14 May, 2007

Part 12: Back to Los Angeles (end of Thai trip)

(Come along on the trip by reading chronologically, starting at Part 1, at bottom)

This is the end of my journey through southern Thailand. If feels so good to be back in the crisp, sunny briskness. Time to catch up with friends and family...

13 April, 2007

Part 11: Taipei

Fellow dive instructor graduate Vincent drove to the airport to meet me, but we could only chat by phone because I didn't have enough time between gate transfers to exit airport security to meet him.

02 April, 2007

Part 10: Bangkok

Eva Airlines business lounge offers free Singha (at 10am) but I'm just anxious to get home, to comfortable (and colder) surroundings. I think I'll limit future trips to 6 weeks.

In Bangkok only for only two hours, I didn't have time to meet with two friends:
  1. RonG, a friend of Linda Sue Dingel near Bangkok several years
  2. Alex Chou, a traveller from Dave Cole's b.party, is in Morocco

26 March, 2007

Part 9: Koh Samui

March 25:
Unlike Koh Tao, Koh Samui has a real physician (at Bangkok Hospital Samui) and this (now third) opinion of the recalcitrant spider bite includes prescription for:
  • Diclocil (antibiotic) 500mg 4x/day x 7days
  • Voltaren (anti-inflammation) 25mg 3x/day x 7days
  • Prednisolome (immune / steroid?) 30mg 3x/day x 2days
These should alleviate symptoms within three days.

Friendly Thai receptionist "Em" mopeds us to outdoor Thai market for quick, spicy dinner before revealing motel near hospital. 700B/night is twice my Koh Tao oven, but reliable electricity & AC justify it, despite its view (PHOTO pending)

March 26:
Museli and espresso at "AKWA" improve me.

Flight home is April 17 via mileage-based biz-class BKK-SIN-LAX but United says "Change date or itinerary, and lose your ticket". Since I'm a whore for business class, I might have to stay another three weeks in Asia for the pleasure of freely preserving 16 hours of legroom.

Former Vignette buddy Robert Knickman in Singapore invites me for two days, but short coach flights start at $500, which is just outside rationalization range, even to visit him. I'm sorry Knicky, but we still have the Singapore airport (2pm-3pm April 17) where story jars will be full.

Crosshairs aim now for liveaboard diving in one of:
  • The Great Barrier Reef (the long flight nixes it)
  • Papua New Guinea ($3000 BKK-POM-BKK flight nixes it)
  • The Maldives (if I can find cheap accomodations, at high season)
March 27:
Researching flights and liveaboard options in the Maldives, I consider Bangkok -> Male -> Bangkok and a week of liveaboard diving. Perhaps my OW/Rescue/DM instructor friend Linda Sue Dingel can find otions?

Although this will put a hurt on the pocketbook, we have only one life. To preserve mine, I'll navigate the 100% Muslim population better than the Koh Tao Moped Front Brake Downhill Slalom.

Dinner at a nice (Chinese) restaurant (first nice one in a month) Retreat to my gloriously AC-powered room to read.

March 28:
Transferring gear from hospital to motel, my Samui transition is nearly complete. Riding the island on a (200B/day) moped, discovering lessons about...

Time:
  • Arising before dawn maximizes daylight and coolness
  • Reading in the AC beats everything else except...
  • Getting eight hours sleep
Health:
  • Tropical heat and humidity easily exhausts me
  • I miss unprocessed food (veggies/fruits/fiber)
  • I need regular exercise to preserve mental energy
  • Wounds need prompt/full/accurate medical treatment
Flexibility:
  • Inexpensive rooms are good only if quiet
  • Negative outweighs positive only when allowed
Trust and Bonds:

Reading map roadside, another moped rider pulls off 10m ahead, and waits for me to approach. During our short chat, the stranger is friendlier than most, so I keep looking over my shoulder for his accomplice as he "distracts" me with questions and compliments about my grasp of Thai language. I soon bid friendly farewell, but as I ride off, I realize no such accomplice existed, and that my paranoia had overrun me.

It shouldn't seem strange when others are friendly.

The moving moped cools almost as effectively as my room's AC, and it's great to have both on demand. But neither reduces my carbon footprint, so simply being in this climate zone causes mild guilt. Besides, riding "two-up" on the moped would be more fun.

During my full island circuit, I stop half-way around, at Hin Lad waterfall. Considering the rocky tramp ahead, I decide against the hike, ride away, and suddenly feel old. So I return, disembark into the woods, and navigate slippery rocks upstream. Slowly realizing I've made the the right decision, six or seven Thai children (ages 5-10) appear, playing on rocks and jumping and sliding into the water around me. Happiness abounds in their element.

My spirit joins them.

Placing my backpack on a nearby rock (and watching it like a hawk) the only Farang melts into the soothing, cool, murky water. One other adult watches from the water near me. Kids start playing with me, sliding, smiling, teasing, splashing, surprising, swimming, laughing, and during the next 45 minutes, I feel I've known them for days.

I realize, after a while, that my fear (of being ripped off) is unwarranted, as it had also been earlier today. I've been conditioned by "home base" friends and U.S. society to be paranoid. Although precaution and skepticism can be healthy, I've encountered so many native Thai's who've surprised me on the upside. I only see negative attitude from Thai's when they've had frequent contact with touristy Farang. Most offer smiling, happy help, and I believe that's their true nature.

