Flipper Prints: Garden of Eden Re-touched

Flipper Prints: Thailand – Garden of Eden Re-touched

Another Monday morning in December, another trip to the office. This does not sound too upbeat but it helps a lot that it is 29C outside, that three baby monkeys are playing with abandon in front of the door of my room, that I work on Thailand’s most beautiful island and that I have to dive for my salary. The walk to my work (Scuba Marine Diving Base) takes fifteen minutes which I could improve by only a jog or by taking the bike as no motorised vehicles are allowed on the Island of Phi Phi.

Maurizio, my student for the day, arrives a bit late, eyes somewhat closed, his walk gently wobbly despite my dutiful warning as his instructor at the beginning of the diving course against the local sources of danger highlighting the lethal nature of the stonefish and the Mekong whiskey. Poor chap was probably done in by the latter the night before. After a speedy first-aid we agree that it is in our best interest to start the dive in the afternoon and in the morning we will go over the theoretical portion of the course and he will practise navigation with compass in hand but strictly on land.

In the afternoon Mother Nature does the unthinkable – the weather is even more beautiful than in the morning and the two cotton ball clouds were obviously tossed to the horizon for show only. Strangely elongated boats line the beach swaying like hollowed-out bananas in the annoyingly blue sea. These are the local “longtail” boats. The hulls are ok but the engine constructions affixed to the stern with sugarcane twines and size 100 nails look more like something out of the imagination of a Mad Max special effects designer. Our captain, Nui’s boat is probably the only contraption in the area equipped with the most extras. He welded together a complete steering wheel from a Zsuk wheel, a spear and ripple slate. This way, unlike his fellow boaters navigating with a long stick, he proudly steers his make-shift wheel.

Nui is my age but no one would believe him as he looks more like his own grandfather. He carries the tanks with callused hands, puts them into the decaying stalls than smiles at me, showing all of his four teeth from which about one and a half are his own. A few yanks on the engine (self-starter? – come on…) and we are chugging towards our destination. I am trying, for the umpteenth time, to take in the sight of the hundreds of metres deep steep cliffs ripping through the still water but to this day I have an inkling that a small army of magicians work behind the scenes on this illusion. Such beauty can exist only in the movies. No wonder this island served as the location for the movie “The Beach”.

At last we arrive at the dive site and after a few minutes of wrestling with our equipment, Maurizio and I fight our way into the sea. Beneath us an every-day wonder à la Thailand: 25-metre visibility, swarming schools of fish, a variety of corals, steep walls covered with glassfish curtains. Shall I go on? I shall.

At 15 metres, stunned and staring at each other in the eye with a metre-long turtle, a feeling overwhelms me – this is exactly where I want to live. The turtle must read my mind because it shakes its head as if saying “It’s not gonna work, dude, unless you grow gills” and peacefully begins to chew on some coral. I slowly turn from my old armoured friend and look ahead from where two sharks are coming at me really fast. Really-really fast. If I was not in a trans anyway, I would surely panic but I just wait until they steer clear of me. And these bastards wait for the very last minute and miss me by two metres, one to the left and the other to the right. Thankfully my eye balls find their way back to their sockets quite fast, so by the time I turn around to look at my mate, no more shock is showing on my face. And I cannot believe my eyes – Maurizio is giving his full attention to a sea cucumber while the shark odyssey has just passed him by.

From here on our dive is quite normal. The two murenas jammed into a crevice do seem interesting but nothing mind-blowing and I am getting used to the fact that visibility is reduced because I cannot see through the thick schools of fish. For those who feel there is no more space left on the rush-hour bus at 8 o’clock in the morning, I recommend the glassfish swarming at the Bida Nai cliff. Finally, after almost an hour of wandering about, we ascend.

- So? – I ask Maurizio. So?! Sooo?! How was it??
- Not bad but there were more sharks on the Maldives. And visibility wasn’t that good either.
- Screw you! – I answer but luckily in Hungarian and to myself only. Visibility is not that good? Well, dear Maurizio, visit the mining lake at Nyékládháza or Dorog in Hungary and take a hard look at the two freshwater crabs you will find at 5 metres because you will not find any another living thing around the lake. Except perhaps for the fish keeper.

