A dive into the deep blue! – Part 2

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The first dive. Early morning, P.Dayang
The island is pretty small. The place near the dormitory is was abuzz with different diving groups. The dormitory we stayed at was run by  a local family who provided us with food as well. The rooms were very close to the shore, and as soon as I got onto my bunker bed, the sweet sounds of the waves lulled me to sleep. Early morning, we were ready and well fed by around 8.00 am. The first dive spot was a 40 minutes ferry ride away. This was it. I suited and geared up, ready to delve into the blue expanse of the South China Sea. The surrounding was a sight to behold. Lush green mountains, clear skies and pristine waters. We queued up to jump into the water – with a 12 kg oxygen tank, tight wet suits, goggles, and flippers!

One arm outstretched, and holding my nose with the other hand, I took one big stride & simply fell freely into the water! The chill waters engulfed me as I broke into them, took me a couple of feet underwater & back to the surface. Like a little child struggling to walk for the first time, it took me a while to gather myself and get into a comfortable state. To be amidst all the beauty, to take in the feeling of being in a huge water body, was overwhelming. Once our group of 6-7 beginners were ‘off’ board, we started our underwater drills.

The first dive commenced with our basic tests like cleaning goggles, managing the regulators etc. We knelt down on the seabed 5 m underwater and performed the tests in a row.  Having completed them, we slowly warmed up to diving around the area in a group. A visibility of only 15 m doesn’t help much when we are already in unfamiliar territory, and more over, one that does not belong to us. Nevertheless, slowly but steadily, I warmed up to the environment, and began to soak in the feeling. I could move around almost effortlessly, feel light and slow and simply amazing. I began to enjoy the experience thoroughly, and by the end of it, I was only craving for more. The maximum depth we reached on the first dive was only about 10 m, and by the end of the 5th dive, we spent most of the dive time at 18 m. That’s about 5-6 storeys, which may not seem that much, but remember, it’s underwater!
On the first day, we performed 3 dives, each of which lasted roughly an hour. At about 6 pm we called it  a day and freshened up for dinner. We dined and chatted on wooden benches on the shore. There we were, in the middle of the sea on a small dot of an island, going about dive stories.
By the end of the next day, we were 5 dives old. And needless to say, exhausted. For the evening tea break, I came to the beach to find some banana fritters being served. Relaxing on the beach, partly wet from the dives, soaking in the tropical sun, and relishing the banana fritters. It just couldn’t get better.
During each of the dive, as a beginner, I was fascinated by the sights of the underwater. Once, I was literally diving amidst a school of colourful fish, ranging from angel fish to clown fish. That was also when I spotted a fairly big sized squid a few feet away from us. And not to mention the really cool tiny christmas trees, which disappeared into the sponges when touched, like an underwater version of touch me not! At one point, when we were making our way back to the surface, I spotted a huge angel fish, that just appeared and disappeared simply, like that!
It was not all smooth, I also had my share of tough and slightly tense moments. It is important to control your buoyancy during the dive, so that you remain a couple of feet above the sea bed and adjust as and when needed. Coarse tuning of buoyancy is done by directly pumping air into or out of the buoyancy jacket that one wears. Fine tuning is actually done by breathing in and out – changing the volume of air in the lungs. During one of the dives, I was so lost in observing things around me , I didn’t realize that slowly I was going up and almost hit the surface. The whole group was ahead of me, way below at a depth of 16 m,  and the assistant instructor failed to notice this. Whoa, I had to remain calm, and join the group. Slowly contracted my lungs, and pumped out air from the jacket and made my way back to the group. Phew.
Sometimes I had a problem exactly opposite to the above, I went so low to the seabed and stirred some sand, creating a haze. That’s a common problem with most beginners though. Barring these hiccups, the dives were fairly smooth.
Nothing less than a unique experience. I had a whirlwind of a time. The trip went by quickly, and I was so craving for more dives. It’s a totally different, almost of out the world experience. And for all you water lovers out there, you simply have to go dive! – at least once in your lifetime.

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A dive into the deep blue! – Part 1

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A year ago, in the March of 2010, I finally signed myself up for my first diving trip (And so far, the only one yet) with Bluereef Scuba, one of the many Scuba shops that dot the lanes in and around Arab Street & North Bridge Road. I drew inspiration from a well-known documentary movie called – The Cove. This is a long pending write-up on that wonderful “out of the world” experience.

