Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fry, baby, fry!

The third instalment of The Godfather Trilogy will always be remembered for three things:

One, it was the worst of the three; two, Sofia Coppola's wooden performance and how she parlayed that into Oscar nominations for screenwriter and director for 'Lost In Translation'; and three, the infamous quote by Al Pacino, "Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!"

Well, that allusion was surely on my mind that Tuesday afternoon, as I was just settling down on the office couch for a much needed 40 winks. My handphone had gone on the fritz a day earlier, refusing to light up whichever button I pushed, and then just when I was about to give up, voluntarily called up someone from the phonebook, resulting in my having to explain to my office technician why I called him ten times from 11.00pm onwards on a Sunday evening.

So, I sent said culprit machine to the repair guy and in the meantime, dug out my old handphone from the depths of the unused electronic gadgets pile that I keep for situations like this. Ironically this phone was relegated for pretty much the same reason: dying on me and relighting up as and when it pleased. Well, so far in the 24 hours I had been using it, it was working fine. Goes to show: sometimes you need to leave the machine alone for a bit and it will get its mojo back. Or so I thought.

So, there I was lazing on the couch staring at the ceiling, when all of a sudden the phone beeped the 'You have a message' tone. I checked the screen and was surprised to find that I had six unread messages. Which was weird as I had only just checked an hour ago and there was none. So, out of curiosity I scrolled over to the inbox and found that there were six messages and they were all from my ex! My ex, yes, the one from two years back. The one who one day just decided that she has had enough and coolly said "I think we should stop seeing each other, goodbye" and never was heard from again. The one that got away.

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!"

A wave of emotions started coming back to me: the blinding anger, the paralysing sadness, the confusing anxiety,the frustrating helplessness. Each and every of them rushed over me in succession, almost causing me to lose my breath for a moment. I thought I was over her. Over as in she-can-rot-in-hell-for-all-I-care over. Over as in she-can-be-fucking
my-best-friend-and-I-wouldn't-even-bat-an-eyelid over.

I opened the first message:

"Hey baby... How are you today?"

Hey baby? Hey baby???? That was unexpected, to say the least. What right had she to call me 'baby'? Then suddenly, it hit me. This wasn't a 'new' message. It probably was a message from way back when that the phone had stored in its memory and somehow decided that it was time to torment me with. Again.

I opened the second message:

"So what's for lunch? I missed talking to you last night."

That was familiar. Very familiar. I recalled receiving that message when we were still in the euphoric stage of the relationship. When a day without talking to each other was a day of longing and anxiety. Without realising it, I smiled. Briefly, before the pain came back again.

Third message:

"Honey, I'm sorry I didn't answer your call. I am in a meeting. I'll call you later."

This was a trip down memory lane. A very rocky lane. In hindsight I should have recognised the signs that things weren't going well. But I guess my stubborn and hopeful belief that things was or could get better overpowered my common sense.

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!"

The fourth message was a plea to help pay her car instalment. Well, that was RM600 down the proverbial drain. Now, I am not one to demand that an ex return all that I have given her a la Beyoncé's " Irreplaceable" but that message did give me some pause to mentally calculate just how much I did 'help' her with. There was that RM2000 for her car gear box, another RM500 for new curtains to help her mom celebrate Raya and I didn't even wanna think of all the holidays we went on, holidays which I paid for the both of us.

By now, all the fondness had already been sucked out of my reminiscence and all that was left were bitter reminders of how stupid and foolish I was to think that she thought of me as more than just a cash cow. So by the time I got her fifth message:

"Happy Birthday! Hope I am still in time to wish you" - I almost wished that I never found the damn phone.

One would expect that the first person to send a birthday greeting would be the love of one's life right? Well, I did receive that birthday greeting... at 11.45pm, with just fifteen minutes to go., it does sound petty of me to be so mad at her for wishing me so late in the day, had it not been for the fact that she actually was one of those who remembers everybody's birthday and has been known to take time off work just to bake cakes or cookies for someone's daughter's birthday party and borrow money (from me, no less) to rush-delivery an order just so that the package would arrive on time for her best friend's dog's birthday celebration.

A dog.

And all I got was a birthday sms hours after everyone I knew ( and some I completely forgot about) had sent me greetings.

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!"

The sixth sms was the inevitable goodbye and fuck off message. I had complained to her about the way she 'almost' forgot my birthday. Instead of apologising or even at least coming up with an excuse like she was busy at work or had some major life threatening problem to deal with, she came back with,

"I am not like your mother or your best friend or your stupid colleagues who will bother to remember your bloody birthday, ok? "

Wow. And that was how it all ended. I never heard from her since and while it was painful, the triviality of how it all came to a head, helped me realise that this so-called relationship was just too immature and silly, both for me and for her.