After work I felt like watching a pirated Hollywood movie – they showed the “Lord of the Ring 2” in the smallest Thai cafes 2 weeks before it hit Los Angeles. Of course the quality is usually like a Metallica concert broadcasted over an ancient Zenith radio and the subtitles rarely match the timing of the dialogues but it did not bother anyone too much. So, I spread myself out comfortably in a restaurant and while on the widescreen TV Mr. Fodo and his friends were getting into blood chilling escapades,

I was trying to catch the eye of the sleepy waitress. Soon there she was:
- Helloooo. Naaj deej! (I think she said “Nice day”.)
- Sawat di khrap! (I figured I would start with the local greeting to steal her heart.) One coke, please.

- Bangkok? (Pulled-up eyebrows, it is obvious my order did not go through the first time.)
- Oooneee cookeee. Yees. (Saying it slowly, elongating my words hoping to be luckier than before.)
- Baaaangkoook?? (It is obvious her thoughts are around the capital and have nothing to do with the restaurant.)
- Coke. Cola. Coca. Coke. One. COKE. Please. (Then I point at the fridge where the red cans are lined up.)
- Aaaaah, an kok! (Her eyes were saying “Then why didn’t you say so?!” and she takes off but I wanted to ask something else too.)
- And one vanilla-ice shake, please. (As soon as I said that I know I went overboard. There was no way she would understand that.)
- What? (She changed strategy. She did not even try to repeat it after me, she was just looking at me wondering.)
- Aaa vannillaa—-iiiiccceee—shaaaakkeee! (This would be faster for me to show with charades but here I need to talk.)
- Mahha jaii ja amiee ahi kai jai khaa! (I do not know if she was encouraging me or sending me to hell but I have decided not to give up.)
- Vanilla. Ice. Shake. SHAKE!
- Sheeehh? (And yes, there was the sparkle of understanding in her eyes!)
- Sheehh! Ice! Vanilla!
- Valla-aaaj-sheeeeh?
- Yees!
- Sorry, no have.
And with that, she walked back towards the kitchen exuding curry smells.

Translated by Anita Riberdy, based on the original short story “A retusált Édenkert” by András Szepesházi

Flipper Prints: The Instructor’s Dark Side

Flipper Prints: Egypt - The Instructor’s Dark Side

What does a diving instructor do when he happens to be on vacation? The specimen with a normal working brain goes to the Tatra mountains to map out the feeding habits of mountain goats. The truly twisted one goes diving. He goes diving and enjoys that his time underwater is not spent with emptying masks and with the demonstration of how to rise above emergency situations but rather with careless floating. Naturally, there are some mean ones among these twisted specimens for whom the off-duty (incognito) dives hide further enjoyment – the tormentation of their on-duty counterparts.

When our skinny, smiling Egyptian dive guide, Salaka, blessed with a healthy dose of optimism, asked us on the first day of our South safari how much experience and how many dives we had, I answered with no hesitation:

- I had my OWD exam two years ago in a Hungarian lake. Unfortunately I haven’t been diving since.
- Then how many dives do you have actually? – asked Salaka, still smiling but the first faint sign of worry had begun to appear in his eyes.
- Well, four. I haven’t been diving in the sea before and to be honest, I’m a bit scared. But I’m sure everything will be ok…

Salaka’s smile broke into tiny pieces and fell onto the boat’s deck like porcelan tiles. He mumbled something in his mother tongue and I seemed to hear the name of Allah at least four times but fortunately most of his speech was foreign to me. I could really relate. We signed up for a week-long Deep South safari and we looked forward to dives full of drop-offs, currents, sharks and mantas. He, however was standing in front of a poor beginner whose life he had to guard. I felt sorry for him for a minute and I almost revelaed my disguise but then I remembered my own experiences. Like when I was guiding a safari for a week in the most beautiful part of the Adriatic Sea and my beloved boss shared with me two small details about the trip only a few minutes before our departure:

- the boat was overbooked, so I did not have a cabin and
- there were two 12-year-old diver newbies onboard who were not permitted to dive deeper than 12 metres and I was to take care of them.

