Diving still wins!

Posted on 22 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, diving, Thailand.

...and the boat voyage to the dive sites I've done this trip so far.It’s been a few days since I posted, and I’m frankly very glad that I didn’t write a blog post after my dives on Sunday. They were crap. I was told something different about the weights, and even though my gut told me one thing, I didn’t listen. So, I was underweighted, and was supposed to work on Peak Performance Buoyancy. It didn’t work so well. I was completely distracted the entire time, due to both being underweighted and having super buoyant fins. Combining my buoyant fins with my 7mm booties was super lame. I wasn’t able to do a fin pivot, I wasn’t able to cross my legs and hover in the water. I barely was able to get through the hoops that are part of the obstacle course. On the last part of the dive, which we did as a fun dive, the weight belt would not stay lower on my hips, and I was swimming along with my head down and not even able to look ahead. It wasn’t good, all around.

So, I came away from Sunday really doubting myself and really being annoyed with the whole thing. Wondering why I was doing this, etc, etc. And then the instructor I was with was all bratty about some stuff, but at least she did speak with me about it, and I felt better. She wanted to give me some helpful hints for the Divemaster program and overall, they were helpful. I just don’t need someone to tell me that It’s not super easy – um, I know this. If it was super easy, everyone would be a DM and would be a dive guide. But, it’s NOT, so no, not everyone is doing it.

I decided to go home, do some navigation prep and then to call it a night early – and NOT to second guess my decision.

Monday was much better – and not just because it was my mom’s birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Mom!!). I did some navigation training with one of the managers at the shop, along with a German guy who was doing some specialty dives. (Sidebar: evidence of UK vs US English can be seen in Speciality vs Specialty and Snorkeling vs Snorkelling.) Luckily the instructor (and the student) were able to let me come along and learn while they did. Because, after all, underwater it’s the same language!

For Monday, I added more weights (and clarified the info on the weights I had on – in the shop there are 1kilo weights, on the longtails they’re .8kilos) and used some of the shop’s fins. Completely different diving.

Underwater navigation is a good thing to know, but sometimes visibility screws with your ability to correctly discern where things are. We tested fin kicks and how long it took to get from point A to point B and then used a compass to find locations. I think I’m rather dyslexic with the add or subtract degrees to make myself go right or left. So, there’s that problem. But, I got all the way around to almost where we started. It’s kind of funny when you’re underwater and using a compass to find your way around, you kick much more seriously than when you are just going on a dive for pleasure. So, that tends to make you have a single focus. I did that so much so that I almost lost the instructor and the other student. Oops. And with the visibility decreasing at the minimal depth we were at, this didn’t help. I stayed in one place for a while, and it was fine. After this, we went on a fun dive and saw a fun sole – it was almost invisible, but when it swam away, it was like a ribbon over the sand. When we ascended, I came up a few seconds too fast – I don’t know why I do this. It’s something I have to correct. Obviously.

On the second dive, we descended to try to find “the dive site” we marked with visual clues we made as we ascended. We came close, but not close enough to find it. We started with creating a hexagon underwater with markers – first Damian had to do it, and then I had to do it again. I didn’t find the same markers. D’OH! When we were done with that exercise, we got to do a fun dive. We found a kindergarten rock which was super – filled with baby fishies! We saw baby Moorish Idols, a baby pufferfish, and some other baby fishes. They were so tiny and adorable (yes, I’m a dork. But remember – I have fish tattooed on my back.) that I almost didn’t want to leave them.

This time I didn’t have any issues with my head down or anything, so I was pleased. Having proper neutral buoyancy is key. My weight belt stayed in one place – also good. We saw a tiny nudibranch – smaller than my fingernail! After the fun dive, we went back and found our “dive site” (aka the piece of rope in the ground) and then the instructor went to go see if we could find the markers from the hexagon. We found 3 of the 5. Maybe I’ll have to go map / find the others when I do my real Navigation test.

Overall, I feel very happy with the results of the dives on Monday. I did well, and the buoyancy issue was resolved. In addition, I met a girl named Kelli who may know my cousin from Antarctica. And, she lived a few blocks from my house in Hermosa. The world is small, yes it is.

