Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Catch Up Time!

It's been a while, but a friend of mine had me answer some questions for their blog which I thought I'd post as a nice update on what's been going on, and a good excuse to start writing again.

The context: I'm just finishing my dive instructor course at Buddha View in Koh Tao, Thailand.

The link to the blog: http://www.gopro-divetalk.com

The transcript:

Hey, I'm Chris from Toronto. I just graduated from university a couple years ago - BFA in film production - where I spent every waking moment of every day making films, working on set, watching movies, talking about movies, and generally not having a minute of spare time for anything else. I wanted to get away for a bit of an adventure though before I got too entrenched in the industry and started to settle in.

So I've been wandering around the world for the last year and a half or so, and when I finally made it here to Koh Tao something clicked, and I decided I'd finally found somewhere to settle down for a while, and a job I'd be excited to do.

Where did you start diving?
My first time diving was a few years ago in New Zealand where a friend of mine kit me up in his equipment, threw me out into the water in a shallow bay, and I got to helplessly float around for a while without really getting how it all worked.
Since then I've done my Open Water in Koh Tao I've made it back to NZ for a couple dives where I actually knew what I was doing, but most of my experience is here on Koh Tao where I've been doing my Divemaster internship at New Way Diving and working for a couple months as a freelance Divemaster.

What means diving for you?
Since I was a kid I've been just fascinated by learning about the underwater world, loved snorkeling, and couldn't wait for the day when I finally learned to dive.
I love the way it feels, the graceful way you hover about in a three dimensional space, and the completely new world that you find yourself in unlike anything you're ever used to out of the water.
I especially love taking people out and showing them all of my favourite things - just spreading my enthusiasm to new people every time I take out a new customer.

Why did you choose to do the IDC and why did you choose Buddha View?
A few of my good friends had done their IDC at Buddha View and highly recommended it. Then when I met Mark and saw how entertaining he was, and how much experience he had on Koh Tao with the hundreds of crazy dive stories to go behind it, I was pretty sold.

Do you feel any anxiety for the IDC? Why, why not?
I'm really not too worried actually. The instructors who lead my divemaster course at New Way did such a great job at showing me how to teach (I assisted on 15 courses) and helping me work on all my short comings as a dive leader, that I've really feel completely confident in my abilities to teach a course from the start of the IDC. Plus the experience leading customers on dives and teaching scuba reviews has really helped me as well.

What do you think about the IDC so far?
It's been really cool. A great group of guys, some really good instructors, and enough humour and good stories to always keep things interesting.
After all the stuff they're putting us through, I'm confident we'll all be able to pass our IE no problem. I am just itching to get back in the ocean and start leading dives again though.

What is your plan after you passed the exam?
As soon as I'm finished recovering for the post IE party hangover, I'm gonna pick up a couple specialty instructor certifications, start hanging around some of my favourite shops on the island looking for freelance work, and scouring the bars for potential new students.
Really, it's strictly for professional reasons - it kills me to have to be out on the beach having a few quiet Changs every night....

If you knew the manager of the dive center, you really want to work
for, would read this interview, what would you like to tell about

It's all mostly all in here. I guess I'd just have to add that I'm getting myself ready to be call every minute of the day - ready to pick up whatever comes my way from showing up on twenty minutes notice to teach a single diver to taking out a big group with a bigger shop.
And that I'm really too excited to start teaching.

Where can this manager or other divers with questions find you?
Got a horribly out of date website that I really gotta start working on again:
Email: chrisciosk@gmail.com
Chris Ciosk on Facebook: I'm the only one!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


The cause of three wars between India and Pakistan, home to perennial violence and political unrest, the Kashmir valley lay waiting at the other end of the tunnel that my bus was speeding through.

Once the security checks were finished and we finally emerged on the other side though, it wasn’t the barren landscape pockmarked by war that one might expect. My first thought, actually, was ‘It’s the shire!’ One of the most gorgeous places I’d seen in my entire trip to India. Guess it would have to be somewhere worth fighting over.

