Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great Barrier Reef

It's meee. Naandhean :D
Having lived in Queensland for a little over 3 years, and to say, I haven't been to the Great Barrier Reef is akin to living in Tirupathi and not trekking up to see Venky even once. I exaggerate, obviously :-) But you get my point. So last Friday, I landed at Cairns to spend the weekend Scuba Diving and Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. It was arguably the best weekend of 2011.

I booked with these guys. Their rates are a tad expensive, but they had excellent reviews and my colleague - a certified Scuba diver, recommended them.

They took us to six coral reefs over the weekend. I scuba dived in four reefs and snorkeled the remaining.

On Saturday, we sailed into the Coral Sea from Port Douglas at 8AM to the location shown below.

On Saturday
On Sunday

The reef was ~50kms from the shore and it took 2.5 hours to get there. There were about 30 people onboard - an eclectic mix of Aussies and foreigners.

We visited three coral reefs (Nursery Bommie, Barracuda Bommie and Helm's Deep) on Saturday, spent roughly 2 hours diving or snorkeling at each reef. Each scuba dive lasted 30 to 40 minutes or as long it took to use up 80% of the air tank.

The first dive at the Nursery Bommie was an introductory dive where we were taught and told to demonstrate three important skills of scuba diving.
  1. To keep breathing through the mouth piece when under water. More importantly, to keep breathing and not hold the breath...even if those beautiful corals and colourful fishes are a breathtaking sight.
  2. To equalise the ears regularly by pinching and blowing the nose.
  3. To know how to use the emergency breathing apparatus.
I was in a group of four, which comprised of 3 divers and a diving instructor. I initially had difficulty equalising my ears as we went deeper, but I got it sorted soon, and rest of the dive went smooth. Usually in the first 5-10 minutes of the dive, if the instructor is happy with your basics, he/she lets you wander on your own as long you stay close to the dive group. About half way into my first dive, I was my own.

The stuff I saw in the dives will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Our earth is so bloody beautiful. At first, it felt like I was inside the world's most exquisitely decorated aquarium. I was surrounded by plethora of colours in the form of intricately shaped corals and thousands of fishes. Thinking about it now, I feel the fishes fascinated me more than the corals. The size of the fishes ranged from the length of the little finger to an arm's length. They moved around me, with me, in complete freedom, unrestricted, their world not constrained between glass walls, they swum around casually with such nonchalance that they didn't bother to give me a second look. It was as if the moment we plunged under water they accepted us as one of their own. It was their domain and it's a different world down there.

In all my dives we reached a maximum depth of 11 metres. The dives were done either late morning or early noon. Even at that depth - 11 meters in scuba diving isn't very deep anyway - still, there was a lot of light. To look at the sun from that depth, through the surface ripples, was a beautiful sight.

The dive at Helm's Deep was the most exciting dive. The reef teemed with marine life, way more compared to Nursery or Barracuda Bommie. I saw a Stingray for the first time. The Stingray was lying on the sea bed, well camouflaged. When I came near it, it quickly took off. Its amazing how fast and gracefully it can move without disturbing the sand under it. Its barb was about a meter long. For a second, I thought of Steve Irwin. This bastard killed him. Pch. We saw a big green sea turtle soon after.

The main highlight of the dive was the close encounter with the Reef Shark. Our instructor gave the shark signal (by placing his fingers vertical against his forehead) and signalled us to come close to him. In a few seconds, the reef shark, about 1.5m long, appeared just 6-7 metres from us. I've read the Reef sharks are harmless and normally don't attack divers unless provoked. But when you see the monster face to face, you forget all that. Oh. Ffff. I hope he doesn't go for us. The shark slowly glided past us. We stayed still. It was a thrilling experience to come so close to one of nature's greatest predators. Phew.

I am holding a Sea cucumber. And it is not a vegetable.

In my fourth dive on Sunday, we forayed over the amazing coral gardens and almost went to the edge of the reef. As we went closer to the edge, it looked as though we were approaching a dark blue wall. I moved into the "wall", I looked down to see the seabed, and it felt as if I was looking down a cliff. My instructor signalled not to go any further. When I got back to the ferry, I learnt that the depth at that spot went from 16 metres to 1500 metres!

Of the three things I did, snorkelling was fun; free-diving was even more fun; Scuba diving was the best. 

Things I want do next:
  1. Complete a open-water certification course - which means I'll be officially qualified to dive without an instructor next time :D
  2. Scuba dive at night. I didn't know they do this till I got onboard. Damn. Apparently they dive with UV glow sticks and dive torches. Crazzzy!
  3. Watch Finding Nemo. Everybody was going gaga about this small fish called "Nemo" which hides inside corals. I haven't watched Finding Nemo so was wondering what's the fuss is about :-/
The Great Barrier Reef - truly one of nature's gifts. You gotta see it! :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The EpiLASIK experience

I had EpiLASIK surgery done to my eyes couple of months back. This post is a recollection of events and moments leading upto, during and post surgery written in the form of a timeline. Hope some of this info is useful if you're considering laser surgery and wondering what it's like.

