It was a fantastic weekend, and a narrative entirely of our own spontaneous creation. A couple weeks ago, a science-diver friend mentioned that if I wanted to get certified as an open water diver, she had an instructor to recommend. Then suddenly it was Saturday, I was at a train station in Fulong, and a crazy-haired Swedish guy was waving to me and two friends from his beat up Toyota SUV. We squeezed in with our backpacks(he was our instructor, not just any Swedish guy), and from behind a row of air tanks in the trunk a voice welcomed us in: “How ya goin', lads?”

And thus we drove to the dive shop.

The dive shop was about the size of a shipping container, wedged between a waxy green mountain and the pacific ocean. The walls were glass on either side, and a dog called Mars ran around smelling stuff.

Divers are funny people. It is an adventure sport, so they all seemed at least a small part thrill-seeker, but they’re also necessarily nerds. They have to know how the gasses in your body react to different pressures, how your cells absorb the things you breathe, and a whole bunch of other things that keep them from dying underwater, or more likely, on their way up. And most of them just really like looking at fish.

Joe really knew his stuff, and he took teaching seriously. He only started diving eight or so years ago, but in his first year completed over three hundred dives, which are insane stats. Before opening his dive shop, he was a butcher in Norway, where he said he made a lot more money (??), but didn’t enjoy what he was doing. Now, he lives in the tiny town of Fulong, Taiwan, wedged between the waxy mountain and pacific ocean with his wife and dog. Since Joe already had four people to certify that weekend, he brought in another instructor for us. His name was Steve, an English guy who must have been in his late sixties. As two days of instruction went on, I slowly peeled back the layers of the onion that Steve is. He was a professional cyclist when he was younger, until a crash found him sliding 130 feet down a rock face and he was declared dead before even being found. I only found out this crash bit by googling him on the train back to Taipei on Sunday. Now, he owns the world’s biggest hand-made bicycle parts manufacturing company and a diving resort in the Phillipines. He took teaching really seriously too, but taught with a colorful vocabulary, a textured personality, and some seriously edgy jokes. He was a hoot to hang around with, but also probably a bit of an asshole. I don’t think we’d be friends, but we were for the weekend, and it was great.

We waded into the ocean after an hour or so of re-review, and we were exactly as Steve said we would be: as coordinated as newborn lambs. It took a while to get situated in the water, but by the second day of diving, being neutrally bouyant felt really natural, and I felt really comfortable with my gear.

Looking through a scuba mask feels just like looking through VR goggles, and the heavy breath sounds you hear in video games and movies–that Darth Vader sound–it’s exactly right. It was actually really loud under the water. One of my favorite parts was surfacing, dropping my regulator from my mouth and hearing nothing but the quiet waves brushing against the rocks.

We stayed within three or four meters of the surface all weekend to do our skills, but we’re going back sometime in the next couple weeks to complete our open water dives, and I can’t wait. The diving was incredible, even though we barely went anywhere, and the vibes around the dive shop and with all the lifestyle-divers were bright and so, so welcoming. It was such an awesome experience, and it only happened because we made it happen. There was no reason we should have gone scuba diving this weekend; no reason I should have messaged the instructor; stopped Cooper on campus, when I had only met him once, and asked him if he wanted to get scuba certified, and no reason he should have said yes! But all these things happened, and Cooper, Ahmad, and I spent the weekend scuba diving. For me, it was a great reminder of self-agency. Get Scuba certified! Quit your job as a butcher! Be Steve (or don’t)! You can do all these things, and live whatever lifestyle you want, but there’s no reason you should.

/// There are no rules! ///

We rode in Joe’s old Toyota SUV back to the train station on Sunday afternoon. We boarded the train back to Taipei, but got off at Houtong cat village, an old mining town with tons of (you guessed it) cats! It’s a funny way to commercialize your former mining-town. We drank some smoothies, pet some cats, took a mine-tour in real mine carts, played (unsupervised) with real mine tools and heavy machinery, and saw an exclusively-saxaphone brass band in the middle of town. They sounded horrible, but I don’t think it was for lack of saxaphones.

We got back to Taipei Sunday evening, and now the whole weekend feels like a dream. Houtong cat village didn’t help.