21 January, 2007

Part 3: The Phuket CDC

Staying for a month at DiveAsia, the Career Development Center here at Kata Big Rock on the outskirts of Phuket, Thailand. I've enrolled in the Instructor Development Course to learn from (Course Director) Bjorn Tackman. When I pass the Instructor Examination in two weeks, I'd like to gain experience working on Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand during March and April.

I hope to have these credentials when departing Phuket:
  • Open Water SCUBA Instructor
  • Specialty Instructor: Nitrox and DSAT Gas Blender
  • Emergency First Responder Instructor, including Care for Children
  • Progress toward Master SCUBA Diver Trainer
Mailing address until 24-Feb-2007:
Matthew Reiser c/o DiveAsia
P.O. Box 70, Kata Beach
Phuket 83100, Thailand

Diary of my visit in Phuket:

Saturday 20-January:
Arrived at the CDC a week before pre-study officially begins, so I haven't met my fellow students yet. Those here now are finishing their Instructor Examination (IE) tomorrow.

I'd forgotten how hot and humid it is here, even in winter. I'm also remembering how authentic Thai food kicks my ass, as four cold drinks only slightly neutralize an innocent-looking larb. I was dropped into a fan-swept sleep by:
  • a badly-needed shower in the common restroom
  • a jarring Thai massage by the unexpectedly-strong Ook
  • milk and homemade pie by "Chris the Swiss" (husband of larb-chef Lisa Lee)
  • a 1971 concert recording of "Fat Old Sun" by the Pink Floyd
Sunday 21-January:
Arose ~5am (jet-lag, rooster) to Jupiter and as-yet-unseen Mars in the mostly-clear 73F (23C) pre-dawn skies. A respectable air of self-reliance hovers in this environment of mostly German and Japanese students. The 2-day-old Moon, Venus and Mercury appeared together around 7pm in the West, and thanks to my equatorial vantage point (Phuket is 9N latitude) the ecliptic (and hence this trio) was aligned nearly vertically.

I decided against upgrading my $10/night non-AC shared-bathroom twin to a $30/night king in an-AC house, as I fear the privacy, TV and artificially cold air might spoil me. I'm now digesting logistics (equipment/pool/laundry) and stalking the rare and wily AC-powered classroom so I can study without heat stroke.

Met a helpful, recently-minted instructor "Guy" from England who's been working at DiveAsia for six months.

Joined (chef) Lisa Lee and a couple Thai friends for a 20-minute drive to an authentic large-outdoors-dining-meets-tent-revival in Phuket Town. Chowing cheap demonic dishes, I asked about the large brown pudding I was swallowing and heard "chicken blood".

Coming back to the dive school, I couldn't find the cross-street leading from main road to DiveAsia. The twists, turns, driveways and businesses all start to look the same, especially in the dark, and especially at speeds high enough to avoid being run over by cars or the even-more-impatient-and-nimble fellow moped'ers. After stopping about ten times to ask "where is DiveAsia?" I gave up, went to the nearest gas station, and asked even more people, who also smiled uselessly at me. As I wearily gazed around the station, I saw a man with a "DiveAsia" shirt, and just about kissed his feet.

Monday 22-January:
(German Course Director) Jorgen gruffly ejects me from the only AC-powered classroom because I'm "here early and next week's IDC hasn't started yet". Now I remember how the sweltering humid air in and around my $10/night non-AC room kills my already-weakened powers of concentration and I reconsider the temptations of that AC-powered private house on the small hill behind the pool for $30/night. I negotiate with the savvy Lisa Lee down to $25.

Ahhh.... Two air-conditioners, and a hard king-size bed. The view's nice, once retail-grade security gates lift off sliding glass doors facing the Indian Ocean. Although I normally never watch TV, Maria Sharapova is just too ... mouthwatering. After salivating at the TV like a zombie for 20 minutes, it's off to find groceries on the $3/day moped. Driving on Phuket roads is flowing chaos. Don't control. Let go, and flow.

Rode by truck with Chris-the-Swiss, Lisa Lee, and Kristine (a chain-smoking German with an easy laugh) to Thai dinner at a painfully spicy seafood restaurant 30 minutes from the dive school. Biggest tiger prawns I've ever seen.

