30 November 2005

A Little More Responsibility

I'm now assisting Edwin's OW course, with eight students. Edwin let me teach the skills to half of them (he still evaluated) and then I was put in charge of leading four of them on the first two dives (normally I follow). All went fine on the first dive, but I lost a buddy pair on the second. The one student was simply too floaty and she gave up and went back to the boat. When I went up to find her she burst out crying - apparently I'm technically a good diver and I handled the situation well, but my bedside manner needs work. It happens.
Yesterday after the confined session we took weights off the students and I had to swim them back to shore. 12kgs... even with my BCD fully inflated I sink with that much weight. 200m has never seemed so far. It happens.
Otherwise, the visability is getting better, my pool (the game played on a table) is getting worse, my connect four is getting better, and my Dutch is nicely polished. Yes, I teach in Dutch sometimes ;)
Judging by the emails I've been getting, the world is moving along and people's lives are continuing with some normal rate of change. The thing is, we're so isolated here on this island that it hits you suddenly, in waves. Whoa, so and so quit, so and so is interviewing, so and so is deployed... life proceeds in fits and starts.
I'm considering delaying my entrance to Penn until May and staying abroad for a while longer... anyone care to weigh in on the idea?

26 November 2005

46 Dives and counting...

The storm got so bad here that all the boats were cancelled yesterday. Brendan, Jack, Keith, Andy, Pom and I took the opportunity to watch DVDs and eat chips with mayo all afternoon and just be completely lazy bums.
Last night brought far too many shots of black sambuca and damn, I felt it this morning. Poor Bruce woke up with writing all over him though.. sufficed to say we did so many shots we built a pyramid from the glasses and the bar had to ask for them back because they had run out.
Had a pair of decent dives on White Rock nonetheless before having a lazy afternoon logging dives and reading my book. Got to save my energy for tomorrow - confined (open water swimming pool dives) in the morning, a deep dive in the afternoon, and a costume party (cowboys and indians) tomorrow night. Then it's two more days of assisting and lectures before I take on a deep dive specialty.
I don't even want to talk about men (I've tried to avoid the subject in my posts) but I will say I'm a bit annoyed at them at the moment and I've gone off them a bit. I did end up punching one the other night (we're friends again) but honestly... what goes through their heads sometimes?
I need to make my visa run soon, which is basically 10 minutes spend on the Burmease border so you can get a new stamp in your passport. For each day you're late it's 200 baht (USD 5) so Jay, Jane, and I are going to head off around the 1st Dec (I'm due on the 4th).
My camera is half working... fingers crossed it gets better. Depending on an email I'm waiting for... there may be big news coming. Oh, I've got some wicked wetsuit tans now ;)

21 November 2005

Tropical Storms

It's rainy and cold here. By cold I mean I'm in shorts and a light sweater with the sleeves pushed up. It's not bad when you're dry, but when you come out of the 30 degree celcius water from a 45 minute dive and stand in the wind and rain for an hour before you go down again, well, it gets a tad chilly. And yes, the ocean here at 35m depth is a lovely 29-30 degrees C. We're getting some huge swells too, 4-6m waves which make the boat trips great fun for those suceptible to sea sickness. We can't get out to some of the dive sites because the sea is too rough, but there has been some great visability in the nearby sites which more than makes up for it. We saw some turtles yesterday as well as some moray eels (they tend to swim in pairs). I might go and get my IPOD filled tomorrow (2 baht per song, that's 5 cents a song) at Switch - I gotta run though, my Open Water students and I have a boat to catch for their final two dives. I took it easy last night, had too, after the 4:30am bedtime the night before (Rugby, live music and dancing) ;)

