Here is Part 1: Hong Kong
I reached out to a colleague in hopes that I could find a place to go that wasn’t back home to Toronto. Before my trip, he talked about one of his friends who was teaching somewhere in mainland China and had gotten stuck in Asia. Apparently, that friend was trying to fly home, but he kept getting stalled at different places. So, I messaged my colleague about him, asked where he ended up going before flying home. “Thailand,” he replied, then wished me goodluck.
I immediately looked it up.
“Thailand?!? OMG I can get in the water right away! I am gonna dive.my.fricking.ass.off. Yesssss.” I thought.
I had to take into account my papers for entry on top of the whole quarantining-people-from-Hong-Kong thing. After hours of online research and phone calls with real people mixed with confusing auto voice recordings that sounded like they had just hit puberty, I managed to book a flight for the next day.
I opted for one of the finest beach destinations in Thailand – the island of Phuket.
I looked up several spots and decided on Kata Beach. I read and heard that it was one of the more quiet places compared to the very popular Pa Tong, which – albeit gorgeous – was way too busy for me. I wasn’t really looking to party all that much. The two things I’m after when traveling are diving and arts & culture things. Besides those, I didn’t really have much else in mind.
I booked a private room at a hostel, with a laid back vibe and was super clean with friendly staff. It was awesome.
“Get in the water! Get in the water! Get in the water!” yelled the voices inside my head.
I looked for a dive shop right away. I went with one across the block. It’s been so long since I went diving so I needed a refresher. They had two options: I either do the refresher on a boat (+ 2 ocean dives) or do it in a pool (+ 2 beach dives).
I opted for the former since it seemed like a better deal. Oh boy, was I wrong.
There was just too much going on for just one divemaster to handle in a group within a bustling environment in the middle of the ocean. From being on a busy boat (with a number of other divers/divemasters and boat staff prepping and moving on about) to resolving in having to skim through the material too quickly due to extraneous responsibilities including coaching a couple who were taking a part of their Open Water Course with us. It made both delivering and reabsorbing all the info very challenging.
What made it trickier was that I got all this gear that I didn’t get a chance to test prior. I can only plan dives with the dive watch that activates once you’re 4 ft under. Up until now, I’m still figuring out how to find the dive time on the logs. Based on the manuals and my research, I don’t think there is one. I really want to be wrong about this though (I got a Cressi Leonardo: if you think you may have helpful input, I’d appreciate it if you comment or contact me).
For a camera: I was going to get a GoPro, but its housing is only good for about 20 meters (60-ish ft.) so I got another one with a housing that’s supposed to be OK up to 40 metres (130-ish ft.)… haha. More on that on Part 3 (hint: at about 25m [85ft.] Mother Nature went, “Hold my beer” and succeeded)
So there I was, diving a little weird, in shitty underwater visibility with all this equipment I was testing while doing so (they all worked and I was quite amused) with an unexpected current we had to swim against.
I actually managed to do all the dives pretty decently… but I wasn’t happy with how I rolled so I booked myself another refresher at the pool.
Note that I’m an Advanced Diver with 70+ dives (although 50+ are *poof* since I lost my logbook – this is a small number in comparison to many people I’ve met but still quite a number for folk who are just starting and/or have never gone diving), and I have gone diving in underground caves (more difficult than ocean diving) – but:
1. My buoyancy still needs work. I tend to fluctuate around 1 ft (a little over when it gets to shallow waters) which is not bad for ocean diving but for specialized instances like cave dives or weird rock/coral formations, which you have to maneuver through and around, it can get tricky. Overall, it’s not bad but it can be better.
2. I needed proper coaching with jumping off a boat. I fucked it up royally, before, by jumping the wrong way. Equipment can get damaged or lost, plus it can be painful with stuff hitting your body.
3. Freakouts can still happen – understandably so. We’re, by biological default, not made to reside underwater. It didn’t happen to me during this trip but it did on beginners and a couple of Advanced Divers I went with. It could happen to anyone.
It was still kinda cool though ’cause we went diving in a spot with a purposely sunken ship plus crates for marine life preservation.
I took a day off from diving before the second (pool) refresher. I decided to check out Phuket Town. I went to Trickeye Museum, which I loved (counter-culture and 2D/3D illusionary brilliance) and checked out a couple of temples.
I met a bunch of new people when I got back to the hostel.
I brought a bottle of wine, a quarter cheesecake, and some local Thai chips to share.
Yeah, that got people chatting. #foodIsLife
– I met several students originally from Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Russia) who were studying all over Asia (some in Bangkok, some in Hong Kong, some in mainland China). Some of them planned a vacation here, but got stuck and were all, “OK, I guess my vacation is extended then.” Others never meant to be there, and were actually trying to return to their homeland but, you guessed it: got stuck there and were all, “This kinda sucks, but I might as well chill. Whatevs.”
– I met several expats too. Some were working in Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, on vacation. None of these folks were stuck there from my recollection.
– I met this woman who’s originally from mainland China but lives in San Francisco and works in tech. Though she didn’t go to China during this trip, she was turned away from a connecting flight to San Fran due to her Chinese passport (this was happening a lot: Chinese passports equals denied entry even if they haven’t even been to China recently)
– I met a lot of English teachers who were fresh off university in North America (a trending thing… even when I was in college a couple of my friends did this, mostly Korea-bound). One of them was from Mississauga, not far from my own adapted home (Toronto, Canada). We chatted about what we do/did for a living, which school we attended, and such.
This British dude (who worked in CRM things out in the UK) and I were telling him, “Yeah, just chill out before the grind begins.”
“It never ends. It’s not a matter of beginning. It never ends,” added the Brit. He then went on about diving as he was in the midst of the Open Water course.
