Wednesday, October 29, 2014

End of 2014 Bluetreasure Expedition Part 2

OK so I could complain that I spent over $12,000 and we sat around in port for 100 days, and eventually did just one wreck dive.... not to mention having my watermark in my photos for the expedition cut out + the indifference from our leader about it. But let's focus on some of the positive stuff shall we? :)

I like to go out, venture out, find stuff - that's why I joined this treasure hunting trip. I like to look for treasure.

I did some research and found the names of one of the wrecks that the earlier crew had found. I also found the names of other wrecks in the area and even the map location of one of the shipwrecks. I'm very pleased with that. I passed the information onto the captain but he didn't seem all that interested for some reason.

I'm also pleased that I made friends with Tongans - I learned some of their language and their customs like drinking kava (a ground root drink). Kava taste like muddy water - but if you can overlook that - it has a certain cleansing property that is unique and brings about a reflective mood. And that's life you know. You have to overlook or get over certain issues and try and find the good in the situation.

Unlike the rest of the crew who seem content on staying on the ship - I wandered around - I spent over a month in the main island and a month plus on 'Eua island - all days added up. When you wander around, visit places you can find interesting things - like good friends, wonderful people, and a fast fibre optic internet connection. lol. If I didn't find that telecom office which provided that service - we would have been stuck on the appallingly slow internet speed offered by coffee shop cafes in town.

Its actually not in my nature to go out. I'm usually content to stay at home and read a book.  But there was something claustrophobic about the ship I was on that made me want to get out and go. I felt like I was sitting in a car in a deserted carpark - that sort of feeling.

Can't talk much... I'm tired... but I have a date with two Japanese girls I met on 'Eua. They're coming over to Tongatapu (the main island). I really like one of them.

I don't ask for much. Pleasant conversation and a warm friendship. I hope this leads somewhere good. I wouldn't mind going back to 'Eua island. I haven't done the cave there and its suppose to be extraordinary.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

End of 2014 Bluetreasure Expedition

Well, that's it. The 2014 marine archaeological expedition is over. We spent 100 days in Salote wharf waiting - waiting for software updates - waiting for email replies - waiting for phone calls - waiting for broken equipment to be repaired - waiting - waiting - waiting.

I spent over $12,000 to join the expedition. I found the ad in Scuba Board - the promise was to look for sunken old ships and to do a lot of scuba diving. I'm a historian as well as a scuba diver. I love history and I love scuba diving. So when the captain asked me to join this year - and I had a "free year this year" - I thought, "Serendipity"!

What I didn't expect was to for the captain to keep the ship in harbor for 100 days. It takes 2 hours to sail to Eua, it takes half a day to sail to our target island in the north. Why did we wait until the very end of the season to go? And even then we only did one wreck dive. 5 months, 1 wreck dive.

I'm a patient man. And I trusted that eventually everything would work out. But all this waiting around.... I don't know about you - but paying equivalent US$12,000 (not counting airfare and sundry expenses) staying in a small ship in harbor for five fucking months is not my idea of a fun adventure.

But in life when you face a Dunkirk you gotta learn how to swim.

In the end, with nothing operational to do, I spent several weeks on the main island and over a month in 'Eua island - chillin' out, making new friends, doing whale swims - paying it out of my own pocket.

Last year I had originally planned a whale swim trip to Pangai, Ha'apai. When I signed up for the bluetreasure expedition I almost cancelled the trip. Its a good thing I didn't. I spent two weeks in Ha'apai swimming with the whales. I got some really nice photos like the one you see on my cover.

On the plus side - this year for the expedition wasn't all wasted  - the magnetometer is finally back and ready for use, the new speedboat was assembled and is being prepped for use. The captain has found a capable first mate and a web designer too.

But I'm really not sure why the 2nd hand magnetometer wasn't checked out before we sailed to Tonga or even when it was purchased. Its 2nd hand - and its not cheap costing over $20,000. I mean if you buy a $20,000 piece of 2nd hand equipment it would be a good idea to test it out first don't you think?

But it wasn't done - and it turns out it may have been broken to begin with.

