Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saying goodbye to Koh Tao

Well tonight is my last night here on Turtle island. I have enjoyed most of my time here, and definitely honed my skills as a scuba diver. The weather hasn't been great (monsoon rains today), and the visibility in the water is very low, making the general conditions less diver-friendly than normal for this time of year. Oh well. I met some neat people and enjoyed loads of down-time. I actually spent more time today on the boat than on land, and since the sea was quite rough all day, I am still feeling the swaying effects hours after disembarking. When I am walking I feel steady, but through dinner and even know at this Internet cafe, the world around me is gently rocking like the sea.

Tomorrow I will change islands, catching a 9am ferry to Koh Phangan. There someone from the Yoga Retreat will meet me at the pier and take me to the north (quiet) side of the island. Ko Phangan is very famous for it's half and full moon parties, and for New Year's Eve it is said to be one of the best party spots in South East Asia. Luckily for me the famous beach parties all happen on the south end of the island. The Yoga Retreat is 1 short km from the beach, tucked into a hilly jungle landscape, promising to indulge my senses with relaxation and tranquility. I can walk down to the beach and snorkel or trek a bit in the mountains to a couple waterfalls if I seek activity, but I imagine the 4 hours of Yoga and Pilates every day will be rejuvenating enough. The retreat also offers a vegetarian restaurant and cooking classes as well as a herbal steam room and plunge pool (whatever that is). Check out the website here.

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday time, and are looking forward to a great new year ahead.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advanced Open water Diver

In 48 hours on Koh Tao Island I am now and advanced open water diver. My specialties are deep diving, underwater navigation, buoyancy control, night diving and using dive a computer.

Yesterday we set out on the longtail at 7am and were in the water at Chumphon Pinnacle by 8:30. At 26 meters my dive instructor, Emily, and I saw the back end of a Reef shark as she shyly swam away from us. We had only been in the water 5 minutes! We then went to 32 meters and did our nitrogen narcosis tests - I didn't feel any silly side-effects, unfortunately. It just seemed like normal diving to me. The colours were very different and that was neat.

For our second dive I was paired up with a dive master trainee (DMT) and I had to plan every aspect of the dive and then lead her through my plan. I had to decide the maximum depth, maximum dive time and route around the site. This included using maps, a dive computer and an underwater compass. I was so eager and anxious to know where I was, that once we submerged, I took off like a shot. I suspect that the teacher-in-me exploded at this opportunity to 'lead the way'. I was SO excited that we circled the entire dive site within about 15 minutes. Ooppps! So we went back, slowly, and I toured my DMT around, finding all the cool sites and making it back to the buoy line at exactly 45 minutes. She was impressed and I am now and Advanced Open Water Diver. The visibility is not greats right now (~5meters) so this was actually as huge accomplishment. Others in the course had a truly difficult time with the navigation. I relied on my compass and computer a lot , and felt comfortable using them properly.I spent the afternoon checking out Koh Tao on foot and booked a 5-day yoga retreat starting next Monday and ruining until Friday afternoon when I must fly back to Bangkok and catch my flight home to Hong Kong. The yoga retreat is on Koh Phangan Island (the one between here and Koh Samui) and it includes accommodation and breakfast, as well as 4 hours of Yoga per day and a little pilates if I'm interested. It should be amazing.

One week of diving + One week of yoga. Life couldn't be better :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Typical Touristy Tropical Paradise

Even though I have seen my fair share of unique and diverse places on this earth, I truly thought that every typical tourist tropical paradise, was not too much more than simply that - a typical tourist tropical paradise. Seen one, seen them all.

I feel like I can't begin to explain how wrong that sentiment was, although I'll give it a try right now in a few short paragraphs about my first 36 hours here in Thailand.

I flew into Bangkok yesterday morning and between 11am and 5pm I wandered around some neat neighbourhoods. I was trying to eventually get to Koh San Road, but never found my way there. I just enjoyed being lost (completely) and eventually jumped in a tuk-tuk to the train station. Here I booked a bus + ferry boat ticket to get me all the way to my destination, one of the best attractions for scuba divers in south east Asia, Koh Tao Island.

