Crazy Weekend

My weekends generally fall into either of the following two categories. 1. Good weekends - where I have lots and lots of fun and not even realizing the time flying by, till its Monday morning and yet I feel more energetic (even with all the lack of sleep) and 2. The bad ones - where I usually sit at home doing nothing and simply feel empty by Sunday evening and hate Monday’s so much that at times I end up taking a day off.
Then there is the third type, the one which happens once in a “Blue Moon” - The Crazy One. Two weeks back, it was a “Blue Moon”.

To make the long story short, one Thursday evening, I was at my apartment in Singapore wondering what I am going to do the next day at work and how boring my weekend’s gonna be. But less than 24 hours later, I was a 1000 miles away from home - Phuket, Thailand - the Vegas of South East Asia, trying to figure out how I ended up there.

Now to the long version as on why I was wondering about the next day’s work and why my weekend had nothing planned. Like in all crazy stories, I have a bunch of crazy friends with whom I usually do a bunch of crazy things. A lot of things were happening during the last couple of months (like one of my friend’s finding his better half) that we all wanted to have some time together and thought of planning a trip. Due to some technical difficulties, Manju and I had to skip it and my friends ended up planning it. Since their flight was on Friday early morning, Manju and I decided to meet them on Thursday evening to wish them a good trip. Generally when we meet, we end up suffering from lack of sleep (and hang over) the next day, which was why I was bothered about the the next day’s work. Since they were flying, we didn't have the “default meetup” planned and my weekend schedule was kind of empty.

Well, I forgot about all my worries once I was among my friends and started partying. I remember how we started the evening. I remember we playing cards, loud music, having nachos, singing songs, lot of laughs and talks (some about me not going for the trip) and like all parties, after some time, everything started to seem like a blur and time started to slow down. Soon, it was time for the last bus to head back home and I remember reaching for my shoes. We wished them happy journey (I thinks I did) and walked towards the bus stop.

I've heard people saying that love and alcohol tend to amplify our emotions. Well, I had both in my system and I remember feeling a void somewhere in my head. I think I started my usual philosophy session and after sometime, that crazy idea stuck my head. (I do not remember whether it was me or Manju who initiated it). “Why can’t we go back, book the tickets right now and go with them?” Immediate, as the afterthought, the following questions also popped into my mind. “But then how about work tomorrow, the weekend plans? I haven’t packed anything, well I don’t even have my passport with me, how am I going to do it?” Then Manju said, “The worst thing that can happen if we go back now is, we will miss our bus and may have to get a cab to go home. But the best case scenario is, we can have a crazy weekend”.

And yeah, we did go back, partied more, arranged for “emergency” leave for next day, booked the (super expensive, last minute) tickets (barely 6 hours before), took a detour to get our bags packed, and made it to the airport just in time to board the flight - extremely hungover and with little sleep the night before.

Now when I think about that night, all I can recall is only some flashes here and there. But it was just the beginning of a crazy weekend. What happened in Phuket, is the subject for yet another post. Sometimes in life, there comes a point when you have to do something, without thinking a lot. That’s when you have to remember about the Nike ad campaign - “Just do it” (I remember thinking about it just before boarding the flight). Because, during most of these situations, you know very clearly what you want deep inside. If you ponder a lot over the decision or try to come up with every possible consequence it will make in your life, it might never happen. You might  cherish the memories forever or might regret it in future. But always remember what the “wise man” said, “Never regret anything you have done in your life, because, that’s what you wanted the most at that point in time”

Canon's Christmas gift

Since I click mostly when I travel and I like to travel light, the only major addition to my gear since I first got my DSLR (EOS 450D + EF-S 18-200mm IS) in 2008, was my macro lens (EF 100mm L Macro USM). I have come a long way since I clicked my first shot and recently the then entry level DSLR started showing signs of aging both from technology and wear & tear due to my excessive clicking (around 50K images) & rough handling. Even though it is a quite capable camera, I have started to outgrow my gear to an extend where I feel limited by it in a lot of situations. After seeing the quality of the images produced by the 100mmL, I don’t feel like shooting with my 18-200mm anymore. All these factors made me think about a complete refresh of my camera and accessories. Since Canon offers an excellent collection of SLR lenses, I was able to easily narrow down my choices on that front. But the biggest concern was about my options for an EOS body. I didn't want to go for 7D due to its crop (APS-C) sensor and 5D Mark II is an old model (60D option was “out the window” in the beginning itself). That’s when Canon announced the 5D Mark III which got me excited a lot. The only problem (as my friend Ajai put it) - If I factor in the cost of the body plus refreshing the rest of my gear, I am looking at a possible bankruptcy.
There, I was back to square one. Even though my eventual goal was the 5D MK3, I had no idea how or when I would get there. I dropped the idea of getting a new body and was considering a refresh of my lenses and other accessories like flash, filters etc. That’s when Canon surprised me with their “out-of-the-blue” announcement of a “cheap” (if you can call US$ 2.1K cheap) full frame camera - the EOS 6D - at Photokina 2012, which promised all the features I was hoping for. (Later I found that the existence of “cheap” full frame in the making was the industry’s “worst kept secret” since there were tons of rumors flying around the Internet, which I never knew) 

As per Manju, I was so excited about this news that all I had to talk about for the rest of the week, was about the 6D (I completely deny it). In the paper, its not as great as the 5D MK3 as its supposed to fit right below the 5DMK3 and above the 7D. However in my opinion, the 6D is a much more streamlined product as compared to the 5DMK3, with the likes of the introduction of GPS, WiFi, the significant weight reduction, removing CF cards etc. I don’t care a lot about the 61 AF points or the 100% viewfinder coverage or the 6fps continuous shooting speed of the MK3. These are all nice-to-have features, but definitely not a shortcoming compared to the existing enhancements and especially the ‘discount’ of US$1500 from the MK3’s hefty price tag.