The time we wasted on that equipment took over three months. One month testing it, trying to upload software for it, finally finding that its broken, then freighting it to Canada and waiting waiting waiting for it to be fixed and returned. That's three months down the drain. Not to mention the repair bill for the mag cost over $10,000.

I shouldn't have joined the expedition. I had a very bad feeling in Jan/February prior to officially signing on - something told me "Don't Go!!!!!" - I dismissed it as just an anxiety attack.

But the premonition was correct- I shouldn't have come.

On the plus side - the waiting around forced me to go outside my comfort zone - meet new people - make new friends - travel on my own. By nature I'm a very shy person and I find it hard to get out - one year 2002 I hardly went out of my home.

But as I encounter new people, make new acquaintances and friends - I discovered whole new ways of living. I met Geologists whose real jobs are as accountants - they study geology after-work - there is a University in London who catered for such people. They were in 'Eua studying a hidden underground cave system - which included a cave that was 100m in length. They took me to the cave but the Tongan guide injured his leg just as we got there.

I also met whale researchers in Tongatapu - really sweet lovely people - their main income is in the oil-gas petroleum industry doing environmental impact studies and in their off-time they work on their passion. I introduced them to the Captain - and their whale boat tour organizer Rob became friends with him and the crew.

In 'Eua I made friends with a Sydney backbacker who spent 2 months traveling it rough - camping - in Indonesia from Sumatra to Sulawesi. She's been to more places in the world than I have fingers. And she's half my age.

I also made friends with local Tongan people - got to know their culture, their language, their food and lifestyle. I think if you go to a foreign land - you are obliged to learn a bit about the people you are staying with. But strangely for the people on my ship they seemed content just to stay on board the boat - in the harbor - I found that most peculiar. Its like going on a long road trip - you finally reach your destination but instead you stay in the car, in the shopping center parking lot. I don't get that.

What I'm trying to say is - meeting new people - is such an eye opening and personal challenging experience. Personally challenging because their lives make me re-think my own of behaving and living life.

Most people want to live comfortable lives - doing things which they are familiar with - but a pig in mud is comfortable to stay there all day - do we want to do that?

They say ignorance is bliss. But if our ancestors had stayed where they were - we'd still be living in some primordial swamp.

But yeah - that's it - end of the 2014 expedition. I chose to leave it not feeling bitter or angry. I chose to go home with fond memories of the friends I made, of the lives I impacted (I saved an Australian diplomat's life after the gas bottle in her bathroom fell down and opened up - if I hadn't been there in the adjoining room in 'Eua - I wouldn't have realized there was a leak and gone to wake her up; she could have possibly have died.)

That's it- gotta go. The TCC security guard is chasing me out.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I'm not sure why I'm getting so many visitors from Ukraine - but hey, welcome.

Wishing the best for your nation and that your people can be free, prosperous, and independent.

I know that your nation has suffered much in the last 100 years from the two world wars, Hitler, Stalin, Communism, and capitalist corruption.

The situation seems bleak with Putin trying to crush you. But things were much worse under Stalin and Hitler. Persevere and be strong - your nation awaits you. Don't let discouragement or depression defeat you.

I was trying to find a drawing I saw 20+ years ago - it showed a tree stump. The axe which was used to chop it down was still stuck in the tree - and miraculously a tree sapling was growing out of the axe handle.

Neo-colonialism and the environmental movement

There's something disturbing about the anti-whaling movement and the way they are targeting the Japanese whaling fleet.

On one hand you have a ship or group of mainly white (Americans, Europeans, Australians) chasing after a Japanese ship because the  latter are killing (endangered) animals, e.g. whales.

The main reason they are doing this - as opposed to say... going after African, Russian poachers, etc.. is that the Japanese aren't going to shoot them or kill them (unintentionally). Try going into a jungle in African and confronting African or Indonesian poachers in the jungle with water bombs and see where that leads. And it also makes for good prime time tv publicity.

If you have any sense of historical perspective - the whole thing becomes a lot ... sadder. For hundreds of years, the Western powers - Spain, Britain, the Dutch, America have been exploiting, enslaving people of other races - Native American Indians, Aborigines, Africans, Filipinos, South Americans, Pacific Islanders, including Chinese (see the Coolie Trade) - as well as slaughtering entire animal species. All the wealth that the West has accumulated has been done largely through exploiting other people's lands and wealth. And now that they are top dog - they have the gall to sit on a high moral horse and dictate what other people do with their land or sea.

