Diving with Bull Sharks

“Envious to extremes!” “Eek! You are crazy, I will have nightmares for weeks thanks for this”, “You are one lucky scuba-girl!”, “Have you got all your limbs still intact?”

I got a great variety of comments from friends to my recently published video where I went diving with over 30 bull sharks in Fiji. No cage, mind you. It was a totally insane experience, and one very difficult to describe with words. Even the video doesn’t show the awesomeness of the dive but gives a glimpse into the world I just dived into. A world where I can mix and mingle with bull sharks in their own environment.

The reactions to my video were clearly divided by divers / non-divers; divers being green of envy and ready to book their flights to try it out themselves and non-divers thinking I’m insane at best and never wanting to set their foot into an ocean ever again. Sharks divide people, clearly. For some they are fearful, horrid predators, to others amazing, beautiful and gracious creatures that we get to observe underwater, when lucky enough.

I had read about this shark dive opportunity online so I had a faint idea of what to expect, but still the dive with so many bull sharks around me was even better than I could ever have imagined. You have to experience it to get that feeling, be in midst of 30 huge bull sharks to appreciate their awesomeness. We did 2 dives there, and saw probably a hundred different reef, black tip and white tip sharks as well, but the bull sharks were the stars of the day. Honestly, I felt no fear at any time, just enormous gratitude for the experience and breath-taking amazement.

The bull shark dive was organized by Beqa Adventure Divers (the acronym BAD might be cool but not descriptive) in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. When it comes to diving with the sharks, they know what they are doing.

The shark diving is organized in Shark Reef Marine Reserve, established in 2004, as a protected sanctuary for the sharks and to preserve the ecosystem where they live. They collaborate with the villages in the area,traditional “owners” of the reef, who have relinquished their respective fishing rights to the Shark Reef and get compensation from divers instead.

My major concern once first learning about this opportunity, was the fact that the sharks are being fed and hence guaranteed to be seen in such huge numbers. I’ve typically been wary about practices of feeding wild animals for enhanced sighting of them, but I observed or felt no harm being done to these amazing animals by them being fed. They are not caught, harmed by boat engines, touched by people or disturbed in any ways I could imagine even potentially harmful. Instead, it felt these guys truly cared for protection of the animals, of the reef ecosystem – and the villages and local communities who make their living out of the ocean (and us, their clients). They have extensive research material, blog posts and information on their website and collaborate with the government of Fiji.

I can’t express with words how amazing, eye-opening and wonderful this experience was, and I wouldn’t say that if I had any doubts about the activity being safe – both for the sharks and for us the divers. There are many ways to protect our oceans, reefs and their inhabitants – shark diving being an option when organized with benefits of all in mind.

I would like to encourage people to learn more about the oceans, about sharks and what their preservation means for us all. Set your foot in the ocean, don’t be afraid. I dived among 30 bull sharks and yes, still got all my limbs intact. And several cool videos and memories to last a lifetime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can Race Matter?

A few months ago I wrote about my bewilderment on Brunei’s immigration asking about my race upon entering the country. That text has since become my most viewed blog posting, raising interest on the question of race, and on its relevance.

I discussed the question with an Indian friend, to whom “race” is a much clearer topic and present in her everyday life. She’s used to replying to it as she has that question posed to her in plenty of occasions. Living in Singapore however, it’s not perceived a discriminating question but a matter of fact. Same as asking for one’s gender or age.

My friend is right about Singapore attempting to positively be a mixed-race nation. All different, all equal, all mixed up. Singapore asks for the race of people moving in to the country, to ensure they have a nice balance and mixture of races within. They developed an Ethnic Integration Policy in 1989, “to promote racial integration and harmony in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates”

Yet, there’s a clear difference between race and ethnicity. One can only have one race, and is born to it. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with culture and one can have multiple ethnic identities.

Singapore has achieved a population where people identify themselves as ethnic Singaporeans, with multiple races such as Malays, Indians and Chinese. At its best the achievement is appreciation and conservation of different cultural heritages, while being open and accepting of others.

Although asking for one’s race can be meant for good purposes, I’m still torn with it’s negative connotations. In an ideal world everyone would be color-blind what comes to races but the reality is that race just isn’t a neutral topic. When race matters, racism will arise.

I’m supportive of any attempts to preserve cultures and respect and appreciate different ethnic backgrounds for their historical, cultural and identity values. But I can not support categorizing people, and especially not where there might be the slightest connotation for different values for different people. We were not born equal in terms of opportunities and capacities, but all human beings were born with equal value as a human being. No matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.

I dream of a world where race doesn’t matter. If again asked of mine, I’ll thankfully borrow one from the commentator newmanTheHuman, and write down “Human”.

 

Grown-up Fun

Ever caught yourself looking at kids playing around and wishing you could be as worry-free and just have all the fun in the world? Know those moments when you’re looking at a swing in a playground or a cool toy in a shop and secretly wishing you could just jump at it. Play. Laugh. Have fun?

Well you know what, it’s time to grow-up from being too grown-up. Life’s too short to keep that inner-child hidden beneath the grown-up gown.