“What got you into it?” I asked.
“Mostly curiosity and I’m really keen on finding Nemo.” (Don’t grow up, kids)
I didn’t take photos around the area nor the people, unfortunately. I was very dive-centric off the bat.
I loved the divemaster that trained me in the pool. Some Eastern European man who didn’t hesitate to (nicely but firmly without being patronizing) call me out on areas of improvement.
My buoyancy improved, my air intake improved, I remembered everything I need to know about the gear (which to connect, where what goes, went through a couple of different setup BCD’s etc.) and he even taught me how to pack up neatly afterwards.
Amazing. I can’t say enough good things.
To the divemaster, if you’re reading this, I’ve said it in person and I’ll say it again: you’re awesome. Thank you. 🙏🏽
When we collaborate, it tends to take a while to establish a good, functional rapport.
Even with personal relationships, it can be like that. Conflict isn’t necessarily always bad when you’re aiming for the same thing and/or you’re sincerely trying to understand each other. The chemistry can just get all funky because you’re introducing unfamiliar elements (connected external factors, subjective perspectives, personality traits, etc) to one another.
A friend once said that up until we can run through walls or fly like an eagle or sing like Seal, then there’s always going to be room for self-expansion. We’re all learning and growing in Life regardless of age, creed, gender, ethnicity, etc.
It’s pretty unreal when you come across people that you instantly click with (world population: 7.8 billion – the chances of this happening is, one could argue, a miracle)
“Don’t forget to look around when you’re underwater. Don’t just look down! You’re there to explore! What’s the matter? You don’t like me?!?”
“Eh,” I replied with a so-so hand gesture.
He smiled, “Keep practicing your buoyancy and fix the way you bite your regulator. Do it like this.” (he demos it)
No miscommunications. No misconstrusions. No bullshit.
It was amazing. I loved it.
As I got out of the pool, that’s when I realized that even when we’re on vacation: we work. Everything in life takes work. We have to deal with people even as a client or customer. We have to have our papers in order, we have a schedule, etc (even if we’re backpacking: we have to make the flights we book). We have a responsibility to fulfill in those transactions(s), besides paying up. As a client, we hold accountability too. Contracts, much like professional or personal relationships, go both ways unless like in some cases, our part is to do nothing. In the case of the latter: try to chill. Why use force when we’re at liberty to conserve our energy for better things that may require it later on?
But don’t wait too long. That’s why I needed a second refresher here: I haven’t gone diving in over 5 years. Ok, apart from a quick refresher in Mexico last year… but I was thoroughly disappointed with visibility that I didn’t even bother continuing. Apparently, I just came at the wrong time. The Yucatan Cenotes are all around amazing but beach dives are supposedly great during November for the Sea of Cortez. I was there during May as I wanted to check out Cinco de Mayo. I still wanna check out Dia de Muertos, which would’ve been perfect as it’s in November but Coronavirus is having a field day over there so that’s not happening this year.
I had lost my logbook from a long time ago like I mentioned, so I was essentially starting from zero (0). #fail. But I downloaded a couple apps that were super helpful:
1. Dive Plus – I didn’t use the full scope of this app. I was mostly just using it to color correct underwater shots and videos but you can log your dives and such. I don’t find the UX (User Experience) very intuitive for the latter but it’s great for color correction.
2. Dive Log Pro – It’s kinda funny when you go to a shop and you show your smudged logbook and they ask you, “So where have you gone diving? With who? What’s the dive time? Duration? Depth?”
And you’re like, “I don’t know. I’m sure the details are there somewhere. Sorry yo, turns out the ocean is wet.”
Being a digital native, I kept wanting to back my stuff up. I was very (and still am), 😱 “Fuck paper!” when I started using these. Plus, to me, divelogs are just another thing I have to pack up and worry about. Having said that, I’m sure some people do better with paper because… we’re all different. I personally hate it but if that’s your thing and you function better that way, then you should stick to it.
If, however, you’re looking to switch: I hope this helps.
Anyway, this app is super awesome. The UX is straightforward and the UI is clean. You can back up with an excel file or pdf. If you’ve got the same instructor and/or dive shop for several dives, you can just use the signature (touch screen, saved as images) and stamp from the initial dive. You can log marine life spotted: lionfish, eel, mermaid etc.
I’m PADI certified myself but I got a taste of the SDI curriculum during this trip (these are the different certifications for divers, by the way, for you non-divers who are reading this). From what I gather, it’s a bit like Mac (SDI) vs PC (PADI).
You can find a good chunk of SDI material digitally. Also, it’s so much more simplified and clean (layout-wise with their material. This is important: when people read things, we have to keep in mind the line of sight and where our eyes are going as it affects how we process the information. It’s a design thing.*If you’re interested look up “Art vs Design”)
If I knew then what I know now, I would probably go for SDI. The licensing is interchangeable though so you’re good to go either way. I met someone who did his Open Water with PADI then onto SDI for the Advanced course. He had no issues with it. Also, you can take bits of it now separately from what I gather. I met a couple who did their reading online, did a dive in Bali, and during my refresher they were doing their second dive in Phuket. Great deal if you’re a backpacker and/or hopping around.
After I was finally good with how I rolled, I booked a weekend, overnight liveaboard headed for Similan Islands and Koh Bon as recommended. I was initially just gonna go for a day trip, but it was going to be about half a day’s worth of traveling to the dive spots (van/bus ride + ferry to the liveaboard + several more hours to the spots) – not leaving much time in the day to dive.
Overnight liveaboard it is.
Part 3a: Similan Islands and Koh Bon, Day 1, coming soon.
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