Of course the environmental movement has plenty of "moral" strength - but hey, the colonial powers, even America justified their march to dominance through similar moral minded values - ie. "bringing Civilization or Christianity to them".

Its all of course not all black and white. The West has done a lot of good as well. Modern medicine, modern education has done a lot of good as well.

But if I was in charge of the Greenpeace movement I'd be careful how I go about telling other people living in the third world or even Japan what to do with their animals.

Did you know that Japan wanted no part in the outside world? For over 100 years they were content to live in their own country, not venture out. But America then Europe sailed in and demanded by force of guns that Japan open up and modernize, and trade.

I'd advocate something a bit different - put a price on everything. If you value it, its worth something. If you think the forests of Sumatra or Borneo or Tasmania is worth preserving - pay more money than the Timber companies to preserve the land and pay the livelihood of the forestry workers, poachers to do something "respectable". Simply banning the trade and stopping the livelihood of people isn't going to work.

And above all - value education. Go and live in those countries you want the laws to change - make a positive difference to their lives. And bring about change that way. Don't try imposing your ideas onto other people by force of laws or guns.

Sara X Does Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Whale Swim Eua

Had two absolutely amazing whale swims here in 'Eua. On Monday we encountered a large mother whale and its calf plus an equally large adult male whale. The male usually escorts the mother and calf - keeping a friendly presence and probably helping the mother to ward off predators or unwelcome suitors.

Seeing the two adults ascend at the same time - with their eyes on me - was an incredible experience. They were giants - 10 times my size and many many times my weight.

But the penultimate experience happened on Wednesday when we swam with a group of 4 to 6 large adult whales. We saw them in the distance breaching many times. As we approached they got shy but we followed - and swam - followed and swam... Eventually they realized we were not a threat and began to come closer to us even circling around us. After two hours - they were swimming right alongside us - even singing. 

My GoPro battery ran out exasperatingly at this moment. I wasted a lot of battery life filming the action on the surface. And I chose maddeningly not to bring a 2nd battery which I was holding in my hand before the event. 

I had dropped my Canon on the concrete floor a few days before - and broke my 16-35mm lens. So I couldn't use it for this amazing shoot. Darn it.

But maybe the fates are trying to teach me a lesson in being grateful for blessings. And you can't have everything your way all the time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Back in 'Eua

(This is an edited excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend.)

I'm back in Hideway in Eua. Our boat is stuck in Nuku'alofa port.

The new ship - a speedboat - that the captain ordered from America arrived last month. It took a week or so to assemble it. But the engine won't start. Repairs will take another two weeks or more. Bummer.

That will only leave us a week or two to explore our targeted sites before the ship returns to Fiji in November for drydocking. Bummer, nothing I can do about it. Meanwhile the captain is going back to Australia to receive awards - very "Steve Zissou". I think he himself is fed up like hell about this year's expedition.

Nothing to do for me - so I might as well get away. No point staying on the ship in harbor.

I'm really enjoying my time here in Hideaway. There is a peace here - a serenity that in Christian parlance - passes all understanding. I feel it. I step into it like a passenger on a train. And enjoy the
ride. I've been too busy worrying about this and that. I forgot to bring the pressurizing pump for my underwater housing and got sick worrying about it. Last week I thought I accidentally deleted 2 days
of shooting - only to realize that I had kept the SD card in a "safe place". My family is very highly strung and prone to an awful anxiety lifestyle living. So coming here is a marvelous way to disconnect from life on the boat. Not do anything. Just be.

Rather than fret and worry about what others are doing - I think its just time for me to relax and be still.

I was suppose to go on a whale swim today. But I had a tummy upset this morning. So I used that as an excuse to not go. It would also suck if I had to do a runny crap while I'm wearing my wetsuit which takes ages to take off. Haha. Imagine that!!! Yuck. But all that worrying about equipment and stuff... ahhhh.... it kills the joy. As my 5 year old niece Aila would say, "Nothing is fun anymore."