T - 9 years: Frank C, my calculus class buddy at high school, suggested (almost pleaded) to get my eyes checked after I asked him one too many times what Mrs Webster wrote on the board. I became four-eyed the same evening. OPSM; oval shaped glasses; looking oh-so-fresh; plus, $450 damage to Amma's purse.

T - 8 years: Squash game with my good friend, Kumanan. Thwacck! Squash ball from a full-blooded forehand screamed into my right eye. I roamed around with a black eye for a week and a bit. The plastic lens dislodged on impact and hit my right eyelid. The lens probably did more than damage than the squash ball. Playing squash with prescription glasses is a nuisance.

T - 5 years: 1st year of professional work. I went on numerous substation/site visits that meant wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) all day. Wearing safety glasses over prescription glasses is the next worst thing to pain in the ass.

T - 2 years:  Eye check up time. The ophthalmologist confirmed my eye power has stabilized, however, she recommended I should wait for another year before going for LASIK.

T - 4 days: Had the pre-operative eye check up at Madras. It included numerous tests to check the nuts and bolts of the eye.

The most uncomfortable test was the testing of tear ducts. The ophthalmologist poked a tiny needle-like thing in the corner of the eye and she left it hanging there for a minute. If it isn't there already, I recommend this test to Lord Yama to be included in the list of punishments in Garuda Puranam.

The doctor said my corneas were normal - though slightly on the thinner side of normal. We decided to go for Epi-LASIK.

T - 0: The day of the surgery.

It felt as if I was appearing for an Electromagnetics exam. A subject I loathed. On the way to the hospital, we somehow happened to tune in to Mr Suki Sivam on the radio, he was firing on both barrels about fate and death. Sivam is a great orator and infuses a lot of energy, but fate and death wasn't the topic I wanted to listen that morning. So, not the best-est of starts, but good thing was we reached the hospital on time despite driving at centipede's pace.

I had a quick peek at the surgery order and I found myself slotted in at No. 4 - just like the Big Man. Ah. God :)

After 1 hour wait, the Pre-op technician took me in. He cleaned the area around my eyes and applied numbing drops. He checked my details, confirmed the type of procedure I was gonna have and asked if I had any questions or concerns before I go in. I had none. It was only few minutes to 10AM, just about time for Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to flick the switch off for the suburb. And, just like that, the lights flickered and the generators/UPS kicked in.  

"Adada. Nalla sagunam sir. Na ready."

"Haha. Worry panrathuku onnu illa. Maydam irukaanga. Instructionsa stricta follow pannuga. Okay'nglaa?"

I was under the laser. They started with my right eye. Eyelashes were taped. Eyelids were held apart by a suction thing. The surgeon checked my details again. There were 4 people around me and one on the far side of the room presumably before a computer. All set to go.

There was lot of pressure exerted on the eye by the gadgets. It was bearable. I did not feel pain at any stage. The surgeon was a gem. Before each manoeuvre, she explained what is being done, what I should do (or shouldn't do), and what I may feel/expect.

I did have an anxious moment. When the keratome (blade) was set to move across the cornea to remove the epithelium, the surgeon alerted me there would be a brief loss of vision and it was important I keep looking at the green light straight above. As the blade went across my eye, it was as if a dark grey curtain slid across.

I lost vision.

It was slightly unnerving to be honest. And, when you lose something, whatever it is, you look for it. That's what I did.

Surgeon:  Oh're moving your eyes everywhere Sriram! Look at the green light!
Me:  Um...I can't see.
Surgeon:  Yea I know. Just look straight.
Me:  I cant see which way straight is.
Surgeon:  Huh! okay. Just don't move your eyeballs. Can you do that?
Me:  Yea.

Clearly, some people screw up no matter how much you prep them.

Now that the epithelium was taken out, it was time for Laser. The doc repeated that I should focus on the red light and not look anywhere else. The vision came back...slowly. Now that I could *see* where the blimming red light was, things became a lot easier :P

So, blinking red light, slight burning smell, five seconds for each eye and it was all done. A "bandage" contact lens was placed on the both eyes to help the epithelium regenerate.

T + 25 minutes: I saw the difference straightaway. I could read the sign on the other end of the operation theatre. The surgeon checked my eye. She said the procedure went as expected. I was given a LASIK kit that had eye drops and instructions to follow for the next 3 weeks. I was also given dark glasses to wear. It was a horrible piece of eyewear. It did a decent job covering the eyes on all sides but was uncomfortable to wear and kinda made me look like Moo Ka's younger brother.

