repetition, boredom and paranoia

Greetings from Semporna, where I’m counting down the days (5) until I fly to Thailand for my visa run. My first stop will be Bangkok to be a tourist with PC and Tat. We’ll occupy ourselves visiting temples, watching kickboxing, drinking beer and whiskey, and singing karaoke. But I’ll be happy just to see their faces and get a big hug or two from PC…who, by the way, gives the best hugs ever. Try it sometime.

Next I’ll fly down to Koh Lanta to meet up with Mikey. We’ll sit in hammocks, play backgammon, eat pork and cheese until we’re sick, drink red wine, go on the odd dive, read books, and probably drink too much on more than a few occasions.

But until then, it’s diving diving diving.

At least once a week someone asks me how long I’ve been here (4 months!) and if I get sick of diving the same sites all the time. Don’t I get bored? The answer is no, for two reasons.

First, though on occasion there are not-great dives, my “annoying optimism,” as one customer jokingly put it, tells me there’s always the *chance* that something phenomenal will turn up. The fun is in the looking. I’m not a museum guide, after all, trundling bored schoolkids through rooms of the same paintings and sculptures every day. Fish move, they try to hide, they act unpredictably, and there are so *many* of them…whose names and habits I’m still learning.

Second, there are the customers. They are even more unpredictable than the fish. At times they are entertaining, assholes, awed, impatient, indifferent, fascinated. They ask the oddest questions, tell great stories, confess being nervous, thank you profusely, shrug you off. You never know what you’re going to get.

It’s exhausting, trying to keep people you’ve just met happy. That’s why long-term customers (a week or more) are a comfort, even if they’re mediocre divers. At least you know what to expect from them.

For the past two weeks or so we’ve had a customer called Alex – an opinionated, hilarious, stubborn-yet-agreeable German dive instructor. He could go on for hours about what makes a good DM, where to find the best diving in Egypt, what equipment is overrated, and on and on. Between dives we’d sit on the front of the boat, sunning ourselves to warm up and dry off and listening to his harangues and monologues. A blast to have on the boat every day. I’m sad he’s gone.

Also in the past month we had a couple from…Holland I think? They came a few weeks ago – he’s an experienced diver and she needed a refresh course (which I conducted). They stayed about a week, went traveling in Borneo, and then changed their plans to come back to dive some more. But in all the time I spent with them, I never heard them say anything truly positive about the diving.

“How were your dives today?” I’d ask, seeing them on the jetty and wanting to be solicitous. He would always be the one to answer. “Well, it was OK. Not great,” he’d frown. “The coral is not so nice, and the visibility is awful.” In all they spent about *two weeks* diving here.

I used to take the negative comments personally. I was paranoid that my inexperience showed, that I would be called out as a fraud. But the thing is, I’m good at this. Not the best, for sure. But pretty damned good, and getting better every day.

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Semporna snoozing

I’ve been back from Mabul for two weeks. It’s a testament to my laziness that I’ve only now found the will and energy to post anything. But after getting a couple of not-so-subtle hints from dear Lis (“post to your blog!”), here we go….

Life on Mabul was like a vacation: short hours and a resort atmosphere. The staff rooms line a long shared balcony, where we’d sit and sip beer in the afternoons before dinner. After dinner we’d move up to the bar for music and drinks, or else Mike and I would sit on the balcony outside his room and play backgammon late into the night. Good times.

Most of the SJ staff is coupled off, so my first week in Mabul was The Week of Couples. It was nice, but a bit dull: No matter how hard they try, people in couples just don’t have the same carefree vibe as single people. I say that hoping that some day a miracle will occur and I, too, shall lose that carefree vibe.

About a week into my stay Mike, one of my DM instructors and my closest friend here, and Paul, an entertaining Scotsman nicknamed “Pooey,” rotated out to Mabul and late-night raucousness ensued. We drank plenty of Tanduay and Coke, shared silly but honest conversations, and occasionally sang or (in Pooey’s case) climbed down drainpipes to keep ourselves occupied.

On Mabul island there’s a village populated mostly with Filipino legal and illegal immigrants. Unlike the sea gypsies who live on surrounding islands, they live in fairly solid wooden houses on stilts, either along the beach or over the water. A maze of precarious, rotting wooden walkways connect the houses. The walkways and beach serve as a playground for countless throngs of half- or fully naked children who appear to have run, shrieking and laughing, out of a Gauguin painting.

But alas, the time came for me to leave this minor paradise and return to the dank, noisy wonderfulness of Semporna. The best thing about being back, other than the internet, is band night at our bar. It’s nice to see a wider variety of faces, and to dance up a sweat Van Halen and the Black Eyed Peas.

As a matter of fact, it’s an extra-special band night tonight – one of our instructors is leaving on Monday, and another instructor (Sara) is celebrating her birthday. We plan to give out adult diapers at the door (Sara turns 30) and supply markers, scissors, etc. so that people can customize them. Should be interesting.

With that I’ve got to run. I promise to post more soon – I’ve been a lazy bum but I’ll change my ways.