As compared to the Nikon D600, the 6D might seems not up to the mark in some aspects in paper, especially in terms of the megapixel count (which is a boon for me ‘cos I do not want to upgrade my storage), or the 39 point AF system. But I am more interested in seeing how the 6D performs in actual tests rather than on paper. So far, the only data available is what has been published by Canon. I am eagerly waiting for a 3rd party review.

Now that the 6D is out, I am hoping that Canon will announce some refreshes of its current product line, like a replacement of the Speedlite 403EX II or a couple of new lenses (like an 18-300mm) during Photoplus, New York in October 2012.

What all these means to me is that, if I am going for the 6D, I’ll have to replace my 18-200mm with a 24-105mmL, get a speedlite (possibly a 430EX II refresh), replace all my current filters etc etc, which translates to only one thing, I’ll have to apply for the loan my friend was referring to, ASAP!

Life Underwater

This article has been published in the Onam issue (2012 August) of 'Ithalukal' magazine.

"It feels strange the first time. Your mask. Your awkward gear, a bit heavy. You ease into the water and your face slips below the surface. Inhale; the air comes with a reassuring hiss, and for the first time, you breathe underwater. In moments, you forget your mask. Your equipment transforms to light and agile, and you're free like you've never experienced before. With that first underwater breath, the door opens to a different world. Not a world apart, but different nonetheless." - PADI OPEN WATER DIVER Manual.

Indeed it opened a whole new world when I descended to the depths of the sea for the first time. I was barely able to believe my senses, and for a moment I thought I was dreaming. With that first underwater breath, I realised, my world would never be the same again.

Even though I loved any form of water sports from my childhood and wanted to try scuba diving for a long time, I wasn’t able to, until I moved to Singapore. South-East Asia boasts some of the best warm water dive sites in the world. I had an extra privilege. I worked in a place where there were more divers than non-divers. Also, the nature of our work required us to spend as much time in the sea as that on land. That was my motivation. From the information I gathered from my diver friends, I set out and joined an open water course in 2009. My first dive trip, for Open Water Certification, was to Tioman Islands, Malaysia. I've got to say, I got hooked after that.

Even after 3 years, I vividly remember how I felt when I descended for the first time. Once completed with the initial checks, my instructor gave me a final OK to descent. I deflated my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) and began to sink slowly. After dealing with few distractions like equalising, orienting myself, I looked around. It was like the entire world had turned blue. And very quiet. It took around a minute for me to touch down (~ 6-8m). Since it was our first dive, we were descending into a patch of white sand. As soon as I was done with the basic skills, while waiting for others to finish, I began exploring the small reef near me. I found an anemone there inhabited by a school of clown fish (commonly known as Nemo) so beautiful with their orange and white banded bodies and their graceful movements in the corel. It was my first close encounter with any sea creature. From that point onwards, my world was never the same again, the sea never stopped surprising me. For the remaining dives, I swam along a variety of colorful fishes, saw some weird shaped creatures, all of which forged an even stronger bond between me and the nature.

Shy Nemo trying to hide from my camera, a snap I took while diving in Bali.

Me ‘n my buddy under the wreck of USAT Liberty, a World War II transport ship

A scorpion fish trying to blend in with the reef

I have gone diving in some interesting places, met people from different parts of the world and most importantly, seen some really unique creatures in the sea which sometimes were beyond my wildest imaginations. Each and every time I go underwater, I find something intriguing or learn something new. Even then, I know what I have seen so far is only a fraction of what the nature has to offer. Now that my better-half has also joined me in my passion for diving, I know I will be able to discover more and more secrets, the nature has been holding back from me and that the real adventure is only beginning.

For those who are interested in pursuing this amazing activity, here is some useful info.
Even though there are some introductory course which helps you get a feel of what its like without taking a proper certification, I recommend you start with the certification which enables you to dive anywhere in the world. There are many certifying agencies, but PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the world's largest recreational diving membership and diver training organization.
It’s relatively easy to find a dive shop/operator in the South East Asia as some of the best dive sites in the world are located here. Either you can join a trip organised by a dive operator in your region who will arrange all the logistics or you can travel to the specific place you want to dive and sign up with a local dive operator there.
The main prerequisite for diving is swimming. You don’t have to be a world class swimmer, but you need to be able to float/hover in the water for 10 minutes and need to be able to swim 200m, non stop. In my opinion, even if you have to enroll for a swimming course, it’s worth it.

Once you take the first level of certification - Open Water Diver - you can dive up to 18m. The next level of certification is Advanced Open Water Diver which lets you to dive up to 30m. It also lets you do some of the fun stuff like night diving, drift diving, underwater navigation etc. If you are only looking for leisure dives, these two certifications are more than necessary. But there will always be a next level like Rescue diver, Dive Master, Instructor etc which takes your diving skills to a professional level. If you want to push your limits and cross the boundaries of recreational diving, technical diving is the one for you.

So, what are you waiting for? Get, set and dive!