Now it’s time to finish quite a few knowledge reviews. YAY for Studying!

And I have updated my pictures. Including a pic of the twin I met last weekend, whose twin in Orange County I’ve met before. Small world comes to mind…

Day 3 was an office day.

Posted on 19 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, diving, Thailand.

Today I got to spend way too many hours in the shop and get oriented to what happens in the shop on a day to day basis. I learned about selling liveaboard packages and classes from a Thai girl called Cougar and then I had to sell them! At least I knew some of what I was talking about due to having gone on liveaboard trips with Sea Dragon before! I believe I worked through 3 different customer trips today. So, I apparently succeeded?

I learned about refilling tanks with the compressor in the shop, loaning equipment to other dive shops, how to check out equipment to customers… all things that you need to know to work in the front office of the dive center.

So it was all very exciting. And I learned that my feet are very displeased with me – walking around on a cement floor all day, barefoot, is really quite awesome. Or not.

On Day 4, I get to do a Peak Performance Buoyancy PADI Specialty dive, one I’ve done already, but it will be a great one. It’s always good to do, especially since I now have a new wetsuit!

Even though I am paying someone to “let” me work in the office, it was still good.

Am I crazy? I think yes.

Days 1 and 2. Because I’m not clever with blog names.

Posted on 18 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, diving.

I started class today. I got my proper orientation of the dive shop, and my instructor Axl told me to just tell him when I did NOT know someone in the shop, and he’d introduce me. Because I know most of the people who work in the shop. I have been here since last Friday, and I’m just a friendly person (I know, this is shocking news to you), which allowed Axl to introduce me to the peeps I didn’t know yet. There were not very many of them.

I got oriented to the DiveMaster Training schedule and also to the shop – all the detailed places in the shop were pointed out and then I worked on my self-inflating BCD with several people. Then, there were more knowledge reviews to do and reading to get done.

Day 1 was nothing too exciting, but it was fine. And then I was also able to stay out of the sun, so this was a bonus.

Day 2 was more classroom stuff – and knowledge reviews. I also was turned over from Axl to Stefan for the DM course. Stefan is more land-based, while Axl goes out on boats. I was to be Axl’s first DM student, but no longer!

In addition to classroom excitement, I had to complete a rescue assessment. Axl thought it would be an easy journey to the sea, but the surge was hellacious. I had to drag a non-responsive diver 25 meters to the shore and drag him out, all the while doing rescue breaths.

We were easily in waves of 1.5 meters high, so that posed problems. I never gave up, though – even though I wanted to walk my way home via Phuket to LA, but I didn’t. It was good to not have given up. The shore seemed to get further and further away as I attempted to get closer. It was very frustrating. Upon arriving at the sand, I fell over.

I came back to the Dive Center and wow – I think I took home half the sea shells on the shore in my gear.
I passed the scenario, and I know that I almost choked Stefan – but by the same token, the shore never got any closer.

All of these things makes for a very tired Noelle. And, it makes me say: WTF WAS I THINKING?? After the fact, though, I do feel pleased that I did it.

And, apparently the two instructors I was with have been saying what horrible conditions they were, and how I never gave up. I had several people come up to me today and mention it. So, I feel proud of that.

On to bigger and better things! Like guiding tours under the water.

Well, that sucked.

Posted on 17 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, diving.

So, today I went on a trip to do some fun dives. Out at a wreck called Thai Muang. It’s an old tin ship. It’s in deep water and has some good life on it. It’s closer to the short than another wreck I now know I like better, but it’s a moderately good one.

I helped the two DMs from the shop onto the boat, got sunscreened up and settled in for the half hour ride to the wreck. Upon getting there, we got in the water, sorted masks and I lost a fin. Perhaps I should have realized that this dive might not have gone very well. I was in a new wetsuit too, so was quite buoyant. And I didn’t think I had enough weight on me.

We descended the line and then started moving along and I felt very bouncy. And then I started going up. My “dive” was over at 4 minutes. I did what is called a “buoyant ascent.” Which is bad. I went from 17m to the surface very rapidly. As soon as I knew it was happening, I started looking up, put my Left hand up and made sure there was nothing above me – like the boat. I popped up not far from the boat but still couldn’t figure out why. I rested on the boat for the remainder of the other two groups dives and saw my BCD inflate on its own. The bastard. Anyway, both DMs thought that my inflator button was/is broken, so I went down on the 2nd dive without my inflator hose clipped. I self-inflated on the boat before we went into the water, and then at the surface after the dive I did the same.