I released my inner child last weekend in a trampoline park, where I went with two other grown-up friends, and without any children for cover-up. We got so excited jumping around, tossing soft balls at each other and falling down that we forgot to worry about being grown-ups doing kids’ stuff. We were just having a good laugh. And it felt amazing!

Being a grown-up, an adult, is excellent fun because you get to decide for yourself what you’re gonna do. As a kid, you probably had to beg your parents to buy you that new toy you desired, take you to a fun park or to a playground, and have your parents shouting their warnings at you. As a grown-up, you can climb any tree you wish to, swing as fast as you can and jump around to your heart’s desire. If you catch other people giving you a look of disapproval, so what? They are just jealous you’ve let your inner child out while they are still holding it in.

It can be so much fun being a grown-up, I highly recommend trying it out!

Becoming a Dive Master

I started diving 6 years ago when I moved to Thailand. It was a big step for me, actually a mindbogglingly huge one. Or have you heard of divers who have a fear of putting their head underwater?

My underwater endeavor did start some years earlier on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where I learned to snorkel – and put my face underwater, if not yet the full head. Then I trusted myself to do a test dive, with first minutes spent in 2 meters, calming my mind and breath, acknowledging the fact that I was able to breathe underwater. It was frightening but at the same just extremely exhilarating. Cool.

Still I remember very vividly my Open Water course’s pool session. I was excited and nervous. Happy but worried I might freak out completely. Fortunately, I had about the best instructor one could ask for – calm, nice, fun, absolutely competent and assuring. Handsome too but that’s much less relevant (he had a girlfriend). With his guidance and calm presence, I felt empowered. I was at complete ease and mastered all the skills without any trouble or hesitation.

I completed my OW training with thrill and excitement and continued almost directly to the Advanced level, which I always recommend for others to do as well because it teaches and supports you the most when done at a novice level. A year later, after plenty of fun fun dives in different sites and conditions, I completed a Rescue Diver course. It’s a bit of cliche in the dive industry but just so very true – the Rescue Diver course is fantastic and it’s a game changer. It changes the way you dive, it changes the way you look at diving and your surroundings. It gives light to all the risks while also teaching you the relevant skills and understanding for recognizing and attending to potential crisis / accident scenarios. The course gave me again new confidence and also a different perspective to the hobby. I want to enjoy my dives and keep myself safe – and ensure the same for others.

Now with nearly 300 dives under my belt, I feel I’m ready for the next challenge. To take the hobby to a new level and become a pro. Become a dive master. I’m not planning to make a drastic career change or quit my job – I’m planning to learn to be an even better diver, and learn how to support others better in their diving journey. In taking a more responsible role in leading dives and helping others, I hope to further develop my own skills and grow as a diver and as a human being. Because as with any responsibilities, taking them seriously and mastering them, will support the personal growth and give new perspectives for life.

I also believe that my previous fears, experiences in overcoming troubles, lessons in trusting myself and the ability to gain confidence will make me a good guide to others. I understand the fears, hesitations and concerns of others, I can relate to them.

Finally the bookworm part of me gets to enjoy the diving hobby as well – there’s plenty of theory to get familiar with in addition to the practical skills. I expect the navigation skills to be the toughest to conquer but also where great improvements are waiting to be achieved. If I’m to become a dive master, leading dives, I should leave my old mask-strap behind as it says “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too”. That’s my goal now – to not need that mask strap anymore! I want to be come a person who can confidently say: Follow me, I know what I’m doing and where I’m going.

Raffles Here, and There, Absolutely Everywhere

Welcome to Singapore, to the Raffles – City state. Founded by Mr. Raffles, Singapore is extremely fond of showing this heritage. If you had never heard of Raffles before, it’s a name you won’t be able to forget after visiting Singapore.

Raffles is absolutely everywhere here. Hotels, shopping malls, plazas, restaurants, bars and who knows whats are named after him. Make a meeting and it’s likely to be at Raffles something. Which is so very confusing. (loud sigh). It’s not just once or twice that I’ve gone to a wrong place first because I got confused whether the meeting was at Raffles Place or Raffles Plaza or Raffles City or just at a street address with a Raffles in it.

In Vietnam I was always confused with addresses cause they were incomprehensible to me, all almost the same but different and unpronounceable. Dien Bien Phu, Huong Vuong, Tran Hung Dao, Le Hong Phong, Hong Bang, To Hien Thang etc. I kept getting the parts of the name mixed up all the time, and even if I got it right my pronounciation was never right. Ever been to Vietnam, you’ll understand. Thailand has tones as well but they are rather easy with street names – only using a name for the few big streets and just soi + number for the side streets. Piece of cake.

But the naming policies are rather interesting, truth be told. And offer an insight into the history and heritage of the place too. Vietnam proudly recognized many of its soldiers, artists and statesmen. Singapore has had less time in all its 51 years of existence.