It all started when Divya and myself decided to go watch The Cove. The documentary moved me beyond words, and I was nothing less than heart wrenched at the cruelty meted out to one of the most lovable and intelligent creatures we know– Dolphins. Scroll back to one of my old posts for a write-up on The Cove.

Putting aside the serious facts of the story, what I also took away from the movie was a deep desire to experience the underwater. The beauty of diving and the challenges involved simply caught my attention. Being “hydrophilic” myself, it just naturally occurred to me to want to go dive. That began my research into everything related, and luckily around the same time I also happened to meet someone who was already an advanced diver.

After some extensive inquiries, I signed up with one of the many dive shops in Singapore. A friend of mine called Stephen also joined me for the dive. We had to go through some classroom training, followed by a test. There was also half a day of pool training to get familiarized with dive equipments and basic underwater techniques. The time had arrived to set off to Pulau Dayang, an island off the eastern coast of Malaysia. I looked up P.Dayang in the map, it’s but a small spot in the middle of the blue expanse.

We took a coach to Malaysia via the Tuas checkpoint. The bus ride lasted roughly about 4-5 hours. Somewhere in the middle, we halted for some midnight food at a road side food court. We got to know our instructor, a firefighter by profession. The half hour was spent listening to dive stories over some snack or two. Reached Mersing in the wee hours of the night, and boarded a ferry from Mersing port to P.Dayang. The rolling and swaying over the rough seas lasted another 4 hours. Although dark, it was a lovely sight outside, with heavy rains and a star-studded black sky. I went to sleep with recollections of a similar starry night, during a camp in the Kuantan province of Malaysia, way back in 2005. On reaching the island, we went to our dormitories, and I hit the bunker. The rooms were just a few yards from the sea. The smell of sand and sea, and the gentle whispers of the waves gave me a high. For the next 4 hours, I slept soundly.

Jakarta Vibes – Part 1

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Excitement slowly crept in. The week of February 22, 2011. My first overseas outing with friends. We were going to visit Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. We were going to the 11th biggest city in the world, in terms of population & size.
One Friday evening, back in the later part of 2010, Aditya messaged saying there are cheap tickets to Jakarta, and that they are planning a trip. Feb was a long time ahead, but even if I can’t make it for some reason, 30$ is not a big amount take a chance. I had no inkling of an idea of what Jakarta has in store for a tourist! Six of us from our group, minus Venu & Stephen “signed” up.. And what fun it turned out to be! All the credit for planning goes to Aditya, well, apart for one thing – that he did not schedule any time for lunch on any of those days!

Feb 24th, 2010. Arrival.
Rushed back from work slightly earlier, quickly refreshed, grabbed some food & took the train for a long ride all the way to Changi Airport. The leader of the pack led us to staff canteen for supper, I made sure to have something lest I starve later in the night.
Arrived in Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at around 8.30 pm. The airport looked pretty decent, although only slightly better than Chennai airport. One step outside the airport, and we were surrounded by touts for taxis & cars. Totally reminded me of Chennai or Bangalore airport. After a bit of haggling, we finally settled with a sort of mini van from the airport to Ibis Mangga Dua Hotel for about 200,000 Rupiah.(Here starts the arduous counting of zeroes in the Indonesian currency!) Roughly a 45 minute ride. The first thing that caught my attention was the number of cars on the roads. The roads were literally jam packed with cars, and took a little while to even get out of the airport. The in-taxi entertainment was Aditya-Jason sweethearts, with Aditya constantly nagging Jason to take pictures using his camera (Owing to the front-seat advantage Jason had) & Jason wondering why anyone would bother taking photos of toilet signs!! Of course, we can’t leave out dear Prof Loh, who kept insisting that billboards are as common in Singapore as Jakarta! Yeah, billboards, another instance we Indians of the group found very familiar. And not to forget, the occasional road bumps during the ride.