On the dive there was a ghost pipe fish, a nudibranch, some schools of fish, a lovely eel and crap visibility.The current was stronger on the 2nd dive too.

While it was good to have that experience, I don’t want to have that experience. But, then again, it’s good to know that it can happen. And to know how to resolve it easily. As a beginning open water diver, you are taught how to unconnect your inflator hose, but I didn’t really know what the problem was when I was at depth. I was unsure if it was due to the weights, or the wetsuit, or all of it combined.

My fins are also buoyant, as opposed to many that sink. I think I’ll be splitting my weights up between my BCD and a weight belt. I texted a friend while I was waiting on the boat and said “I can only get better, right?”

That was dive 89 – because I’m not counting my under 5 minute dive as another one.

The list of things I forgot has grown:
Proper & Good Sunscreen, my First Aid Mask for rescue breathing.

Class starts today, on Thursday, and I will do some specialty dives this weekend, I think – one is Peak Performance Buoyancy. That’ll help with the new wetsuit issue. I’m pleased with that one for sure!

I’ve started taking random pictures, and will continually post them on my flickr photostream if you want to look. It is here: Thailand Journey on Flickr.

A bus ride to do my shoppings.

Posted on 14 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, cocktails and food, Thailand.

Read her shirt. Very closely.

In an effort to save some ducats, I decided to make a trek to the Phuket Tesco Lotus. The things on my list were:
Water kettle, sunscreen, towel, detergent, tea… The things that can make life less expensive in Thailand. I am still a little upset that I forgot my towel at home, along with my sunscreens (the ones that are GOOD!). So, I went to Tesco to remedy the situation.
My friend Fiona went with me, as I had offered to get some items from her. Last night, though, she asked me when I was going, because she wanted to go with me, instead of giving me a list a mile long.

Tesco Lotus in Phuket is about 2 hours away, via bus, so we decided to leave early, so as to not spend the entire day away from Khao Lak. The bus comes every hour, on the hour, so 7am was the desired starting time. I didn’t have a chance to get coffee, and neither did Fiona, so we were both yawning the entire ride in. Kinda pathetic, really. Can you say “addict,” class?

Upon being dropped off, we realized that there was a new Tesco Lotus that didn’t involve a 10 minute taxi ride, but instead a 4 minute walk across a car park. Unfortunately, most everything was closed. Including Black Canyon Coffee. It opened at 10am, not at 9am. It’s a coffee place! Shouldn’t it be open at 9am? Or before?!? Anyway, I had some noodle soup for breakfast (Because what else is there to eat? Other stuff? Pshaw!) and then it was time to explore the store. Next to the food court was the kids’ play area. Obviously it’s a Wonderland.

I knew that at some point I’d need to look at the t-shirts, as at the Tesco Lotus near Siam Square in Bangkok there are some classically badly worded shirts. They’re kind of fantastic, though.

We went up and down every aisle, except for the kids’ clothing aisles, and found all of what we needed. Including packets of ramen and Tesco’s Finest teas and shortbreads! Tesco Lotus is apparently importing items from the UK to sell in Thailand. There were a lot of items incorrectly located, due to the flooding in Thailand, and it seemed that the store staff was just trying to create the image of NOT being out of items. I wasn’t able to get sweetened, condensed milk for my instant coffee (aren’t you jealous now?), but want you to know that there IS indeed a difference between sweetened, condensed milk and evaporated milk. I forget who I was discussing this with, but gdamnit, there IS a difference.

As any of you who have been following this blog may remember my obsession with grocery stores. Yep, I still have it. Even after working for a store for 5 years. So, it was fun to walk up and down the aisles. In the meat department you can scoop your own minced meat – I’m not sure if it was pork or chicken. And you can peel your own bacon! Very different than in the US.

The most priceless picture is above. From the food court. It says what you think it says, and below it said “You got the right one, baby.” It was probably missing the comma, to be fair.

