How the Scuba Life Chose Me?


The story begins with the typical childhood experience watching the Discovery Channel with my dad. We would snuggle on the couch while watching all the animal and nature shows. Our favorite is big cats: cheetahs, lions, leopards...

The not-so-typical child Thao also remembers talking to plants, eating flowers that tasted like pickles, and petting green waxy leaves from a plant while standing on a giant ant mound. My dad had to remind me about the hospital visit because I learned to blackout that memory (something I am fortunate/unfortunately really good at doing)

Then the 90s came about and my parents bought us a computer and one of those giant boxed TV that was taller 3ft. More time in doors meant that my melanin skin lost it's golden brown color and my legs were healed from all the Louisiana mosquito bites. 

Although life threw me for a whirl wind during my teenage years, high school still gave me a chance to take biology, aquatic science, and zoology. People are still shocked that I've never taken chemistry, physics, trigonometry, human anatomy, etc. My interest was anchored in environment and animal sciences. 

I started college as an English major because I loved writing. I've been journaling since 3rd grade. I still have some of the notes that were passed between my friends and I during middle school. S/O to all my Lake Castle homies. Learning grammar, sentence structure, and typing up my english notes to put into sheet protectors was my favorite past time. 

Then life took another sharp right turn and I moved to Wyoming to finish out the rest of my undergrad life. I changed my major to political science. I rather learn about the rules and institutions that dictate our lives than learning how to decipher poetry by dead white poets. 

Wyoming is a rough and tough western state. My first year in Wyoming included -50 degree F for 3 consecutive days, and I still had to walk to class. So, the following year I packed my bags and scraped enough scholarships and loans to go study abroad in Singapore for 5 months. 

In Singapore, I met an awesome Canadian who invited me to go scuba diving in Malaysia with a group of 10 other study abroad students. *When life presents opportunities like this, don't hesitate.* I instantly said YES. There was no prior thought that this would be the hobby that turns into my life's calling.

Scuba diving in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia made me fall in love with my Southeast Asian-ness even more. I finally felt like I belonged. Never felt like the outsider....until I had speak. Then, my very American accent and isms would expose my uniqueness. 

Finished college 2 years later and was craving to get back into the water. I worked as a server & bartender to get enough money to 1. pay off some student loans 2. visit my European friends I met in Singapore 3. my first solo trip to Belize. Two weeks in London, Amsterdam, Scotland, and Wales visiting friends made traveling alone not so scary. *i didnt even see it as being alone because I was just traveling alone until i met up with my friends* Separate blog post coming soon.

Back to work slinging dranks and steaks, I was still craving to get back underwater. Unfortunately, my friends from Texas and Colorado would rather go snow boarding because you don't need a certification to just rent a board and buy a lift ticket. I've always wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef, but AUS seemed too far away. I found the 2nd biggest coral reef and it was much closer to the US than I thought. You better BELIZE it. Belize has coral reefs, the Blue Hole atoll, and Whale Sharks! I joined because they have a feature to set price alerts for any destination. At midnight, I saw a sale for Belize and put that plane ticket on my Chase United credit card. I didn't even think about it being my first solo adventure until all my bar guest asked: Who are you going with? Do you know anyone there?..... I gave it no 2nd thought. Placencia was the only place that offered Whale Sharks and the Blue Hole trips. They arranged my domestic flights, airport transfers, and hotel stay. The perfect first time solo female adventurer trip ever.

After making my seemingly out of reach dream of scuba diving and seeing whale sharks in Belize, I felt like I could do anything. Scuba diving was my calling, my purpose, my love. 

As much as I love scuba, I also love school. I went back to the University of Wyoming to get a master's degree in political science and environment&natural resources. IOW, I wanted to know how government and policy shape human behavior and the marine environment. I chose Indonesia because it is a democracy with one of the world's most biodiverse marine ecosystems. Indonesia has 7 national marine parks. Karimunjawa National Park consist of 27 islands, but rarely ever makes it onto a map of Indonesia. I wanted to know the fisher's and local businesses perception of their cooperative-management. Turns out public participation isn't as high as most other documents would like you to believe. 

Fast forward to 2017, I graduated with my MA and a Fulbright US Student Researcher grant to go BACK to Indonesia. 

Currently still in Indonesia with only 3 months to go. Now, I am researching cooperative management in terms the President's tourism policy, choosing Wakatobi National Park as one of the new top ten Indonesian tourism destinations. While also gaining more confidence with practicing my scuba diving skills.

Wakatobi National Park, Souteast Sulawesi, Indonesia