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