Posts Tagged ‘theme’

Finding Nemo

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The English Channel is cold. At university I decided it would be great fun to learn to scuba-dive with the sub-aqua club. After a few months of Monday evenings at the University of London Union in the classroom and pool, we were sent down to Plymouth for a week of fun in water that was only 12 Celsius and very murky.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), off the coast of Queensland, on the other hand is supposed one the best diving locations in the world. Diving the reef was an opportunity not to be missed. In particular, as a BSAC Sports Diver with over 40 dives under my belt, I now consider myself a pretty good diver who could really do the GBR justice. I signed up to a three-day live-aboard all-in trip with Prodive, Cairns. They promised eleven dives (including a couple of night dives) at a number of different sites on the reef.

Fitting 11 dives into three days was going to necessitate a lot of early starts. The first morning was no exception as we met at the Prodive centre at 6:15am. Along with 35-or-so people, we were driven over to our boat in the Cairns marina. By no means luxurious, it was well kitted out with a large lounge and sun deck, a galley with full-time cook, twin bunk cabins and lots of scuba equipment; what more does one need for a fun three days?

After a two-or-three hour journey out to the reef and the first of many great meals (although I can never fault with any fried breakfast) it was time for the dive briefing! As an “experienced” diver, about 12 of us were separated from rabble and taken to the top deck for an illustrated induction.

Dive briefing on the top deck 

Dive briefing board

I was actually really impressed by how professional everything was, and by the trust and independence the crew gave us. Everyone is overly concerned with safety in the UK (probably justifiably given the cold and murky water) and my other trips in the tropics have seemed more like guided tours. Here, the message was very much about having fun and feeling free to explore.

Marie, from Sweden, and I linked up as dive buddies. It was to become a successful relationship as we both used modest amounts of air and so could stay down longer than many other dive pairs over the next couple of days. We would frequently be the first couple into the water and the last pair out. Here we are enjoying the sun deck.

Alex and Marie enjoying the sun deck between dives

Another reason for being very lucky to be paired with Marie, is that she had an underwater camera. Here I am!

Alex underwater

In case you are wondering why I appear to be wearing a wetsuit in tropical waters, it’s actually a stinger suit used to protect divers from the jellyfish that inhabit these waters at the time of the year.

At times it really did seem like we were on the set of Finding Nemo. Although I don’t know the names of the fish, I was constantly recognising characters from the film. Strangely enough, it was the fabled clownfish (Nemo himself) that was hardest to find, but here is a magnificent photo that Marie took of two we found.

Clown fish

The two night dives didn’t lend themselves particularly well to photography, but they were both great. Each diver gets allocated a fluorescent glowstick (attached to the air tank) and a torch (tied to a hand with strict instructions no to lose). For most of the dive you don’t see anything except these items on the other divers – very eerie. Nonetheless some different wildlife comes out at night. As our second night dive was starting, the crew were throwing away the leftovers from supper over the side of the boat. Then the Jaws theme music starts being played over the tannoy! As we were kitting up, we could see about eight reef sharks swimming around the boat. Reef sharks supposedly don’t eat humans, but the group was fairly hesitant as we were signed out of the boat. My cries of “a life lived in fear is a life half-lived” went down a storm. Needless to say, everyone made it back okay.

Once back in Cairns, we all met up for drinks. Cairns itself is a bit of a hillbilly town, which is somewhat pleasant but wouldn’t have enough to keep anyone entertained for more than a day. However, in backpacker circles, a bar by the name of The Woolshed is legendary. Here it is acceptable to dance on tables (yes I did join in, if not lead the way). One can also watch groups of young ladies take part in something called a wet T-shirt contest. The guy with the jet-spray wasn’t looking as happy as I would expect someone with his job should.

Wet T-shirt guy

And yes, photographs of the girls were allowed. (Not sure why I ended up with a front-row view, but it was probably because the bouncers had to kick me off the stage where I was dancing)

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So I hope to have reassured you all of the cultural aspects of my great trip abroad!

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Singapore Sling

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Singapore doesn’t fail to impress. Compared to some of the rundown terminals at Heathrow, Changi Airport is very well turned out without being too garish (like some Middle Eastern and Asian airports). But my lasting impression won’t be made by the architecture and interior design, but instead by immigration.

Those used to travelling to the United States will know how bad the immigration experience can be; fingerprints, photographs, plain rudeness. Not in Singapore; here you are greeted with beaming smiles and a professional manner. To top it off, after everything had been checked, stamped and found to be in order, I was offered a mint…!

“Welcome to Singapore”

Too tired to tackle the city on my first night, my first adventure was to find breakfast the next day. Guided by a Wikitravel page insisting that I eat a traditional Singaporean breakfast, I walked a few blocks from my hotel to Orchard Street, the main shopping street in the city, to find a place to eat. Breakfast typically revolves around “kaya”, a sort of coconutty butter spread on toast, accompanied by soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce and strong coffee with condensed milk. I had no idea what to do with the two eggs and bowl of soy sauce handed to me, but the cashier came over to my table to help explain everything. (“Break the eggs into the bowl of soy sauce and give it a good stir”)

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Typical Singaporean breakfast

Food in Singapore is brilliant. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European food is readily available, and often brought together to create a Singapore fusion cuisine. I met a coursemate from Imperial College for lunch. Neil took me to a food court where around twenty different stalls were selling different foods, which all smelt fantastic. We ate on a roof terrace overlooking the city.

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Old ISE coursemates: Alex and Neil overlooking Singapore

The majority of the city seems to be covered in distinctive high-rise office buildings, luxury appartments and shopping malls. However, each of the different communities in Singapore has a cultural heartland: Chinatown for the Chinese, Little India for the Indians, Arab Street for the Malays (and I suppose the old Colonial district represents the European heritage). They each show a quirky side to the city that once was before the massive development that has taken place over the past 40 years.

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Arab St – the Malay quarter

Little India, Singapore
Little India, Singapore

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore

Singapore Cricket Club with skyscrapers in the background
Singapore Cricket Club with skyscrapers in the background

On my last day I visited the resort island of Sentosa. Connected to the Singapore mainland by cable car (and monorail), much of the island has been extensively developed into a pretty excrutiating family theme park with observation towers, beaches and cinemas connected by covered escalators piping out elevator music. Prices were also very high compared to the mainland, and my cash vanished far more quickly than I had expected. Nonetheless, there was a very good aquarium which made the journey worthwhile. My cable-car trip back to the mainland that evening also afforded some fantastic views.

For my last few hours in the city I walked along the riverfront and really experimented with all of the different settings on my camera to create some fantastic nighttime city images.

Singapore Harbourfront skyline
Singapore Harbourfront skyline

Last stop Raffles Hotel (apparently the place to be seen, but not to stay) then I was on my way to Sydney with another mint from immigration!

Hot Alex in front of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Hot Alex in front of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore