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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tioman Island

Monday morning started very early, 2:00am to be precise, because I was determined to catch the World Cup final live. I barely caught the first goal and was wide awake 20 minutes in, but then spent the next couple hours (like the rest of the world) waiting for something to happen. Too bad Italy won. After the match I showered up and headed to the Golden Mile complex bus stop in Singapore to catch my coach to Pulau Tioman, Malaysia.

Tioman is a fairly remote, paradise island in the South China Sea off the east coast of Malaysia. Many Singaporeans visit Tioman for its great beaches and relaxed atmosphere (See my pics on SmugMug). Anji actually went there a few months ago and I thank her for helping me plan my trip. The journey to Tioman involves getting across the border to Malaysia and eventually to the town of Mersing, where you then catch a 2 hour speed boat or ferry to the island.

My bus ride wasn't too bad, I met a couple Dutch kids on the bus to talk to and enjoy the ride through endless Malay palm tree and rubber fields. In Mersing we got on a speedboat along with an English family who were friendly, and who I would see throughout the weekend in Tioman.

As soon as I got to Tioman (I stayed in Salang, the most popular of the villages on the island) I immediately visited B & J Dive Shop because I had been tinkering with the idea of getting SCUBA certified while in Tioman. After talking with Louisa, I decided to take the plunge (so to speak) and sign up for the PADI Open Water Diver course. Thus my holiday in Tioman was set. I went to drop off my stuff at the room I booked, Salang Pusaka Resort, which was little more than a shack (See pic). After that I grabbed a bite to eat at one of the few local beach shacks and spent the rest of the day reading through the theory and watching videos. My goal was to complete the course by Thursday afternoon so I could get back to Singapore that night.

So basically the rest of my time in Tioman was spent around the course. My instructor - Sham - was really great and I was lucky to have one-on-one instruction throughout. For those of you who haven't dived, its really neat. I think learning in Tioman made a huge difference too because our "confined water" dives were in the ocean where the cool tropical fish hang out, and our "open water" dives were a bit further out with coral, fish, and everything else. I saw all kinds of sea creatures throughout including clownfish (Nemo), scorpion fish, eels, stingrays, and all sorts of coral. To top it off, the course cost about $280, including all rentals and dive trips. All things considered, I think Pulau Tioman is one of the best places in the world to get SCUBA certifed.

As for the non-SCUBA time, I was a little lonely and bored on the first night, though I did eat some amazing grilled mackerel that was caught just a few hours prior. The social fun really picked up on Tuesday night, when I met an American kid named Ryan from the O.C. at the internet cafe. He invited me to have a beer with him and a few other people he met from Europe. there was an Austrian guy, a Swiss girl, and a couple Finnish chicks at the table, all with great travel stories and an affinity to binge drink. By Wednesday night I was chillin with the dive shop crew as well as the backpacker crew. All in all, good times. I didn't party too hard any night because I wanted to stay well rested for the diving.

As for the PADI course, it went great. Sham said he noticed marked improvement over the days, which he credited to my increasing of confidence while below the surface. Heck, I even aced the written part of the course and blew away the swimming test. SCUBA is all about staying calm, and breathing steady. Its cool to be able to control yourself simply by the breaths you take, and I like to think I learned pretty well by the end. Our final 2 open water dives were pretty much exploring down below, and it was a good chance to stay underwater and look at coral and marine life for nearly 40 minutes at a time.

We finished up everything by lunchtime Thursday, leaving me plenty of time to catch the boat back to Mersing and then a coach to Johur Baru. Along the way I befriended a Dutch couple and German girl heading back to Singapore as well. All three of them were basically in Singapore because they wanted to travel long term. The attitude of the Dutch couple was consistent with lots of Europeans you meet when traveling - they go with the flow and end up where fate takes them. Its nice to see that spirit around and inspires you, reminds you that the world is here for us to explore during our lifetime, we need to simply take advantage of it.


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