March 29:
Reading "Flow" from my good friend Seth Alsbury. Down the street, the "AKWA cafe" serves up:
  • Museli with fruit and yogurt
  • "In My Life" from Rubber Soul by the Beatles
  • Free and reliable (but slow) Internet access points
But at 9:30am, it's becoming hot and street-noisy. So I'm annoyed with my "indie self" that the calm, quiet, clean, familiar, frigid Starbucks feels so good.

Costs run high for diving in The Maldives:
  • $1000 for flight (BKK-MLE-BKK on Bangkok Airways)
  • $1700 for seven days/nights liveaboard diving
  • $1200 for three nights room & board
It's hard to justify this; especially when flying solo.

March 30:
From home, I most miss:
  • crisp weather
  • air-conditioned gyms
  • fresh healthy food
  • fast networks
  • my bicycle
  • friends and family
But I'm not quite ready for...
  • shallow American media sold to the lowest common denominator
  • demotion of the Moped in modern society
  • "did you see xyz on TV last night?"
Thailand reminds me of The Playa for its:
  • mix of spiritual orientations
  • distance from home and required self-reliance
  • frontier spirit and lax law enforcement
  • disorientation and constant access to danger
  • eclectic mix of people who come out at night, after the heat passes
  • chaotic freedom of movement, on two-wheeled vehicles
  • art cars (think "motorcycle-meets-pancake-wagon")
  • shortage of reliable drinking water
Desparate for evaporative cooling, I shave my head.

March 31:
Contemplating the return home, through Bangkok, where I can finally detach from 30kg backpack of IDC-related books/binders I've shlepped through:
  1. Hermosa Beach
  2. LAX
  3. Bangkok
  4. Phuket
  5. Kata Big Rock
  6. Khao Luk
  7. Ranong
  8. Chumpon
  9. Koh Tao
  10. Koh Samui
  11. Bangkok
April 1:
Zooming around Koh Samui on finely-tuned moped, learning more lessons...
  • Maintain mental independence from commercial media
  • Always explore the dirty core of a country (not touristy areas)
  • Treat others as well as you treat yourself.
  • Trust, but verify
  • Be grateful for all the good fortune
  • Ensure effect of my life is positive re: psychic/social legacy
My existence here has devolved into constantly searching for coolness & relief via moped motion or air-conditioned motel. So to minimize carbon footprint, I must flee, back to my native climate.

09 March, 2007

Part 8: Koh Tao

March 7: Arriving in 90 minutes by speedboat from Chumpon, I rent 250cc motorcycle for 300B/day to navigate steep, pot-holed dirt roads. They haven't changed much in four years. With over 30 dive shops on Koh Tao, I hope to find a teaching gig here. Internet connectivty here is pricey and virus-ridden.

March 8:
On the south side in Chalok Ban Khao, where I stayed in 2003, I skin (breath-hold) dive with Corrine, a multi-lingual spearfisherman from Martinique where she works as a travel agent. She's finishing a six-week philanthropic (NGO) research trip in Cambodia and Thailand. I cut costs by switching from motorcycle to (gutless) moped for 75B/day. What the hell.

March 9:
Three hours of skin diving in Shark Bay where we see five (150cm long, 50cm wide) black-trip reef sharks that come within five meters.

March 10:
Skip skin diving appointment with Corrine, I upgrade housing (and halve costs) by switching from motel in Chalok Ban Khao (600B/day). Final straw: price-gouging and very bad customer service. Never stay at "JP resort" on Koh Tao

After the motorcycle gets a flat, and the rental company squalks about driving the 1km to assist me, I ride the rim 300m to a dumpy repair shop and pay 200B for a new tube. I calm down after realizing it's small potatoes (200 baht, $6). Inconvenience, not money.

Move into "Tommy's Apartments" adjacent the temple near Sairee Village with refridgerator, air-conditioning, electrical outlets and friendly (if clueless) staff for 9000B/month. String up psychedelic hammock on ocean-view balcony to watch sauna sunsets (air-conditioner is flaky >:-)

Customizing my month-lease habitat, I:

  1. switch circuit from (flaky) government electricity to (pricey) private electricity
  2. hijack wireless router (whose standard admin user/password was never changed)
These changes allow me to:

  1. enjoy reliable AC when its most needed
  2. restart their router remotely (cleansing it of the islands malware)
March 11:
Isometrics and museli. More skin diving with Corrine, this time in picturesque and sparsely-populated Ao Leuk, to see:

  • banner
  • pairs of butterfly
  • hundreds of feeding juvenille parrot fish
  • giant clam (20cm, polished white inside)
  • blue-spotted ray
  • spotted sweetlips
  • hexagonal grouper
  • giant sea turtle
Hiking up hill through thick dusk bugs, we moped (lights off to avoid bugs-in-the-eyes) to dinner with her neighbors (from New York) Greg and Eliza at Buddha View. They are spending eight months in Asia, and leave tomorrow for Laos. Fun people.

Buddha View has gone upscale since my last visit (Feb 2003) when it was a couple small buildings, a hut, and a BBQ. Koh Tao now seems to have many more 20-something post-baccalaureates and less psychedelic mushroom-eating bohemians. It seems to have gone mainstream.

My camera battery charger's gone missing (probably back in the sweatbox of Chumpon) so from now on, photos are from earlier in the trip.

March 12:
Awoke at 5:30am, when the roosters and I have this place to ourselves. The mosquito coils are working. Oats, banana, coffee, and a weekly shave.

Thinking about a great quote by Cassius Clay, "Many people want to win. But only real winners have the will to prepare to win."

Free diving alone in Ao Leuk and the noon-day sun gives me a decent burn w/o my shirt.

I procure a giant hatchet so I can whack/drink/eat coconuts whenever I feel like it.

