▲ From left, James Barker and Graeme Anderson emerge from the water in full scuba gear during a recent dive off of Little Munseom, about a 10-minute boat ride from Seogwipo Harbor. Photos by Steve Oberhauser
What links a French woman installing trains in Seoul, a Colombian soldier, an Italian brain surgeon, and a smattering of tourists and students from European, Western and Asian countries? Answer: scuba diving off the coast of Seogwipo. As unpaid interns at Big Blue 33, owned by instructor Ralf Deutsch, Graeme George Anderson (dive master) and James Barker (master scuba diver) have seen many people come through in the past year. Anderson, 29, hails from north of Scotland and teaches at a hagwon in Jeju City. The 36-year-old Barker is an EPIK teacher at both Seongsan Middle and Taeheung Elementary schools. He is from Kent, England.
When did you come to Korea? How long have you been on Jeju?
Graeme: I came to Korea when I flew from Scotland on Boxing Day [Dec. 26] 2009, and I spent six months on the mainland and decided I wanted a different job, so I moved to Jeju.
James: I came to Korea on the first of October 2007. I was two years teaching as part of the EPIK program in Gyeongsanbuk-do in a small town called Sangju and on the first of September 2009, I came to Jeju.
Where did you first learn to scuba dive? What was your purpose?
Graeme: Purpose? To breathe underwater and see cool things. Purpose? Well, scuba was always something I wanted to do. I grew up on the coast and always every summer was spent swimming at the sea, jumping off the rocks and other things. I was always curious as to what was under the waves. I was working in a summer camp in upstate New York and I got certified from a guy who did a scuba program at the camp. He gave us a deal at Lake George in upstate New York for open water and my advanced certificates, and that was the summer of 2008.
James: Well, I started off snorkeling when I went off on a holiday to France to other countries when I was young. I really liked snorkeling and exploring and discovering what’s underwater. I got my first scuba diving certification in the Philippines and I got my open water in the Gili Islands next to Bali.
How did you two meet Ralf Deutsch?
Graeme: When I was on the mainland, I did a lot of diving there. The guy I was with said when I told him I was moving to Jeju, he mentioned Ralf and at the time I was not aware he was the only English speaking dive shop on the island. They had done business before. He said, ‘You should see Ralf.’ I said, ‘Well, Maybe? I don’t know.’ When I arrived, that was pretty much it. I e-mailed. I wanted to go diving, and he said come down.
James: I discovered Ralf in Lonely Planet and contacted Ralf to come diving on the weekend while I was in Gyeongsanbuk-do – It was just a few months prior to coming here – and had a diving weekend in June of 2007. That’s how we met.
How many dives have you done? And, where are all the places you have dived?
Graeme: I am on 131. I’ve been diving in upstate New York, mainland Korea, Jeju, Thailand and the Philippines. Next month I will be doing some diving in Scotland, see what it’s like back home.
James: I have 76 dives logged. I’ve dived in France, the Mediterranean, near Perpignan, the Philippines, the Gili Islands, Thailand and Jeju.
Where are you at in your respective scuba careers?
Graeme: I am a dive master, which is the first rung on the professional level of a diver. This means I can assist with instructing, I can take tours, I can fill tanks and basic scuba maintenance. I got that at the beginning of the year. I did an internship with Ralf. Every weekend I would come diving and help with what needs to be done, lifting all the tanks, getting all the divers sorted, showing them what’s to be done. I was learning how Ralf operates the shop, learning the dive locations so I can lead the dives and get the divers in and out safely. In spare time, doing rescue skills, and self rescue, get myself and my confidence in the water up to a high enough point and be comfortable and happy leading other divers.
James: I am a master scuba diver, which is just one below dive master. I am currently doing a dive master internship at Big Blue. As part of the training is being an assistant with certified and non-certified divers, helping out in the shop, learning to fill tanks, how everything functions, and also learning how to give a dive briefing, and take out divers on all sorts of dives – deep dives, night dives, open-water dives, boat dives, all the dives that are available.
What do you do at Big Blue before and after dives?
