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SCUBA Diving in Ko Tao

I am on Ko Tao - an island eight hours by boat off the east coast of Thailand.  When I say "eight hours by boat" I am being a tad generous.  Eight hours by raft would be a more accurate description.  My brother's 14th birthday present was a bigger boat - and that was one that you built out of Legos.  This was not some cruise down the coast - it was across open water.  Luckily, the trip was at night so I could not see how low we were riding in the water.  I could, however, here the "chunk chunk chunk breeeeee" of the bilge pump.  As long as I heard that noise, I knew we were safe.

Ko Tao is a relatively undeveloped island - by undeveloped I mean it does not have hotels owned, operated, managed, or otherwise overseen by companies traded on the world's major stock exchanges.  It has plenty of hotels owned, operated, managed or otherwise overseen by Australians who - for some strange reason relating to the local "agriculture" - are unable to find their way down the street to the ferry terminal.   In the past several days, I managed to meet Rob who came from Brisbane to dive; Marco who came from Perth to dive; Annabel who came from Adelade to dive; Alex who came from Queensborough to dive, and Rafael who came from Bogota to supply Rob, Marco, Annabel, Alex, and the rest with high-quality marijuana.  Oh, Rob, Marco, Annabel and the rest were my dive instructors and dive leaders.  So, if I return to the U.S. paralyzed, in an iron lung, with a severe case of the bends, then you will know the cause!

As you can tell, Ko Tao is famous for its SCUBA diving - thought it seems that more people are interested in the "reefer" than the "reef."  I have managed to actually learn to dive the proper, PADI way.  I also learned that my so-called waterproof watch is actually waterproof to over 30 meters!  Sadly, Annabel's underwater bong was not.  She was unable to get a really "good burn" below 15 meters.   You may think that I am being sarcastic, but I am not.  To put things in perspective: several of the dive instructors actually look forward to nitrogen narcosis.  Nitrogen narcosis is a mild euphoria thay one feels when under roughly 30 meters (about 100 feet) of water - it is the result of nitrous oxides interfering with the brain's absorption of alcohol.  It allegedly feels like taking laughing gas.  For those of you who spent any time in the great wasteland called the upper Midwest, then you know all about nitrogen narcosis - you did it in high school!  And you know who you are!

While fans of the Australian Dead seem to comprise the bulk of the people on Ko Tao, communally, self-styled Japanese hipsters also comprise a fair bit of the population.  Ironically, these Japanese rebels who reject the culture of the "salaryman" and corporate conformity - all follow a manner of dress that appears to be sanctioned by the Ministry of Institutional Teenage Rebellion.  It is quite odd to see a gaggle of these Japanese hipsters leave their tour-group chartered bus and walk, in single file, towards their chartered dive boats.  The men all have the same haircut - a really bad orange die-job teased and gelled into a style vaguely reminiscent of "Flock of Seagulls."  Several of their leaders have - through great patience and help from modern pharmacology (though a different sort of pharmacology practiced by the Australians) - managed to grow a few facial hairs which have also been bleached, teased and gelled into something resembling the fuzz on a mutant peach.  All wear knee-length, ripped khaki shorts with T-shirts announcing their preferences in Anime - Macross, Yamato, Akira.

During the boat trip to the dive sites, the Japanese divers chain-smoke premium tobacco - KOOL, Salem Menthol, Ghetto Choice, etc.   The Australians also chain smoke, but that is a different story.  When we get close to the dive sites, the Japanese begin to suit up. The put on their multi-layer, neoprene wetsuits with automatic temperature control; their heuristically algorhymic dive computers with neural net learning capability, their titanium alloy regulators with self-regulating blow-back control and oxygen-maximizing demand valves, and their ultra-lightweight, transparent aluminum with imbedded glare-adjusting liquid crystals.  Of course, every piece of equipment features "Hello Kitty" "Pikachu" "Laura Croft" or "Sailor Moon."

After donning equipment that would put James Bond to shame, the Japanese spend several minutes taking pictures of themselves, geared-up, and waiting to go in the water.  After the formalities of taking a picture for mom, a picture for dad, a picture for the emperor, a picture for their tutor, and a picture for a Ministry of Institutional Teenage Rebellion, Japanese plunge into the water and begin their SCUBA adventure!  Sadly, their SCUBA adventure ends about three feet below the surface.  These Japanese rebels are content to merely swim just underneath the waves and peer down at the reef some fifty feet below them.  In contrast, the Australians would be willing to go down fifty feet without any oxygen or equipment if there was some prospect of getting a really good buzz from the whole thing.

After paddling about the surface for ten or fifteen minutes, the Japanese get back on the boat, take another round of pictures and head to the upper deck to smoke.

I wonder whether we should tell them that there is free sushi in the water.

Given Ko Tao's remote location, it has been quite difficult to get a good internet connection.  I tried several times to get on line but it was quite cumbersome. I had to talk to an operator and say "zero.....zero......one......one......one.....zero......." and then the operator would reply, ".........ceehah......ceehah......awahn......ceehah......awahn......"  After thirty-or-so minutes I would get a CHEKSUM error and have to start over again.