mikes. The internet is reliable and readily available. They’ve even figured out how to block Facebook.

Talk on “Soap Bubbles and Mathematics” to 1000 students in Thai Nguyen covered on TV.

Also see TV coverage of Hue talks.

Shopping in Thailand

There seem to be no obstacles to progress in Thailand: everything is for sale. The streets of Bangkok are crowded with vendors of all kinds of food and clothing and services. If you need soap bubbles for your talk, you can find them at Toys R Us. If you need computer repair because you spilled soap bubbles on your new MacBook Air during your talk, there are even some ten authorized Apple repair shops, as in the famous Pantip Plaza, which also boasts three Apple sales shops. If you want to try durian ice cream despite the smell, it’s available at the nearest Metro station. If you want to visit some temples, you can hire a tuk-tuk for an hour for 30 Baht = $1, as long as you’re willing to visit a sponsoring tailor shop on the way.

The first three pictured former students treated me to dinner at In Love restaurant by the river.

Harit Rodpraser, Aom Kitichaiwat, Ta Banchuin, and Rungporn Roengpitya work at the Bank of Thailand. I found them through former student Chung Truong, pictured here at his penthouse room, who just showed up at my talk in Ho Chi Minh City.

Aom guided me to the Chula Mathematics Department. Ta was impressive in her master’s thesis defense  on “Finding a global factor in a country’s bond yield.”

Finding Math Prestigious in Singapore

Mathematics and academics are respected and popular in Singapore. Supermarket check-out counters feature math “revision papers” (apparently Singaporean for “review guides”; first photo) and top students do product endorsements on billboards (second photo).

Photos courtesy Helmer Aslaksen, my gracious host.

Basking in Malaysia

The closest hotel to Universiti Malaysia Terengganu is the Gem Beach Resort on the South China Sea, here pictured from my private balcony. The water is clean and warm, with a pleasant breeze off the sea.

But it wasn’t until I got to Kuala Lumpur that I spotted some wild monkeys from the car.

The next two photos show some of the hazards of the tropical jungle:

Friendly Philippines

From the moment you get off the plane, you experience the friendliness of the Filipinos. My host Fidel Nemenzo, President of the South-East Asia Mathematical Association and famous student revolutionary against the Marcos dictatorship, I have found to be also an extraordinary teacher and gourmet cook. Malou Lopez, who worked briefly as Williams College Mathematics Department secretary, arranged a splendid lunch for me with the College of Business Administration.

Riddling Back to the US

Riddle 1. If you take a cab to the airport at 3:30 am Sunday morning and you get stuck in a traffic jam, where are you?
Answer. In Manila.
Riddle 2. If you take a direct flight from Manila to Detroit, why do you go through security twice?
Answer. When you stop in Nagoya, Japan, you have to get off the plane and take everything with you through security again. (In airline parlance, “direct” does not mean “nonstop.”)
Riddle 3. What do they do if you leave a CD on your seat on the plane?
Answer. They throw it away.
Riddle 4. Why do you change your money back in the US?
Answer. First of all because you can’t use pesos in the US. Second of all, because if you start with a cab at 3:30 am in Manila nothing’s open, and if you try to change it in Japan you have to change pesos to yen first and pay two commissions.
Riddle 5. Why doesn’t the day change when you cross the 180 meridian of longitude?
Answer. Because the date line doesn’t follow the meridian exactly.
Riddle 6. Why doesn’t the day change when you cross the date line?
Answer. Because you cross at midnight (if you start with a cab at 3:30 am in Manila).
Riddle 7. Where should they have the best avocado ice cream?
Answer. Granada, Spain, where it is a traditional delicacy.
Riddle 8. Where do they have the best avocado ice cream?
Answer. In Manila.
Riddle 9. What is the most popular ice cream in Manila?
Answer. Queso (the Tagalog word for cheese, from the Spanish).