Thursday, September 07, 2006

Underwater shenanigans

After the dancing madness, my Exciting Pre-PermanentheadDamage Summer continued with diving fun at Pulau Perhentian, off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. I spent almost a month there doing my divemaster course with a dive shop that my family knows and loves (my sisters and I first did our Open Water courses there 7 years ago).

The divemaster course was pretty hectic, especially the first few days where we were trying to "anticipate and provide for instructor's needs" (oh, Americanism) without quite knowing where anything was kept, on top of reading the endlessly boring Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving for our theory exams. The first couple of weeks I largely spent tagging around after diving students herding them to the boat and babysitting them underwater, with the trusty Encyclopedia my companion at breakfast, lunch and dinner (I had such fun reading about the 1980s revolution in BCD design). There were also such underwater shenanigans like exchanging all my equipment while sharing a single regulator second stage (i.e. one thing to breathe from) with a guy about twice my size. In separate developments I had to rescue the same guy from underwater unconsciousness -- this is okay underwater but the dragging up the beach to begin CPR business was a bit tough on my rather ickle frame. More power to me for managing it somehow (!). Towards the end of the course, however, I started being able to dive better sites as I guided certified divers -- some of them were gorgeous with fish soup (i.e. you can't see for the fish in your way) and nudibranchs galore. I even had time in the last few days to sit on rocks staring at the sea, always a good way to contemplate the beauty of the world and the fragility of our coastal ecosystems -- or else just blank out with tropical island bliss. I made friends with the 5 dive centre cats who eat and sleep all day while divers tramp around them (I loved their names: Gizmo, Fat Boy, No Name, Monkey and Tom Tom). One afternoon I even had a go at sitting on the beach, a novelty after three weeks of just tramping up and down it loaded with full scuba gear!

It made me very brown and very happy. I like being on little islands, even without the luxuries of civilisation (air conditioning, hot water, internet connection, etc.); the peace and beauty and unspoiled life of the reefs more than make up for it. Even the things you lack make you appreciate a chocolate milkshake or a RM2 ice lolly with that much more pleasure. I didn't want to go home and even now after a week back in the city I would rather have the beach and the scuba tank than these airconditioned offices and noisy cars and endless shopping centres. And yet I have always thought of myself as a city girl. My PhD years, hopefully, will be the ideal mixture of Cambridge cafes and Malaysian fish.

And now I am spending happy hours looking forward to a diving holiday in Bali in a couple of weeks! Mmm. The addiction is growing stronger.

This is Gizmo: