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Thursday, December 23, 2004


Scuba Divers Do It Under Pressure

My proudest possession is my Open Water Diver's card; my scuba license. Most of the other things in my life that other people would be proud of are not that big a deal to me. Getting into business school, for instance, happened because I got a super-high GMAT score (it certainly wasn't on the strength of my joke of a "career"), and that super-high GMAT score happened because I spent my entire childhood being "encouraged" (in a way that occasionally verged on abusive) to develop the kind of personality that is good at passing silly written tests. OTOH to pass my Open Water certification I had to master and bypass my own fears and limitations, such as my limiting belief that I would never, ever, be able to float unassisted in water for longer than a couple minutes. (I was wrong about that, as I have almost always been wrong about things that I thought were impossible).

I got my OW cert the last time I was in Thailand, back in 2003 with the excellent Dive Asia. My instructor was a Thai called Aey who told me he was an architect and gave scuba classes between commissions. (This is horrifying, in a way, that the IMF and the local oligarchs between them should have so savaged the Thai economy that a highly-trained professional would end up moonlighting in the tourist sector to scrape together a few baat. OTOH, Aey was a truly magnificent instructor).

Since that time I have dived precisely once, off the Cape of Good Hope. This was an interesting example of Murphy's Law. First of all, the water was freezing cold. (That damn current that freezes Buzios stops off Cape Town first). Then, the dive was launched over a load of big, slippery rocks, with the result that I slipped. This is not a good thing to do when you have a 25kg scuba unit strapped to your back and you don't have all your breathing apparatus in place. I had to be rescued by the divemaster Yolanda. (Usually, when a cute blonde wraps her legs around me I'd enjoy the experience; in this case I was too busy gasping for breath to make the most of things). Then, on the way down, we got ran into some weeds and had to come back to the surface, and finally, on the way back, I got cramp from the cold and had to be towed. Not my finest hour, really.

In view of this fiasco, when I booked a dive trip for tomorrow I decided I had better have a scuba tune-up session today. This took place at the exclusive hill-top location of the dive company, a splendidly third-world facility complete with dirt roads and free-range chickens. The whole thing took about two hours and involved performing various underwater stunts, all designed to show you what you would do if, for instance, a giant clam severed your airhose. (Actually, that specific case was not dealt with; I think it falls under the general heading of low air situations). So tomorrow I'm off to a couple of rocks in the Gulf of Thailand where, I am assured, the fish are worth the trip. (The divers saw a shark yesterday. That's more than I did when I went out on a shark diving trip in South Africa).

The only problem with diving is that it is a depressingly clean-living activity. It generally involves getting up at some god-awful hour of the morning and you are not supposed to drink any kind of alcohol the night before (for fear of dehydration) or six hours after (decompression sickness). Still, mae pen rai as they say in these parts.

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