On recommendation from Buddha View IDC Staff Instructor James, I speak with Course Director Mark (on Koh Tao with Bjorn in the mid-1990's) about teaching at their shop. He suggests I enroll in a three-week MSDT at their dive center at (wait for it...) 20,000 baht. I think I'll keep looking.

March 13:
Corrine's stolen moped wheel cancels our Koh Nanyuang free-diving and we instead visit the police and repair shops.

The free-diving school wants 3000B for certification down to 15 meters and 7000B for advanced skills. Since I can already free-dive to ~15m for ~60 seconds last week, I'll skip this for now.

Buddha View CD Mark conducts Marine Resource Management lecture and, resolving to learn /teach more about this vital topic, I apply for this instructor specialty. I chat Thai w/friendly Biya, Ung, Care, Nam over a huge dinner at Mae Haad pier.

March 15:
Low energy past 48 hours caused by:

Recuuperating with guilty pleasures:
  • Air conditioning on the private circuit
  • Tradewinds (unlock using "JYAP-MGMM-L4FH")
  • ice-cold coconuts hacked with meat-cleaver
  • iPod playing "Chill 5" playlist
  • peanut M&M's
March 16:
Spider bite symptoms:
  • pain at bite site
  • numbness adjacent to site
  • mild disorientation and malaise
  • swolen lymph node (mini-golf ball on my shoulder blade 20cm from bite)
After four days of macho, I visit a helpful, happy clinic nurse who prescribes:
  • hydroxyzine hydrochloride (for allergic reaction)
  • prednisolome (for immune system)
  • fenistil (topical hypoallergenic)
I give her an iced-tea.

March 17:
The friendly Thai cleaning woman at Tommy's Apartments replaces my ethernet cable so it protrudes just beyond the locked router room so I can connect via wireline as needed. I give her an ice-cold coconut.

Go to bed early to avoid beer-fueled Koh Tao mayhem on St. Patty's Day. Finished "Shadow Divers" by Robert Kurson and watched two Simpsons episodes.

March 18:
Reading about Taoism and Epicureanism and racking up high electricity bills with near-constant AC. Neighbor Pete from England cooks us outstanding green curry. Split a six-pack of Singha with him on our mutual balcony.

March 19:
Here's a sample of aquatic life at the Surin and Similan Islands, within the red rectangle to the left. Images are from the four-day liveaboard diving trip with Khao Lak SCUBA Adventures three weeks ago.

Dive sites include:
  • Koh Surin (northernmost islands)
  • Koh Tosai
  • Koh Bom
  • Koh Similan islands (southernmost islands)
Visibility: 10m to 30m.
Water temp: 26C-28C (I used a comfy 3mm full wetsuit).
Trip cost: 15,500 baht or $400 (incl. meals, air fills)
Camera: Canon C630 w/built-in flash, Canon housing

March 20:
Groceries:
  • coconuts
  • water
  • bunch o' bananas
  • 5kg bag of rice for neighbor
March 21:
Spider bite symptoms mostly remain:
  • pain at bite site
  • numbness adjacent to site
  • swolen lymph node (now shrunk to the size of a garbanzo bean)
I get a second opinion re: the spider bite, and apparently poison's still present (no wonder it still hurts). Doctor prescribes stronger antibiotic cream and I'll know in two days whether she'll have to CUT OUT THE POISON. The nearby motorcycle-stove vendor consoles me with four fried fishballs for 15B.

Dinner by Pete along with other neighbors Eva, Shirley and her boyfriend (all from Holland). I offer two coconuts with rum along with oranges and pineapple. They're all in the in IDC at Ban's with CD Jonas.

March 22:
On the hunt for instructor gigs, but since there are so many others here looking for work it's been tricky for someone with no certifications (experience) yet.

Spider bite still hurts, so upon persuing a second opinion, I learned the poison is still present. Doctor gave me a stronger antibiotic for it, and I'll know tomorrow whether she'll have to cut out the poison from the wounds.

March 23:
Two hours before sunset, I explore the dirt roads up the hill to visit "Eagle View", a real-life treehouse of a restaurant built on a hillside facing the west, and owned by the friendly bong-smoking "Nop Marley" who recognizes me instantly from my two visits in 2003. Back then, the island was less populated, and I would moped up at night for an occasional "Magic Coffee" which would fix me in my hammock for musical inner views. Alas, he no longer serves the potion ("Too expensive") and after seeing a wife and two little kids now, I begin to understand what the expense could mean. "See you when you see me".

Managing the marginal moped down steep dirt on the south side, I momentarily mis-apply the front brake and the pony collapses onto my R foot, and dies. It won't start, it's too heavy to PUSH back up the hill, it's getting dark, and mosquitos are stopping by for take-away dinner.

It's a good time to be sober. (Gosh, I'm sure glad Nop has no more Magic Coffee)

I pivot 90 degrees against the steep dirt so the moped no longer threatens to roll down the road, off the hill, and into jungly oblivion, never to be seen again. I can now detach myself from the (I-can-imagine-the-cost-of-replacing-this-PoS) handlebar death-grip to assess the situation. Kickstarting several times, nothing. Throttle cable looks ok. Kickstart, nothing. Choke, try again. Choke further, try again, it stumbles to life, and I softly caress the throttle into agreement. Pivot another 90 degrees to face uphill and jog alongside its sandblasting rear tire back to a smaller gradient, a grateful man.

But now I realize the mishap has broken the front brake handle, so I have only a rear brake (on a nearly-bald tire) to get down dirt hills to concrete/traction. On the bright side, I can't mis-apply the front brake again. But I can pay 200B the next day to have it fixed.

