Same Same, But Different

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Alright, alright. Yeesh, who knew you guys were actually reading after all this time. I’m bashfully apologetic at the lack of recent content. To be honest, it’s been so much “same same but different,” to borrow the Thai epithet, that I didn’t think there’d be much to say. I have actually been working, glacially, on a post about nudibranchs, so with the fire lit under my ass maybe I’ll turn around and get a double post up soon. We’re staying in our friend Ben’s room for the week while he’s in Laos because we have a rather unfortunate case of bedbugs in ours. Camille looks like a gross, flesh-colored Dalmatian. (She’s not reading this. I can say what I want.). But, the upside is we have true-blue unfettered Internet here. I’m in bed typing! Oh joy! Small pleasures.

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So, I guess we’ll begin with my birthday, which was March 22nd.  Being that I’m not one for unfettered attention-seeking, I purposefully downplayed it. This included removing it from Facebook and also refraining from any discussion of the date while in the shop. It’s a bit ironic, because I’m the first to declare any old reason as reason enough to celebrate. Yes, I am *that* girl who insists on marking month anniversaries in relationships. Mostly so I can eat cake or go get ice cream. But whatever. The only downside to this was that I was a little too good at it. The evening before my birthday, we went to the shop at 9 as we always do to get our assignments. Right now, we are 2 of 3 dive master trainees (DMT’s) working through the program, the third being Dani G., our accomplice in mediocrity. Generally, this means that whatever our mentor is doing, we are shadowing. There happened to be a King Cruiser trip on my birthday, a ferry that was sunk in 1997 in a failed insurance scheme. It’s far out there, so we only run a few trips a month. What I learned was that both Camille and Dani G. were being sent when I was not. This was not only a blow in that it’s a cool dive that I still have yet to do, but it also deprived me of one of my best friends for most of the day.

Nevertheless, I decided to continually evade recognition if for no other reason than to see my mentor’s face when he realized that he had forgotten. So I went out on the boat with Peter and three Danish customers who were doing their open water certification. They were really nice, as all my clients thus far have been. I did have the standard, “oh my god these kids are just out of high school and I’m 25” moment, but there’s aging gracefully for you. I tried unsuccessfully to hide out on the front of the boat during lunch, but what I did not count on was Liz, one of our DM’s. She remembered, and she was ruthless. Speaking with her swoon-worthy British accent, she threatened to bring the entire boat of people to me unless I willfully submitted to a round of “Happy Birthday.” Which I did, and I will admit to savoring Peter’s widened pupils and the straight line of his mouth as realization dawned. It sounds vindictive, but really I just thought it was humorous.

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A nice little snapshot of boat life.

The rest of the day was fairly banal, but this is not to suggest that I did not enjoy it. I took a nap, which is a  lofty pleasure on any occasion. Camille surprised me with a cake from the ever-impressive Phi Phi Bakery, which I subsisted on for the next 2 days. We played cards in the room. I did get another sing-song at dinner. We went to Unni’s, a restaurant I had avoided up until now because of the price, but I had my first taste of avocado since arriving in Thailand and I’m still dreaming about that bruschetta weeks later. Yet another thing to add to the list of dishes I need to recreate. I was plied with alcohol as is customary, and we ended the night with Peter and Colin in a beachfront bar before stumbling home. All in all a perfectly respectable birthday. And I only threw up once on the boat the next morning, so I count it as a victory.

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A few days later we had a rare day off, so Camille and I decided to follow in the literal footsteps of Will and Rafa and hike around the back of the island to get up to the viewpoint. It’s a big draw on Phi Phi, but the standard route follows a near-vertical concrete staircase. I’d much rather get lost in a jungle. We rented a long-tail boat to take us around the island, landing us on a pristinely empty white sand beach. Phi Phi, while visually stunning, is not so big on infrastructure. Once we were dropped off we had to make our own way down sandy paths, through quiet and isolated villages and up into the dense jungle of the high hill that separates the stink of Tonsai Village from the more remote spaces. While it was (as usual) oppressively hot, it was nice to get out and just be silly. There has been some drama on the island that came back on us unexpectedly, so disappearing for an afternoon allowed for some needed distance. The viewpoint was lovely, certainly worth the trip, although I couldn’t for the life of me think of a novel pose for the requesite photo. Camille, despite what she would say if she were not napping next to me (seriously Camille, it’s almost 5), is clearly the more photogenic of this duo.

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Other than this quick backwoods jaunt, we’ve really just been busy. Hence the lack of posts. It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve had a bit of time to sit in the bakery and write anything. Or even just read a chapter of something before bed without passing out halfway through. Camille’s mentor was offered a better job and ran with it, so she’s come back on with Peter and I. We’ve really ramped up the pace of the program. In the last week or so we’ve lead customer dives, given briefings, crafted emergency plans, rigged spare tanks for deep dives (try tying knots underwater sometime), conducted search patterns, mapped dive sites, and run through skills until we could do them with our eyes closed. Some of them I actually do close my eyes. Our friend Ben, another instructor who also owns a climbing shop on the island, has become a sort of secondary mentor and I’m sure I can speak for us both when I say that we are better divers for his efforts. I’m learning a lot, and my diving has improved markedly. I’ve been wracking up dives quicker than in any other period of my life, and a few days ago I hit 100. Not a big number among seasoned instructors, but respectable nonetheless. Tradition dictates that it should be a naked dive, but given that I had a customer with a massive camera rig for my 100, I opted to postpone. But it’s tucked away for a rainy day, which I’ve heard we can expect a lot more of with the slow season coming on.