That trip was great – I was chewing on sea grass like a well-behaved lamantine at a depth of 10 metres and on every dive I was desperately trying to find some new kind of moss for the kids to show. As we were wandering on the uninteresting reef tops, the adults’ equipment let out long strands of bubbles from the deep and burst on the surface just like my own illusions fed by the beautiful life of a diving instructor. In the evenings the boat was loud of adult conversation and bets of who saw the most crawfish, eel and murena. And there was the unmistaken message in the kids’ eyes that I must have been the worst instructor in the world since I had not been able to show them any of these things during the week. I tried to improve my reputation with an octopus but to my demise, that day at 35 metres the others found a metre-long catshark. And who cares about the octopus when you can have a catshark?

So, I was even more determined to stick to my original plan and be a beginner diver or at least until the first dive. There were problems already when putting my equipment together: I put the INT stage on the tank backwards, my BCD was not secured to the tank, I put on my suit the wrong way and I was just standing there looking like a sock turned inside out and filled with wet cotton balls. To Salaka’s credit, the smile returned to his face and he kindly corrected my mistakes.

The only time his lower lip trembled slightly is when I put the breathing apparatus in my mouth incorrectly but he gathered up his strength, smiled again and showed me the correct way. My friends in the back were rolling on the floor laughing and were trying not to be noticed and not to blow the cover off my satanic plan. My friend Tibor Fazekas who had introduced me to the world of instructors years before, bringing shame to Lothar Matthaus’s coaching qualities, was hissing from the back: „Make your knees tremble, let him see you’re scared!” Now looking seriously worried, Salaka made me say again the golden rule: „Never hold your breath under the water!”, then with a gentle push, he helped me in the water.

Once in the water – I am almost ashamed to admit –, I gave it my all, everything I had seen from my beginner strudents during my 3-year instructor odessy. My mask was filled with water, my breathing was heavy, I used my hands instead of my flippers, I turned onto my back and I was staring at Salaka with my eyes wide open: „Now what?”

Salaka fought a heroic fight to calm me down on the sand bench at 5 metres deep because every time he turned away, I let the air out through my spare regulator and after 10 minutes, I managed to get below 100 bars. Salaka could not believe his eyes and was staring at my pressure gauge then into my eyes. The latter he could not see much of as my mask was half filled with water and the other half fogged up. I do not think he was ever this close in his dive guide carreer to whip out his knife and put an end to both of our miseries. I felt I should not push it any more and anyway, my dark side was getting further in the back and I actually wanted to enjoy the dive. So, I emptied my mask, took my floating position and asked Salaka to guide me.

Salaka was looking at me with growing satisfaction but not without suspicion. Slowly he let go of the tap of my tank which up until then he had been holding on to by both hands to prevent me from doing anything stupid. He kept showing me the „OK” sign with a growing smile on his face and I saw hope slowly returning into him. It was time to give the final blow. I removed my mask, reached into the pocket of my BCD, took out the sunglasses I had put there before the dive, placed it on my nose with a cool move, showed him an „OK” and tried to continue diving with a straight face. Then it hit him what actually had been happening until then. Unfortunately I was not able to see his face without my mask but my friends, watching us from close, later on the boat told me of our guide’s reaction.

After a couple of minutes I put my mask back on and finally we were able to dive without a worry, though Salaka was giving me signs under the water I had not seen until then and if I figured them correctly, he wanted me to initiate sexual relations with one (or more) goats. Later he slowly cooled off, just laughed and shooked his head and we began circling the wreck of an unfortunate fishing boat at 15 metres deep.

Visibility was approaching infinity, bending the sandy sea bottom which was dotted with bold coral-covered towers looking like gingerbread houses. The ship, resting on her side, – the captain must not have been navigating to the best of his availabilities if he had not noticed the reef peeking out of the water – provided a cozy home for numerous coral and fish species. In front of the cabin a team of hesitant masked butterfly fish gathered just like ladies bound for the opera at the foot of the velvet-clad stairway – I could actually hear as the orchestra was practising inside. The prima donna, a 2-metre-long murena, was looking out of the cabin nonchalantly, practising her scales while preparing for her performace. Below him a few prawns were scramming like the orchestra’s feather-brained strings who mixed up their sheet music and of them just realised that he had brought to the permier his favourite recipe collection instead.

