The Philippines under Water And above
With a group of 15 other people from Hong Kong, I stayed in islands in Coron Bay, Palawan, about one hour's flight south of Manila. Most of the time in the nine-day trip was spent on the sea and under water, but I did get some chance to know the town called Coron. It's an island of some 35,000 people. There is minimal agriculture on the island; most people are fishermen. More than five years ago, scuba divers became an additional source of income for the islanders. Coron Bay is known for ship wrecks left during the Second World War by the Japanese.
The town is poor by any standard. But the town government seems efficient. We met a member of the legislative council of Coron on the small airplane from Manila to Coron. He told us that the Filipinos learned about democracy from the Americans. He is proud that the town government is clean, although he admits that the national government in Manila is corrupt at various levels. On the streets of Coron where there are on-going public projects, signs tell people when the project began and who are responsible for overseeing the project. There is a school nearby. The conditions are not so great, but it impressed me that students all have their tidy school uniforms. There are two churches nearby. One of the legacies of 400-year Spanish rule is that Filipinos are Catholic. They all have Spanish names, although today very few people speak Spanish. All signs in Coron, private or public, are in English.
The diving part of the trip was very interesting. For six days on the trip, I had 14 dives. At first, my instructor from Hong Kong was dismayed by the pace I was learning. But I eventually improved, and at the end of the trip, my instructor told me that I have the potential of becoming a divemaster.
Diving can be dangerous if not adequately prepared. Just after I cam back I heard a guy from Hong Kong was drowned while learning scuba diving in Thailand under a Singaporean instructor. The first significant step in learning diving is to get used breathing under water. The natural instinct is to hold the breath under water, but in scuba diving you are supposed to breath continuously through the mouth. It took me a long time to get used to it. The second step is to learn to control your breath so that you are perfectly balanced under water. The ideal position is to become neutral in buoyancy, and control up and down movement through breathing: when you breath in you go up and when you breath out you go down. At first, I struggled a lot. I would either go up very quickly or go down like a rock. I ran out air very quickly. But things began to change midway through the trip. Once you achieve complete neutral buoyancy under water, you are starting to enjoy diving. You stay static under water and start to see the marine life under the sea. There are big and colorful batfish, jelly fist, lion fish, and others. You can also try the ship wrecks, get inside and see the fish that make the wreck as their home. It's quite an experience to have those fish staring in your face.
On the last day of the trip, there was no diving. I went to Manila early in the morning with some of the group. We went to the big department store there. With 50 percent devaluation of the local currency, a lot of things are cheap. I bought some T-shirts and tapes. I was very happy to find the tapes I had been looking for in the States.