Back at the humid, un-air-conditioned coccoon of Mosquito Motel, I'm mostly incapacitated now, limping around with my injured foot, and unhealing spider bite wounds. In fact, I can feel the poison knotting up what little remains of my abdominal muscles (January's gym routine was long ago). I gotta get outta here.

March 24:

#include /usr/lib/Hunter_s_thompson.h
"The decision to flee came suddenly"

I vacate Mosquito Motel (aka Tommy's Apartments) due mostly to lack of reliable:
  • electricity
  • air-conditioning
  • network connectivity
And giving my remaining fruit to my fun Welsh neighbor Pete, I say fast "goodbyes" to other friends, and vacate the whole island, taking a two-hour boat to Koh Samui, shlepping my 90kg mountain of gear.

04 March, 2007

Part 7: Khao Lak and Ranong

February 27 - March 2 (Liveaboard dive trip in the Similan Islands): (more photos and dive logs pending)

Fun crew and great dive leaders (including the fire-throwing Sedrich and the dive site artist-extraordinaires Tommy and Leo). Dan Slater offers to our group his expert, fun, safe brand of dive leadership.

March 2:

Return to Khao Lak and immediately find a nice (250B/day) moped and (700B/day) motel room with air-conditioning and private bathroom. The only Robinson Caruso I understand resides in my audio book.

Eating fattening food and drinking fattening beer. This phenom, along with my non-existent exercise schedule, is obscuring what little abs I had back in January.


March 3:
Blast 30 moped kilometers north to Ban Bang Muang. En route, I see only Thai people (read: "No English speakers"), and I eventually learn the path to the recommended tsunami memorial and museum. Only two years since the horrible event, native Thai people have regrouped well enough to cheerfully help me enjoy large Singha at a local restaurant.

March 4:
I roam hot noon-time minutes around the upscale post-tsunami Green Beach bungalows that once held the folksy dive shop of my first Similan dive trip four years ago. I didn't stay close enough to the staff there to know if they even survived the tsunami that washed 8 meters over their shoreside shop in the morning hours of 26-Dec-2004.

Now debating two primary options for visa
renewal en route to Koh Tao:
  1. Van to Phuket, fly to Singapore and back, fly to Koh Samui, speedboat to Koh Tao ($500) --or--
  2. Bus to Ranong, boat into Myanmar and back, bus to Chumpon, catamaran to Koh Tao ($100)
To gain clarity on this big decision, I blast forth on the moped to "Sad Wings of Destiny" from Judas Priest. After a late lunch at "Mr. Indian", a Khao Lak hole-in-the-wall where the manager teaches me "donde-wat" (thank you), I lean toward option #2, due primarily to time and to my now-lowered cost threshold.

March 5:
Three-hour bus ride from Khao Lak to Ranong. For half of this trip, it's standing-room-only so I sit crumpled in the stairwell, alternately gazing at the swirling landscape and resting my head on folded sweaty arms.

Crossing into Myanmar (formerly Burma)
to start my second 60-day non-immigrant Thai visa, I suddenly realize that anything could happen because I've decided to go alone via long-tail boat for a 90-minute round-trip into a country that prosperity has forgotten. Thankfully, it's uneventful, and after three more hours by truck, I crash overnight in a dingey seaside motel in Chumpon on the East side of the peninsula.

Awaking at dawn, I board the speedboat to Koh Tao.

18 February, 2007

Part 6: Specializing

Monday 12-February:
After the
10-day Instructor Development Course, we finally get a day off, celebrating above the coral at Kata Beach. In contrast to the stressful Instructor Examination, the breeziness of our "fun dive" is surreal.

Our Tanzanian mate Gary comes up with a new quip: "Diving with Instructors is the worst eh?" This becomes prophetic five days later when fellow instructors David and Gary surface 200m away at Karon Rock.

Tuesday 13-February:
Specialty Courses:
  • Nitrox Instructor
  • DSAT Gas Blender Instructor
In the sauna of the Thai compressor room, Bjorn shows Pontus and me partial-pressure blending. We partially fill oxygen-clean cylinders with medical-grade pure oxygen, then top up with "Modified Grade E" air. Analyzing and labeling cylinders, we create two common Nitrox mixtures (EANx32 and EANx36) containing 32% and 36% oxygen, respectively.

Wednesday 14-February:
Skipped the single-tank dive at Kata Beach with our IDC team so I could enjoy the network connection and study time. I'm behind on Gas Blender Instructor, a condition worsened by course material drier than cylinder air.

Chef Lisa makes another delicious Thai dinner and tells me, "Matthew, I give you big soup. If you no finish, I charge you double!"

Thursday 15-February:
I help Chris-the-Swiss configure his new wireless router. We need to assign the correct values for:
  • VPI
  • VCI
After guessing for 10 minutes, we decide to (wait for it...) use Chris' service agreement! We position antennae so my bungalow's within the WLAN and use WEP to oust freeloaders. For my efforts, Chris gives me a cell phone. Now I just need to learn enough Thai to request voicemail box from a provider.

Friday 16-February:
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) confirms my teaching status and I celebrate by designing new business cards.

I teach our imaginary Gas Blender students how to answer Question #7 in Knowledge Review #3: "How to prevent Carbon Monoxide from contaminating an oxygen-compatible compressor". This is critical to creating safe Enriched Air Nitrox, a gas blend with more oxygen (and less nitrogen) which allows divers to make longer recreational-level dives.