Graeme: Before dives we are helping the customers to get their rental gear sorted and organized, from masks, boots, fins, and assuring them where everything is, helping them pack their bags, filling up the van with the tanks, filling up a flask of tea. Usually start at 9 a.m., the same as the customers. They are doing paperwork, disclaimer. During that time we will pack our own bags.
James: And load all the tanks.
Graeme: Find out how many tanks we have to move, do the heavy lifting.
James: We also check out the tide tables and conditions to see if it is fit for diving, what to expect, with the currents.
Graeme: We have to plan the dive with the current with the way the water is going; when we come back do a bit of cleaning up.
James: Supervise all the divers rinsing their gear.
Briefly describe some of the underwater life on Jeju you are interested in (what makes you excited)?
Graeme: I’ve been diving nearly a full year, so I’ve seen the life change throughout the year. Last week, I was still seeing fish I have never seen before. There are still new things coming up all the time, it’s nice to see something you don’t recognize. When you get a rare stingray it is really cool, also when you find an octopus tucked away in a hole. And, there are a few fish I really enjoy. I forget the name at the moment, the yellow-purple thing.
James: I like lionfish. A lot of the different fish, swimming with the squid is interesting, as well. There are some times – once diving off of Beomseom seeing a ray – nice surprises can happen. Also the different underwater topography and dives. Beomseom for example is a boat dive and has some lovely coral gardens. The soft corals I like the most. They are very vibrant.
Graeme: Purple and orange are the dominant soft corals. Some of the fine corals can get a good variation in color.
James: We have a nice little drift dive at Little Munseom. And there is a nice drop off and a sheer wall going down and you are just taken away with the current. All orange coral, one wall stretch.
How many different specific places have you dived on Jeju?
Graeme: Little Munseom is one entry point. Apart from a boat dive, there’s one on Big Munseom. Over at Seopseom, there are three different entry points. There are a few various boat dives. I only did one of them. I’d say we dive Little Munseom 75 percent of the time. We never know what a person’s skill level is going to be and little Munseom is the safest.
Why did you two decide to invest so much time with SCUBA diving on Jeju?
Graeme: I really enjoy SCUBA diving. Everything. The point for getting up in the morning and going the whole day and being on the rock between dives, enjoy. I like being there. I would rather spend my day swimming around looking at cool stuff under the water than lying in bed with a hangover. You know?
James: I really enjoy all the different sensations that are involved. The feeling of weightlessness, for example, and being out in the elements. In a way, it’s getting in contact with untamed nature. It’s a nice feeling, a lot of the time being a teacher at school, I’m indoors, and I am not outside. I like to go outside and be in the outdoors and in the midst of nature, diving is like the equivalent of going on safari and seeing how nature works in an untamed environment. It’s just 10 minutes boat ride away and there is all this lovely color and wildlife to discover.
Compare Jeju’s SCUBA diving with the other SCUBA diving places you have been to?
Graeme: Next to the Korean mainland, Jeju is phenomenal. The mainland is terrible. Next to upstate New York, Jeju is phenomenal. Upstate New York is terrible. Next to the places I have dove in the Philippines, because of the topography here from the volcano, it’s got quite a distinct look from anything I have seen from Thailand and the Philippines. And there are loads of beautiful coral in Thailand. The fish life is more diverse, because of being closer to the equator, life can be a lot bigger. If you spend time looking in the rocks here, you will be rewarded for your efforts definitely. As James said, there is a good variation at the one entry point, you can do a deep dive, and there are options. If you are a confident diver and have the skills, you can have a good time. I went to the Philippines at Christmas. It showed me how good we really have the diving here.
James: On the positive side, one variety of the underwater topography, the marine life and how it changes throughout the year. And also, its similarities to the Philippines and Thailand, I went out diving and saw similar soft corals in Thailand. Here there are similar marine life like lionfishes that you see in abundance because you have the Tsushima Current, which is a branch of the Kuroshio Current which comes up from the Philippines and Taiwan and is bringing in a lot of warmer water. And, so it has this subtropical look to it in Jeju. On the negative side, sometimes, I would like to see some bigger things, like turtles or sharks or others. The abundance of different marine life here is enough to make up for that.