19 November 2005

35 Dives and Counting

It's hard to believe that 10 days ago I got to Koh Tao as an 18-dive Advanced Open Water (AOW) and now I'm a 35-dive Rescue Certified Dive Master Trainee (DMT). I spent the morning in the pool today doing confined with a new class of Open Water (OW) kids - that's three + hours in the pool for anyone counting - and then spent the afternoon on the last two dives for my AOW class. Yes, I'm assisting two classes at once! Anthony is giving me marks of 4/5 for the assists on his OW and AOW, which is really quite good for the first assists. The new OW class is with Rich, so I'm sure I'll have more to say on that later.
The AOW class was 6 or the 7 kids from that first OW class I was writing about before. Yesterday we took them out for three dives (deep, navagation, and night) and today for two (multi-level and naturalist). I got to play on my own on the multilevel so I was just swimming around Hing Pee Lee at 25 meters for 40 minutes alone - it was fantastic! It has gotten to the point now though where when I'm on land I feel like I'm on a boat and my hands are permenantly pruny.
It's a tropical storm at the moment so it's rainy and "cold", but of course you can dive through that. It's made the boat rides good fun though ;)
Last night we went out drinking and dancing at Choppers, a bar down the road in Sairee Village - really good fun. Tonight we might head out to Mae Haad and hit up Dirty Nellys. Tomorrow I'm on the morning boat though so I'll need to keep it somewhat under control. Island life as a DMT is actually busier than one might think.
I wish there was some way to really describe what this is like in words... even pictures wouldn't manage it. I really love diving and right now my whole life revolves around it - that's all I really need to worry about and it's just fantastic. Even when the dive sites have bad visability and it's rainy you just don't notice it - even washing the gear isn't much of a chore. I haven't even left, I'm not that close to leaving (1 month) and I can't wait to come back in 2007 and get my instructorship (IDC) and do an internship. Maybe work in Aus/NZ/Maldives, where ever will take me for a year... I don't know if I could do this with a kid and a partner, like Anthony, but for your twenties, what better way to live?

17 November 2005

Loy Krathong

is the Thai festival for honouring the water spirits. It's November 16 (yesterday) so there was a festival here on Koh Tao. Lots of different people performed Thai dances and then all the dive shops hold an all island Miss Loy Krathong contest. Sam was the representative from our shop (BANS), but unfortunately she didn't win. Highlights include when they asked Gemma "What's your favourite place on Earth" and she answered, "I don't know, but in bed with my boyfriend is pretty good." After all the dancing and contests etc everyone lights floral arrangements and candles and floats them off to sea. It's beautiful, but it leads to a lot of crap in the ocean, which we saw all over the place when we went diving today.
Today was the final day for my open water students (the class I'm assisting) and they did really well. Luke and Anthony said I did a really good job assisting today and Anthony wants me to assist his advanced course starting tomorrow as well. In less than a week I'll be qualified to lead without supervision! Scary! I passed my physics exam, and now I'm tutoring some people in physics that had trouble. At least I'm good at something :) Judging by the way the DMT group has been gelling and hanging together I'm relatively well-liked so it feels nice to be a part of the staff here. I don't feel so lost anymore and I'm having a great time. My diving is improving rapidly and it helps that my confidence is coming along a bit too.
I don't think I'll make it to Cambodia and all that on this trip- just not enought time. I'll just have to come back after Penn and go through IDC, then travel, then maybe get a job for 3-6 months in Australia or the Maldives. How brilliant of a glide year would that be? If there was anyway for me to put Penn off for a while, I would. I am loving this life.

14 November 2005

Officially a DMT!