Happy Things

We are in charge of our own happiness. But how to reach it? Can we measure happiness, and our own content with our level of happiness? And these different levels are needed, because no one can be “bursting out of happiness, over-joyous” all of the time – that would be very exhausting. Such moments and phases are absolutely needed but equally we need to appreciate the middle and lower level happiness times and factors. Appreciate and take joy out of various things, moments, achievements and people in our lives.

I use the word happy a lot in my life. I believe in happiness – on different levels. I call myself as generally a happy person, much due to the fact that it’s easy to give me moments of happiness. Anything pink will do. Pink is my happy color – my motorbike was pink, my phone cover is pink, my wrist supports in the office are pink. My water bottle is pink, my notebook is pink, my office scarf is pink (wait, pretty much all the scarves I have are pink). The pattern is clear – I try to fill my “everyday life” moments with pink because seeing anything pink (in a right shade) gives me at least a brief moment of feeling happy.

Pink is my happy color but I have other “happy” things as well. Reading a book makes me happy, practicing head stands at yoga, playing netball. I already wrote a text about the joy I get from hanging out at airports. I experience happiness everywhere, constantly. Like when my frequently visited food stall keepers remember my order. Happiness is everywhere. Slightly too spicy som tum (and most of my favorite dishes for that matter). Videos of my niece and nephew, laughing. Sun shining on my skin. Random messages from friends, skype calls with family. Smell of horses – anything related to horses. German language. Diving. Pink dive gear. Rock’n’roll music & 50’s lifestyle. Sunday newspapers. The Moomins. The list goes on.

Happiness should not wait for the big things – sources for happy moments  are everywhere. Sometimes we forget this and get indulged in our unhappiness, sadness, boredness, etc. I had started getting into that state recently. I allowed that myself for a short while but decided that an unsuccessful attempt at a relationship can’t be let take over my emotional state of mind. I was too deep to be  rescued by a look at a pink phone cover or eating salmiakki, and since a German TV show couldn’t lift up my spirits either, I had to rely on the next level of sources. So I went diving for the weekend, on a liveaboard, using my pink gear, accompanied with a good book. 50 hours spent diving, eating, sleeping and chatting with new friends made on the boat, did the trick. It  didn’t heal me but gave me the strength to feel relaxed and happy and not worry for a while. A weekend diving trip is a great reminder of how well things are. I’m not happy about everything in my life but I’m a happy person and can enjoy the good things while working on the less favorable parts.

Happiness. It’s a magical thing but fortunately, magic is everywhere. You just have to believe in it and want it. A lesson for life – learn to be happy. Learn what it means to you to be happy, what the sources in your life can be. Pink or blue or orange – the options are everywhere.

Small World. Really Small.

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.” That’s the wikipedia-introduction to the proven concept of our known world being a damn small place.

Tonight I went to a hot yoga class after work, and decided to take the mrt home. Still sweating, and mentally exhausted after a long day at work filled with meetings after meetings, I glimpsed a guy in the same cart as me, who looked familiar. That I “see” old friends and acquaintances in random places is nothing new. I’ve explained it to myself being a cause of me having moved so often, not feeling rooted anywhere, always making new friends but not having anyone around for a very long time.

This time, I thought it was just my exhaustion from work and yoga. But the guy looked so very much like an old friend from my younger years…at home I did what is done nowadays. Looked him up in Facebook. He wasn’t among my friends – that’s how long it has been since we’ve last been connected. I sent him a friend request with the very random message of asking if it could have been possible to just have seen him in a mrt in Singapore, against all odds. And true it was. It wasn’t the sweat dropping to my eyes or my tired brain playing tricks this time.

It’s a small world. This is but one reminder. Typically what happens is I meet people with whom we have odd common friends with or have happened to live in another country at the same time. When I was living in Berlin, I got in touch with an old friend from Texas – who was living in Leipzig, and had been living there already at the same time as me before. We had quite likely spent time in same bars and perhaps our paths had crossed in the university, but never recognized each other. In Thailand, a friend from Germany run into me in one of my favorite bars. Recently on my weekend trip to Bangkok I pumped into 2 of my close friends from HCMC – at 1 am on a side soi to Sukhumvit, on my way from a bar to the hotel. A colleague from Thailand, later moved to Egypt and became colleagues with an ex-colleague of mine from Berlin.

World has become very small. Thanks to Facebook especially, it’s easier than ever to track connections as well. When making a new friend, it’s fun to check through if we have any random mutual friends. Quite commonly there are – which wouldn’t be odd between 2 people who have been living in the same neighborhood for long times. But in my life, where neighborhoods keep changing at a speed that even good friends struggle to remember in which country I live in, it is. Odd, random and fun.

I do believe in the six degrees of separation theory – not just because it’s been scientifically proven but because I’m living that theory. My life is filled with random encounters with strangers whom I have friends or old homes in common with and even more random reunions with old friends. Too bad I didn’t react to recognizing the guy in the mrt faster, but at least we ended up re-connecting in Facebook and had a good chat. Fortunately I did not have my eyes focused on my iphone as pretty much everyone else in the mrt, but had my eyes up. A good reminder how our real lives are happening not on the screens of the smartphones but around us. Better keep the eyes open, never know who you might see or meet!