So I'm sitting by the dining room here in the resort overlooking the raging surf.The sea like a monstrous beast lashes at the reef with animal like ferocity - like a furious lion reaching for a prey that is slightly out of its reach, slinking away before repeating its attack randomly. Even here in the safety of the land - 50m away from the surf - I don't feel 100% safe haha.

I tried photographing the crashing surf - but my very presence seems  to have a calming effect on the sea. And each time I go there the sea cools down. lol. I should try walking on water today.

I like getting out and walking around. I'm actually naturally very sedentary. I could easily have stayed on the boat with the rest of the crew, and spend my time reading my Kindle and books. But things are getting awkward on the boat. I think being cooped up in harbor makes people a bit irate. One of the crew has stopped talking or even looking at me for months. And its awkward living in a small boat with such a person.

In a way it is a blessing in disguise - because it encourages me to get out and move around. I've met some interesting people like the whale researchers at the backpackers in Nuku'alofa, the Tongan Bank CEO at Pangai, the Geologists in 'Eua, and made friends with the Tongans like Tala the Tongan receptionist at *** Hotel. I meet up with her from time to time and talk to her. She's a hard worker - she has 12 hours shifts 7 days a week - a work ethic which is unusual for a Tongan.

She's an avid reader and since I wasn't  using my kindle much I gave it to her. Rather than keeping it stored in my drawer I'd prefer to see it being used and enjoyed. She doesn't own a computer and it would be very hard for her to get a Kindle in Tonga and load it with 2G of books. On the other hand, its much easier for me to buy such things.

(Trivia: There is no govt. public library and cinema in Tonga)

And I think that is the essence of living  - to enjoy life and to share what you love with people you like. She's read a couple of books already from the Kindle and its wonderful to see her enjoying it. I feel a bit ashamed now that it was sitting in my drawer for so long.

I met an officer of the Tongan Land office here in the Hideaway resort. He's here with a University geologist caving team - assisting them with their project in studying underground stalactites. There is are massive caves here in 'Eua - some of them large enough to house a 747 jet plane. The island itself is thousands of years old. There are quartz veins just a few metres from the surface - the geologists pointed out one from a drainage trench.

They also told me some incredible information. Apparently there is oil in Tonga - on land and in the sea. Oil has been seeping out of the ground, through building foundation and in the sea. Whenever there is an earthquake, the sea floor cracks and oil has been seeping out naturally. Two drilling studies have been done in the 1950s and 1970s by Shell and Texaco but with inconclusive results. A potential massive mineral lode underwater - emanating sulphite - running in the area between Tonga and Fiji. A major underwater study is scheduled for December. The Canadian company Nautilus Minerals and another exploration outfit is competing with each other for the projects. The officer passed me two documentaries on the subject. They plan to use massive robotic vehicles for the task. Wow think Pacific Rim!!!

The mining explorers are seeking for high grade copper-gold-zinc-silver massive sulphide deposits in Tongan waters. Nautilus is the first in the world to commercially explore the seafloor for high grade minerals. It currently hold more than 300,000km of tenement licences and exploration applications in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and along the western Pacific Ocean's Rim of Fire.

The company had apparently applied for a licence to explore for minerals in Tonga in early 2000, but there was no response from government at the time. In 2007 the company filed another application for a licence to explore for minerals but this time the Tongans were eager and swiftly granted approval.

The exploration work would be carried out in the seabed area known as the Lau Basin - 100 kilometres from Nuku'alofa at the depth of about 2,000 metres.

The officer also told me that he is puzzled he hasn't heard about our expedition as it falls under his office jurisdiction. The Land office he claims has jurisdiction over sea wrecks as the wrecks are lying in the bottom of the sea - hence its land - lol. I didn't know what to make of it. But he says that a permit for salvaging should only take a month or so - and not the lengthy time it is currently taking for us. I told him to talk to our captain and assist him if he can.

Our own exploration work is roughly analogous to what the deep sea exploration companies are doing - albeit we are using 2nd hand equipment and are looking for "stuff" in shallower waters 20m not 2000m! I wonder what Nautilus is thinking of our work and whether we are encroaching on their turf? When millions of dollars are at stake - people tend to get a bit paranoid and suspicious.