Has your thinking changed toward the environment from when you first started SCUBA diving until now?
Graeme: Yeah. I don’t know if it has changed, my attitude. If the thinking has changed, it has become more serious, and emphasized. I’ve always been a bit of a hippie at heart. But diving has emphasized, and brought out feelings I have for the sea. I have always loved the sea, always have. No, I should say ocean. Ocean sounds cooler.
James: I wouldn’t say it has changed my perspective on the environment. I’ve always recognized the impact man can have on nature, so it is just perhaps a natural continuation. I have always been environmentally friendly. I have always wanted to and made an effort to respect the environment, to not have a negative impact on the environment. I think diving has made me realize how we need to protect nature more, to preserve its biodiversity. It’s so beautiful underwater, whether it be here or Thailand or Indonesia and it just makes you realize how important it is to conserve all this biodiversity to encourage that it is protected and left untouched, so it can thrive and flourish, so we can also appreciate it. It is in our own interest.
Has the amount of time you have been on Jeju and plan to stay on Jeju changed because of SCUBA diving?
Graeme: Kind of. I wanted to stay, but it was dependent on whether or not I enjoyed it. And, I am staying, so I have enjoyed it.
James: There are many things I enjoy about Jeju not only diving, but plenty of things in Korea as well. I have made a lot of friends here since I have arrived. So, I feel very happy here. I did not know what to expect at the beginning, but it’s turned out to be a really enjoyable adventure. I am happy to continue staying, living on Jeju.
Graeme: Another reason, I want to stay, is I started to study hapkido and I want my black belt. I have to stay. I am not going back with half a black belt.
Describe Ralf Deutsch.
James: Ralf as an instructor, you can’t really ask for more or for better. It has been a very pleasurable and rewarding experience, doing the advanced and also the rescue and master SCUBA diver with Ralf. His teaching is very clear and concise, and very professional about diving. And I feel 100 percent confident. I trusted Ralf 100 percent while diving. Still do. As a person, we’ve had a lot of good times together, hanging out at the dive shop, going to restaurants, discovering new places, new restaurants I never thought about going to, also, knowledge about the island that Ralf has conveyed that has been helpful to us to understand. Aspects of Jeju, the festivals what is the history behind those. And, I remember we talked about those at one point. I find Ralf very laid back and easy to talk to, affable and friendly. Somebody you can confide in as well. I feel I can talk about anything with Ralf. He has become a close friend over the last two years.
Graeme: I agree with what he said, spot on. As an instructor, I have experienced three different instructors at my training, by far he is the most professional and the best I have dealt with. It can be very dangerous, what we do. People can die. People have died [around the world] and his emphasis on safety and being confident that you can do what you are supposed to be able to do what your certification card says you can do, his focus on that is really good.
What do you plan to do with SCUBA diving in the future?
Graeme: Well, ambitions – for everything I’ve ever done – always have been baby steps at a time. So last one, I wanted to get a dive master. I wanted to work as a dive master. Done. So next step, go for instructor. Ideally, the thing I want to do now is I want to spend a season and live abroad in Thailand. You know I said, if I can work full time for a season in SCUBA, it would be worth it. It would definitely be worth it. The ultimate dream would be to follow the summer for a few years, and go to exotic, beautiful places.
James: In the future, well I think with a dive master, what I like the most and eventually being a dive instructor is the freedom that it gives you. It is recognized all around the world. If you have friends, wherever you are, you can rent some tanks somewhere and certify them. And it is not my intention for this to be a career. If it turns out to be a career I’ll be happy with it. This is like an extra string to my bow. If somebody wants to be certified, I can do that wherever I am in the world. I like the mobility that comes with becoming a dive master or a dive instructor. Also, becoming a dive instructor, if the opportunity arises, to open up a dive shop somewhere, this would be great. If possible, then I will go for it. Diving in the future in general, I am going to continue diving on Jeju, also wherever I go on holiday, diving around Southeast Asia is fantastic, also Northeast Asia as well. It is everything else that goes with it. You are meeting all these different people from different horizons.
Graeme: One thing is, with places to dive in the future, James will agree, the list of places will never get smaller. You will always read about a place that is enticing.
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