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How To Select A Good Dive Instructor


Added Number 8!

Dear divers, I’m putting this together for the benefit of the many who had asked me ‘how would I know if someone is a good instructor or not?’  As most newbies have no idea where to start, or may have been referred to one by his/her friend who has done the course, take this as a guide for you and your non-diver friends to select the right instructor for your dive pursuits.

1) Always ask to see the instructor’s qualification card/credentials. You are placing your life in his/her hands, you better know for sure if the instructor in question is REALLY CERTIFIED & QUALIFIED, RENEWED & CURRENT with their respective training agencies and is AUTHORISED to conduct courses. If police can stop you on the road to demand to see your driver’s license when you are not a threat, why shouldn’t you exercise the same courtesy on someone you hardly know who will give you instructions to dive?

2) Find out how long your instructor has been diving, when he/she became certified as instructor & how many dives they have logged. Some instructors still keep physical logbooks that run into hundreds of pages but some have chosen to keep digital memory in their computers. It’s great to have new instructors teach you because they would be placing a great amount of care to your wellbeing & mastery of skills. It’s also great to have seasoned instructors teach you because every skill taught is almost effortless and without anxiety because of what’s ingrained into the instructor’s memory.

3) Be aware of team-teachers, your dive theory sessions, confined water (pool or beach) & open water (sea) sessions may be taught by different instructors and it’s imperative that you know each of them are QUALIFIED TO DO SO, not have divemasters-in-training put in your care (a common practice that’s against the standards for new divers). State your questions & preference when signing up for the course in a dive centre/resort. (For foreign instructors, check if they have work permit to operate in Malaysia because if anything happens & you want to proceed with a legal battle, you may not find him/her again. Having said this, there are a good number of dive instructors of foreign nationalities who have made Malaysia home and have  Malaysian spouses. They offer a wealth of knowledge that locals can’t so there are pros to it. Do your checks first). – This is not meant to be discriminatory but due to the liability issues, I need to state this out so please don’t get offended, my dear foreign peers!

4) Be aware of instructors who are already suspended/expelled from any dive training agencies. They may continue to teach but have other instructors SIGN OFF your certification card. Reasons for expulsion could be due to serious violation of standards and procedures, negligence & error, some leading to death of students. This is a malpractice that you should not accept. Be sure that your instructor FOLLOWS THE STANDARDS. Ask to see the standards for each level of dive course that you are embarking on, then you would know what are the skills required for you to master at each one.

5) Instructor’s reputation. If you have been referred to your instructor, chances are, he/she had been teaching well. You would still need to do your due diligence check of point 1 – 4 above. For example, a fierce ex-military instructor may be uttering mouthfull of profanities during your training so be prepared for it. A octo-instructor may have hands everywhere, just like an octopus so if you don’t like to be groped, state beforehand that you don’t like to be touched although, you must be aware that during water training sessions, there is a lot of contact between instructor and student. A worldly instructor is someone who has probably travelled the world to dive leisurely but lack the experience to teach in different kinds of environment. Be sure to ask ‘where has he/she taught before (which seas, as each geographical location has different sea conditions). (Though I have been diving in cold waters, I still get a shock each time I enter the water & I certainly would not want to teach in those kinds of temperatures.)

6) Find out your instructor’s knowledge of marine life & marine conservation. If anyone makes a living off the seas, that person ought to know a great deal about the ocean & its inhabitants. The passion towards preservation of marine life must be paramount in an instructor’s life and walk. What you are getting from an instructor is years of experience with encounters of marine life that would influence how you would interact in the water. If you get an instructor who pokes & prods animals or catches a Nemo to put inside his/her mask then releases it only to be preyed upon by a lizard fish, or teaches your to ride a turtle or break open a sea urchin, or worse, pulling a poor octopus out of its lair till it has to squirt ink in defence to run away, you are getting a rogue, unprofessional cowboy instructor who has no regard for all life forms. Avoid him/her. Be sure to ask around, ask your diver friends for recommendations and don’t be afraid to change instructors or appoint someone new to teach you. You are not bound to one with a lifetime contract.

7) Watch out for instructors who get high on drugs/weed/alcohol. The last thing you need is a mentally impaired instructor in the water. Watch out for dilated pupils in their eyes or drunken breath. Don’t be afraid to say no to his/her instructions to enter the water. If he/she passes out, you are not trained to lift him/save him/her & can be a liability to you.

8) Don’t go for the cheapest dive course. You pay peanuts, expect monkey service. Dive instructors assigned to you when you sign up at the dive expo would be those in training or worse, those who have yet to qualify to teach. Not all dive centres would do that but most who want to cut cost, would. A dive operation has costs to upkeep, equipment to maintain and staff to pay. If you pay peanuts, the effects will be passed down the line, you’d get untrained/lackadaisical crew, lousy service and have no avenues to complain because of the price you paid that came with no perks. When I learnt how to dive, I chose to learn from the best and paid a premium to get as much as I could out of someone who was encouraged to teach me. When you learn from the best, you would spot all those mistakes from people who didn’t acquire the skills when they ought to have learnt them in their course. You won’t know what the instructor didn’t teach you if you don’t even know what they are suppose to teach. Refer to point #4 on laying out the set of standards that you must learn before you earn your certification.

9) If an instructor tells you that you don’t need to know how to swim to be able to dive, please mark his/her name and report to the dive agencies. You MUST BE ABLE TO SWIM 200m WITHOUT SCUBA gear nonstop and tread water for 10mins. This is in the ISO Standards that reputable dive agencies are accredited with. You will spend 95% of the time in water so what makes you think you can save yourself should you get into trouble or get separated from your group? Can you fly? No? Then learn to swim first. The ocean can wait for you and so can your instructor. Don’t be so eager to be run before you learn to walk. Safety is of utmost importance. In 1999/2000, Oriental Queen liveaboard hit a rock and sunk, but the instructor on board was quick to alert everyone who was sleeping to jump overboard and swim to shore. They did and was saved. What happens if you are in that same situation?

I hope the above serves as a guide for you to select your appropriate instructor. Do not be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they are stupid/silly questions because a good instructor will always make you understand what you are getting yourself into.

Tickling The Feather Star Open for Critters

See the Clingfish and its pattern?

Crinoids are what divers know as Feather Stars, sporting feathery arms that sway back and forth towards the centre of the body. One of the easiest subjects to photograph, crinoids are prehistoric animals in the class of echinoderms with male and female species found clinging onto coral reef cliffs often asleep in the day or actively feeding at night. The challenge is to photograph the tenants that the Crinoid itself hosts. It’s important to note that no photograph is worth abusing the animal for so please handle your subjects with care as you would a live animal on land. Crinoids are somewhat sticky and brittle. You wouldn’t want to break any of their arms off in your quest to shoot the shrimp within so keep your buoyancy neutral and coax the star to do a grand opening for you. I will teach you how.

After witnessing so many dive guides using their swizzle sticks to roughly ‘part the arms’ of the Crinoid to show divers what it holds within, I felt compelled to write this article to educate the many of you who might follow the bad habit of disturbing nature for your pictures. I practice a minimal disturbance to no disturbances in all my shots. They are never manipulated, nor had my subjects tossed in mid water to get them flaring, fearful or angry and I implore all of you to nurture good habits. The ability to boast of your shots is in the way you photograph them, not how the shot was obtained with manipulation. When you understand marine animal behaviour, you will get your incredible shots. Having spent the last 17 years teaching and 12 years of photographing underwater, I am moving towards educating the diver of the habits that you should possess to encounter your subjects.

What you need in your gear:-
1) Dive equipment of course.
2) Carabiners/loops/holsters to streamline your dangling hoses (SPG/Octopus/reels/SMBs)
3) LED torch
4) Dive computer to record depth and time you see the animal to relocate it next time.
5) No gloves unless you are diving in 15? waters
6) Hood to keep your hair tucked away from curious octopuses
7) Any camera housed in respective cases
8) Marine life guide books

Pre-dive preparation:-
1) Clean your hands after you use sunblock
2) Secure all gadgets with lanyard in your pockets.
3) Identify the subject you want to shoot.
4) Decide with buddy how much time you want to spend on each subject and if you find your target, be considerate to allow your buddy to take shots as well.

It’s not what camera you have but your knowledge of marine life that would get you nearer to the animal. By knowing what your subject lives on and feeds on, you have already increased your chances of finding it. By knowing your reef, you would have access to the inhabitants if you know what feeds on what and when.

The Shrimp also took on the colours and pattern of this Crinoid, Oxycomanthus Bennetti.

Close-up crop of the shrimp.

The basis of not touching anything in your dive education has been the point of contention in dive circles as we see dive guides competing with one another to find elusive critters with their sticks/pointers and completely lifting the animal out of the sand even though it’s meant to be camouflaged. I found it deeply offensive and I usually stop following the guide to find my own interaction with critters when I am not the one guiding the trip. When marine scientists collect specimens for research, they can’t avoid touching. We are not scientists neither are we collecting any specimens but we want to document them and there would be some degree of touching (hence rule number 1 in pre-dive preparation is to have clean hands) but not to the point of harassing the animal.

Not all crinoids have critters within. There are several species that host them. One of my favourites is the Oxycomanthus bennetti. 9 out 10 animals that I find have ‘tenants’ within them! On this particular one, I found 3 different types of critters! They all form a symbiotic relationship with the host and even adapt to its colours and patterns. Two Clingfish, a shrimp and a crab (not displayed) were darting about as I got closer.

There are 2 Clingfish in the picture and a shrimp. Can you spot them?

How do you get a Feather Star to open up its multiple arms for you? You only need to tap the spine of the arms gently & softly. As you begin tapping, be mindful that your neoprene suit doesn’t touch any of the brittle feathers or you might end up ripping the poor little thing apart. By tapping with your finger pads softly, it will begin to spread out. Your camera settings would have to be ready for the shot as you might only get one or two shots of the critters within. Set your focusing to Spot and metering to Centre-weighted. Crinoid will stay ‘open’ for you if it feels tickled in all its arms as long as you avoid touching the cilia (feathers). I use a drink stirrer with a ball tip to coax the critter (shrimp/crab/clingfish) into view from the opposite side carefully without touching the Crinoid. Once I get about 4 or 5 shots or a video if the subject is actively moving, mission is accomplished & I move on to other subjects on the reef. Minimal touching and absolutely no disturbance to the Crinoid. It will soon curl up to get back to sleep when it senses no threat.

For more on marine life and nature documentation, follow Pummkinography on Facebook or follow Pummkin on her trips!

Onboard Komodo Dancer – Learning Human Behaviour – Day 3 & 4

Dinners were always served in style. Sit down with a glass of wine as the first course is served by Rizal, who tirelessly wait on us. A purpose-built massive wooden table that acts as an emergency exit from the cabins below, had the capacity to fit 16 divers comfortably, 17 divers cosily. Captain Kassim set sail on the 2nd night towards Sumbawa islands & that’s when the real adventure had begun.

Sumbawa & Komodo islands seem to harbour some monstrous sized reef life and their pelagics are ginormous. Giant Trevallies are gigantic, Titan Triggerfish titanic, gargantuan Gorgonians that can wrap you twice over. The Napoleon Wrasse waltzes into schools declaring itself the emperor of the reef and Giant Groupers (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) prance the neighbourhood without a trace, giving away its camouflage only when it moved. I was many a time, frightened by one in close proximity when I hovered to take pictures over the colourful terrain. The more vibrant cousin, the Coronation Trout (Variola louti), was more visible as it changes colours upon entering & leaving the reef, the prime reason for my decision to take more videos.


By this time, everyone except Team Russia (language barrier), was warming up to one another around meal times as food had always been the centrepiece of conversations in Asian communities. Free access to the soda fridge meant I get to be sugar-powered by Coke after a nitrogen-loaded gawking session underwater. Again the swollen moon made everything explode, not sure if they got excited but I sure did when I caught the courtship ritual of the Trumpetfish at Padang Bai. Could it be that we would get to witness the spontaneous spawning of the reef at this time of the year? It’s hard to contain my joy…..


Anticipating the view of the recently erupted Sangeang volcano that sent a 19km plume of ashcloud into the sky, eager beavers like us (Team China & Team Malaysia) continued to check our location with the map & GPS to see how far off we were & if there was a possibility to get near. The Captain expressed that he was not going to take the risk as molten lava can be seen miles away in the following nights. We were told to get a glimpse of it when we moved closer to Komodo.


Team Austria had to be the walking pharmacy and most medically-equipped couple ever. On the first few days, they kindly whipped out a magic bottle of eardrops that dry out people’s ears as one member of Team Everything-Is-Wrong had gotten an ear infection. Very soon, Team Austria took out some Voltaren pills for one member of Team USA who had gotten a sprained ankle from an injury before she went onboard. She was also my lovely roommate! Her enthusiasm for muck dives was unquenchable as she voraciously searched the guidebooks after each dive for the things she had found.

By that time, I was getting to know everyone except one aloof member of Team China who doesn’t speak English & required his diving buddy to interpret dive briefs to him. A man of few words, he was exceptionally expressive underwater, gesticulating to his awesome interpreter buddy who happened to be an incredible photographer. I think I like him already! We can sign language! And so it was that I would speak Cantonese to him & he would speak Mandarin to me……..bliss!





Taking Your Smartphone Underwater

Spending in access of RM1,000 for your smartphone, warrants a smarter solution to protect it especially if you are going out to sea. How often have you been caught in a situation where you wished your phone (which has doubled up as your camera) was waterproof or robust? Salt water is especially corrosive & keeping it inside a big dry bag with all your other stuff may cause you to miss precious moments around you so how do you protect your phone from accidental slips into the sea or splashes that might short-circuit it?

I got a chance to take my Galaxy Note underwater (before acquiring the Sony Xperia Z1) & I tested the Dicapac DCP-WP-C2 casing that allowed me to operate the touchscreen whilst in the water. My favourite online camera shop, Shashinki, sells it for only RM80 & delivered right to your doorstep! There’s a selection of Green, White, Blue, Yellow & Pink casing & it’s no brainer which one I picked! So I decided to take it skin-diving with me!

I snorkelled to where the reefs sloped to about 8 metres deep & all the while, I can operated the touchscreen through the thick bubble atmosphere the casing created when I locked the zip-lock top. The air pocket created space between the screen & the casing. On the surface, I could still touch the ”˜shutter button’ on the screen but once I nose-dived down to 8 metres depth, the pressure flattened the air space & I couldn’t ”˜touch’ the screen again. The casing is rated to 10 metres, which to most users, is more than enough waterproofing. Not a problem as I could turn it to video & take screenshots later. Little did I know that I had filmed the video upside down because I was inverted! Here are some shots taken with the smartphone in the Dicapac casing in the water below the surface & at 8 metres.

Just adjusted the levels of the picture, no other edits.

Birds eye view from below the surface.

The house reef in Tenggol!

See my fins beneath the surface?

At the drop-off, I managed to take a picture….

Yours truly staring at the phone…..


With the supplied lanyard, I never have to worry about misplacing my phone on the boat & if you drop it in the sea, it floats!