The Uni geologist team asked me to join them next week when they do caving. Sounds like fun. I could do with the exercise.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Island survivors

Three friends survived a shipwreck and found themselves stranded on a desert island in the Pacific. Miraculously they found a magic sea shell containing a Genie who grants them all a wish. 

The first guy wishes he was off the island and back home with his beautiful loving wife and kids. 

The second guy wishes he was off the island to be with his dying mother in hospital. 

The third guy sits and thinks for awhile then says “Gosh, I’m lonely. I wish my two buddies were with me now.”

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sunday evening


Sunday evening. Time to be a bit reflective. Love this song by Brandi Carlile.

It holds a special meaning to me. Sometime ago I fell in love with a girl and she liked me too. But not as much as I did. One day she realized it probably wasn't going to work and she abruptly ended it. She simply stopped talking to me. Refused to speak or talk to me. Hanged me up and walked away. Very cold.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hong Lim park protest: "All the World's a Stage"

So I'm here in Tonga and reading the news about Roy's "CPF" protest gone awry because it coincided with a special-children event. Supposedly some special-needs children got heckled by the anti-govt protesters. There was also a confrontation with the Minister who was attending the children's event. It all went horribly wrong according to some reports.

Now everyone is shooting everyone - even the venerable Mr Brown is somewhere there firing away. Its like the chaotic scene in Grand Hotel Budapest where all the soldiers are shooting each other. lol.

Hey I'm here in Tonga and I can already smell something is a bit fishy. Or maybe its because our boat has been stuck in a rust bucket port for over 100 days now. :)

So its just an unfortunate coincidence that the two events took place at the same time?

And it was an unfortunate coincidence that an important PAP minister was in the same PARK as a protest rally?? .... hah... interesting.


You already know how super kia-su our government is with regards to security, esp. with regard to the safety of our elite ministers.

Trivia Question: Guess how many SAF soldiers are guarding our Ministers homes now? Think about it :)

You have to wonder why the minister's minders didn't consider - hey, there is a govt protest rally taking place where our man is gonna be. I wonder what they thought? Did they think like a Primary 1 school girl, Ummm.... OK??? No problem??? :)

I think many people would realize that a govt minister near a protest rally is like a red flag to a bull.
These sorts of protest rallies usually attract very disaffected people with big chips on their shoulders, big axes to grind. They're all wound up. They're angry. In Australia - this usually results in a lot of screaming and shouting, plenty of coarse cursing, profanities ... and possibly a bloody riot. Its to be expected.

And there were special needs children there as well.... good grief ....

You know - most people would realize that bonfires, fireworks, and petrol stations don't belong together. So I find the entire episode ... ah... interesting.

Maybe someone goofed up.... but I doubt it.

Personally it would be very sad if there was some Machiavellian scheme happening on that day. I certainly hope no one was dreaming that special needs children would make great pawns.

You know the end result? This fracas discredits the protesters, throws the opposition into confusion - guess who wins?

You're living in the most carefully planned and engineered city in the world. You have to wonder how this could just happen.


Meanwhile onto issues of special need children... I read that a 30+ year old single mother who was convicted by killing her child has been sentenced to jail for 10 years.  Both suffer from mental health problems. I feel the greatest sympathy for single mothers who have to care for mentally handicap children. You can't imagine the horror it would be for them. On a funny note - Heck, even taking care of my active and healthy 3 year old nephew for one day and I already get a massive headache. Imagine having to care for a child who is screaming for attention 24 hours, can't clean themselves properly and has very little prospect of living an independent working life.

The poor mother should not be sent to prison for 10 years - she needs proper hospitalization for crying out loud. Counselling, psy treatment etc.. People who run scams - deliberately defrauding and cheating ordinary people out of their life savings should be sent to jail for 10 years or more - not mothers with serious mental health issues..

Apparently she had tried to seek help for her child - but got no where. Now she is facing 10 years in jail.

Meanwhile a bigtime ex-banker who was drinking alcohol and had fallen asleep in his Mercedes Benz runs down and kills a bicyclist. The rich man gets a few months in jail.

Seriously, wtf.


You know what's a good thing about dating a homeless girl? Scroll down... for answer.

You can drop her off anywhere :)