Tuesday 23-January:
Back to waking at (vs. before) dawn. Immediately queue "Bicycles and Tricycles" from "The Orb" on the laptop and enjoy a private shower and a newly self-sufficient breakfast of:
  • coffee
  • frozen banana (fridge set too high)
  • juices
Met fellow instructor candidate "Gary" from Nottingham, England. He's a funny, friendly 36-year-old divemaster/bloke who works in Malawi and Tanzania and seems better prepared for the course than me. I finally get off my duff and start through the IDC pre-requisites

Wednesday 24-January:
Rich Kirk, co-worker from Vignette 2000/2001, arrives for a 12-day stay in Patong, Phuket. I'm feeling a little guilty that I won't have much time for him. We must, however, at some point, explore the island on mopeds.

Thursday 25-January:
Enjoyed pineapple and guava with Maggie, a newly-minted OWSI from Poland with stories of travels through hilly northern Thailand and laid-back Laos. She will teach in Croatia in June. Good fortune seems to come to her naturally.

Studying Knowledge Review #1 (of 16). Practiced demonstrating most of the 20 PADI OW skills in the pool with Gary.

Linda Dingel (my Dive-n-Surf instructor from 2002-2005) and David Jensen (Director of SCUBA operations at Dive-n-Surf) send me certification information.

Friday 26-January:
Dominic (from Dive-n-Surf) sends me his great description of the critical attributes of demonstration-quality dive skills, and this helps us practice.

Doing Knowledge Review #2. More skills practice with Gary (at left here). After three hours in the pool I'm less rusty and feeling more confident.

Saturday 27-January:
Declined Gary's offer for more pool practice, to focus on Knowledge Reviews #3-6 instead.

Sunday 28-January:
Again I decline pool practice with Gary to finish Knowledge Reviews 6-16 and Dive Theory exams A & B. (Chef) Lisa Lee kindly washes my load of laundry. Kristine, a German vacationer from the Bavarian Alps won't leave me alone. I'm going to have to tell her to "bug off".

My skills practice buddy Gary is well-prepared for the IDC
regarding both theory and practice, but he's finding special pleasure in teasing me about Kristine.

(To continue the story, see
entry "The IDC and IE")

Part 2: Crossing the Pacific

Departing Los Angeles January 19, (thank you Sarah!) after 33 hours of walking, sitting and napping in/between Seoul and Bangkok, I arrived in humid Phuket Thailand local noon Saturday. During the first leg, I enjoyed a very delicious Bi-Bim-Bap, (Korean noodle & vegetable) dinner. Business class is "the only way to fly" (now if only Discover Card would let me whore myself out for miles like Visa does).

During my tiring transit, while shuffling bleary-eyed through a Bangkok customs line, a middle-aged Muslim gentleman who'd overheard my American accent turned to me and extended his hand with a "let's recognize that we are brothers" smile. Refreshing.

Under heavy insomnia, I tripped on a normally-visible stair to stumble obnoxiously into a Bangkok business-class lounge lobby and mumble at the amused receptionist, "May I have some cold water?" Knowing my next flight leg was imminent (since I maxed out my sleeperette minutes at 60 before the alarm malfunctioned) I simply bailed out of the lobby, down the guilty step, and back into the concourse toward my dawn flight to Phuket, and boarded like a zombie.

To avoid relying on luck:
  • Buy all flight legs ahead of time.
  • Insert passport copies into all pieces of luggage, and lock them.
  • Put electronics into a carry-on bag (which prevents "Frozen Camera Syndrome")

Part 1: Extending the Visa

Since I'm planning a stay of 90 days (January 18 to April 17), the 30-day Visa-on-arrival given casual tourists upon entering Thailand won't suffice.

I'd originally hoped for a student (type "ED") non-Immigrant Visa allowing me a simple 90-day visit and, although the Course Director in Phuket sent a letter documenting my role as a student, The Consulate denied it as "insufficient to show university-level student status".

So what I need is a double-entry tourist Visa which allows two 60-day visits separated by a "border run" (probably to Myanmar via Ranong). The second visit would start in late February, after specialty training in Phuket, so I can stay on Koh Tao until late April.

Lessons for next time:
  • Book trips which are less than 60 days long
  • Apply for a single-entry tourist Visa (by mail >:-)