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

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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).