P.S. – Also good for situations where you run the risk of getting sprayed by water cannons…… 😉

Check out their range of Dicapac casings that fit your smartphone!

If You Missed Reef Rescuers, Fret Not!


Did you get to watch it? Wasn’t that a great documentary about the clean-up at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park organised by Astro Kasih? Organising a clean-up of the ocean is a monumental task as I recall the number of clean-up projects I’ve been involved with in the past. Check out my introduction about Astro Kasih’s Reef Rescuers here: http://pitch.pummkin.net/?p=3675. Oceans get littered with unwanted debris, many become mistaken for food by birds, turtles & other sea life causing premature deaths from choking. A plastic bag can be mistaken as jellyfish, one of turtles’ favourite foods. Apart from being a hazard to sea creatures, plastic bags & other debris an choke reefs by blocking sunlight that facilitates photosynthesis in the symbiotic algae living in the corals.

Really, you should make it a point to catch this documentary to be better informed marine-enthusiast & contribute to a better world. The record-breaking effort will be shown at these times below:


Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Tuesday 4th June at 7pm

Wednesday 5th June 12am

Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

Friday 31st May at 1pm

Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Remember, if you have any ideas or suggestions for the Astro Kasih team, share your thoughts on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.


Congratulations to everyone who is enjoying a new GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih!

Don’t Miss Reef Rescuers’ Airing Times

Are you looking forward to the screening of Reef Rescuers tomorrow? I have! Have you been participating in the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ”˜7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz? Congratulations to the lucky participants who got their hands on a GoPro camera, you can express your creativity in shooting terrestrial & underwater life now! If you still haven’t got yourself one yet, there’s still time to participate today and tomorrow! I’ve been telling everyone about the fantastic effort by Astro Kasih to clean up unwanted debris in the sea and how you can share in the excitement. It’s all HERE!

Having planned my viewing party for tomorrow’s Premiere of Reef Rescuers on Thursday, 30th May at 7pm, I want my students to know how their activities can impact the environment as it’s a perfect documentary to show new divers how to take up stewardship of the ocean wherever they dive. Debris can choke the reefs and the reef is a home to many species of life with each of them depending on another for survival.

If you can’t get your fellow divers to watch with you, send them an invite through the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. And if you can’t make it tomorrow night, do not fret for there are several repeats as scheduled below:

Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm
  • Tuesday 4th June at 7pm
  • Wednesday 5th June 12am
  • Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Till next time, I’m off to stock up on Pretzels & Nuts for my viewing party at my sister’s place. Enjoy the show tomorrow!


Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia – Reef Rescuers Programme


Divers surfacing after a round of cleaning up underwater.

Ever wondered what’s it like to have a little underwater camera that produces megapixels of high definition videos? Beginning on 24 May 2013, you can have a go at the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ”˜7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz that runs until 30 May 2013 to get selected for a GoPro camera giveaway & there’s one given away daily! In bringing you the longest underwater clean up, held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park off the shores of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Astro Kasih team organised a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt from 6th ”“ 13th April 2013 ”“ a total of 7 days or 168 hours ”“ the same length of time that the quiz will run! The initiative was started to create greater awareness on marine conservation – with the help of 134 volunteer divers from Malaysia and across the world, working at 14 dives sites around the park, in an epic, non-stop 168-hour, seven-day underwater clean-up mission.

Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia programme is a volunteer initiative undertaken by Astro employees for the betterment and advancement of the community that we live in. Being one of Astro’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives under its environment pillar its main focus is to raise awareness on preserving the environment with community engagement for environmental activities. You can give your comments & suggestions as they welcome ideas on the Astro Kasih Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

Astro Kasih Beautiful Malaysia includes a coral transplanting project in 2011 at Ribbon Reef in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sabah ”“ an effort that achieved certification by the Malaysia Book of Records with 777 corals transplanted. To learn more, just surf over to www.astrokasih.org/beautifulmalaysia. The purpose of Astro Kasih’s initiative is to help the many underprivileged villages and children in Sabah since 2009. Their activities include building and repairing amenities and infrastructure and contributing to the improvement of educational resources for the kids.