Although, this shirt, and this one, are pretty fantastic. Can you spot the spelling errors? For other awesome Thailand pictures, check out my flickr stream associated with those pictures. It’s called Thailand Journey. I’m not sure when air fresheners needed these names: Sweetness and Smart & Cool.

For the record, the shirts were better in BKK and the soup is better across the road. Also, there will always be a part of me that is F&E, and therefore Tesco.

A Blatant Plea

Posted on by No-L.
Categories: random.

This has nothing to do with my trip to Thailand. This only has to do with my friend Aidan’s awesome new movie. I have known Aidan since the 7th grade, way back in 1989. He’s been making movies since before I met him. That’s a long time. Now he’s working on a movie that combines science fiction and real high school experiences. It is a collaboration between professional filmmakers and high school students in Oakland, CA.

Aidan needs your help to get the movie made. There is a kickstarter campaign out there that needs some love, and you can share the site with your friends.

Please go and support SPACE OUT. As with all kickstarter campaigns, you get various things if you donate and the project moves forward (essentially gifts for donation levels), whereas if the amount is not met, your pledge is not turned into money.

Here’s the trailer (I cannot WAIT to see it): SPACE OUT trailer
Here’s the kickstarter site: SPACE OUT kickstarter campaign

And tell a friend! Aidan is almost to the halfway point… help out just a smidge!

The Rain

Posted on 13 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand.

The Rain a video by socal noelle on Flickr.

This is the video.

Rain. And lots of it.

Posted on 12 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, Thailand.

So, last night I was going to try to rally to go meet people at a local place called Happy Snapper, but it started raining. At first it was sprinkling. And then pouring. I got off the bed to take a video, and will upload it later, but OMG pouring is what it was. Whoa.

That time I flew to Thailand. Then took some trains, and then a bus.

Posted on 11 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: 3 months in Thailand, cocktails and food, diving, Thailand.

So, I left LA on Tuesday, November 8, at 11.25pm. This put me into Taipei at 6.15am, for my flight to Bangkok at 7.55am. The flight was rather bumpy, and long, of course, but it was overall fine. My friend Kara is a travel agent and she was able to check me in, so I didn’t have to stand in line at LAX, but I did have to swap out stuff in my backpack. Taipei has free wifi, which I was reminded of when I asked for good food options there by my friend Kristina, aka Wired to the World – I even commented on the blog post where she said it! Silly forgetful Noelle. Anyway, the flight to BKK was fairly empty, so I was able to move up from the back of the plane (where it was FULL!) to the front where it was virtually empty. Not the front-front (aka business class), but I didn’t have to sit next to anyone.

Upon arrival into BKK, I saw some flooded fields, which someone said yesterday on the tvittah weren’t actually flooded, but shrimp farms. I’m not so sure – I seem to remember seeing them as proper fields the last time – and the woman who lives here behind me commented on them too… and, I don’t think there are THAT many farms out there. So, it’s a MYSTERY! When I got to the baggage claim, and my duffel bag came up, the zipper was open, so I was kinda freaked out. It turns out that the zipper seems to have just popped open – so I “unzipped” the zipper and then re-zipped it. Maybe when I go home I’ll get some safety pins and pin it, just in case it decides to pop open again. Also, I’m taking donations for a proper scuba gear case. Because, like cycling, scuba is so inexpensive.

I took the train to the end of the line – it’s a new train link that goes from BKK into the City. Then I took BTS to the MRT to the Hua Lamphong Train Station. All for about 3 bucks total. Then I waited and waited for my “train.” I had some good noodles while I waited, though. The train south isn’t running properly, due to the flooding, so I had to take a bus to a train station that was about 2 hours away. I tried to look at the flooding, but I was still tired, so didn’t really make it awake. Got to the train, and ran to my car, just before it pulled away. Damn if that duffel bag wasn’t the stupidest idea ever! I should have taken the big suitcase I had. Then my carry-on pack wouldn’t have been so heavy either! Live and learn is what they say, right? Ha. On the way through BKK’s public transport system, I saw several movie adverts for Twlight. Super awesome, right?