Yesterday I finished my Rescue module, so now I am officially a DiveMaster Trainee (Rescue is a pre-req). In my practical exam I managed to find my lost diver in only 5 minutes and used a rope to haul him onto the boat before performing CPR. I immediately hopped onto the night boat and assisted (my first genuine DM duty) an Advanced Open Water team on their night dive. Normally this just means following them and making sure they don't get lost (the instructor is in front), but one guy ran out of air (50 bar) 20 mins in so I had to peel off from the group with him and surface to get him back to the boat. Anthony, the instuctor, was so pleased with me that he's asked me to assist his open water course (the whole course, all 5 dives). Before I finish the DM I'll have to assist a whole advanced and whole Rescue course as well, but I've got quite a good start here! Tonight I'll get my first three academic modules signed off (there are 9) and hopefully another 2 before the end of the week.
I took the day off from diving today because my throat hurts a bit, I'm tired, and I've been drinking every night. I need to be good, recuperate today, and I'll be in good shape again. I'm told by Lucas (another DMT) that it's a good idea to take a day off every 10 days at minimum - sound like good advice. I might do some swimming practice (got to pass those fitness tests!) but that will be all.
Yesterday I went into Mae Haad (the pier village, I'm in Sairee Beach, the next village over) and bought some board shorts (quick dry clothing is essential here)... for USD 25 I walked away with a cordoroy mini-skirt, board shorts, and two tank tops. I love how cheap this country is... I moved into my long term apt here too, and it's not USD 150 a month, it's USD 112.50/month ;) For those of you keeping score, beer is USD 1.50 a bottle, a bucket of rum/red bull/coke is USD 5, a plate full of curry is USD 4, a banana/nutella crepe is USD 0.80 and a can of coke is USD 0.50. Bangkok cost half as much, but compared to NYC, this is glorious.

12 November 2005

Baby Steps to Divemaster

This is going to pretty tough - divemaster is going to be great fun, but also a pretty decent challenge. There are all kinds of academic modules, diving modules, fitness modules, and leadership work. I have my final rescue test tomorrow (the one in the water, I passed the academic already) and I passed physiology two days ago, so we're off to a good start. Rescue is pretty tough as we had to share a regulator while swapping all our gear under water, twice. Apparently next time there will be instructors swirling around us blowing air at us and ripping our masks off etc to "add stress." Yay.
I have done some fun diving too since I have to rack up a certain number of dives. The first day was pretty bad, but it was all new equipment so that's to be expected really. Since then it's been going much better and I've managed to drop a weight and was even asked to follow a fun dive group as an assistant. A DM will lead the group and we put a trainee in the back to make sure no one wanders off if the group is mostly inexperienced divers.
In two weeks I'm hoping I'll be ready to assist on courses and I'm hoping I'll have lots of the academic modules done. I'm working on my Emergency Assistance Plan tonight, so that will knock another thing off the list.
On the non-diving side there has been a rather gratuitous amount of alcohol ;) I did my homework last night on a bucket of rum, shots, and beer and the night before I did it after 5 shots of vodka. It's actually not a great idea because I dive the next day and it could make me sick, but, you're not supposed to smoke either and everyone here seems to have a pack a day habit.
Speaking of the people, they are really cool. If there was any way I could I would stay here and work at BANS for 8-9 months. You can get bartending shifts and once I got my instructorship I could take classes that way too. Rent is only USD 150 a months so it's not like life's particularly expensive.
Oh, haha, it's almost all guys here too so...college 70% male, banking, 75% male, koh tao DMT population 70 % male. Hehe, I know how to pick em ;)
I don't want to leave! The mosquitos and ants I could live without though.

08 November 2005

Farang lands on beautiful Koh Tao

Indeed, I made it. First though, we saw the Imperial Palace with the jade Buddha in Bangkok on Monday before having foot massages. Yes, thai massages are everything they are cracked up to be and more. A one hour foot massage (6 USD) involves a knee, calf, ankle and foot massage and reflexology, followed by a neck, back, and shoulder rub down and some back cracking. It is simply glorious.
Evening found us on the night train, which was not so fun because it's bumpy, the lights don't go off, and there was an infant crying the whole way (10 hrs). I'm sure it was far better than the bus would have been though. Then there was an hour wait on the platform (at 5am) for the bus to take us to the pier, where we caught a 4 hour boat ride to the island. Lunch was of the higher priorities, as was finding somewhere to stay. For some reason we (Lucas, 4 people from the UK, and I) decided to trek the several kilometers from Mae Hat (the pier village) to Sai Ree (the diving beaches) with all our gear. We stopped for some lunch half way and then checked several places before settling with the dive resort I had researched and intended to go to anyway; BANS. The others will be doing their open water (4 days) before heading to Koh Phanngan for the full moon party (think Ibiza) while I remain at BANS for another 3 weeks working on my Divemaster. As of tomorrow, 10am I will be a DMT (Dive Master Trainee) and my monthly rent is a whopping USD 150.
After a quick banana smoothie snack Charlotte and I decided to get another massage (that's 2 in 48 hours) while the boys went looking for scooters. I might rent a scooter later in the month, so look out for a good story.
Unfortunately, my camera doesn't seem to be working yet. We're drying it out another day and praying. Since it's so humid I assume it takes longer to dry? Please, please let it be ok.