Volunteer divers posing with their haul.

You may not have been aware of this record-breaking attempt, hence, a 30-minute television special showing an insider perspective of what it takes to plan and execute such a huge marine conservation project will be aired on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571) on Thursday 30th May at 7pm. This is a collaborative effort by Astro with Discovery Network to produce Reef Rescuers. Watching it will not only get you into the charms of the purpose of Astro Kasih but to get you involved in this upcoming premiere of Reef Rescuers, through a special quiz!

In that duration each morning you will be given a chance to a multiple choice question that you must answer by 7pm on the same day. You only need to submit your real name, email address and phone number for authentication purposes should they need to call you about the giveaway. Last but not least, you’re needed to spread the word on the Reef Rescuers programme and quiz through a Facebook status update that says “I just took the Reef Rescuers quiz about the world’s longest underwater clean-up in Sabah, Malaysia. Take the quiz today and get selected for a GoPro! Catch the 30-minute documentary on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571), premieres 30 May, Thursday, 7pm.” If your sharing can help educate someone about the ocean’s reefs, imagine how much destruction you can help prevent! Share away & save a reef! After that, check back on the Astro Kasih Facebook page after 10am the next day to know if you’ll be getting your hands on a GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih. It is easier to receive notifications if you click ‘Like’ on the page.

If you are a diver, don’t stop there! Watch it with your fellow divers to see if you get ideas from the Reef Rescuers to safeguard your patch of reef! Connect & invite them on the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. Remember to use the Red Button on your Astro remote control during viewing to get more info, chat on Twitter, see an info feed, or check out their other giveaways.

After you surf over to join the quiz, you can also look around for ways to keep Malaysia green or engage in sustainable living. If you prefer to check out the best places for scuba diving or cool places to travel to, have a look at the conversations on the Discovery Southeast Asia Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DiscoverySEAsia. There’s always something cool to discover every day!


The Astro Kasih’s team and the divers commemorating their extraordinary achievement with a group photo. Amongst them is my NAUI Course Director, Michael Tong!

Shark & Yolanda Reef in Egypt

One of the most exhilarating dives I’ve had was in the Red Sea when I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Visibility exceeded 30m & water temperature was around 20 – 21 degrees Celsius, prompting me to wear a 5mm farmer jane wetsuit for protection. The initial shock as I entered the cold waters set all my senses into alert. My heartbeat fluttered for awhile but as soon as I saw how clear the water was, that apprehension turned to excitement. Wolfgang was my buddy & we went down to Shark & Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohamed National Park, which sat at approximately 15m – 30m of water. The wreck sits at 145m – 200m further below after the drop off & what’s left on the shallower bed is the cargo of bathtubs & water closets strewn all over.

The corals in the surrounding reef was amazing. Sunlight penetrated to more than 20m depth & with the help of strobes, I brought out the colours of the soft corals as we inched along towards the sunken cargo.


There wasn’t a shark in sight. I was hoping to encounter at least a reef shark & was geared to film my first oceanic shark but they just didn’t appear when I was there. I could even get close to a Sea Perch without it flinching while I pressed the shutter button.

Sea Perch.

The sight of bathtubs stacked together was quite nostalgic as my mind wandered to how I’d been raised taking herbal baths for all my ailments but to me, it was a time to frolic! Toilets & pipes were all over the place too, albeit encrusted with corals.


It was interesting to see what we sit on with our bottoms at the bottom of the ocean & this WC having great growth prospects gave me a new sense of respect for them!

An inverted WC!

This part of the cargo below has turned into a reef. Can you see the pipes & bathtub?


Visibility was near perfect!