The ancipitation was growing. As was the school of butterfly fish holding their council meeting. The gaping of the murena and the mad dash of crabs was speeding up. And the conductor arrived at last – an eagle ray swam over the wreck out of nowehere, its tux elegantly floating around it. The usher, a titan triggerfish with an especially mean stare, made everyone aware with aggressive sand digging antics and bulging eyes that getting into the audience before the show can only be done over his body.

After the performance we carried on swimming by the wreck, back towards our boat. Though my computer said there was still plenty of time, the air wasted at the beginning of the dive took its revenge, so soon we had to return to the surface. Under the boat a giant Napoleon fish with a typical nonchalant attitude checked us out from the corner of its eye then swam away. Its bulging forehead could have easily stood for enormous intellectual assets but those who are familiar with the undewater world know these species hardly go beyond the „eat – look to the side – empty” thought process. Perhaps some will go as fas as wondering „does that diver have some boiled eggs, my favourite snack?” and when the answer is affirmative, they devour them not thinking this action could cost them their lives. On the other hand, in the midst of these thoughts, they seemed quite satisfied unlike some of our fellow city dwellers who live their unhappy lives mulling over much more complicated problems. As I was looking at the close-to-two-tonne body slowly swimming away, all of a sudden I was not able to determine who actually got the best of evolution.

We slowly ascended and I tried to leave the water quickly before my kind dive guide could take his matching revenge on me on land. Helping hands stretched towards me on the ladder and Mahmoud, one of the handy guys on the boat yelled in my face using all his English knowledge with a toothless grin: „Everything OK?”. Later we found out, he freely used this phrase not only after dives but also in place of saying good-bye, saying hello and the weather report. I answered with the manditory „Everything OK” and got myself onto the deck.

There Salaka, forgetting about his tank still on his back and the weights on his waist, wobbled towards me.
- You… you.. you! You know, you are a… you are a… – repeated his opinion about me.

Then with a wide grin he patted me on the back and I gave thanks that he got to be only 60 kilograms during his active diving years. During the next few days I often got these back pats along with various hints about in which historical era should people like me, blessed with this kind of „humour”, have been liquidated. But every time I could see the relief in his eyes that he did not have to suffer through the week with me.

And me? I had a peaceful and sound sleep every night, probably with a smile on my face. Who said the bad always get what comes to them?

Translated by Anita Riberdy, based on the original short story “Az oktató sötét oldala” by András Szepesházi

Flipper Prints – the Adriatic Sea – Everyday Challenges

Some of my students I remember fondly as their enthusiasm, their love of the sea and their personality made teaching them a joy. There are also some, who should have never gone underwater or even climbed off the tree – their memories are hidden by blissful ignorance. But in the few rare instances there are one or two students whose lack of talent joins forces with amazing diligence and thirst for knowledge – and they are real challenges an instructor could face.

This is the story of such an individual:

The lady (Julia) of a vacationing Austrian couple represented the intellectual side of the family, being a psychiatrist, tough weighed only one fifth of the couple’s gross load despite her dress size number 36 and not the slim kind either. The man, Hans, a former heavy lifter, must have been an impressive sight during his peak period but the glory days had long gone. Nowadays he looked more like a rising dough spilling out of the baking pan. With the help of numerous aids like a shoe horn, industrial press, wooden spoon I squeezed the man into the largest diving suit available at the diving centre and we were off into the water. As we were waddling down to the beach, Hans slapped me on the back with gusto and shared with me his earlier diving experiences:

You knows, I been scubaing before but not like this with this boiler on my back. Just you know like with the frog paws and the fishnoculars. I needed the pipe ‘cause I was just getting my head out of the water the whole time like an emu. But I didn’t have no pipe. Hahaha! – he concluded his technical summary with a deep laugh.