I killed a 1.5 hours wait in the train station by treating myself to a 75 minute Thai foot massage for ~$10 CAD. The bus journey started out exciting as a bunch of traveller's from all parts of the world and speaking at least 4 different languages all settled into seats around me. I had fun meeting everyone, but we were quickly lulled to sleep by Transformers (the movie) being played a maximum volume. Nice. About 8 of us were dumped by the side of the road, cold and sleepy at 3:20am in a place called Chumphon. At 4am a jeep took us to the pier, about 40 minutes away where we sat anxiously reading all the available travel brochures describing the set of 3 islands that comprise one of Thailand's hugest tourist areas (Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui). At 6am about 60 more sleepy, rugged, and smelly backpackers joined our little group. The boat left at 7am. The view was nothing too exciting, out a thick and dirty window, so I slept for almost the entire 2.5 hour journey to the island.

A jeep picked me up at the pier in Koh Tao and took me to the dive resort. I arrived at 9:55 and as I was being checked in by one of the divemasters, she told me that and Advanced Open Water course was beginning at 10am. There were 3 students already participating, and there may not be enough students to start another class for a couple days. In about 30 seconds I went from thinking that it was crazy to begin right away, to thinking "why not?" I dumped my stuff in a very humble first floor cement room with a double bed and private bath (I can't complain as I am paying the equivalent of $8 CAD per night) and joined the class.

Our first dive was a specialty buoyancy training, basically 45 minutes underwater playing games, swimming through hoops and other obstacles, hovering upside down, and playing charades underwater - super fun! Then it was on to our navigational dive where we had to find certain landmarks underwater and use a maps and an underwater compass! I rocked at this dive and learned SO much. We are also learning how to use dive computers on all our dives - super cool! We came back onto land for a quick 1 hour break at sunset and then went out again at 7pm for a night dive, which was totally amazing. What an incredible first day.

After a shower and change into clean, dry clothes I headed to the beach for a bite to eat. I sat front and center for a specular fire dancing show and ate the best chicken green curry I have ever tasted. Honestly, one of the best meals of my life. And I am thinking, holy crap - this place is a paradise like nothing I have ever imagined. The people, the food, the environment - both above and below the water - it is all fascinating. And all I keep thinking is, "One day down, thirteen more to go." I am the luckiest person in the world!

- North End of Koh Tao Island -
(this was our second dive site today :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thai Christmas

I am off to Thailand in 4.5 days!! I can hardly contain my excitement. I wake up each morning smiling at the realization that I am one day closer to being there. I just booked in with a dive school called Big Blue. Check out their website here. They promise to have me swimming with sharks on the 2nd day - a dream come true. It's totally safe and I'll be with professionals Nana, don't worry.
Thanks to a lovely Christmas present from Dad, I went out shopping on Sunday to a Pro Dive Shop that was advertising a holiday sale. And what a sale it was, almost everything was half price. I walked out with a full piece, all black wet suit, as well as a high quality black mask and snorkel. I never dreamed I'd own an underwater bond-girl outfit! Look out Thailand :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Laundry Service

So here in HK I don't have a washing machine. I drop off all my dirty clothes at a laundry place (one of many in my neighbourhood) where they weigh it, charge me by the pound, and fold it neatly into these huge plastic bags for me to pick up a few hours later. If I drop it off in the morning, I can always pick it up around 6pm. But if I don't make it there until the afternoon, they usually tell me to pick it up the next day. So yesterday I drop off my laundry and she says come back tomorrow. No problem. This morning I pick it up but don't even unpack it because I have plans to meet John, go shopping for a cheap cell phone to use when my visitors come in January, some dive gear (yipppeeee) and maybe a Thailand travel guide. We ended up having dinner and seeing a movie in Times Square, so I got home around 10pm. I unpacked my laundry to find that my sheets (brand new, never used) are not in there! I am furious. I can't seem to think rationally. I am so angry. Not only were they really nice, lime-green NEW sheets (with robots, chemical formulas and computer code all over them), but I had never even slept on them! And now, all I can think is that they ended up in someone else's laundry bag, gone forever and someone else is nesting into them right now. How could this happen?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Big Sister!

Today the grade 5s put on their annual Trash 2 Fashion show. It is part of our unit of inquiry about waste management, and the kids absolutely love the experience. To be honest, I was not that into it from the start, but as the preparations went on I became a bit more excited, mostly because I can see it as a better alternative to many other garbage-creating ways of decorating and celebrating this time of year. We had taken lots of photographs of the students in all 5 classes getting ready over the last 3 weeks and now with the video footage I shot of the actual show yesterday, I will be spending my weekend making a movie. This production will be shown to the parents at our Winter Concert this Wednesday evening, so there is a little pressure for it to be better than good.

