Just a little help from my friends - wreck diving in Chuuk
The truth be told, I dislike both deep dive and wreck dive, but in Chuuk all dives are deep wreck dives ! All I can say is I must had been in a coma when I signed up .
The reason for the profusion of wrecks in Chuuk is because during the Second World War, Chuuk Lagoon was Japan's main naval base in the South Pacific . It was dubbed " The Gibraltar of the Pacific" because of the heavy fortifications, both natural and man-made, until it was taken out by the "Operation Hailstone", a massive naval , air and surface attack by the United States in February 1944. Twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and over 250 aircraft were destroyed. The US lost 25 aircraft in all.
Even before hitting the water I was in trouble. " I forgot my socks !" I wailed in dismay at Brenda , my roommate on board the S.S. Thorfinn, an ex- whaler masquerading as a dive boat . Brenda was quick to the rescue with a new pair of socks, but my relief was brief . As a sports diver I almost never do decompression dive , maybe then it's logical my dive computer was set so by the shop when I took it in for servicing a week prior to the trip. This I found out at 55 M. I also found out too late my presbyopic eyes had problem deciphering the small characters on the computer in the dim light of the deep . Suspended in the perilous depths, I was desparately trying to work out the decompression time when Tina glided by and took me by the hand, reining in my terror as she assisted me in measured ascension. The days that followed Robert, Catherine and Fong all took turns battling with my computer, and each eventually gave up in disgust. It was fortunate Fong had a spare Aladdin, which he graciously allowed me to use. But worse was to come .
Ever since my near fatal incidence inside yet another Japanese war wreck in Palau , I've been nervous about wreck dives . I was thus all apprehension when we were invited to penetrate the Kansho Maru ." Is it a simple through and through? " I asked Hitachi , the Dive Master, " Something even a blind person can find the way out of ? " "Sure ," he said " Piece of cake. Just follow me and keep close and you'd be all right " Armed with a weak torch I nodded dubiously .
The moment we were inside the pitch black enclosed chamber my old fear slithered in and settled in my jaws, gaining strength as the space got progressively tighter while we twisted and turned in single file through a myriad of cabins and corridors, causing me to plunge plop into the silt at one point , unleashing a mud storm and blinding whoever was unlucky enough to be behind me. Filled with guilt, I looked back for one second and Hitachi was gone. I pressed recklessly on and suddenly found myself boxed in in a cage, made of metal walls and layers of metal bars . Whichever way I turned I couldn't get out. From the dome of my skull a chilly disbelief expanded to fill every molecule of my being , then froze still . My heart simply refused to accept I've entered myself into the same nightmare again ! Then between the metal bars I caught sight of Connie's yellow diving mask . At least this time I' m not alone, I thought, though everytime my torch left Connie I thought she'd be gone .After a thousand more futile attempts to escape, I shrugged my shoulders and spread my palms at Connie in dejected resignation, when suddenly I was plucked and thrown out of my impenetrable prison . Who knew I'd somehow got myself trapped within the inside corner of a spiral staircase and the " through and through" was in fact " through and up " ? I later learnt Fong and Hitachi were watching me from the top of the staircase all the time , and I was never in any real danger . But others had died in similar situation because their friends did not watch over them, and the only world they could see inside the narrow cone of torch light offered them no help .
I'm not a fan of night dives but Jeffrey was persuasive. " You've got to do this night dive," he said , and pointing to a passage in a book " look, it says here this is the best night dive in Chuuk ! You can skip all the other dives after this ." That's how I dived San Francisco Maru , one of the deepest wrecks in Chuuk, at night . Never been much good in spatial orientation at the best of times, I'm generally hopeless at the end of a tired day, so when the guys wanted to go into the holdings in the San Francisco for another look at the tanks and shells I shook my head vigorously like a tambourine . But my diving buddies were insistent and my fear of being left alone outside in the dark was acute . Running out of options, I took a deep breath and dipped a toe in, then with ultimate resolve submerged myself into the holding . In the bright spot light of someone's camera I saw Connie clapped her hands in encouragement .
There're many stories from divers of ghostly encounters in the Chuuk Lagoon. Divers report hearing whispers in the waves calling their name, which stop when they turn their head ; in their watery graves the disquiet souls of Japanese and American soldiers are said to be still holding court . My ghastly encounter came in the form of a small Buddha statue , which was placed on the deck of Akikou Maru on the 50th anniversary of the War by relatives of the dead Japanese soldiers, after an elaborate commemorative Buddhist ceremony. I dived Akikou Maru twice just to look at the Buddha statue , because I couldn't reconcile the peaceful compassionate Buddhist philosophy with the atrocities of Japanese Militarism. What I later found out put shame on all buddhists everywhere .
The more benevelent and genuine something is, the more destructive it is if put to maleficent use . From 1868 to 1945 Japanese Zen Buddhism perverted the Buddhist Dharma and incorporated itself into the structures of Japanese militarism, in exchange for patronage of the Meiji government . Almost the entire Japanese Buddhist establishment embarked on an intellectual campaign to propagate spiritual justification for killing and mass brutality. The traditional Zen inward search for mental discipline was tempered and perfected into forms of military training . As reality is ultimately shunya – void or empty, Zen therefore transcends words and concepts, and is beyond the distinction of good and evil - Zen has no moral or ethical position . The Buddhist metaphor of the sword that takes life and the sword that gives life became :" The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. As each of them is of emptiness and has no 'mind', the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword, and the 'I' who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.' Soldiers were taught a bizarre equation : No thinking= No-mind=No-self=No Karma, thus if killing is done without thinking, in a state of no-mind or no-self, then the act has no consequence and is an expression of enlightenment ; beside as there was:" no bodhisattva practice superior to the compassionate taking of life ", it follows killing a person is actually doing him a favour. In Islam, as in the holy wars of Christianity, there is a promise of eternal life. In Zen, the promise is as there is no difference between life and death, you cannot lose anything . In the "High Art of Killing" soldiers were taught the perfect etiquette in beheading -- the exact way to cleanse the sword, the proper way to swing it, the strong virile shout . This grotesque "treat life and death indifferently " doctrine was put into practice in Nanking, where in 7 short weeks the Japanese soldiers engaged in an orgy of cruelty seldom if ever matched in world history, brutally murdered, raped and tortured 350,000 Chinese civilians .More died in this bloodbath than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. From 1931 to 1945 , between 10 and 20 million men, women and children were killed by Japanese troops across Asia.
George Santayana's famous saying reverberates : "Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes." Japan has never admitted to its war crimes and only a few Japanese Buddihst sects had made any public apologies for their participations in the War .
The trip was coming to a close. I was covered in bruises and my ears were bleeding, perfect excuses to stay on the boat while my buddies went shark feeding . Alone at last I had time to reflect that the dives would have been disastrous for me if not for the help of the good people in this trip . All through our life we need help from so many people around us, friends as well as strangers, for so many things and on so many occasions - sometimes even after we passed on. Bill, a fellow diver, died of lung cancer after 40 years of cigarette smoking, and in his Will he beseeched Robert and Rita to place his ashes where he had been most happy . Rita buried a bottle of his ashes in San Francisco Maru at 60M, the deepest dive she undertook this trip . Robert left a little part of him in Rio De Janeiro Maru, befitting perhaps because of the boxes of sake bottles on board.
In this sorrowful man-made graveyard of mangled great ships I so badly needed reminding that humans are capable of kindness and care too .