After beating millions of opponents across China, the remaining 600 student inventors were looking forward to attending the finals of the 21st National Youth Innovation Contest in Macau. But Mother Nature interfered and typhoon Prapiroon stranded them for nearly 12 hours in Zhuhai on August 3. Half of the contestants were forced to go home, while about 300 students were lucky enough to continue on to Macau. The students were escorted by firemen and fire engines across an inter-island bridge to Taipa, where they finally settled in the early hours of August 4. The contest, which was meant to last for five days, was reduced to just three, from August 5 to 7. Luckily, the future inventors recovered quickly from their rough journey. The opening ceremony at the Macau Dome found them in good spirits. The students presented over 400 innovative designs, attracting more than 8,000 viewers to the event. Some of them were so absorbed in the intense competition that they broke down in tears by the end. One of the tearful winners was Macau's Mak Ka-lai from the Federation of Trade Unions Secondary Technical-Professional School. Ka-lai and her schoolmate Lam Vai-hong designed a software system that allows people to check parking metres and pay parking fees by using a mobile phone. The invention won the First Honour Award and the Macau Lotus Award for Science and Technology Innovation. Ka-lai was almost speechless when receiving the awards, and gave credit to her science teachers. 'They always encouraged us and gave us hands-on help,' she said. 'It wouldn't be possible [to win] without their guidance.' In contrast, Vai-hong appeared calm and rational when explaining why they had won the big awards. 'Our design is very practical and easy to use,' he said. 'And we were thoroughly prepared.' Their invention seems to have come at a perfect time - parking metres are becoming widely used in Macau, as more and more cars are crowding the streets. The number of parking metres soared from 1,600 in May 2005 to 4,300 last month, and people are looking for more convenient ways of using them. An estimated 15 million teenagers participated in the national contest at different levels this year.