Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Today was the first day of my IANTD Recreational Wreck diving course in Subic Bay. There are six of us here: Sam, our instructor; Brian, who took this course with Sam last year and is just here to dive the WWII wrecks; and the three very experienced divers I’m taking this course with, namely Jim (a BSAC First Class), Marion (OW instructor who works in a scuba shop), and Heike (Adv Inst, who also trains lifeguards and has been diving for 22 years). And then there's me-- a big, sissy wuss with only 137 dives under my belt who is doing this because a) shipwrecks fascinate me, b) I’m sensible enough to know that it’s silly to dive wrecks without training, and c) doing something that petrifies me is supposed to be Good for My Character.

I was hoping for a nice, gentle introduction to wrecks: you know, a little overhead environment stuff, a little bit of line work, maybe some navigation…


We started out this morning spending an inordinate amount of time kitting up, which is never a good thing for me. Once I’ve made up my mind to do something new, I need to get to it before I can talk myself out of it again. OK, so the kit up was necessary. We all had to reconfigure a bit: I had to add a weight pocket to my belt and figure out how to stow and use a new kind of light (20 minutes).Heike had to change absolutely everything (two hours). We finally got into a boat at 3:00.

Then Sam told us what we were going to do. “Just practice a few skills. One pair can swim around the wreck with BK while the other does the skills with me, then we switch.” Knowing how I guzzle gas when I’m nervous and out of shape (I haven’t dived since November, after all) I requested Heike and I go first. Just in case.

And THEN Sam enumerated these “few skills”: three different kinds of finning technique, finger crawling with fins up, air sharing, swimming without a regulator for 15 meters and getting your buddy’s octopus, and doing a 20m swim along a line without a mask, then replacing and clearing said mask. What ever happened to a gentle swim in an overhead environment?

I felt like a bloomin’ novice. Most of these skills I had never done before, and sure enough, everything that could have gone wrong seemed to once I finally hit the water. First, my trim wasn’t right and I had buoyancy problems, not helped by the fact that I was so tense I think my lungs were completely full at all times. Then there were the new finning techniques. My fins are simply super for tiny flutter finning but absolutely useless for frog kicks—and it doesn’t help that I have all the coordination of a six year old when in the water. Next we come to the air problems. I went down with about 160 bar to start with, which isn’t great at my breathing rate. My primary air hose was way too short, so when I shared air with Heike I had to cling to her cylinder and try not to kick her when I finned. Thank god she knew what she was doing, since I was hopeless. My spare DV kept free flowing, mostly because I kept putting it down upside down and not realizing that it needed to be turned over (Sam had to bail me out twice). And finally there was the Fear Factor. The first time I did the no-regulator swim I couldn’t see my buddy at all. I got part way there, panicked, and shoved the reg back into my mouth. Fair play to me, though – I turned right around, swam back to the start and did it again. Although when I finally got to Heike, I swear I sucked that reg so hard she dropped thirty bar in ten seconds. Her computer alarm went mad.

I never got as far as that maskless swim drill. When I got down to 37 bar (well below my reserve of 50, for those of you who don’t dive), I signaled Sam that I absolutely had to go up, so he sent me to the surface. Now I’ll have to do the mask thing tomorrow. Oh joy.


Sunday, February 18, 2007


Is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the fact that one of the advertising posters in the Trade Centre Road Spinneys shows a luscious pork roast with Arabic writing underneath it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007


I wrote about my difficulties in planning the Big Trip to force myself into action, and indeed I got my DXB to MNL return flight from good old Do-Nada a few weeks ago. Actually, I probably shouldn't slag them off -- they're no worse than any other travel agent. Living here, you’re kind of stuck paying ridiculous amounts of money to escape. I remember a trip in 2001 when I met my mother in Germany. Her ticket from the States cost about $300 while mine cost $1000. And there’s really no way around it. If we want out of here, we have to pay. But I digress.

Between getting that 'big' ticket and now I've done... well, not exactly nothing, but nothing productive toward getting myself out of here and into the waters of SE Asia. I did arrange the DXB outward trips for the two people who are coming to meet me along the way, and I also asked a lot of advice from the regulars on the Lonely Planet forum board, but otherwise, I hadn't accomplished much.

However, I’ve been having dreams about cats lately (which means I’ve been shirking my responsibilities), so I decided to finally face up to the nightmare of finishing my travel arrangements for the Big Trip. The whole on-line shopping/booking/buying thing I find overwhelming, and in general I would rather talk to a human being than spend hours slogging through the maze that is the Net only to get conflicting and confusing info everywhere I look. So I figured it was high time to pop back down to a travel agent for a chat.

So as I said, I had gotten my DXB to MNL ticket at the usual place, but even I know better than to try to get them to book a long, complicated trip for me. They’d charge me premium prices even if I could get them to actually work out the flights and get back to me on them. So I strolled through my little section of town (Karama) to a shop I had seen that advertises a lot of Asian flights. I thought it looked promising, so I went in.

Not being a complete fool, I eyeballed the staff and then plunked myself down at the desk of a lovely Filipina travel agent, figuring since I was doing most of my trip to and from her fair country, she’d be likely to be a) interested and b) sympathetic to my relative poverty (I am, after all, taking between 12 and 16 separate flights over seven weeks). I asked her to look at Manila-Bangkok-Jakarta-Manila for me (thinking even I could manage to book the smaller, local flights on line -- HA! but that's another thread--) and she punched in some numbers and printed off an itinerary. Then she looked at me thoughtfully and said “You know, these are much too expensive. You would get a better price if you bought them in country. "I can't. I'm meeting people who have tight schedules and I can't waste valuable dive time". "OK, then how about booking them on line?” Net maze again. Ick. “How much for your trip?” I asked, thinking it couldn’t be too bad. After all, flying around Asia is cheap, right?

The figure she gave me made my jaw drop. So I spent today hunting up airlines and fares and making connections all over the place, and she was right: what would have cost me $2043 in her shop has ended up costing me $389. Really.

By being frank with me, she lost out on a nice, fat booking and maybe a pat on the head from the boss. Instead, she let her fish get away by doing me a huge favor. Hardly seems fair. So what does she get for her candor?

First, she gets my gratitude and admiration, for whatever they're worth. It is so surprising and refreshing to find a bit of honesty and real helpfulness here, since this town is famous for crummy customer service. Having done my share of retail myself, I know that if you give a customer what they want, they will be back again and again. So, second, she gets me for life. Any trip I make in and out of the sandlands will in future be made with her. I will not list her details here in case her employer doesn’t share her views on customer service, but I will happily pass them on to anyone who asks, and pin them up on the university bulletin board (teachers take a lot of trips). Finally, I think I’ll take another stroll down the street, this time with a box of chocolates. OK, so it’s not a fat commission. This time.
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