Flying to Egypt was quite an experience. I flew UAE & had a stopover in Dubai. I will be planning another trip really soon as I’ve yet to see the SS Thistlegorm, sunk during World War Two. If you are planning a trip to the Red Sea, you can check out holidays to Egypt & request to dive with Diving & Discovery, awarded as the best dive centre in Sharm El-Sheikh!

Malaysia Becomes ISOs First Asian Country Venue Host!

Here we are again, the ISO Standards Meeting. This time, with my other Malaysian delegates, Syed Abdul Rahman, Lawrence Lee, Michael & William Tong & Khatijah Hashim!

Returning from shooting in the jungle, I had to set my gear in motion for the bi-annual ISO Standards meeting on 28 & 29 June 2011, the one that the Ministry of Tourism sent me to Orlando for in October 2009. That trip gave me a chance to visit my all-time fantasy land of Magic Kingdom where all dreams do come true & to meet my family in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was decided then, that Egypt being the first to bid, would get to host first, thus, the Ministry sent me to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt last December of 2010 & finally got to be the first Asian country to host a Working Group meeting!

I met up with Wolfgang, Martin, Mark, Steffen, Julie & Trond the night before the meeting to let them savour the best of Malaysian’s hawker fare at Lot 10. They tried our authentic Hokkien Mee, Cantonese Fried Kuey Teow, Pork Satay, Herbal Drinks, Yong Tow Foo & some other stuff but I was too busy trying to take panorama pictures to note what other stuff they had ordered.

The panorama feature is in the Scene mode of the Samsung NX100!

In their invitation card for the welcoming dinner, the dress code specified was either Formal or Batik so I brought them batik-shopping in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle! They were ever so enthusiastic to own a piece of our cultural heritage & the shopkeeper was so happy that he gave me silk handkerchief for bringing them there!

Martin Denison tries on a silk batik while Trond & Steffen deliberate in the background.

The gentlemen with their various try-outs!

In the day, for two consecutive days, the meeting proceeded as usual. Though not all the delegates were present, notably Deric Ellerby, my BSAC National Instructor who certified me as one in 1998.

We convened at Renaissance Hotel.

Everyone got very excited as dinner time approached. Here we are, garbed in our batik!

From left:- Steffen of Wales, Trond of Norway, Wolfgang of Italy, Mark of UK, yours truly, Peter of MSDA, Martin of Austria.

Group photo before dinner.

All ready, we walked across from the hotel to Saloma Bistro right opposite, to the beating drumbeat of the kompang!


The Ministry of Tourism put together an ensemble of cultural dances & the delegates had a great time participating on stage!


Taken together with the Deputy Secretary General, Acting Director General, Director of the Industry Development Division of the Tourism Ministry.

The night ended with all smiles as the delegates prepared to return to their countries the following day. A few stayed on for the seminar at the dive expo & also for diving in our warm waters! Until the next meeting in December, I will continue to work with both Ministries for the development of the ISO Standards in Malaysia! 🙂

A Secret Wonder – Coral Bay, Western Australia


Coral Bay is 155km south of Exmouth & one glance at the azure sea would tell you that this pristine marine park has more to offer than what meets the eye. Famed for its caravan parks & a handful of resorts in this little suburb by the sea, Coral Bay holds the world’s best kept secret in hosting the most diverse structures of coral colonies in the region! Who would have known that this sleepy suburb is the base to reach pristine dive sites? Colonies of corals that built mazes & fish condominiums, tiered mounts that mould into exotic framework piling into the foundations of the sea, this must be one of the best dives I’ve done (and I have done in excess of 2,500 dives in my life all over South East Asia) & truly, I am torn as to whether I should disclose the location or let it remain a secret & maintaining its pristine conditions by reducing human impact on the area.