Now, with all six messages read and digested, I once again lay down on the couch, and reflected on the love that I thought was The One. How sweet it was in the beginning. And how badly it turned out in the end. And how, now, I can really say that, yeah, I really couldn't care less if she is frying her selfish bitch of an ass in hell right now.

Guess there's only one thing left to do.

I pressed 'delete'.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Similan Liveaboard: Leopard Shark

The Seamoth (our liveaboard) sports a really spacious sundeck (or as Yanni our DM says, moondeck) where a lot of us flocked to in the cool evenings to catch the lovely Andaman breeze and have Oprah Winfrey sessions.

The dive sites around Similan include Koh Bon and Richilieu Rock. Visibility was generally quite good but what's visibility when all you can see are other divers and more divers? Still, it took the sharp eyes of Joseph to spot a group of juvenile ... erm.. some type of fish.... at their local Seabucks joint.

The resident hermit crab was very shy and very prudently placed itself in a narrow crevice where none of our cameras could reach. Smart move, hermy!

I always have a problem differentiating between an angelfish and a butterflyfish. Then Yanni taught me an easy way to figure it out: An angelfish has dorsal fins which are sharp at the end, while the butterflys have more rounded ends..... or it is the other way around? Oh crap! I forgot again! Yanni, help.

This is a flatworm. It is a relative of the nudibranch except it is erm... flat.

Here's another cute but shy little crab. This one hid in a clump of staghorn corals while waiting for its meal to float by.

And here is the piece de resistance. A really really big Leopard shark. It was lying there on the seabed posing for us. Thing was, and I didn't notice at the time, seabed was almost 40 metres deep. That's 130 feet from the surface! Gan went crazy when he saw all of us happily snapping away, all the while running the danger of going deco! (or possibly getting the bends upon surfacing.)

Well, thankfully we all didn't, and were very happy to celebrate the sighting that evening with beer and more beer. Damn, and I can't drink.

Before we knew it, the boat pushed into a small fishing village and it was time to say our goodbyes. It has been a great trip, if nothing else, for the fantastic crew and the enjoyable gang of crazy divers on board.

I have made lots of good friends on board and we even met up a week later for some Tom Yam Kung. Thanks so much Ja for taking all that trouble to cook up a storm for us. See you guys soon!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Similan Liveaboard: Manta Hunting

This is Gan, our group's Divemaster. He is now demonstrating how to do underwater Para-para dancing. Even the fish are wondering what on earth this alien creature is doing, hands and fins flailing all over the place.

This is not a spear. It's another type of trumpet fish... I think. Maybe this one's on a diet... or trying to get on Similan's Next Top Model Fish.

The resident seahorse was kind enough to pose for us as one by one we flashed our strobes at its face and jostled with each 0ther trying to get a good angle. I think the poor fella's blind from all that bright flashes by the time we were done.

This is not your regular Moray eel. This is a banded coral eel. It was a bit difficult to get close enough to get a better shot as it was hiding in a deep and narrow cavern sheltered by three sea urchins. Ouch!

And its neighbour is this rare honeycomb eel. This is the first time I've seen this creature up close. Very beautiful and very shy.

Then Gan decided to out into the blue to try and find us some whale sharks and manta rays. After about ten minutes of blueness, along came this cute little jellyfish. It has tiny colourful lights running down the entire length of its body.

Manata.... manta.... where are you?

Meanwhile, I ventured a bit off the beaten path to take a few pics of soft corals while waiting for the big stuff to appear. It's amazing to see such beautiful colours in these otherwordly looking plants and creatures.

And this cushion star looks so comfortable and made me felt a bit sleepy......

And then..... FINALLY. She arrives! Swimming majestically across the water, current or no current she floats by serenely. It's times like these that you are suddenly reminded of how wonderful our world is, with its creatures big and small.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Similan Liveaboard 2007: Elephant Head Rock

No prize for whomever manages to figure out why the dive site is thus named. Apparently lots of people have tried to push that anomaly of physics perched precariously at the top of the rocky mountain but it has not budged an inch.

Our dive coordinator kinda spoilt it a little for us when upon arrival at Phuket, she blurted out that the dive company before us had sighted whale sharks (one of the big five of scuba safari) no less than five times throughout the trip. With our expectations heightened, we jumped in to the blue hoping to see these beautiful and graceful creatures.

But what we saw was far from graceful: lots and lots of divers, from many other dive boats and liveaboards. They must have heard of the sightings too, for it seemed that everyone and his cousin was down there looking for the elusive giant.

Some of us decided to let the others do the shark-hunting and concentrated on the smaller things in life, namely nudibranches - like this one, the aptly named Phyllidia elegans.

Deep on the seabed, Simon, one of the guys on our dive team, spotted this shy octopus guarding its treasure. It wouldn't budge from that position and we, on our part did our best not to frighten or startle him.

And next to the eight limbed fella was this really huge Lionfish just sitting there watching the sea flow by. It was kind enough to pose for me and even kinder not to shower me with the poison from its fins.