Saturday 17-February:
Diving with David, Pontus and Gary at Kata Beach on a cloudless day. First dive on Karon Rock to 19m for an hour reveals dozens of cuttlefish and a crab under young stag coral. Second dive to 15m brings a moray eel, a well-disguised rockfish, and brightly-colored fauna.

Sunday 18-February:
Breakfast with the museli-munching, wise-cracking Chris-the-Swiss and I have a lazy day of reading in my air-conditioned Shangri-La.

Monday 19-February:
I'm the last of our bunch to finish my studies, scoring 96% on the final exam for the DSAT Gas Blender Instructor course. Our Tanzanian mate Gary is leaving tomorrow, so we new instructors gather over beers to talk about life in our homes (Tanzania, Canada, Sweden and U.S.).

February 20:
Awoke this morning from two interesting dreams...

Dream #1: An hour before its kickoff, I'm invited to play on a professional football team for one game. Believing I've plenty of time, I socialize in the lobby too long and lose track of time. Missing the start of the game, I'm prevented from playing.

Dream #2: I sit with two other people on the wing of a parked airplane. The plane started moving, slowly at first, almost walking speed, and the two people are unconcerned. I jump off and watch from a disembodied position. I notice they make no plans to jump because they believe they can act any time. Like believing you can sell a stock any time, they're unworried. But as the plane starts going faster, they become paralyzed by bad planning. As the plane accelerates down the runway, they realize their fate too late.

February 21:
Friendly IDC Staff Instructor (and medical doctor) Stefan Lentrodt offers tips on contractng in Thailand (and advises against mopeds). I run errands (by moped) in Kata and Karon, including a bank to withdraw cash to pay the rent at Kata Big Rock. The heat and humidity have "switched me off" and bring neither passport nor account number. The Thai teller smiles a friendly "no can help you", nodding sweetly at me (and the security staff).

I am (theoretically) seeking dive employers and the friendly, kibitzing, local instructor Guy recommends South Siam in Karon. But I'm in Phuket only a few more days, so the job search is just a "proof-of-concept", for now.

February 22:
I return for a second visit to the Patong business card maker on tourist-ridden Bangla Street. This locale combines:
  • Tijuana
  • Las Vegas
  • Burning Man
Yesterday, the shop owner had said "come back tomorrow at 2pm" but she's now gone. Her assistant (who knows nothing of printers) tells me, "Owner not here, come back between 2pm and midnight".

I go "cool off" in a new upscale Patong mall and make friends with three Thai employees (Pon, Naahn and Gop). Over their fresh fruit, we teach each other some of our own languages, and enjoy a spicy dinner at a locals-only joint tucked away in the back. They don't let me pay.

We're having a nice time but it's now 11:30pm, and I must get back to the business card maker (a third time) before they close. Battling the now-dense Patong throng, I find neither the owner nor her "Open until midnight" assistant. What's more, the entire mall is closing.

I grit and squint for 20 minutes through hazy particulates of midnight air, back to Kata Big Rock.

February 23:
Awake to "Water Gone" and "Bathroom Ants". Mai pen rai. The hard-working Nit cleans my bungalow and does my laundry.

Since I've been chilly during the single dives at warm Kata beach, I must replace my 12-year old ratty-looking 2mm shorty wetsuit before the upcoming repetitive ocean diving (Similans next week, and Koh Tao in March/April). On a tip from Stephen, I visit "Hot Wave" in Chalong Bay to build a custom 3mm wetsuit, paying extra for:
  • extra material (202cm or 6'8")
  • pads for my bad knees
  • a pocket for my slates
  • a "pee-zipper"
To procure Lisa Lee's rent money, I visit another Thai bank (this time with passport and WaMu account number). Armed with these powerful credentials, I receive the most polite "Get Lost" yet.

I make a fourth visit to the Patong business card maker, actively remembering: Matthew, you are one of the lucky ones. The cards are (finally) ready and I celebrate with a street coconut. My regress to Kata Beach includes a checkpoint where I'm busted by local police (along with dozens of other Farang) for driving without a (Thai) license. Waiting in the hot line to pay, on the spot, is costs me more than the (300 baht, $10) fine.

Dining options include:
  1. Delicious (if repetitive) cooking at DiveAsia
  2. Night market around the corner
...I choose Door Number Two and feast progressively (with no other Farang) on:
  • chicken wing
  • fish balls and beer
  • Thai salad
  • more fish balls and beer
I'm noticing a continuing integration with local culture:
  • I no longer convert Thai Baht to U.S. dollars
  • I speak more Thai than English when out
  • My market threshold is Thai ("200 baht? Expensive!")
  • I'm starting to get accustomed to their driving
  • I can handle Thai hip-hop
After a month in Thailand, I've encountered none of the stereotypical behaviour my friends back home warned me of:
  • Radical Islamic violence
  • Sex stuff everywhere
  • Theft and crookery
Immersion in this habitat is required to accurately guage its ecosystem. Native Thai are generous and good. Recent examples include last night's local dinner and this afternoon's visit with the "Smoothie Lady" around the corner from Wat Kata. She's been here for 15 years and is apparently just scraping by. But upon speaking a little Thai to her, she offered me:
  • a big guava
  • four bananas
...so I offered her 50 Baht, and she scolded "No No No!" very animatedly. She wanted none of my money, but she was very insistent I return tomorrow for "delicious noodles". Reporting on this goodness is not sexy, so we don't hear about it, do we? As she offered fruit and noodles, a huge double-decker bus passed slowly with Farang who don't get to know what I was learning. Gotta get on the gritty ground to grok.