Every diver in our presence was floored by the awesome structures that formed the maze leading out to a gigantic creek with sandy bottom. The only thing that possibly frustrated me was that the light wasn’t where it was supposed to shine & casted shadows in places where I needed corals to be lit. It was a challenging time for photography (though nothing could beat my Rottnest experience!) & to find the right angle just so that I can show you the majestic formation but alas, these pictures were all I managed as the sun was setting.

Presenting you a dot in the ocean, a speckle in the map but a world of beauty beyond what you & I can ever envision!


Bearing in mind that corals are actually animals with male & female reproductive organs, the reef is made up of millions of colonies that build structures as they grow. To have a magnificent ecosystem that looks equally astounding is something that only God can create.




We were taken to a sparsely populated reef before getting into the thick of things. It’s an absolute wonder that the marine life thrives in every reef due to the protected status! There are absolute fearless fish to contend with!

Harlequin Sweetlips at the cleaning station!

Mantle of a Giant Clam

Looks can be deceiving. This reef even has a Picasso Triggerfish!

Completing two dives on a day out was exhilarating to say the least. The awesome wonder took my breath away, both underwater & above. Visit Australia if you are planning your journey!

P.S. This blogpost will appear on Amazing Journey with a flash gallery of more photos than what’s posted here. Pummkin’s Pitch has a mixture of my personal journey & adventures but Amazing Journey categorises my travels by destination & product reviews with an occasional sponsored post or two.

NOSS – Building The Malaysians Skill Standards

The Tourism Ministry’s collaboration with the Department Of Skill Development (JPK in Malay) under the Ministry of Human Resources had brought about a workshop to review the NOSS (National Occupational Skill Standards) for Scuba Diving in Malaysia in a stressful 5-full day (20 – 24th February 2011) meetings held in a hotel in Tanjung Kling, Melaka. This is for the working manual for any individuals looking to pursue a career in diving in Malaysia with JPK (Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran) but lack the skillset required to lead effectively & conduct dives for divers. In a fixed set of guidelines to how the ”˜Duties’ are to be listed & described, the few of us who were an integral part of the team during the formation of the standards back in 1998, had to be present to revise the entire set of Duties, Tasks & Steps & Knowledge. And we scratched our heads too. Who on earth came up with such a difficult standard to follow??? 😛

Though the meeting room was spacious, we felt terribly confined to the preset verbs & adjectives that we were allowed to use in each of the description that we dished out. Not only were our experiences as instructors, trainers, resort owners/directors & dive agencies were harnessed, our minds were pitched against the varied knowledge of each individual who contributed to the revision. According to the invigilator, shouts & tempers flares were quite common in all the other NOSS’ workshops. Some throw a tantrum, walk out & never come back too, so our banter & lobbing of verbal cannon balls were considered quite mild, owing to the fact that each one of the professionals present had known each other in excess of a decade, save a few new faces to the industry.

I was given the task of correcting grammar & my grey matter was working overtime to the point where another cup of tea & a snack wouldn’t do the job of firing the synapses needed to churn out another skill description. What with the launching of fireballs across the tables & constant jibing at each other in the most provocative manner, the meeting was lively & stimulating. Even then, it had a mentally exhausting effect that left all of us deflated at the end of the day. I never thought writing a manual for the industry was this draining.

I must say, I learnt a lot from the workshop & how great minds put aside competition to come together & contribute to the good of the dive industry. To this, I say to all present, “Well done!”


Standing from left: , Manap (Tioman Marine Park), Michael Tong (Regional Director of NAUI Pacific RIm), Johnny Chew (Regional Manager of PADI Asia), Lawrence Lee (NAUI Course Director, Layang Layang Resort),
Sitting from left: Khairullah (JPK officer), Pamela Lim (ISO Stds TC228/WG1 Tech Committee), Bahrinah Baharim (Associate Director of Marine Parks Malaysia), Ivin Mercy (Ministry of Tourism), Liza (Tourist Guide Association), Ummi Haslinda (Reef Check Malaysia), Mohd Asri (JPK Invigilator)