The overnight train wasn’t nearly as fun as it was when I traveled with Erik a few years ago, but it was fine. I do like train travel, especially sleeper trains, as opposed to bus travel. I couldn’t justify the plane, as it was over 3 times the charge of the train. Upon arrival in Surat Thani, I paid too much for the bus to the other bus to Khao Lak (a traveling couple next to me bought their ticket at the train station in BKK and paid 250 THB, whereas I paid 450 THB – DAMNIT!), but then eventually made it to Khao Lak.

I arrived at Sea Dragon Dive Center, again with the stupidly heavy duffel, and was super happy to have just arrived and be able to settle in. Upon dropping crap at the guesthouse next door, I wandered to find a room that I can rent for the time I’m here. I’ve decided to go with the one that does some cleaning and has towels (one of the things I forgot), and is also next door to the dive shop (kinda – over a ravine and through a restaurant called O’Rendezvous).

Just in case you’re keeping track at home, the things I forgot are:
Rain jacket, Tiger Balm, a towel… so far.

For those wondering, there are accommodations like mine, but also some that are very much fancier – there is a Le Meridien here, along with some other very posh resorts. Come visit me! This is meant for you, Ronak.

In addition to fancy accommodations, there are some awesome food stalls. I’ve been dreaming about the soup above for 2 years.

I went to Bang Niang with some of my dive shop friends last night, and the owner of The Rusty Pelican in Bang Niang is a Californian – from the Santa Monica / Venice border. So, I had Mexican food in Thailand, from a Californian. And, I met the twin of someone who likes to sit at my favorite Seal Beach Bar – 320 Main. So, it is a small world, after all.

I was super excited to see my dive shop peeps – I do love Sea Dragon Dive Center. Super stoked that Fiona has come back to work and said she might surprise me when I got here. Which she did! I gave her and my friend Lani a super sweaty hug. Yes, because I’m awesome like that. And because I carried my duffel and pack through town.

Being here is great. I love it. I do miss peoples back at home, particularly the godkids and godfamily, but it’s good to be here. I am indeed living my dream.

Drinking Bourbon in Bourbon-Land

Posted on 5 November, 2011 by No-L.
Categories: cocktails and food.

Heavy and old bourbon jug

As you may or may not know, I became a board member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), last year. They’re based in Louisville, Kentucky, so I get to go there several times per year now. And, up until I went to The Ville several times a year, I hadn’t really explored bourbon much. So, for my first trip, in July of 2010, I decided I needed to try it. I happened upon a great bartender at Proof on Main, which is the hotel restaurant for the 21C Museum Hotel. Good food, great gallery inside the lobby of the hotel, and if you go, you MUST check out the men’s restroom. Even if you’re not a dude, yes, you must check it out. Eric gave me some tastings of some bourbons, and told me why some were his favorite and some were not. Then added a bit of housemade lemonade to them, and also water to some others. So, that was my first experience with bourbon, outside of a small Buffalo Trace tasting as part of the Orange County Bartender’s Cabinet at least a year before.

On that trip, I don’t think I went to any distilleries (as I count back in my head), but I definitely was exposed to some bourbon that I’d never had before. In the past year, I’ve been to 6 distilleries so far, the first was Buffalo Trace, then Woodford Reserve, then then Four Roses, then Heaven Hill and finally the Bulleit Experience and Maker’s Mark this time. I was just informed that Buffalo Trace has a hard-hat tour, and now I want to go revisit that distillery. Next time – in February.

So far, the best two, in my very humble opinion, have been Buffalo Trace and the Bulleit Experience. Buffalo Trace wasn’t as much about the pomp and circumstance of “we are a very fancy distillery!” as some of the others have been. Four Roses was pretty chill, but they truck the liquid out to get bottled elsewhere. Heaven Hill had a giant fire some years ago, so they don’t let anyone near the liquid. Woodford Reserve was interesting, but the tour guide we got was kind of smarmy. The friends I was with had a great tour there the first time, so they were disappointed with this guide. I guess that leaves Maker’s as the 3rd favorite. I learned about the house that is a remake of the exact Samuels house just recently, so that was something I didn’t get while in Kentucky. What kind of bugged me was that Maker’s kept trying to make themselves sound like a craft distiller. Well, if you’re building 25 new warehouses to store the bourbon barrels, over the next ten years, I can’t agree that you’re a craft distiller. And, I like the Maker’s 46, but not really much else. For the price of a 750 ML bottle of Maker’s Mark ($20 in California), I’d rather have a 750 ML bottle of gin. I can get a bottle of Eagle Rare (I believe 12 year) here in Washington for $25, so yes, I’d rather have that. Anyway… on to what I decided to write about today (yes, I’m 3 paragraphs deep already).