February 24:
It's distressing to return in the early evening to my furnace of a bungalow. I'm painting a shrine around the button that turns my air-conditioning on.

February 25:
The Smoothie Lady happily prepares for me Noodles and Big Big smoothie. I hand Lisa Lee a giant wad of 50,000 baht for my five weeks of food, drink, moped and air-conditioned bliss here at Kata Big Rock.

I dine pool-side with Richard, a snorkeler (from the UK?) and Renate Aguilar, A gifted septi-lingual (German, French, English, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese) divemaster candidate raised in Austria, and currently living in Mozambique. She speaks clearly and intelligently in any of these languages.

February 26:
Breakfast with the Smoothie Lady who shares with me that she lost her only son, and felt "I no want to wake up". She works from 5am to 8pm every day "with vacation day". She invites me back for one more meal before I leave Phuket. Most have life easier than this sweet little lady does.

Pick up custom wetsuit from Hot Wave and pack up gear to
depart Kata Big Rock for Khao Lak later today. Tough to leave all the good people here (Chris and Lisa Lee, Nit, Thom, Guy, and the rest). I hope my friends back home don't learn I'm spending four days and nights rooming with David on a boat called the Manta Queen

16 February, 2007

Matthew Reiser #197362

Credentials
  • PADI OWSI (DiveAsia, Thailand, Tackmann)
  • PADI Divemaster (Dive-n-Surf, California, Dingel/Jensen)
  • Emergency First Responder Instructor
  • Bachelor's in Computer Science, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Specialty Instructor
  • DSAT Gas Blender
  • PADI Enriched Air Nitrox
Sales and Management Diving Experiences
  • Similan Islands, Thailand, with leopard sharks
  • Taveuni and Bequa, Fiji, with tiger shark and three bulls
  • Catalina, California for lobster, seals, huge kelp forests
  • La Paz, Mexico, snorkeling alongside eight-meter whale shark
  • Cozumel, Mexico, for drift diving with lobster families
  • Turks & Caicos, drift diving, lobsters, sharks, and barracuda
  • Great Barrier Reef, including the spooky Yongala wreck
  • Key Largo, Florida with local dive club for nudibranchs
  • Koh Tao, Thailand, skin diving with gray-tip reef sharks
  • Kona, with mantas, photography contest; won a camera!
  • Diving since 2002; snorkeling since 1988
Personal
  • Outgoing, positive, mature, professional and loyal
  • Broad experience in computers, networking, websites
  • Fluent English, conversational Spanish and Thai
  • Care deeply about environmental issues
  • Clean-cut, drug-free, no tattoos/piercings
  • Driver's license, U.S. passport
Contact
  • Matthew Reiser
  • Skype: matthew.reiser
  • (310)878-2103 (skype, voicemail)
  • +66 (08) 118-79-409 (Thai mobile phone; now defunct)


04 February, 2007

Part 4: The IDC and IE

Monday 29-January:
The Instructor Development Course (IDC) pre-study starts
here in Phuket, Thailand. Finishing dive theory exams A & B, and 16 Knowledge Reviews. "Emergency First Responder (EFR) Care for Children" DVD. I'm developing discomfort in my left ear and, after ignoring it for a day, I start using "Swimmer's Ear" as a drying agent.

Tuesday 30-January:
IDC pre-study Day 2: Pool session to show (Course Director)
Bjorn Tackmann and (IDC Staff Instructor) Stephen how the five IDC students perform demonstration-quality skills. Gary and I score 5 (out of 5) on most skills, and although the other three students go through the skill circuit too quickly, Gary and I are admonished to actually go faster, and only slow down on the trickier attributes of a skill. We all complete an 800-meter mask-and-snorkel-face-down swim, in about 20 minutes.

Pontus, an intelligent (but smart-alecky) Master Instructor with a hilarious
Sweden accent who's renewing his teaching membership, and he brings even more fun into the class.

After a lunch of papaya salad and amazing red curry pineapple chicken. Back to class to continue studying Q&A on physics and the use of the Recreational Dive Planner (RDP) in its three current formats:
  • Tables
  • The Wheel
  • eRDP
After some practice, I'm remembering how to "work" these dive planning tools.

After cramming on the couch in my "spacious" living room tonight for the first official theory exam tomorrow, I lock myself out of my bedroom. Contemplating a night on the (small) couch, I bust out at 11pm to hunt down Chris-the-Swiss who luckily has a spare key. I return happily to my bungalow and smoothly insert the key -- which doesn't turn. As I'm jimmy'ing the damn thing, I suddenly realize how thin the door panels are and simply reach inside and unlock.

Ear pain getting worse. I'm now trying to "catch up" with increasing applications of "Swimmer's Ear". Its alcohol stings (a bad sign). I'm losing.

Wednesday 31-January:

Awaking, I recognize the "form" of the increasing earache because I endured a similar event in Cairns Australia after a 33-dive 7-day live-aboard
Nitrox dive trip with Dave Cole in 2004. The infection then was treated neither quickly (nor correctly) enough, and became a week-long hell. I must avoid a recurrence, as the fuse has been lit on this dive instructor training.

At breakfast, Chris-the-Swiss recommends a doctor in Kata Beach (2km away). The moped delivers me to a quick diagnosis by the peaceful Dr. Chusack of outer ear infection (otitus externa) caused by pool use and worsened by Phuket's moist environment. The good doctor prescribes:
  • Antibiotics (penicillin) orally twice daily
  • Topical antibiotics (Sofradex) by ear thrice daily
  • Pain medication (what's in it? who knows): every six hours
Our IDC officially starts.

Pontus, Gary and I prepare for a pool session before lunch to refine open water skills 1-20 at demonstration-quality. But upon doctor's orders I learn I must now avoid water for three days, and so I postpone any pool practice until Saturday. Fortunately, my skills are (mostly) demonstration-quality already.

Applying the first topical drops, I stare at the fast-talking Course Director with a tilted head. We asses our knowledge of dive theory by with a two-hour dive theory examination:
  • Physics: 95%
  • Physiology: 100%
  • Equipment: 95%
  • Skills and Environment: 95%
  • Recreational Dive Planner: 85% (would've been 95% if my Wheel was aligned/calibrated)
My buddy Rich Kirk (from Manhattan Beach) is now in Patong Beach (15 minuntes from here) until February 7, and coincidentally suffering from a virus infection he picked up in Hong Kong. I don't ask.

Thursday 01-February:
IDC day 2. Micro-Teaching exercise: Neutral Buoyancy. Despite having given hundreds public presentations during my career in the software business, I am strangely nervous.

Friday 02-February:
IDC day 3. My Thai language skills are coming back enough to say:
  • Hello
  • How are you?
  • Good morning
  • Good afternoon
  • Good evening
  • Please
  • Thank you
  • Let's have breakfast
  • Let's have lunch
  • Let's have dinner
  • A little bit
  • A lot
  • Delicious
  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm sorry
  • See you later
...and Open Water demonstration skills from the Divemaster course are returning as well, although the earache prevented three days of potential pool time, so practice is sparse.

Saturday 03-February:
IDC day 4. Micro-Teaching exercise: Nitrogen Narcosis
Much less nervous today, and I aced all the performance requirements of this classroom teaching exercise.

Finally allowed back in the pool by Dr. Chusak, just in time for o
ur first day of confined water training, where I was assigned to conduct:
  • Skill 1: Clear regulator, purge method
  • Skill 2: Alternate Air Source (stationary)
I join the talkative Pontus and the quiet Vincent (a brilliant divemaster with a master's in Computer Science and Second Lieutenant in the Taiwanese army) for a 30-minute tuk-tuk ride to Patong. I need to replace a (misaligned 18-month-old imperial) Wheel with a correctly-aligned metric one which I'll need to correctly calculate decompression questions during the Instructor Examination (IE).

Sunday 04-February:

IDC day 5. Our second day of confined water training, and I was assigned to conduct:
  • Skill 1: CESA (shallow): (my score: 4.2/5.0)
  • Skill 2: Hovering: (my score: 4.8/5.0)
The days are becoming increasingly fast-paced and my former fantasy of an IDC-meets-Thai-vacation has not materialized ;-) Fortunately, the Course Director (Bjorn Tackmann) is as efficient and experienced as the instructors I had at Dive-n-Surf in Los Angeles (2002-2005).

The past two days, m
y experience has resembled being thrown out of an airplane with only:
  • a parachute in my hands
  • a little knowledge
  • a little experience
...and then assembling/donning the parachute as I fall, thinking about my:
  • goal/mission
  • deadline
  • required response
  • consequence of failure
Lately I've thought "What am I doing, there's no hope" but then I see big improvements in skills and confidence between successive training days. I hope to wear a functional "parachute" before the Instructor Examination (IE) Sat/Sun Feb 10/11.

Monday 05-February:
IDC day 6. Our first open water training exercise is Briefed before loading all gear into our small truck bound for the unsuspecting sun-bathers on Kata Beach, 3km away. After a 10-minute surface swim, with Joe and Vincent towing two heavy floats, we set one (and somehow lose the other in the strong current). I'm then immediately asked to conduct:
  • Skill 1: Five-point controlled descent (S-O-R-T-E,D) (my score: 4.0/5.0)
  • Skill 2: Fin pivot - oral inflator (my score: 4.5/5.0)
We debrief our skills back at the dive center, grab a quick lunch, then it's back in class after for Prescriptive Teaching session #1 where I'm assigned:
  • Helping students understand how to fix a mask squeeze (my score: 5.0/5.0)
Tuesday 06-February:
IDC day 7: Prescriptive Teaching session #2 where I'm assigned:
  • Helping students remember equipment for a Deep Dive course (my score: 4.8/5.0)
Wednesday 07-February:
IDC day 8. Before lunch we have our second open water training exercise, and I teach:
  • Adventure Dive lesson: Efficient Finning: During the surface swim from shore to float (10 minutes), I officially brief/teach fellow-student Vincent long, slow finning techniques. Easy.
  • Open Water Skill 1: Buddy-breathing (stationary) I organize the group, control the students to keep them safe, and find/solve most problems, but I get confused on which students successfully demonstrate Buddy-Breathing as both Receiver and Donor. My final score therefore drops from (4.75/5.0) all the way down to 1.0 because I didn't ensure all students met performance requirements. Bummer!

  • Open Water Skill 2: Mask removal, replacement, and clearing (my score: 4.0/5.0). I catch Vincent looking down and show him how to look up. So far so good. But Gary removes his mask quickly and when he successfully replaces/clears it, I give him a handshake which causes my (4.74/5.0) to drop to a (4.0/5.0) because I didn't ensure he removed it slowly enough to show flooding before removal. Chintzy!

  • Rescue Diver lesson: While Joe and Gary undid the float/line/weights, I teach fellow-student Vincent how to give rescue breaths to an unconscious diver via pocket-mask and then tow him. Good enough.
...and back to class for Teaching Children and the Business of Diving. This is my last update to this blog until after the Instructor Examination ends Sunday night.