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All we have left are a few small projects: underwater mapping of one of our sites, and a search and recovery exercise were we work out search patterns on the bottom. Mapping actually makes me a bit nervous, I’m not a fantastic navigator, but I’ve yet to let my anxiety completely best me. I did, however, succumb to yet another illness, and this one damn near put me in the hospital for a fluid IV. I can think of one time I’ve been more ill, and that time I lost ten pounds in a week. This one, mercifully, hit and and was gone within 48 hours. I slept for perhaps 30 of them. Heres hoping that at long last I’ve run through all the novel ailments. A body can only withstand so much! I did make a friend in the pharmacist, since I was in to see her almost every day for awhile there.

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Let’s see…any other loose odds and ends? We held a Passover dinner in the shop a few nights ago, and I was gang-pressed into making a cake. Truthfully, I was happy to do so. My fingers have been itchy to make something, and I’ve already sent some messages to people back home declaring that there *will* be a lot of food in the future. But cakes are…a labor. The last one I made took me 6 hours. This one took 5, with a laughable assemblage of equipment to work with. I baked my rounds in a pizza oven…at probably 150 degrees hotter than it should have been. I whisked soft peaks by hand, and I melted and browned 3 1/2 sticks of butter on a hot plate. But, for all that, I was pretty happy about it. A brown butter-banana cake with chocolate ganache and crumbled Oreos on top. I’ve doomed myself, as I’m now expected to continue making cakes. Peter especially is unceremonious in his demands; I’ve come to the conclusion that he *really* likes cake. Apparently flattery gets you everywhere, because he told me it was the best cake he’d had in years and suddenly I’m desperate to get my hands on an actual oven I could really do something with.

Oh! And big news, for me anyways. Right around my birthday is the time of year when grad school decisions come out, and at long last I’ve made the cut! So it’s back to the land of academia for me come fall. I’ve only heard back from half the schools I applied to, despite the deadlines having passed, but that’s college for you. As of now I’ve landed under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Geller of Moss Landing Marine Lab working on invasive species arriving on the west coast on debris from the Japanese tsunami. My boss at the aquarium is culturing parasitic hydroids for us as we speak. I’ve got some lab work lined up already for when I get back. I have some mixed feelings about this sudden straightening of direction, I had so enjoyed meandering aimlessly for a bit, but the more I learn the more excited I get as well. I just hope I can continue adventuring a little within the confines of a masters thesis. Time will tell.

The classy faces of Barakuda
The classy faces of Barakuda

As to the near future, I can garuntee you there will be no shortage of content. Thai new year is coming up, and from what I hear it involves a near total shut-down of business and a lot of water guns. We’re also less than a week out from finishing, which means the snorkel test is imminent. I may have mentioned it before in passing, I cannot recall. But I promise that it’s impending nature is casting a rather large pall over my waking hours. Essentially, a snorkel test is the final step to becoming a divemaster. What it entails has nothing to do with diving, except that most DM’s and instructors seem to be functioning alcoholics. You are placed in a chair, often in a wetsuit and fins, and given a mask and snorkel. Outside of your line of site a cocktail of dubeous and heinous content is mixed up by your mentor. I watched Will’s bucket being mixed, and I’m pretty sure I saw gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, beer, orange and pineeapple juice, and a can of coke go in. Then, and I’m sure you see where this is going, down the snorkel it goes. I watched Rafa chug a half a handle of rum in less than a minute. Cumulatively, I think this is more alcohol than I have perhaps consumed in my entire life. He got so plastered I had to prop him up and shunt him down the street to the bar afterwards. In a giddy, ill-advised delirium, he sprayed Axe in my mouth. Will puked almost immediately after his. Neither remembers much.

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And let me remind you that I have an Irish mentor! And also remind you (or elicidate, if you’ve not heard that story from me) that I threw up *in* the Guinness factory in Dublin. Christ…So, stay tuned, because that’s happening, and there will be ample video and photo evidence. And, along that same vein, it has been established that Camille and will spend our working portion functioning in the dual capacity of both divemaster and as media representatives for Barakuda. Meaning, we get to do a lot of underwater photography and help maintain an online presence for the shop. There are a few novelty tricks we’ve been contemplating. For example, rumor has it that because it is so dense, if you go deep enough you can use a straw to drink from a can of Coke. Or, if you crack an egg, it will float spherically in front of you. Essentially, we have license to screw around underwater.

For now it’s off to my first shop-shift to try to bring some money in. We get commissions if we sell dives or equipment, so…best learn how to turn that charm on. What’s the verdict guys? You know me, have I ever charmed any of you?

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