It was not very different from travelling in Chennai. The weather, the crowd, was all too familiar. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s a joy to simply break away from the extreme orderliness of Singapore & sink into the chaos around. The taxi turned into a small lane leading to the hotel from the Mangga Dua main road, and at around 10 p.m, this lane was lined with tent shops (or whatever you call them),  selling stuff from bags, to footwear, and hardwares and what not; also road side food stalls. The lane was only lit by lights from these shops. Brought back memories of walking down the streets of my native place, a town called Pollachi (Tamil Nadu, India)

We finally arrived at the hotel & decided to refresh, rest & meet next day for breakfast. Some of us took a stroll outside the hotel on the streets to find the shops closing down, a few bajai drivers touting, but the place was more or less closing for the day.

My first stint with Toastmasters

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March 13, 2011

My first meeting with NTU Alumni Club Toastmasters was on January 15th, 2011. I had little idea of what to expect, but I simply decided to go for it and see what is in store. It was a chapter meeting; And I witnessed some very good speeches, some attempts at public speaking by guests like me and some impromptu speeches too. Overall, it was a FUN day. I actually mustered my courage to do an impromptu 1-minute speech in the segment called Table Topics, where the person gets to pick a chit and speak on the topic on the chit for a minute. The topic for me was Blue – and not being the best at thinking on my feet, I actually fumbled a lot and spent more than half the time thinking. Anyway, it didn’t bother me in the least as we all were there for one purpose – to get over the public speaking phobia & improve with every attempt.

Even before I’d confirmed my membership, one of the VPs-Education took down my name for my first project on March 12. That’s fast, I thought!

It didn’t take me much to decide whether I wanted to join. My second meeting with TMC was a special day with CNY celebrations. Instead of table topics, there was a CNY game & Yu-Sheng (A special kind of potluck in celebration of Chinese New Year). The celebrations replaced the Table topics sessions that are normally held.

March 12, 2011. My maiden speech at Toastmasters. I was giving a prepared speech in front of a group after many years, my last one being way back in high school. That excludes the communication classes in university. I prepared for the speech for about a week, roughly an hour a day.

The outcome was decent for a P1 speech, and I received some good feedback. There was an advanced speech – AP2 with the theme of story telling. Today I actually learnt what a Project day constitutes, and what a Chapter meeting constitutes. Projects day has more prepared speeches, about 7-8 of them with evaluations. Chapter meeting has more variety – with a session on Table topics, President’s speech, and visiting guests. Towards the end, the first timers were awarded with a First Timer Ribbon. Thought that’s pretty cool.

This was just a short write-up on my initial experience with Toastmasters. In the write ups to come, think it’ll also be a good idea to maintain a log of my speaking experiences with TMC.

 

Breakdown your goals – A lesson from jogging.

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The Sunday morning lethargy from waking up late was broken when I resolved to hit the tracks. A few minutes of looking outside the window, into the clear blue skies and pleasant weather, was enough motivation for me to leave the house and go for a run! I changed into my running attire, wore my training shoes, and off I was to sweat it out a bit!

I usually have a target of jogging 3 laps at the minimum. I was mentally prepared for that much. As I was resuming after a hiatus, there was also a slight uncertainty of whether I’d be able to complete it in reasonable time.

Decided to put aside the uncertain feelings & I simply went into the stretching mode and picked up pace on the track. First lap, easy, consistent. Second lap, not bad. My average is about 3 minutes  per lap, a lap being equal to 400 m. (Yeah, this is not a big deal for all you regular runners out there!) and I was hovering around the average, on the better side. Third lap, I wanted to go on, was not a cakewalk, nevertheless, this old strategy I used to adopt back in school came to my mind.

I looked out for targets at 50m or less. If there was a 100m line coming ahead, I focussed on completing that small stretch of the entire lap. Let’s say it’s about 30 m, now that shouldn’t be too hard. Once I got there, it’s like accomplishing a small goal, and I moved on to set the next goal, say the lightpost about 40 m away. Again, the focus is only on reaching the lightpost. And the process is repeated until my big goal of 400 m is completed, and believe me, before I knew it, I was already there, comfortably pacing the last few meters of the lap.

The benefits are many.

1. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the fact that another 400 m lies ahead of me. All I did was simply break down the 400 m into smaller, digestable or rather do-able lengths. A big relief.