Even though the landscape wouldn’t look too out of place in somewhere like New Zealand or British Columbia, there’s something really immediate about the place – like anything could happen at any moment. There’s a sort of intensity behind it all. The gardens you wander through don’t feel like the product of some aging women’s horticultural association with too much time on their hands. They’re places of such simple beauty that men have been fighting for claim over them for centuries

The barbed wire, machine guns, soldiers, only make things seem more fragile, immediate. The much photographed Dal Lake looks all the more serene when you’re seeing it within the context of the conflict that’s raging around it.

When I arrived in Srinigar, the capital of the state, most of the city had been shut down. There’d been a city wide strike lasting more than a week already after the rape and murder of two Kashmiri girls – supposedly by the Indian army. The only thing I could see of most it was from the inside of the richshaw. The driver didn’t think it was safe for me to go outside.

If that wasn’t enough prices all seemed to be set for proper Western tourists with actual money – not poor backpackers like myself – so after splurging and renting my very own houseboat where I spent a day recuperating from the long bus trip, I caught the first bus I could out of the valley and up onto the Tibetan Plateau.

The living room in my boat

It’s not the sort of place that makes you want to stop in your tracks and settle in for a while by a long shot, but it’s definitely one of those places that would really be a terrible thing to miss.

The Blog Continues

If you haven't noticed, it's been a long time.
Here I am in Wellington already, and I've left you all stranded back in Jammu half a year ago.
The latest? *Spoiler Alert* I'm still alive. *Spoiler Alert*
The hobbit doc? Unlikely. I think that Andy was a lot closer to the mark then we expected him to be.
Becoming an elf: Still on. I may even have some new companions joining me.
The blog: We're going to Kashmir! I'm picking up where I left off half a year ago to take us all the way up to the present moment. So, a warm welcome to everyone who's come back to join me on my global perambulations. Good to see you again!
And now, without further ado, let's go back in time to June of 2009 where we left off.

Monday, August 3, 2009


“Oh yeah, I am still in India.”

When you’ve been sitting in a backpacker town like McLeod for a month and have find yourself repeating the above statement more than a couple of times a week, you’ve come across a fairly good sign that it’s time to move on – if only for a short expedition.

And what better way to seek out a bit of adventure than a trip through Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh! The minute I stepped off the bus after my seven hour trip to Jammu every single thing that I saw seemed to scream out at me “Yeah, you better believe you’re still in India.” Not a single white person in sight for the next two days. There’s not even a map of the city in my Lonely Planet book so I have no idea where I am or where to go. Perfect!

After escaping my rickshaw driver’s attempt to stick me in an overpriced hotel, I leave my bags in a more reasonably priced place and head out onto the street. I’ve only got one afternoon here, and I’m gonna make it count.

A policeman on the street who can’t seem to believe his luck at meeting a Westerner fills me in on how to get to the station tomorrow morning and recommends the best spot to eat in the market (later that night I was able to confirm him to be a man of discerning taste). I then spend the next couple hours wandering through the endless sea of stalls and shops selling everything from the coolest imitation Western fashions to air conditioning units, to new sets of teeth.

The most ridiculous street stall in India!

On my way down, I notice a small looking entrance to what looks to be a temple, but I decide to pass it by since I’ve already been to too many Hindu temples to count, this one doesn’t seem anything special, and you have to leave all bags and cameras in a store room – Jammu gets more than it’s fair share of terrorist attacks from Kashmiri separatists and radicals from Pakistan.

As I passed by the second time on the way home, something made me slow down for a second though. I recalled reading Paulo Coelho’s list of advice for a meaningful travel experience. Number 9: A journey is an adventure. It’s far better to discover a church that no one’s heard of than to go to Rome and feel obliged to see the Sistine Chapel surrounded by two hundred tourists.

Alright, let’s give it a try. This is the self proclaimed city of temples after all. And what ever happened to my decision to have one excellent night in Jammu? I step through the dingy entryway into a small room and walk through a door in the back corner. It feels like I’ve just walked through the wardrobe door into Narnia!

I’m standing in a courtyard the size of an entire massive city block. It’s surrounded by outward facing shops along the perimeter which protect it from the view of passers by on the street. The spires of the temple are covered in coloured lights and the moon hangs in the sky right over the central courtyard. The courtyard is full of Indian pilgrims sitting under the trees and wandering from room to room, but it’s nowhere near as busy or frantic as any other temple I’ve seen.