There were really not that many problems with Hans but poor Julia gathered some experiences during the diving course that really hit home for a shrink. Back home she specialised in the treatment of panic disorders. She was a practising psychiatrist but by her own admission, during her Hippocratic activities she relied only on the materials she had studied at university and on her patients’ accounts. This time she finally took a trip to the other side of the wall that separates doctor from patient.

There are people who are like fish in water. Julia without a doubt did not belong to these people. After getting her head under the water following a 20-minute begging session, I could tell from the panic in her eyes which by that time had grown to the size of saucers, that we would wave each other good-bye soon. I could not have been more wrong.

The first diving attempt was over quickly. She was threading out of the waist-high water jumping to heights that would put any water polo goalkeeper to shame, flapping her arms wildly and every bone in her body said that she wanted to be any place in the world given that place was dry. I think she was leaning towards the Sahara. Despite everything, she told me with still bulging eyes that she was alright, she liked the diving thing only that thingy in her mouth and the air and the bubbles – well she just had to get used to them. We took a rest for 20 minutes, gathered our courage and went under the water again. After a few seconds it occurred to her that she was under the water again and slowly emerged the usual show: water polo water threading, flapping, drowning. After two and a half hours and with purple lips I tried to tell her that there was nothing wrong if she decided that this whole thing just was not for her but my hopes were built on quick sand. Julia was more persistent than the Russian winter.

This went on for long days. And during this time myself had become a practising psychiatrist. During the breaks out of the water I tried to calm her and at the same time boost her confidence while mumbling a few words about how different people can be and about the importance for tolerance, then we continued our underwater adventure. The cherry on the cake was Hans’s helpfulness – becoming my assistant instructor. Using his excellent analytical skills he quickly recognised the root of the problems and he was quite vocal about his opinion.

A short excerpt from one of our numerous short over-the-water breaks when the couple tried to talk to me all together at once:

H: She’s always like this. She makes up things and then you know the little engine in her head starts to work. But not that correct way you know just kinda funny…
J: And then suddenly I felt there was water in my mouth and I couldn’t breathe…
H: … and then she gets all brainy abut things she don’t need to. Julia, blow out that water like a normal person don’t just be hissing here!
J: … and I’m trying to calm myself but when this breathing thing doesn’t work…
H: … ’cause you know she already has this thing in her head that everything will go bad and start panicking already…
J: … this is what I always explain to my patients that they have to take deep breaths…
H: … if she wasn’t this brainy she’d do everything good the first time just she always thinks and that’s what she shouldn’t do!

And so on. Meanwhile my diving course hit the 7th hour, the sun met a purple death over the horizon and my dinner in the kitchen quietly started to decompose.

Translated by Anita Riberdy, based on the original short story “Hétköznapi kihívások” by András Szepesházi

Flipper prints

- or scenes from the day and life of a diving instructor

Our old new favourite. Yes… There are days when we wake up and everything goes well. And there are days when we feel, before even we get up – so much for this day. If we had to put into words what we are feeling in moments like these, we would pretty much get a dramatic, tearful, who-cares kind of a story. Except, of course, if you can have a good laugh at yourself!

Believe it or not, some people actually do this! And in such a way that we are left with tears in our eyes and unable to continue reading on. And as we are reading these sad stories, all we can think of – if only I could be there…

Whatever happens, happens, does not it?

The authour lived an orderly life in the first 30 years of his life, working in an office in front of a computer, doing his weekly shopping at weekends, and diligently swearing his way through the Moscow Square area Monday traffic with his fellow sufferers.

And on a lovely early Sunday afternoon with his fresh scuba course certificate in hand from the Adriatic Sea, something snapped in him. He tried to convince himself near Karlovac that there is nothing strange about an IT specialist becoming a diving instructor.

By the time he arrived back to Budapest, the idea had turned into a detailed plan. And exactly a year later, the suits and ties moved to the back of the closet and the author, with a packed diving bag in hand, left the country. Eyewitnesses say he was headed for South-East with a big smile on his face…

Translated by Anita Riberdy, based on the original short story “Békalábnyomok” by András Szepesházi