So while everyone I know rushes around tomorrow night to multiple Christmas parties, eating and drinking way too much, and feeling gross in the morning, I will be contently and comfortably at home, creating art with my computer. Ahhhhh, lucky me :) I will get out and about a bit too though, as I do have a couple social commitments on my agenda than I am really looking forward to. Tonight I enjoyed dinner a cool little sushi restaurant in SoHo with John. A place we had both never been to. Then followed with mulled wine and cake at the Peak Cafe, where we ran into Cindy, Ross and Bruce, other teachers from school.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December in Hong Kong

Well the weather is getting cooler. It drops down to 11 or 12 degrees at night, and that can feel pretty cold in an apartment with no heater or insulation of any kind. It is a nice change though. I wear socks around the flat and drink tea more often and crank up the heat int he shower. The humidity has also changed drastically. I don't think it has rained more than one sprinkle since October! It feels like fall in Canada, and I can't help but feel inspired to prepare for an approaching winter season. It gets dark much earlier now adding to the effect, which I can't say I like too much, although the bus ride home at 5:30 has been a consistent showcase of stunning sunsets. But colder temperatures aren't approaching, and I am told that the cold won't progress much further. Before I know it it will be warming up and feeling like the tropics again.

Things are winding up at school, and I am looking forward to Thailand more and more each day. Thanks to my dad, I will also being sure to enjoy at least a couple days of scuba diving. I've been dreaming of diving in Southeast Asia for more than 5 years now. I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Explorers Class Photos

I had one of those I-love-my-class days. Today was a happy-fun teacher day for me. Good thing too, because last Friday was an extreme poopy-pants teacher day and yesterday was a meanie-why-isn't-your-work-done-yet? teacher day. Here is my class is all their glory on photo day. After the serious photo for the yearbook, I asked the photographer to take an Explorer shot. They're adorable people. I love them so much.

Just a hint: You can click on the photos in this blog to see them full-size.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Motorcycle weekend

I had a great weekend touring around Hong Kong on the motorcycle with John. On Saturday we went to the temple of 10,000 Buddhas in Sha Tin. We had fun poking around - found a bee farm that sold honey and saw some cool Buddha statues in mid-construction.

Then we went to see a Taiwanese film at the mega mall in Kowloon called MEGA BOX. Crazy! There is an indoor ice rink in there with floor to (extremely high) ceiling windows, which look out over Victoria Harbour to the sprawling Hong Kong Island skyline. We finished the day off with an amazing organic dinner at Life, next door to my flat. Good day.

On Sunday we joined Rob and Barb for a ride out to Sai Kung, the large National Park in the New Territories, about 1 hour outside of Hong Kong. We had a nice late lunch and hiked along the coastline. It has gotten cold here, about 15 degrees feels normal now. On the bike it was even cooler, so I have been wrapped up in scarves and pulled out my heavy coat.

Sai Kung Park

Friday, December 5, 2008

Back From Camp

I had a fabulous time camping with the grade 5s. We had adventures including swimming in the ocean and rock climbing up to swim in waterfalls, learning about wild water buffalo, planting trees on deforested mountainsides, organic farming and composting, as well as native tree identification and cooking with locally harvested foods. It was spectacular. For the most part, these kids are (were) the opposite of outdoorsy or adventurous. Camp definitely made an impact, and for a few it was a intense experience. I dealt directly with diarrhea, cuts and scrapes, vomit, homesickness, excessive rambunctiousness, arguments, giggles and belly laughs, fears and some of the best learning imaginable. It was a huge success. Now I am back home to enjoy another weekend with not too much going on.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Taking my students outside

Hip hip harooney duney. Finally! I am taking my students on an outdoor adventure. Three days at an ecologically sustainable organic farm on an outlying island about 20 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong Island (who knew?). Grade 5s = 126, teachers = 12, activity organizers on site = 20 or so. Activities include waterfall hikes, tree planting, local flora lessons, beach cleanups, farming labour, walking with water buffalo, and sleeping in cabins.

Hurray for outdoor and experiential education. I am so excited. The site we are going to is called Ark Eden. For more details check it out here.