07 November 2005

Farang gets caught in the rain

and gets her digital camera wet!
I really really hope our drying regimen and silica can save the camera or I really and truly will cry very very hard.
Lucas, Eva, Sean and I headed out to the weekend market yesterday and wandered around the 25,000 stalls for pretty much the entire morning. We smapled lots of different kinds of Thai food (I have no idea what it was) and it was fantastic. The food here is amazingly wonderously good and dirt cheap. 75 cents will get you a plateful of two curries and rice, so spicy your mouth hurt - brilliant!
In the afternoon we took a boat ride up to Kho San road and wandered around there (the Imperial Palace was already closed) when it started raining. We decided to just get wet and all four of us were soaked through - jumped in a swimming pool soaked - by the time it stopped. Everyone was staring at us from under awnings and jammed inside phone booths, but it was great fun. We stopped for more curry and cabbed it back to the hostel to dry off.
After a nice change of clothes we broke out a bottle of rum and started mixing rum, red bull, and coke with Yiska, Andre, and a Canadian girl. We played some strange dice game first, and then Newfoundland poker and poor Sean drank so much he got sick. The pictures are hilarious and as soon as Lucas posts them I'll put some links up. Lets just say we spent most of the evening with cards stuck to our foreheads.
Right, off to the Imperial Palace. I don't know when I'll next get internet, but I assume the island must have it (we take the overnight train there tonight).

06 November 2005

Little Ganjin leaves Tokyo

and heads to Bangkok.
Me and my hangover took a late afternoon flight (six hours) to Bangkok and arrived late at night. I hopped a taxi and for 6 USD made it to Sukhumvit Road where I'm staying in a hostel. It rained that night and the roads where flooded with a foot of water which apparently, is normal. The taxis just keep driving and people just walk through it.
The hostel looks like a treehouse in the middle of the road and it's full of Canadians at the moment. There's a guy from Seattle here too and it looks like we'll be heading down to Koh Tao together if we can get a space on the overnight train. Apparently they book up quickly.
Since yesterday was a travel day, there's not much else to say. More tomorrow. And more pictures eventually.

05 November 2005

Little Ganjin has a big night out.

It was a day of meeting people. In the morning I headed to Senso-ji in Asakusa, which is Tokyo's largest Bhuddist temple. It's surrounded by lots of smaller Shinto shrines and a buzzing market of small stalls selling pretty much everything. As I was leaving a very nice Japanese man approached me and struck up a conversation. He decided to spend the next hour being my tour guide before buying me some fried rice crackers (yummy - taste like soy sauce) and directing me to Kappabachi, a street where they sell the plastic food restaurants put in the windows here.
After spending the morning in Asakusa I headed to Ueno and the Tokyo National Museum in the middle of Ueno Park. It's an awe-inspiring collection of enamels, painting, swords and artifacts. There were Bhuddist scrolls from the 8th century! Unfortunately I ran out of time before I could get to the science museum or the zoo.
Shortly after returning from Ueno, the evening began. I think this is best described in a drink by drink...
1) Cranberry Vodka in the Grand Hyatt, Roppongi Hills. The first room here I was in where the dominant language was English.
2)Apple martini with dinner at Xen, which involved sushi, vegtables, beef, and tempura.
3) Vodka tonic at Geronimo, a shot bar on Roppongi Dori. On the way there we stopped in an arcade to play some shooting and drumming games (yes, drumming).
4-5) 2 x Cranberry Vodka at Burbon Street, where I met the Australian district managers of Toyota. They invited me out so...it would be rude to say no.
6) Cranberry Vodka at Heartland, back in the Roppongi Hills complex
7) Frangelica in the jazz bar of the Grand Hyatt
It was 5am by the end when I said goodnight to Leigh and the last ones standing, well, they went to sleep.
The flight to Bangkok takes of at 5:15 so I have to get cracking... you have to leave at least 4 hours before your flight here - Tokyo traffic is not happy stuff.