Thursday 08-February:
Emergency First Responder Instructor (EFRI) course: Theory and Skills

IDC day 9. More tests to practice for the IE:
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Equipment
  • Skills and Environment
  • Recreational Dive Planner
Two-hour pool session to practice skills.

Friday 09-February:
The PADI Instructor Examination starts with an Orientation at Kata Beach Resort where we're given our teaching assignments for the weekend. In the evening, we all "enjoy" a three-hour...

Theory and Standards Examination (5:30pm-8:30pm) and I score:
  • Physics: 92%
  • Physiology: 100%
  • Skills and Environment: 100%
  • Recreational Dive Planner: 100%
  • Equipment: 92%
  • PADI Standards and Procedures: 98%
Our newly-minted Instructor friend David from the previous IDC visits us onsite to offer moral encouragement (an act he repeats during all three days of the event :-) He's a good spirit who's enjoying the warm winter here with us.


Instructor Candidates include:
  • Gary Draycott (Lives in Tanzania) garydraycott@yahoo.co.uk
  • Pontus (Lives in Sweden) rokdoktorn@post.tre.se
  • Joe Merrell (Lives in Taiwan) joemerrell@gmail.com
  • Vincent (Lives in Taiwan) HonestLiar.tw@yahoo.com.tw
  • Joss Ledan (our IDC "mate" from France) JLedan@yahoo.com
  • Rob McKenzie (shop owner in Phuket) RobMcKenzie99@hotmail.com
PADI professional staff:
  • Bjorn Tackmann (Phuket) bjorn@idc-phuket.com
  • Yung Hee (Korean/English Examiner) YoungHee.Haniss@padi.com.au
  • Hans Ullrich (PADI S.E. Asia) hans.ullrich@padi.com.au
  • Ian (IE, Rescue #7, lives in Krabi) IanTo2000@gmail.com
  • Guy Scott-Robertson (DiveAsia OWSI) guysr@hotmail.com
Despite all my practice for Open Water skills, I've been assigned a Rescue exercise, so at the end of the evening I ask Bjorn "Is the uncertainty/stress an intended part of this examination?" He replies, "Matthew, You don't know what stress is. Try ascending into 2m swells with eight Open Water students and one is missing."

Saturday 10-February:
Instructor Examination, Day 1

After staying up until 2am preparing plans/notes/slates for all four dive exercises, I wake up to a breakfast of black coffee. We're all rushed into the pool before we'd planned to enter, and everyone is stressed (including our Staff Instructor), but Bjorn is calm and efficient. He's probably seen well over a hundred Examinations.

1. Skill Circuit:
  • Recover and Clear Regulator
  • Free-Frowing Regulator
  • Alternate Air Source
  • Neutral Buoyancy (Fin Pivot)
  • Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA)
Score: 21 out of 25 (during my CESA I bounced off the bottom a couple times)

2. Confined Water Training exercise:

Rescue Course: Rescuer to help a distressed Victim out-of-air by providing Alternate Air Source to Victim. During the skill, my two problematic students are:
  • Joe, who takes the octopus from Pontus
  • Pontus, who presents his octopus upside-down to Joe
Score: 4.7/5.0. The Examiner confirmed that although I covered everything, I conducted the exercise with the Victim facing the Rescuer (instead of facing away, as would be the case in a real rescue scenario)

Prescriptive Teaching Session where I'm assigned how to help a class of Open Water students understand how to use The Wheel to find a No-Decompression Limit (NDL). We're all did well on this presentation. My score: 4.7/5.0

Sunday 11-February:

Instructor Examination, Day 2:

Rescue Diver Course, Exercise #7:
Slowly demonstrate how to give rescue breaths to an unconscious diver (Victim) via pocket-mask while both removing his/my gear and towing the Victim. Emphasis is on initiation and maintenance of the airway, and continued ventilations. We all do well, and it helps to have some easy-going conversation with Ian, PADI staff member who's lived in Krabi with his family for the past eight years. He's figured out how to live in Thailand "permanently" without doing semi-monthly border-runs.

Open Water Training exercise (Skill #1): Neutral Buoyancy Fin Pivot using Low-Pressure Inflator.

While Divemaster Pontus maintained control of my non-demonstrating students, I kept things flowing and caught problematic student Joss (from France) incorrectly pushing off with his hands and holding his knee bent. Score for the Brief/Dive/Debrief: 5.0/5.0

Open Water Training exercise (Skill #2): Tie a bowline knot at depth.

I watched problematic student Vincent tie the wrong knot. He purposely failed twice and, after each failure, I asked him to redo. The Examiner cut me off and wrote "show" on his slate, so I showed Vincent how to tie the knot. The Examiner told me later, after my debrief, that I should've corrected Vincent after his first failure, rather than wait for his second. He evaluates me as 4.25/5.0 which is ironic since:
  • Our Course Director suggested during our IDC preparation that we wait until a student fails five or six times before interrupting.
  • I'd asked the Examiner yesterday how many knot-tying attempts we should allow a student and he said "Don't worry, they'll tie it correctly the first time".
After receiving my (passing) combined score of 4.6/5.0 however, I choose not to argue about mixed messages. I'm not the only student who encounters fallout from our Examiner.

I've now passed all required exercises of the Instructor Examination (IE) and can teach as an Open Water SCUBA Instructor (OWSI) when my paperwork is processed in Sydney (HQ for PADI Asia Pacific).
Bjorn hosts a celebratory team victory dinner at a Swiss restaurant in Patong, and afterward venture into a Thai nightclub to watch beautiful Thai lady dancers (most of whom are female).