Andy Fong and Angel Lai met at Halifax West and are now arbiters at the International Memory Championships

By Phlis McGregor, CBC News Posted: Jan 11,

Andy Fong and Angel Lai met when they were attending Halifax West High School and now live in Hong Kong. (Zhang Bo)

To keep up his memorizing chops, Andy Fong memorizes the dictionary. His wife, Angel Lai, is the 2012 champion of the Canadian Memory Championships.

They are two of a small number of Nova Scotia-educated talents who have achieved high marks in the field of memory sports.

Lai’s family immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1994. Fong, who is a Grand Master of Memory, came to Canada from Hong Kong to attend high school.

The two met at Halifax West High School, graduated from electrical and computer engineering at Dalhousie University, and live in Hong Kong, where they run a memory training school.

They are also arbiters at the International Memory Championships.

Many levels of memory mastery 

“We kind of rely on the other one to remember something, because ‘Oh you have a good memory so you should know this and you should know that,” Fong says.

“We learned the memory technique together, and we went to the competition together, so it’s a pretty amazing journey for both of us.”

To become an International Master of Memory you must be able to memorize 1,000 digits within an hour. You must also be able to memorize the sequence of at least 10 decks of 52 playing cards in an hour, and one deck within two minutes.

Once you meet these basic requirements, judges look at your overall score. Those who complete the tasks in the least time earn the title International Grand Master of Memory.

A score of 3,000 meets the requirements for International Master of Memory, 5,000 makes you a Grand Master of Memory and 6,000 will give you the honour of International Grand Master of Memory.

Memory Sports becoming more popular

Memory sports and competition are growing in popularity around the world. Fong says one reason, at least in China, is many exams there rely on the student’s ability to memorize.

But he says having a good memory isn’t just good for getting good marks. “The memory sports actually help the brain stay healthy.”

He also says television shows that show guests performing memory tasks are helping boost the sport’s popularity.

Few Canadians taking part in memory competitions

There are currently only two people from Canada who are included in the world memory ranking system, and Fong says he’d like to see more Canadians compete in the World Memory Championships.

Recently, Grade 10 student Evan (Yifan) Xie, who attends King’s-Edgehill School in Windsor, N.S., was designated an International Master of Memory.

But Fong says not many Canadian schools teach memory skills, and not many of the major international competitions take place in North America.

“It’s kind of like magic … if you don’t know what it is. But once you know you’re capable to memorize that much you’ll find yourself more confident and you’re more willing to study and learn more because there’s no limit on how many things you can memorize.”

The couple says maybe someday when they have children they’ll move back to Halifax to open a memory training school.