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Swimming With the Fishes

The day began with English breakfast at Scuba Junkie followed by a ride out to Pulau Mabul.  Lionfish, scorpionfish, frogfish, coronets, and all of the Finding Nemo crew call this island home.  Off the coast of the island lies a dive site fashioned from an old offshore oil rig.

David and Scott began gearing up for the dives, which would mark the last underwater skill building portions of the open water certification.

Running through the next maneuvers on land, they prepared to take a giant stride off the jetty into the water below.

And before too long, they were in the water giving the “OK” sign.

Having taken a break from SCUBA, I took up exploring the reef by snorkel, which also designated me as the morning’s cameraman, given that the maximum depth of the waterproof camera was less than what the SCUBA team would descend.

The coral reef was magical.

A diverse ecosystem lay below the sea’s surface, with a shallow reef that eased slowly into the sandy depths.

Mabul’s Reef, specifically “Froggie’s Lair,” proved to be a prime location for snorkeling and diving, as Scott and David can attest to.  Beware of those puffer fish though.  They look cute but you can’t get too close.

These photographs are, of course, mere approximations of the beauty, given the difficulty of achieving true color in undersea light amidst particulate.  We hope, dear reader, that you may venture to Borneo and witness it with your very own eyes.  The island itself was co-inhabited by a particularly interesting population of dive resort-goers and local villagers.  We searched for a coconut on shore, but neither of the communities were able to manifest one at any price.

Finally back in Semporna, David and Scott had been arranging SCUBA permits across the street while I was showering the day’s seawater and oceanic detritus from my body, when a knock came at our door. I twisted off the water faucet, and stuck my dripping head out our door. Outside were three employees of the Scuba Junkie Inn, one with a mop and bucket, the other bent backwards by a huge load of fresh linens, and the third, with hands crossed behind his back, sporting a giant smile, seemed there only in the official capacity to inform me that our room had been changed, and that it was imperative that we pack up all of AsiaWheeling’s belongings. It being after 6pm, we had spread ourselves out quite a bit, and without Scott and David, I struggled to put on my clothes and lug our things down the hall. Part way through the process of moving our belongings, I was introduced to our new neighbor, a giant matted hound that barked viciously and ran at me, threatening to tear out my larynx.
Later that night, we were attempting to relax in a local establishment called the Turtle Tomb Cafe. The cafe itself was really just a bar, with a fellow outside hawking seafood BBQ dinners. It was the kind of food which in the U.S. is marketed squarely at traveling salesmen and consultants, terrifically overpriced by local standards, but quite filling, carb rich, and passably tasty. We were tired and sunburned from diving, and this was a safe bet, so we began to chow down on plates of BBQ’d tuna steak, fried calamari, fresh shrimp kabobs, rice, spring rolls, french fries and garlic bread.

As we were eating, the cook, a fellow we later learned was known by the locals as “Fast Eddie” came over to chat us up. He began to regale us with stories of when he was invited to cook for the French ambassador when he was hosting the king of Malaysia. He told us about how many painstaking hours it took to wrap the spring rolls, to get them to be just the right amount of crispy with no extra grease. It soon became apparent that he was not really conversing with us, rather he was performing a well rehearsed ballet of schtick, complete with engineered pauses for us to compliment his food or his achievements.  We were tempted to provide a litmus test by, say, asking the name of the French ambassador at the time.  Maybe he would have flinched.  If he didn’t, we had the WikiReader at our side for validation.

Soon the piece shifted from “tales of a rambling chef” to a kind of “sleight of hand” magic show. He proceeded to do a number of disappearing and reappearing card and lighter tricks.

Fast Eddie’s performance was quite good, but we quickly grew dubious of it’ legitimacy. The more he tricked us with his sleight of hand magic tricks, the more we started to feel like the entire experience was a lie, like we were being laughed at and taken advantage of by this strange and energetic cook with lazy eyes. We were all too glad when he finally returned to his station, to assemble more of this experience for other customers.

It did not take us long to bounce back, as Scott and David were celebrating their acquisition of passes to dive off Sipadan island, a local marine park and one of the world’s dive meccas, for two days hence. So, for the next day’s activity, we decided to call our boatman, Hassan. I took out his card, from which his picture gleamed back at me from behind large aviator sunglasses and a New York Yankees hat, and dialed the number. To our mixed feelings, we discovered that according to Hassan, Italy had fallen quite ill forcing a cancellation of his trip for the next day, leaving Hassan, quite open for business. Hurrah, we quickly booked the man, explaining that we wanted a ride to this same island, Mantabuan, and that we would like the same local fish BBQ that Italy had enjoyed. Hassan responded “You are wanting some fried noodles or fried rices?” I put my hand over the receiver and consulted the troops. When I returned to the phone, it had disconnected, with a Malay warning that could only be interpreted as indication of depleted credit. I grabbed Scott’s phone, and re-connected. “No,” I explained, “The local fish BBQ, like Italy.” “Oh, yes, then with these rices we will buy fish on the island.” Fair enough, Hassan, fair enough.  Was this the second bait we were to take for the day?

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Comments

  1. Mark/Dad | February 21st, 2010 | 11:37 pm

    What’s up with the pool table and the fish hooks? I love the underwater photos. I hope Italy’s illness wasn’t food related!

  2. AsiaWheeling » Blog Archive » Even Oman has Scoundrels | September 2nd, 2010 | 9:09 pm

    [...] the odd school of bright red fish, and a number of interestingly shaped bottom feeders. It was no Borneo, of course, but it was a delightful swim. Even given the generally leaky nature of the masks, I [...]

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