Dimly lit rooms with mysterious statues of strange gods performing unintelligible feats and walls painted with mystical symbols. Strange rituals performed with peacock feathers, lingams, necklaces of flowers, and other things I can’t quite understand. Walking around the temple between alcoves, each dedicated to and containing statues and images of a different god, a sense of mystery and adventure surrounds each new discovery.

An hour later, I walk out of the temple complex, necklaces of flowers around my neck, marks on my forehead, and no idea where I’d been (no map after all), what it was called, and without a single photo. It sunk away back into the night as I walked away for dinner - as mysterious and unexplained as ever and without any idea of where I’d been. Talk about romantic!

Thank you Paulo Coelho! The rest of you tourists can keep your Taj Mahal, I’ll take my unheard of inner city temple complex any day!

May 2009 Revelations

Sometimes we experience moments so powerful, so real, so intense that our hearts feel like they’re going to overflow.

Immediately we start grasping. How can I explain what I’m feeling?

But the more we try to describe it, pin it down, examine it, the more it eludes us. The clutter of words that we surround it with seems clumsy, painfully inadequate. It only pushes us further away from the experience.

The only way we can do it justice is with silence.

Some things are meant to be known, not understood.

Shown, but not explained.

The most important thing you can learn to do is stop thinking.

Breathing meditation:

Inhale the world.

Exhale yourself.

What is he rambling about this time?


Since I’ve just published five entries all in one go, I’ll save the rest of my entries about sime more of my experiences in McLeod until I return from my adventures in Ladakh.

On a More Practical Level

There are eight of us standing in a room with four beds. The walls are covered in pictures of the human body, yoga charts, and cryptic drawings with notes scrawled on the side. I notice a banner of the blue Medicine Buddha next to me (my time at Tushita paid off after all!). It looks as though there’s a pair of girls and another couple who have come together. That leaves three of us guys and one other girl.

Ten minutes later as I’m lying half naked on one of the beds watching one of my fellow male participants rub oil on another hairy man’s chest, I say a silent prayer of gratitude to the massage lesson gods. There’s a Texas (massage?) oilman looking out for me somewhere (Sorry, inside joke. If you read our Ryersonian article…)

After learning some very simple, relaxing massage techniques and practicing them on our partners we move on to a few more dubious sounding parts of the traditional Tibetan massage. We’re taught to locate our partner’s top four chakras and instructed to just touch a finger to them without pressing at all and just hold it there for 3 sets of20 seconds.

Alright, now the bullshit hits the fan, I think to myself. A minute later our teacher is over at our table showing how it works on me. “You have asthma” he tells me from touching my lung chakra. “You’re gonna wanna hold your finger here for about a minute every day and it will start to get better in a couple weeks.”

Ok, so maybe there is more to this than ancient superstition. As a number of other techniques that hardly even involve touching the body start producing their advertised effects I’m already starting to doubt whether Western medicine is everything it’s cracked up to be. And so nice to spend the time involved in a practical hands on practice after a week and a half of abstract Buddhist philosophy.

So if any of you want to sample a bit of Tibetan massage from someone who’s spent ten days getting fully (alright, barely) certified in the practice be sure to pull me aside for a couple hours next time you see me.

Diploma and Everything - I must be good!

And the Verdict Is...

Alright, I know a few of you have been asking what I made of my time at Tushita at a whole. Difficult question to answer. One night after chanting mantras in the gompa, I felt such a wonderful body of energy hanging in the room that I couldn’t bring myself to leave for half an hour after it ended. Another day I felt as though I was being brainwashed, and rebelled against the experience with every fiber of my being. In short, I found much of it amazing, and much entirely distasteful. Everything that you need for an intensely meaningful experience. I may not have learned from it exactly and exclusively what they meant to teach me, but learn from it I did.

It planted the seeds of a lot of interesting ideas in my head and helped strengthen my belief in some concepts I’d been playing around with a while. I was surprised to find that lots of it is remarkably similar to Christianity – it share many of the best and the worst characteristics, and there’s a surprising number of overlapping ideas. As a zen master might say - different fingers, same moon...