03 November 2005

Little Ganjin gets lost again.

Yes, that's right. But first...
This morning started out well with toast and tea followed by a walk around the Akasaka Palace where the crown prince lives. This was followed by washing the car and taking it for a drive around the Imperial Palace. Please note this car was a Ferrari 360 Spider and yes, I drove. Yup, I DROVE. On the left hand side in a right hand drive car through Tokyo... a FERRARAI 360 SPIDER (convertable). Nice.
I then had my first experience with a Japanese supermarket ($60 for a melon?!) before heading off to Harajuku.
This is where little Ganjin gets lost... I ended up in Sendagaya by accident (by the National Stadium where the Olympics were held) before finding Harajuku and all the quirky, ritzy shopping on Omote Sando. And yes, people really do dress like those pictures - makeup, platforms, crazy hair, freakish. Makes for a really interesting walk. It's Tokyo design week so that made it all the more interesting with all kinds parading around.
The Meji-jingu is there as well (inner and outer gardens) which are really quite beautiful. Well, the outer garden is nothing special, but the inner garden is. For some reason they are a kilometer apart and seperated by normal streets.
I managed to crop and upload some pictures. There are more, but they take forever to compress because my software sucks. You'll see them sprinkled through the previous posts.
Or see them all HERE

Little Ganjin lost in big Tokyo.

Yes that's right, but before I got lost I did manage to successfully take the subway to Ginza and walk down to Tsukiji, the largest wholesale fish market in the world. I got a great picture of some red octopi and had my first Japanese omelette.
I then proceeded to Hama Rikyu, the shogun duck hunting garden where I rested in a teahouse on the pond and had matcha (Japanese bitter, frothy green tea with a sweet).
From there it was a waterbus ride to Odaiba, the reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, to visit MeSci, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It's a very cool interactive museum, but what struck me most is that much of what's on display there is what we were learning at Carnegie Mellon: soccer playing robot dogs, robotic surgery, designer drugs, and advances in neural understanding. It gives you chills to realise that you and your friends are trained to expand the frontiers of what is known and possible. There's also a nifty science library there where I saw a film in double live donor lung transplantation.
From there is was a monorail ride (yes, we're on the third form of public transport - I'm very proud of myself) back to Shimbashi, from where I planned to walk back to Akasaka (where I'm staying). Unfortunately I wound up a little south of where I wanted to be in Shiba/Shiba Koen. I back-tracked to Tokyo tower (Click the links for photos) and caught a subway from Kamiyacho to Akasaka.
I feel I should also mention the public toilets here, which are squat-pee even for ladies. So if you come to Japan, learn to aim.

01 November 2005

Japan: Day 1: Akasaka

I managed to conduct my first transactions in Japanese. Generally these involved someone speaking to me in Japanese, me replying "Wakirimasu" [I don't understand] and then some pointing. Nonetheless, I managed to get myself some soba noodles and juice for lunch and some coffee and milk candy in the afternoon. Coffee at convenience stores here is chilled and pre-made so you basically get the equivalent of a juice box filled with coffee, a little milk, and a straw attached to the side.
I saw the Hie-Jinja shrine today, as well as the Roppongi Hills complex and some extremely strong men lifting golden cannonballs with their teeth (Click the links for pictures).
Tomorrow I'm going to head to Tsukiji [the fishmarket] and MeSci [science museum] and take a stroll through Ginza - I hear the Sony building is pretty nifty.