Tuesday, August 26, 2008

OMG, I can scuba dive!

Yes it's true: I went scuba diving last week. Me - the one who is afraid of large bodies of water.

The dive was for an assignment. I went with Panasonic Malaysia to see their marine conservation project in Pulau Perhentian.

Prior to the trip, Panasonic offered a crash course on scuba diving at their sports complex in Shah Alam, to all the newbies who were going.

I went, and by the end of the few hours course, I had doubts whether I could do it.

Not because I couldn't swim, no. My fear centred around whether I would be able to surface quickly enough should anything go wrong underwater.

The answer is no, I can't. You're not supposed to race to the surface when scuba diving, it's dangerous. It will do things to your body.

I had visions of sea water rushing through my mouth and nose and into my lungs, complete with all the terrifying sounds of death.

In my mind, the fear was real. "I don't know if I can do this," I told my best friend Julia before the trip. "If I don't come back from the trip, tell my kids I love them," I said, half-jokingly.

Sweet Julia played down the concern and told me to focus on the fish.

The day before the trip, I thought of pulling out but couldn't find any credible excuse.

So I went ahead with it. There were about 20-30 people in the entourage, including the media, Panasonic officials, volunteer divers and some Japanese people who were shooting videos and still pictures of the project.

We arrived in Perhentian Wednesday morning and with our luggages still not checked in, they took us on our first dive.

We were divided into two groups: divers and DSD divers. That's Discovery Scuba Diving, a term not commonly known outside the scuba diving fraternity. Everyone seems to think you need a certificate in order to dive. You don't. DSD is a course for those just getting acquainted with the activity.

Like proper divers, DSD divers get a certificate from PADI, the international scuba diving organisation. However, they are not to go on a dive without an instructor (sometimes called dive master).

For the trip, each dive master took care of two or three media people. I was in a group with Amir from Harian Metro and Nurul from Bernama and our dive master was a girl from Belgium known only as Charlie.

At the beach, clad in our diving gear and clumsy as we were, Charlie refreshed us on the basic skills: how to breathe, how to flush water from inside our mask and our mouth, how to equalise the air pressure inside our ears, how to walk with the flippers on (walking backwards, as it turned out, is the easiest), how to communicate.

Yet I was still afraid. Fortunately, I was good at following instructions. Every single thing that Charlie told me to do, I did.

If there were just two things about underwater survival that I took home from that trip, they would be these:

1. Don't panic
2. Breathe

So then Charlie took us from the shore to the deeper water and we began our descent.

Before long, I felt water trickling into my mask. I told Charlie about what I thought was my 'predicament' and signalled that I wanted to surface. She refused my request. Instead, she told me to flush the water out with the skill I just learnt. This I did, and the water was gone and suddenly, everything was fine.

From then onwards, at no point during that dive and the subsequent two more that I felt my life was in danger.

Yes, I did gulp some sea water. All of us did. But a bit of discomfort was okay.

We were underwater for up to 45 minutes at a time, which was incredible for someone who didn't think it could be done before the trip.

Me, I was elated at having overcome my fears. I was enjoying every minute of the dive!

We went as deep as 10 metres. I saw all those magical looking corals and many types of fish, most of which I couldn't recognise except for the distinctive parrotfish, angelfish and Nemo.

I also saw a clam at work (as opposed to Calm At Work).

You know, you will never fully appreciate the kind treasures we have in our marine backyards unless you dive. I believe that now.

After three dives, the only thing I couldn't do was navigation. I find that I get disoriented easily when underwater. I couldn't figure out where the beach was and where the deeper sea was, where the rock was and where the shark was, and was completely dependent on my dive master to move around.

If she had left me on the seabed, I would probably still be there now, waiting patiently while breathing like Darth Vader.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My car, my first ever car!

So my Suzuki Swift finally arrived on Wednesday. Red coloured. Modified it to look like a Swift Sport.

It costs me about RM70,000. Swifts used to cost about RM90,000 but ever since Suzuki started assembling the car in Pekan, Pahang, the price has gone down considerably.

A lot more people can now afford a Swift. Alhamdulillah.

It's one hell of a cute looking car but not in a girly sort of way like, say, Toyota Yaris.

Me, what sold me to this car was the look and the handling. And the price.

All in all, it's the closest you can get to a MINI Cooper if you are on a budget.

I was actually quite happy with taking public transportation. I had been doing that for the nine years that I had been working.

But public transportation in Malaysia is fine if it's you alone. If you have kids, you'll want a set of wheels.

I had been borrowing my parents' and siblings' cars ever since the divorce. It got to a point when my second son Zuai would ask me each time we were going out, "So which car are you taking this time, daddy?"

That really bugged me and so, once I finished paying off my cards, and with a little bit of money that I made from cartooning, I decided it was high time I bought my own car.

But which car? Now that was not a swift decision.

I wanted it to be a good buy, just like Agnetha and my Crumpler. I wanted something similar to what other people have but just slightly nicer.

I looked at the options in the market. Boy, there were many. After a while, I decided on the Swift.

I also splurged a bit on the accessories: body kit, seats, window tint. I don't want to reveal the exact figure here. My mom might be reading this. She would not be amused. That kind of money is better off spent on going to Makkah to perform the haj, she would say.

Anyway, I will come up with a proper review of the car plus more photos once I come back from Perhentian next week.