In September, I flew to Louisville earlier than I normally do, mostly due to the whole lack of a job thing, and also because I like to stay extra days. This time flying home to Seattle on a Sunday would have cost far too much money, so I flew into Louisville early. Unfortunately my hosts had to work the next day, and my meetings didn’t start till Wednesday, so I had to find another ride to go tour some distilleries. I had previously met Hollis Bulleit, the global brand ambassador for Bulleit Bourbon, in LA and had asked her if they did tours. At the time, they weren’t quite open, but I kept asking her and lo and behold – they were OPEN the last time I asked.

I dragged my friend Scott up from Lexington to go visit The Bulleit Experience with me, and it was quite lovely. We were “subjected” to a tour by Bobby, and he was a great tour guide. Thank you Bobby!! I love the restoration of the old Stitzel-Weller distillery and understand the care that went into the offices. The artifacts that are in the offices are thoughtful and tell the story of Bulleit Bourbon. The Stitzel-Weller distillery was opened on Derby Day in 1935, so it has some history. It’s the closest distillery I’ve been to in all my journeys to Louisville. It’s also pretty close to Churchill Downs, where I’ve never been.

The Bulleit family has been making bourbon for years and years (Hollis’ great-grandfather used to take bourbon from Louisville down to New Orleans and disappeared while on that route many years ago.) but in 1987 Tom Bulleit revived the Bulleit family’s distilling legacy by using the recipe his grandfather used at that time. At this time, there is also Bulleit Rye and it won double gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year. It is darned good. The bourbon is delicious as well, but I think the rye trumps it.

The family story helps to give Bulleit Bourbon & Rye much more of a craft distillery feel and I liked that. It was quite a juxtaposition to go from the Stitzel-Weller distillery to Maker’s Mark. I’m sure knowing Hollis helped as well. We also got to see barrels being rolled out of the warehouses, which was pretty awesome, since it happens so rarely.

Maker’s Mark was close to 2 hours away from Louisville, but it was a beautiful drive. Many thanks to Scott for driving. The Maker’s Mark tour is much more of a show, and much less of a craft distillery. They do show you the “beers (step 1)” (and step 2 and step 3) and the liquids, but they do quite a volume. One of my favorite things about Maker’s is that Mrs Samuels decided to recreate the design, to make it more appealing to women – but not to turn men off from the bourbon. But, the flavor went from “firewater,” to something more along the lines of bourbon from Maker’s Mark today. Additionally, she was the one who thought up the mark that signifies Maker’s Mark now – the wax. On the tour you walk the line to see where they dip the bottles after they’ve been filled and sealed. Then the bottles are boxed up to get shipped out.

The tour guide said that Maker’s Mark is a craft distillery, which I pretty much scoff at, because in the next breath she said that they were building another 25 warehouses in the next 10 years. So, I disagree. I do like the fact that the wheat comes from within 25 miles of the distillery, and that the corn is non-GMO corn from Indiana.

One thing is that Maker’s does have their own reservoir of water, and as an employee of Maker’s Mark apparently if you are caught around the reservoir, it will be your last day working there. Something to know, if you decide to go get a job there.

At the end of the Maker’s Mark tour we got to taste Maker’s 46, regular Maker’s and we had the opportunity to taste their white dog. I just tried the regular and 46. I think 46 is quite lovely.

Of the tastes I got today, I’d say that my favorite is the Bulleit Rye. I didn’t expect to like it, in all honesty. I pretty much thought I’d not like it as much as the bourbon – but it was quite smooth and well-rounded.

When I get back from Thailand, I’m going to have to go purchase some. Someone recently mentioned on twitter how good fig-infused Rittenhouse Rye was. I might try that with Bulleit Rye.

Or else get a local Seattle bartender to make it for me. Yeah, that one.