T + 1 day: I couldn't open my eyes for the rest of the day. It felt heavy and drowsy. One of blogs I read in my LASIK research said the feeling is akin to the burning/drowsy sensation you feel when you peel onions. Spot on. Just multiply that feeling by 10 times. There was no pain or itchiness - although my eyes looked horribly bloodshot. I was told to stay indoors for rest of the week, apply eye drops every 2 hours and strictly keep away from dust and bright light.

T + 2 days: The drowsiness was still there but not as bad as the first day. I still couldn't keep my eyes open for any longer than 10 seconds. Went to the hospital for check up. Everything is okay. Come back after 3 days, they said.

As per prescription, my eyes were flooded with eye drops every 2 hours. Everytime I (or Amma) instilled eye drops, there was a bitter, metallic taste at the back of my mouth. It was yuck! The first few times it happened, I was concerned and the idiot voice in me wailed, aiyayooo kannu karaiyidhuraaa. But, as always, wise Google came to the rescue. Apparently some of the eye drops flow through the tear ducts, which is connected to the nasal passage, which in turn drains into the throat. So nothing is wrong, all is well. I am used to the bitter taste now :P

T + 5 days: Got the bandage lens removed. No more drowsiness. Eyes were very sensitive to sunlight and I had my sunglasses (Oakley, not Moo Ka's) on all the time. I could watch TV and work on the computer comfortably (with sunglasses on) for half an hour or so, then had to rest a bit. I slept a lot in the first week.

Doctors say EpiLASIK patients should be fit to go back to work after the second day post procedure. I am not sure about that. Maybe its me, but I feel one needs to rest atleast for a week before you can really work your eyes. Some of my friends who've had LASIK (not EpiLASIK) say their eyes were normal and fit for work the next day. I think they have magic eyes.

T + 2 weeks: Eyes felt almost normal BUT I was experiencing ghosting/double vision. My vision was a perfect 20/20. The doctor said it is normal to experience double vision in the first 6-8 weeks, and it should go away as the eye cures itself. I felt like our old Solidaire TV. It was robust, stood the test of time, and always showed the spirits of characters it displayed.

T + 3 weeks: Still experienced double vision. A week back, it was on both eyes. Now it was only on one eye and it alternated between eyes. Some improvement. It was weird and frustrating. And, three weeks of limited/restricted activity and staying mostly indoors was getting to me.

T + 5 weeks: First month check (i.e. 1 month after removing the bandage lens). The Ophthalmologist gave a clean chit of health. I told them again about double vision, and they gave the same answer as two weeks back. The double vision was there and the occurrences were coming down...slowly. I could feel the improvement. It takes time. Patience!

Now: There is improvement every week. Little by little, one step at a time, eye-am getting there.

Life, without prescription glasses or contact lens, is great! Super glad I had EpiLASIK done.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jumping crocs at Top End

"Watch out for the crocs man. They are blimmin everywhere" good friend, Rossco, emailed me when I wrote him my work is sending me to Darwin for few months. True to his word, after a couple of hours of landing here, many warned me to stay away from the beach and other waterways. Apparently, if the Box Jelly fish doesn't get (sting) you, the Salt water crocs will. If crocs dont get you, the sharks will. Watta pity! Darwin has got lovely beaches - white sand, clear blue water and all that, sunny warm weather...but no one dares to take a dip.

Anyway, back to crocs. I went on a Jumping Crocodile cruise today. It is a one hour cruise on the Adelaide River which is home to about 9000 fresh water and salt water crocs. Trained personnel hook a large chunk of meat (Pig head chops. Oua!) at end of a cloth string, and tempt the crocodile to leap out of the water to grab the meat. We fed about 10 crocs. It was fantastic to watch one of nature's beasts in their natural habitat at such a close range. One of the crocs, nicknamed Bogart, was a BIG one - he was the King of the river stretch, a 5.5m monster, weighing about 650kgs, almost 70 years old, and was missing a leg. When Bogart leapt out, almost 60% of his body was out of the water. It was a spectacular sight.
Worth the $38.
Here are some pics:

 All aboard The Adelaide River Queen

Even the eagles wanted a bit of Pig's head.

Come on ya Bast..ket!

Treats bucket. Pig head chops.

 Aaa kaatu!