Then, all of a sudden, we came face to face with this fierce bugger, a lone Chevron barracuda. His menacing eyes was pointed straight at our dive master, Gan, who was beckoning me like crazy to take this picture with his would-be attacker just in case a Steve Irwin moment occurs. The barracuda decided not to bother with this little anchovie and Gan lived to tell the tall tale.

The current was very strong towards the end of this dive and as we were kicking our fins like mad just to stay still, I spotted this motionless unicorn fish floating effortlessly, as if mocking us landlubbers for being like fish out of water... in the water.

Towards the end of the dive, we spotted this pair of Pterolidia sp. nudibranch at it like rabbits. Ok, for you who can't find the second one: The blue one's on top while its smaller yellow/orange partner in crime makes up the shorter limb (of the inverted 'c') in the lower half of the pic.

All too soon, the dive was over and we all slowly made our way to the surface. And just in case you were wondering, NO WHALE SHARK! Well, not yet. I hope.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Similan Liveaboard 2007: Koh Ta Chai

We arrived at Koh Ta Chai at a very early 4.00AM the next day. Everybody woke up groggy and a bit seasick after an entire night's rocking and swaying. A couple of coffees and Stemetyl later, we were sober enough to attend our first pre-dive briefing.

The early morning dive is often the best and also the coldest. The best because the visibility is generally good and the dive sites are generally less crowded. Plus lots of the pellagics are out for their morning feeding frenzy, so we get to see schools of tuna, jackfish and rainbow runners ready for breakfast, both their own and their predators.

I was again getting reacquainted with my underwater camera gear which included the u/w casing, the external strobe and its mounting and arm. It was quite embarassing when I kinda forgot how to put together the various parts in front of my fellow divers. Thankfully Joseph, another avid u/w photographer had a similar set-up, so he was able to help me figure out how to put together the whole jigsaw puzzle.

And this (above) is the divemaster who was assigned to us cameros, as we were lovingly called. Yeah, nobody wants to dive with us cameros, as we usually go at a very, very slow pace and tend to wander off where our viewfinders take our fancy. So, the whole lot of us were lumped together and thankfully we had Gan as our ever patient and able divemaster.

There were lots of beautiful fish and corals everywhere, a sign of a healthy coral reef, still unspoilt by the scores of divers who jump in these waters everyday. This is a Moorish Idol, a type of Angelfish that was made famous by the hit Pixar animation feature, Finding Nemo.

One very significant part of the coral reef is the sea fan. They form the canopy of the sea, much like the rainforest on land and can grow to very large sizes, like this red Gorgonian sea fan.

I am trying to develop my skills in taking pictures of fishes, generally the most difficult creatures to shoot pics of. Mainly because they move around all the time, and chasing after them never work, so I have learned to just lie in wait for them to get comfortable enough with my presence to approach me and allow their curiosity to work in my favour.

One thing about the underwater that I love so much is how out of this world the sea creatures look. The shapes, the colours and the way they move and sway along with the currents never ceases to amaze me.

There were quite a lot of trumpet fish in these parts, and this unassuming fella, is actually about 4 feet long. Underwater in natural lighting, they all look rather bluish and uninteresting, but using the strobe to illuminate them with bright white light, the colours jump out to reveal its striking pink body, and a peculiar yellow tail fin.

Of course every dive would not be deemed complete for me without a sighting or two of a nudibranch. This one belongs to the common Phyllidia family but boy was it huge! Almost five inches long!

More pics coming soon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Similan Liveaboard 2007

I participated in a scubadiving liveaboard last week bound for the Similan Island chain in the Andaman Sea. The archipelago lies northwest of Phuket and takes anything between four to seven hours of non-stop sailing to reach. Well, at least that's what it took us on this 4-knots max speed "speed boat".

The boat, the "Seamoth" is the same one as the one I was on during the Hin Daeng Hin Muang trip last November. This time we boarded her from the Phuket jetty, which is fine by me as I have never been to Phuket before, so this gave me a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

The jetty was very picturesque, as there is a marina beside it, filled with yatchs and luxury boats and sampans all moored together regardless of race, colour or creed. Welcome to the United Nations of Marinaland!
Anyway, "Stand By Me" was inexplicably blaring from the PA speakers as one by one, we boarded the boat, checked our luggage and cooled down on the main deck with a suspiciously looking and exceedingly sweet green beverage. Note to organisers: Some of us do not want to get diabetes before this trip is over, thank you.

At 5.00pm local time (an hour behind KL), the captain hooted his horns, started the engines and the Seamoth left the pier towards Similan Island. The crew then fired a series of firecrackers GongXiFaCai style, as a symbolic gesture to herald its foray into the open seas and to ask for protection from the gods of the waters. Hmmm.... I guess we'll be safe from the tsunamis now. Hehehe