So my radio station chose to send me to Thailand for a few days. I was supposed to see the sights, and report back with the stories, as part of a promotion for a tourism company. But I must tell you, sea beaches have never been my thing. Part of it stems from the fact that I never quite learned how to swim. My parents decided fairly late in life that I should know how to swim, and I found it humiliating to be in a pool learning how to float with kids half my age. Added to that was the fact that I had a fairly bad swim coach. Or maybe he wasn’t so bad, and I had just overheard mum saying bad things about him and decided he was bad. So one fine evening I decided I had had enough and walked out.
Part of my dislike for beaches also stems from the fact that I have, what I think is a poor self image. I am fat, and hairy, and I know it. I know it’s silly to worry about what other people might think, but I can’t seem to be able to help it. That whole “point and laugh” thing is something that scares me. Scares me quite a bit. This fear is further reinforced by the fact over the years I have had the misfortune of interacting with people who actually do quite a bit of pointing and laughing. I have never quite been able to shake it off.
But one of the first things I realized when we hit Pattaya beach was that there were people out there who were fatter and hairier than me, and they just didn’t seem to care. There were Americans, and Europeans, and they were all lost in their own world, everyone was having a good time. No pointing and laughing here. I seemed to find a tiny bit of confidence.
But even before we went underwater, we were supposed to go up in the air. A platform in the middle of the sea had speedboats circling it. A long cable from each boat goes all the way up the platform. That cable is attached to the front of a harness that you wear. Behind you is attached a parachute. The boat moves forward, you feel a tug, run a couple of steps, and before you realize what’s going on, you’re up in the air, parasailing. Now it does look rather frightening from the outside. The men involved are all masked (I was later told, this was because they were in harsh sunlight all day), and they handle you somewhat roughly. But two things occurred to me. First, something that literally millions of tourists do every year cannot be unsafe. Second, if I keep saying “no” because of fear, without even experiencing something, I’ll be cutting out far too much from my life. So I decided to say yes. And the experience is something I cannot put down in words. Looking down at the world, your feet dangling in the air, feeling the wind rush over every part of your body, I got a small inkling of what a bird feels like.
But then came the real challenge. Under sea walking. The proposition is simple enough. They put a huge, heavy helmet on your head. The weight of the helmet makes you sink 5 or 7 meters to the bottom of the ocean, where you walk around, see and touch the coral, feed the fish etc etc.. You don’t need to know swimming for this. And neither do you need your trunks. You can just go down in your shorts. But then, you do need to take off your shirt. When the time came, I found it was a simple enough thing to do. I didn’t feel self-conscious, not too much at any rate. But then, I was going down with a group. Two married couples and one single lady, and as luck would have it, they paired her with me. What I mean by paired is that everyone had a partner, you hold hands, to prevent someone falling down, or having an accident, and she was my partner.
Now going down into water can cause an actual panic rush, because water dose rise into the helmet, but then, once you calm down, you realize it stays below your chin, rising a little higher if you take a deep breath. Through your visor, you are able to see the sights, but they do fog over from heavy breathing, and when that happens, someone puts their hand into your helmet, and splashes some water on it. The whole experience was like being in a dream, the water was beautiful and cold, but all the while I was very conscious that a woman had her hands on my bare body. A woman I did not know. Her hands were small. They were soft. And they were grasping on to me. Once we rose, discarded our helmets, and put our shirts back on, we exchanged a brief smile, and went our way. No awkwardness.
At the end of the day, I was happy that I said yes, instead of saying no. I am now very aware of what I would have missed. And it was more than anything, a strangely liberating feeling to be free of my fears and inhibitions. Let’s see what more I can do that I had always thought I couldn’t.