Sunday

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We couldn’t asked for a better day than this. We left Miami late morning, drove an hour south and crossed into Key Largo. The sun was out, only a few clouds in the sky. No rain.

The dive shop was inside the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the “first undersea park” in the country. It was always a popular stop for tourists: Snorkeling, glass bottom boats, or, in our case, a couple of friends going scuba diving.

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We put on our wetsuits, donned our gears and fell into deep blue. The equipments worked. I quickly forgot about the cold. The sensation was that of flying, floating fluidly above the reefs. Fish everywhere.

There was something about the sea that made a person wanting to sleep. Maybe it was the smell, the sweaty taste of salt. Or the weightlessness. I watched as my dive buddy swam into the void and tried to chase after her. She disappeared into the dark, her trail of bubbles fading away.

Ah shit. There was a large green moray eel guarding the Benwood wreck. It slithered slowly along the sea floor. There were other divers around. I saw their indistinct outlines, their white bubbles floated sunward.

I appreciated the silence. Nothing but the sound of breathing… bubbles bubbling away. What does one think about in this meditative state? I thought about my parents. How they were approaching seventy years but thousand miles away. If something should happened to them… Well, these were sad thoughts of home. The rolling hills, the Pacific Ocean, warm people, the idealized memories of a homesick heart.

When I was troubled I sought the sea. It was cold and warm, always full of life.

The interview trail begins

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From the airplane Philadelphia looked frozen like the rest of the country outside of Florida. This was my old stomping ground.

The vascular surgery fellowship interview period has begun. 150 candidates, applying for a little over 90 spots around the country. Statistically speaking, I need to rank about 10-15 programs and have 10-15 programs rank me to guarantee a 90%+ probably of matching. This Match will be more competitive than last year.

With airplane tickets, hotel, car rental etc., it will be a tremendous expenditure of time and money. I wish there was a cheaper way to do this.

I keep telling myself that each $300 plane ticket is nothing compare to my future as a surgeon, but damn they add up.

BCD

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The Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) is the second most important part of a scuba gear setup. It’s essentially an inflatable vest, allowing the diver to control his or her buoyancy in the water. On the surface it acts as an adjustable life vest.

I bought mine new, since there was a good Holidays Sale at Divers Direct. It is a Mares Journey Elite, a back inflation type of BCD. As far as I can tell, Divers Direct stores were the only ones carrying these.

The first thing I did was to attach a dive knife to the inflator hose.

This particular BCD came with integrated weights. These can be placed within pockets that were held by a plastic snap. After some readings online it seems that Mares BCDs have a problem of their integrated weights falling off and get lost, sometimes leading to uncontrolled ascent of the diver.

To correct this problem I’ve take open the weight pockets and reinforced the straps with zip ties so they don’t accidentally slip out and disconnect from the plastic snaps.

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Regulators

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The Edge Epic 2012 was ScubaLab Best Buy for 2013 in the “less than $500″ category. It has a balanced diaphragm first stage, and a pneumatically balanced second stage. I got it for a good Black Friday deal. Also included with the package was an alternative second stage (the yellow so-called “Octopus”) by Sea Elite. I have no idea how good this Sea Elite octo is, but it came with the package so I will use it.
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From EBay, I got a used instrument console which included a depth gauge and a submersible pressure gauge (SPG). This was to be connected to the regulator first stage by a high pressure hose. I was very surprised at how small the hole at the end of the high pressure hose was (see picture). I was told, however, it was supposed to be tiny.
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There’s an O ring at the end of the high pressure hose. I used silicone grease to maintain good waterproof seal.
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The hose screwed into the high pressure port of the regulator first stage.

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The high pressure hose screwed easily into the regulator first stage. Then the next step is to attach the low pressure inflator hose for the buoyancy control device (BCD). Same idea: a little bit of silicone grease on the O ring and some tightening of the nut to make everything water tight.
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The last step was to attach a retractable buckle to the instrument console. This in turn will be attached to the BCD vest, allowing me to view the instruments when needed and have them tucked away when I don’t need them.
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Brave New World

These two videos, despite their commercial nature (The North Face and Redbull ads), really struck a chord in me. “The mountains are calling, and I must go…” You can almost hear John Muir’s words echoing in the back ground.

Is exploration human nature? We’ve certainly gone far. We rose out of the ocean and climbed down from the trees. We crossed seas and landed on the moon. We’ve reached the forbidden depths of the oceans…

This little card is my new adventure. It’s the key to a cold, beautiful, inhospitable world… One of our last true frontiers.

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A combination of Black Friday, Christmas sales, and the EBay used equipment section has allowed me to acquire the majority of my scuba gear. I’ll be assembling them this week.

Sketching life

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How can I illustrate the joy and suffering that make up the human existence? I am sketching a series of figures to represent something about life. The guy playing the guitar stands in for arts and creativity, the farmer digging represents industry, the kid with the kite for childhood… I’m thinking maybe an embracing couple for love? And old woman for wisdom? It will be bright and colorful at the end, because that’s how I see life.

3 steps

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tomb

I took the photo above of the Royal Tomb at Machu Picchu. The stone entrance was cut into a 3-stepped motif, representing the 3 levels of the Inca world. This motif appeared frequently on Inca religious objects. It recalled the Chakana, the Inca version of the Tree of Life.

Many cultures and religions divide existence into 3 worlds. Typically an Upper world for the gods (“Heaven” for example), a Middle world for the mortal living, and a Lower world for the afterlife.

So for the painting I divided the canvas into three levels with the same theme as above. The tree trunk represents the living, the “spectacular now”. The foliage represents heaven, our hopes and dreams for tomorrow. The roots of the tree will be our dead, our cherished past. I sketched the woman first, with the tree roots around her.

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The human body was probably the most complex and difficult thing to draw. We see them so often everyday that when they were drawn out of proportion we noticed right away. I tried my best.

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SFSVS

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We shuffled into a circular, dimly lit room. The ceiling was spectacular. Even in the semi-darkness I could make out the frescos, showing idyllic European countrysides. The chandelier itself was a work of art. Its crystal lights filtered down to the dining room and blended into the flickering candle lights. I wonder what it looked like during the day, with sunlight shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
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I’ve driven from Miami up to West Palm Beach to attend the South Florida Society for Vascular Surgery Conference. After a day of lecture and presentations, I had a chance to sit down with some of the prominent surgeons here in the region. It was interesting to taste a little of the “good life”.

They don’t teach you these things in medical school, and not in residency either. How to start a business (face it, medicine is one of the biggest business in America). How to balance work and life (and avoid divorces like so many surgeons I knew). How NOT to get sued. That was the reason why I liked Dr. Sergio Villegas, the gentleman sitting next to me, so much.

“The purpose of your day is not to do surgery. But to do surgery and go home and have dinner with your family. A family that dine together stays together,” Sergio would say along with a hearty laugh. 25 years, 2 children and going strong. At the end of the day family is the only thing that matters.

There was a beautiful wedding reception outside. The Breakers is a very sought after location for weddings. Today was somebody’s very special day.

Sketchy sketchy

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The speaker was going on. Vascular surgery… Blood vessels… VEGF… And I started doodling. There was a book that I read once, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, and for some reasons it got me thinking. I wanted to paint something about the “Tree of Life”, which was a motif in many cultures and religions. I wanted to paint a big tree, its roots wrapped around the dead while its branches covered and nourished the living. A tree that connects everything together. So I started doodling on one of the small note pads they had on the conference table.

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