Here are some of The ASK Academy adventurers: in front, from left, Garnet Waldrop, teacher Cheryl Kerby and Abigail Catanzaro; in back are James Butler, Carson Rice, Caleb Canfield and J.R. Ayres.
(Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

For 11 scholars from The ASK Academy, their recent trip to China to compete in a RoboRAVE International robotics competition can’t be summed up in a mere 800 words.

Sponsor and ASK Academy manager (teacher) Cheryl Kerby said there were 3,000 youngsters from around the world.

Six students sat down last week with the Observer to talk about their trip, which, although eight days long “felt like a month,” eighth-grader Garnet Waldrop quipped. But Garnet enjoyed the “pretty” lightning they saw during a frightening plane ride, which Kerby later found out was on the edge of a typhoon.

“It’s exhausting,” Kerby added, although having taken the trip before, she knew what she was in for.

The robotics team arrived in China on July 14, visited Beijing for three days and then headed to Conghua for the competition, with time to see some of the country’s iconic sites.

Here’s what they had to say, including the previous longest trip they’d taken (in parentheses):

Garnet Waldrop (Ireland): “The language barrier was very difficult,” she said.

She will remember trying the Peking Duck, although she remarked that all the food there was bland … so bland, she said, that she hasn’t yet gotten used to green chile since returning home.

The kids ate “lots of rice, lots of noodles, lots of vegetables,” although one of the travelers — you’ll soon read his memories — ate an entire chicken, head, beak, feet and more.

Abigail Catanzaro (Alaska): Garnet’s “Dr. Bot” teammate — they finished 11th in the Sumobot Open — “liked how friendly they were.” She recalled interested Chinese girls coming up to them to talk, but noted their English skills weren’t as proficient as younger Chinese youth, as the country is teaching English at an earlier age now.

“The food was really good,” she said, and “a noodle house had some of the best food I’ve ever had.”

Although she wasn’t intrigued enough to eat what Kerby described as “skewered bugs” — scorpions, snakes, crickets, tarantulas — she was quick enough to jump out of the way when the proprietor of the shop serving such unusual items whipped a long snake toward her. It turned out to be rubber, she said.

Abigail also said seeing the Olympic Stadium, built for the 2022 Winter Olympics, was a highlight, and noted that traffic there was “organized chaos.”

Carson Rice (He’s lived in Israel and Ireland; his father works for Intel.): This articulate youngster enjoyed a rickshaw ride, a visit to a “modern Chinese home” and the interesting bus rides during which students played a game called “Mafia.”

He found it interesting to see street signs in Beijing in Chinese, with English translations below. A visit to a silk shop and ensuing tour were also interesting, he added.

Because of the language barrier, Caron noted, “You have to use a lot of pointing.

“The food was good; that was surprising,” and he said his robotics team had “a little trouble at first” with programming there.

J.R. Ayres (Michigan): Arguably the most-adventurous — who else would eat an entire chicken and pose for a selfie while about to bite off a chicken’s head? He also ate a baby squid.

“Every meal, there was too much food,” he said.

When J.R. mentioned the heavy pollution, Kerby said China allows people to drive only certain days of the week, to lessen traffic and the resulting pollution.

He was also credited not for saving a child’s life, but for stopping a youngster from “rolling” down the Great Wall.

Also, he noted, “There were Starbucks everywhere.” He saw a Lego store, and the two Subway eateries he saw in China were both next to a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop.

Caleb Canfield (England, France, Italy): The quietest of the six kids interviewed, Caleb said, “The Forbidden City was the worst part: It was hot, (had lines that were) long and crowded. The Summer Palace was nice and had a man-made lake.”

He enjoyed seeing pandas at a zoo and lamented a lack of internet during the adventure.

James Butler (Mexico): This kid is going to work to plan and build a robot, similar to what he saw at their hotel in Beijing, that delivers water and canned beverages (and maybe more). He already has a name for it: “ButlerBot.”

“You do not drink the water; residents boil it,” Kerby said, describing why bottled water is the way to go.

His ButlerBot, James said, will “speak” at least four languages; he plans to learn Japanese this school year to make it five languages.

During a meal at their hotel, people from 20 countries sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

Kerby is already looking forward to accompanying more ASK Academy scholars to China next year.

“The students who went on this trip each had to commit $400 to the cost early on,” she explained. “The remainder was either earned through fundraising or corporate donations. Some of our local ‘big’ corporate donors were Hewlett-Packard, Air Force Research Labs, Sigma Labs, Delux Design, DKD, 5 J’s Auto Parts, and Albuquerque Legal and Fiduciary. … Each company donated a minimum of $500 with HP donating $5,000 and AFRL donating $2,000.

“Two of the parents (on the trip), Marilyn and Chris Butler, both engineers, and I were pulled in to help judge the Entrepreneurial Challenge at the competition. It was a great experience for us to speak with students from all over the world. It also gave those students an opportunity to practice their English on us,” Kerby said.

“David Canfield, one of the parents, took over coaching responsibilities for me, although coaches were really not allowed into the ‘pit’ areas where the competition was going on. I must give kudos to the Chinese organizing team. They did an amazing job of taking care of us and providing an excellent experience for our students — the competition was fierce.

Despite the post-trip exhaustion, “It’s worth it,” she said.

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