2. Focus all my energy on that small stretch – that mini goal to give it a name. This means, I gave the best of mind and body to reaching my current goal.

3. Maintain a consistent, if not, an improving pace.  Achieving the 40 m stretches gives motivation to keep going consistently, and not feel the pain of completing the whole thing.

Breaking down goals was applied to an activity as simple as jogging – whose smaller goalposts are very clear. But in other scenarios, such as get into a good MBA school etc., the goal setting process needs to be thought out and well planned, keeping results & time in mind. But the basic principles remain the same.

1. Break down into smaller chunks – Define task, end result, timeline

2. Focus on the composite goals

3. Achieve end result

4. Move on the to next with renewed energy

One point that is of enormous help and is worthy of being kept in mind – Quantify your goals. For example, instead of “I’m going to start jogging regularly” , a quantified version of the same would me – “I’m going to jog 10 km per week”. This strategy I adopted recently into my personal work, and it does wonders. Also, you get a picture of where you stand at accomplishing your goals, and where you should be.

If you are already into this, it’s great! If not, why not give it a shot? Do share your experiences here!

 

Back in the writing groove.

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First of all, do not be mistaken by the previous post. It was as it is now – half written, but way back in Dec 2009, before I went to India for a week’s visit. I think this blog saw little daylight since then, and hence the post was shelved.. and forgotten. Now, it’s like stumbling across an old forgotten piece, and dusting it, and I just thought it fun to publish it over here.

And when this blog was fast sleep, my little world has seen many events come and go, none too slow, and now I’m back here after a year’s hibernation in my realm of writing.

The new year has started with pages of writing, none that were meant to be published, but just to get myself in back into the habit again. Thanks to 750 Words, I’m motivated to write daily now. And I realized there is so much goodness to building the habit of writing.

A Thinking catalyst: When you decide to write about something, or just write, you need to search in your head for things to write about. There starts the thinking process, warming up your brain and preparing it to create thoughts worthy of penning down. As a beginner, just start writing whatever comes to your head, (Don’t worry about reviews) , after a page or less, you naturally fall in the thinking phase, where ideas are created, opinions formed and refined. This, when made a habit, makes your writing more refined and specific. In my case, being bound by a goal like that of 750 Words, during the day, I tend to take minute note of things worthy of writing about, quotes or events, failures and learning. This forms the day’s quota of writing, and in the process, tend to analyze things that are closer to heart.

Stress reliever: Well, at the end of a long day, what with deadlines and boss troubles, you just want some blank page to empty the rubbish in your head, so that the next day can start void of toxins. This works well sometimes, but another tactic I realized in this context – Instead of spewing all negative incidents or emotions onto the page, we limit it, and move quickly on to the positive aspects of the day. It’s like compartmentalizing – I’ve ejected enough of negativity, wait, now, let me look at the sunlight moments in my day. And believe me, in the end you’ll feel so good that your day was not just about being swamped in work and there was so much more to it.

Logic: When you start jotting down points about a topic, you start to think, and you think logically. Why did I write this down? It’s like, eventually, you want to support your own statements and opinions. Hence, you tend to look deeper into the subject, with a Why and a Why not? This way, you understand yourself better, and the way you think and why you think so.

For me, it’s a liberator. It’s become a morning habit (sometimes, I cut some slack too!), reach work at 7.00 am (whoa, yes, I know it’s early!), start typing away until 7.30 am. It’s like starting the day with something creative, something I like to do, and not have to do.

By now, you’ve guessed, after a year’s break at this, one of my new year’s resolutions is to write, write, write all I can. Come, join me in this endeavor!

 

 

And the countdowns begin.

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Yes. You read it right – countdowns. Apart from the universal countdown to a new year, there’s another one due in a week’s time. That’s a short stint at Bangalore – to be with family for a priceless 10  days. Considering my last visit home was less than a week, (it even seemed even shorter than the 15 post-lunch nap at work), I’m looking forward to this more than anything.

There’s so much to look forward to – back to the comfort, safety and care of home. A carefree feeling, a little less responsibility, a lot of warmth. Leaving behind the muted sights of Singapore, the early morning bus to work, monday morning and friday night extremes. All to suspend myself in the misty Bangalore mornings, in cozy blankets.