Croc "Bugger"

 Croc "sweetheart" going to its nest for an afternoon nap

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chocolate Krishna - the 400th show

I attended Crazy Mohan's Chocolate Krishna drama few days back at Narada Gana Sabha. It was the drama's 400th show. The Crazy Creations team made it a special event by inviting several dignitaries like K Balachandar, Kamal Hassan, Prof. Nyanasambandham, S Ve Shekar, P B Srinivas etc. Pretty much the cross-belt of persons involved in Tamil drama were present. We made a last minute decision to watch the drama and somehow got tickets. It was my first time at a Crazy Mohan drama and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is based on a God-Man interaction. Though this concept is not new, the approach feels different as Crazy Mohan adeptly balances comedy and Godliness. There were simply too many hilarious punchlines and lol moments to remember. Mohan's wit, clever word play and sharp humour had us in awe. During the interval, Kamal feted the troupe members by giving out silk shawls (ponn aadais). The core group of Crazy Creations had been together for 32 years now. K Balachandar in his speech lauded the troupe's contribution to Tamil drama and Prof Nyanasambhandam had us in splits as he recollected his interactions with Crazy Mohan and Kamal. All in all, an awesome evening!

Wishing the Crazy Creations team many more successful and LOLful years in Tamil drama!

Here are some photos:

The troupe honoured Crazy Mohan with a monstrosity of a maalai.

Kamal felicitating 'Appa' Ramesh

The hero. Maadhu Balaji.

Kamal felicitating the actor who played 'Varadhukutti' in Micheal Madana Kamarajan.

K Balachander in his speech.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Arranged Barriage

Once upon a time
there lived a young lad
Happy, carefree and full of beans
a free bird, by all means.

One day he turned twenty-six
his parents got into the mix
Life is a long long journey, they said
So Kanna its time you get ready to wed.

We'll find a nice girl,
Smartha, someone from Vadama
But please for Perumal's sake,
don't bring home a vellakaara kuttyma!

My son is 26 and 6-feet tall
he's well-educated, brainy and all.
They said it to one, two, many...
Jee..they wrote it even in Tamil Matrimony.

They received a dozen requests
and sent as many,
in the hope of finding their dear
a cute adorable Kanmani.

We like your son's profile,
lakshanama irukaar!
but sorry our daughter doesn't want
a faarin aathukaar.

Still, Jadagams came in
the Josiyer checked for a match.
Nothing much happened
but for the occasional catch.

Inga paarungo, indha varan nanna iruku
This girl is just right!
A chat was quickly organised
via the blimming Skype.

They looked at each other,
one thing was certain.
An invisible wall was between them
with an infinite dielectric constant.

There was, you know,
no freakin spark!
It was obvious
and the reality was quite stark.

So once again for every prospective girl
they got the horoscope data.
And every time they visited the Josiyer
he told them to bid the girl ta-ta.

One day, The Site spitted out a 10/10 match
it said "from the Matchmaking Pro".
But, oh golly molly,
that girl looked more like a bro!

Oh!, he wondered,
Is that God's subliminal message of the day?
That the young lad might as well,
be of the gay?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Crossing - This was one of the highlights from my recent stay in New Zealand. Tongariro Crossing is rated one of best one-day treks in the world. The trek basically cuts across two active volcanoes - Mt Ngaurohoe and Mt Tongariro, located in central north island of New Zealand. The trek is 19.4kms long (one way), it took us a little over 6 hours to complete it. I've done a few treks in Queensland's rainforests but Tongariro Crossing easily beats them in all aspects like scenery, terrain, weather conditions and difficulty. It is the most scenic walk I've done so far.

The best parts of the trek for me are:

a. The breathtaking view from Red Crater. The Red crater is reached by climbing a steep section of Volcanic ridge aptly named Devil's staircase. It took us about 90 arduous minutes to reach the top. Hard work. But boy, wattey view!

b. Sliding, falling...sliding, falling on scoria and damp pebble-filled sand. Sore bums...but it was fun!

c. Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake - stunning colour of the lakes! The lakes, we were told, are small volcanic craters. The lake water is obviously unsuitable for drinking due to high mineral content.

d. Soda Springs


e. Opportunity to take great photographs. Mum Nature overwhelms you with her beauty. The camera, even if its a DSLR, does not do full justice.

f. Hot spa and a cold drink after a hard days work :D Ahh.

Here are some photos of my photos:

The zero km mark.

The green of Mangatepopo Valley

Are you sure? Signboard at the start of Devil's staircase. They did warn us! :) Photo Credit: Lars

Couple. The gentleman had a Canon 7D.
Track to the base of Mt Ngauruhoe
Mt Ngauruhoe. That's a neat cloud cover, isn't it? :)
Some hikers planned to stay overnight. Look, they even brought their kettle!
Green lake. Check out the steam coming from the vents. It smelled soo....sulphury.
I didn't do the Tongariro Summit climb. It's a 1hr and 20mins of 45-50 degree climbing and back. Too much for this slugger. Next time, may be.

It was great. Tongariro Crossing is a must-do if you like hiking and are visiting NZ.