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Snot squeezes and secrets – Phuket Diving

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Snot squeezes and secrets – Phuket Diving | The Thaiger

PHUKET: There was an issue before we even boarded the boat. We had been waiting all weekend to photograph the artificial reef at Viking Cave off of Phi Phi Island and weather delays had pushed us back to our last day on the island, and now, looking at the pile of green mucus in my tissue, it was clear there was a problem – I had a cold.

For a BASE jumper, downhill skier, rock climber or sailor, a little congestion is just snot – for a diver it can be the difference between the perfect diving holiday in paradise and having to explain to everyone at the dive club back home that you bailed on the lifetime goal of spotting Manta rays in Thailand.

The fundamental difference between most activities and diving in this sense is equalizing – the need to make the pressure of the air trapped inside our sinuses and air passages the same as the pressure exerted by the water around us. The smallest fraction of difference in that pressure can cause mind-zapping acute pain, known as a squeeze. And pushing too hard to equalize can have serious consequences.

There are people out there, including dive doctors, who have pushed through congestion for a last dive – and it was their last dive. Their mucus blockage turned out to be tougher than their eardrums. As they floated in the water, with fingers pinching their noses, blowing hard to push air through their sinuses into the air space in their ears, they ruptured their eardrums – and finished their diving careers.

The pressure on divers, from dive professionals who pay the bills by being in the water to the once-a-year holiday dive junkies, can be enormous. It can cloud a diver’s judgment.

After shutting the air-conditioner off, I sit in the hot shower, hoping the steam will start to loosen some of the mucus from its moorings deep within my sinus passages. Sadly, the hotel did not have a neti, so no warm salt water snorting solution was on the table.

My dive buddy is banging on the door, worried we will miss our boat.

In no time at all, the boat is bobbing over the dive site. Already suited up, I get the nerve to let my dive buddy and our dive guide know that I might have issues equalizing. This is a big moment. However unlikely, there is no sure way to know if the dive master will call off my dive for my own safety.

Suggesting cures for congestion is taboo among divers because the way we have been trained to deal with it. The reality of how many of us deal with it are at odds with each other.

Because serious issues can arise from equalization problems, the books say: “See a dive doctor to be cleared, or don’t dive”. Despite the the fact that issues relating to the ear, nose and throat are the most common conditions that the Divers Alert Network (DAN) receives calls about, the vast majority of divers seem to be allergic to seeing a dive doctor for “the sniffles”. So many divers, and ashamedly I am one of them, occasionally cast caution to the wind.

Bobbing just one meter below the surface, I gently attempt to equalize, over and over again, as I watch the other divers easily continue their descent to the fish and corals below.

The underwater wonderland doesn’t seem that far away.

“Standing” vertical in the water I breath out and let myself sink 20 centimeters deeper – excruciating pain penetrates my head. It’s too much.

Relaxing, I take a deep breath and ascend a bit. The pain disappears, and I return to gently equalizing.

It is a strange sensation to see what you want, and where you want to go, but to be unable to get there. If there were a wall, a fence or a line of police officers with guns, my mind could wrap itself around the situation. But sitting at one meter, my obstacle was simply an invisible wall of pain just below my fins.

Another descent attempt yielded the familiar, sickly squeak reminiscent of earwax and tiny creaky doors; a few molecules of air had managed to squeeze by the well-fortified mucus barriers and relieve the pressure in my right ear. Then the left ear squeaked. I was almost down to three meters. Gently equalizing, my ears continued to create their own internal cacophony, and I was descending.

Over beers and off the record, dive professionals are a little more willing to tackle the topic of congestion. They know they aren’t supposed to give professional advice, which can open them up to liability, and is best left to dive doctors. However, they also know the territory, and they know it well.

This “insider” information marks the divergence between what some people do and what the book says they should do. These are the bits and pieces that are taboo.

The best trick in the book (on the up and up) is to dive – a lot. The majority of working dive masters and dive instructors spend enough time in the water that their bodies adjust. For some, practice makes perfect, and even with some congestion their nasal passages and sinuses make way. For others, equalizing isn’t perfection, it’s second nature: their bodies simply adjust to the change in pressure.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending so much time in the water. Though a salt water neti can help, many turn to decongestants. If having congestion is the problem, something that removes the congestion seems a logical answer.

Decongestants come with their own dangers. When descending, a congested diver can “escape” to the surface, away from the pain of a squeeze. But if a decongestant starts to wear off below the surface, a diver can be trapped by the pain of surfacing – a reverse squeeze.

Many people turn to Actified as a decongestant of choice – sticking to the 12 hour stuff as a precaution to it wearing off mid-dive. They take it about 30 minutes before a dive, and go for it. There are still risks, but they are risks they understand and are willing to except.

Descending at the rate of phytoplankton, I was regretting not having taken a decongestant.

Finally at the sea bottom, there is a pit in my stomach as I watch our dive team follow the slowly sloping sands deeper. Not willing to push further, I float several meters above the group jealously playing with their bubbles as they photograph and explore the lower concrete blocks of the artificial reef.

Back on the surface, I was safe. The necessary photos were captured, but it hadn’t been a fun dive by any stretch of the imagination. On the boat, stripping off my gear with the warm tropical sun beating down on me, it was hard to imagine what would have been so bad about skipping the dive and working on a tan.

Keep checking our Phuket Lifestyle pages for the latest features from across the island, join our Facebook fan page or follow us at @PhuketGazette.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Daily News

The answers are in the banana leaves.

Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.

There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.

An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.

SOURCE: Daily News

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Business

Singha grabs a 90% stake in Thailand’s Santa Fe restaurant chain

May Taylor

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Singha grabs a 90% stake in Thailand’s Santa Fe restaurant chain | The Thaiger

(…or is that a 90% ‘steak’?)

PHOTOS: Wongnai

DealStreetAsia, an investor news site reporting on Asian business, confirms that Singha Corporation has purchased a majority stake in the Thai restaurant chain, Santa Fe. It’s understood that Singha purchased the shares held by Lakeshore Capital for approximately US$50 million or 1.53 billion baht, giving it a 90% stake in the chain seen in most Thai shopping centres.

The Nation reports that Singha will now oversee over 110 restaurants across Thailand in one of the country’s biggest food industry deals of the year. The company first turned its attention to the food industry two years ago, launching Food Factors Company under the Boon Rawd Brewery group.

WongnaiFood Factors aims to make 5 billion baht over 3 years under the stewardship of Piti Bhirombhakdi. The company has an ambitious long-term target of 10 billion baht a year, along with plans to be listed on the stock exchange.

The Santa Fe chain was established in 2003 by Surachai Charn-Anudet’s KT Restaurant Company, with the aim of becoming a major competitor to Sizzler, the American chain brought to Thailand by Minor Food.

SOURCE: The Nation

Singha grabs a 90% stake in Thailand's Santa Fe restaurant chain | News by The Thaiger

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