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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 5, 2003

5th-grader nets state geography bee title

By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer

Eric Liaw would have returned to school Monday as an ordinary Punahou School fifth-grader had he not known what country is separated from the Arabian Peninsula by the Strait of Hormuz.

Punahou School fifth-grader Eric Liaw, 11, paused before writing his answer to win the state National Geography Bee at the Ala Moana Hotel yesterday. He will represent Hawai'i in the national finals next month.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

But when a moderator posed the question to the 11-year-old and he correctly responded with "Iran," Eric ended up besting nearly 80 students to claim the 15th annual Hawai'i state National Geographic Bee title yesterday at the Ala Moana Hotel.

"I'm very pleased," Eric said with a big smile after winning.

As the state champ, Eric received $100, a National Geographic globe and an expenses-paid trip to the National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C., on May 20 and 21. Eric will be among nearly 60 state and territorial champions competing at the national finals.

Public and private school students in fourth through eighth grade advanced to the Hawai'i bee from school competitions held in December.

"The students are awesome," said state bee coordinator Mary Frances Higuchi. "It's a really great opportunity to give kids a chance to compete like this."

After the preliminary rounds yesterday morning, the competition whittled down from 78 to 10 contestants for the final round. Within 30 minutes, Eric and seventh-grader Lance Matsuda from Saint Mark Lutheran School advanced to the championship round.

The two boys went head to head for five minutes as nearly 300 students, teachers, family members and friends watched in the audience.

"Fountains of ash rained down on the town of Catania when Mount Etna erupted in October 2002," said moderator Michael Parke, coordinator of Geographic Information Systems. "Name the island where Mount Etna is located."

Eric and Lance correctly came up with "Sicily."

But the contest became tense following the next two questions.

"Ice sheets covered part of what is now the United States during the Pleistocene epoch, which took place during the Earth's current geologic era," said Parke. "Name the current geologic era."

Eric and Lance did not come up with the right answer, which was "Cenozoic."

Parke continued: "After an economic collapse in the late 1990s, what South American country declared the U.S. dollar to be its official currency, replacing the sucre?"

Again, Eric and Lance failed to answer "Ecuador."

But Eric stole the show with the next question when Lance did not correctly answer that Iran is separated from the Arabian Peninsula by the Strait of Hormuz.

Rounding out the top three finalists was Iolani School eighth-grader William Orihuela.

Eric's parents, Boryann and Tamya Liaw, were excited about the win. The couple, from Wai'alae Iki, moved to Hawai'i from Taiwan in the late 1970s.

"We're very proud of him," Tamya Liaw said.

Eric's coach and Punahou School geography bee adviser John Saporito said Eric studied hard during school lunch breaks and at home since winning the school bee on Dec. 4.

"I'm very proud of the effort he has put in and the self-study and time that he has invested in preparing for this," Saporito said.