What’s Special about diving in Borneo?

Prior to going to Borneo, I knew very little about the magic which awaited me there. A quick glance online, and I knew it was home to Orang-utans, Proboscis Monkeys, and various other unique indigenous wildlife. In addition to it’s lush jungles and majestic mountain-tops, it was also surrounded by an incredible underwater landscape of coral reef, countless varieties of fish and sea urchin, and if that wasn’t enough, there are countless ship wrecks to explore – many of which were war ships from World War 2. This information, however, was only brought to my attention after my arrival to Kuching, where I had the absolute pleasure to meet Eng.

Meet Ting Suk Eng - SCUBA instructor

Eng is a local of Borneo, and discovered her passion for diving years ago. She is quite possibly the most passionate person I have ever met about the sport, and has worked her way up to a dive instructor. This has enabled her to be able to share her passion with countless new and experienced divers. It just so happens that her playground for doing so is bursting with exciting places to dive and things to see! This is where I come in. She helped me advance my PADI diving training to get my Open Water Advanced certification. After such a wonderful experience, I was curious to find out more about what drives her passion for the sport! Here’s what she had to say:

Where Sidewalks End – You have been living in Borneo almost all your life! What are all the places you’ve lived, and what eventually brought you to Kuching?

Eng – I was born, raised and educated in Sibu,Sarawak with my 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When I was 19, my mum and I moved to Brunei to work. I worked as a house keeper and cook for various people. I worked hard and was able to learn English during evening class over the next six years. When my mum moved back to Sibu, I was able to buy a house for her to live in. I also invested in some land with my sister.

It wasn’t until I was 40 that I decided to learn to swim with some of my friends. I was not good, and it took some time, but I was determined. I then decided to take my swimming to the next level and learn to dive, so I joined the local club. Since I was not good swimmer, it took me a long time to become a confident diver. With time and determination, I got certified by both PADI and BSAC! Eventually, I even worked my way to getting my Open Water Instructor certification.

Since becoming certified, I’ve been freelance instructing, with occasional jobs in resorts as well. At present, I have certified nearly 100 students, and the number continues to grow. When one of my jobs in a resort finished, I moved to Perth, Australia with my partner, David. It’s been nearly 2 years now since I returned to Kuching , so I’ve resumed my passion for teaching people diving in Borneo.

Getting an "OK" from Eng

If you had to choose one city to live out the rest of your life, where would it be? why?

If I could live any where I think I would stay in Kuching, Borneo. All my family live and work in Sarawak, I enjoy the warm weather and there is great diving. I live with my cat, Sam and dog, Ruby. They are very good company, and I am happy here.

I heard that when you were younger, you could not swim. Now you are a world class SCUBA Diving instructor!! What inspired you to get involved in this activity?

I suppose I got involved in diving because at the time I needed something to do and some of my friends enjoyed swimming. I decided to join them, and I enjoyed it so much, it just seemed like a natural progression to take up diving in Borneo.

You have met many people from around the world doing this activity. Have you met anyone doing this who has changed your life? How did they change your life?

I don’t think any one person has changed my life, but learning to swim and dive certainly made a huge difference, as it has given me the oppotunity to travel and dive in many places.

I should mention my National Instructor, Sophie, flew all the way from UK to Borneo to train 6 candiates to become instructors. She is very good instructor, as she was very inspirational in making my thirst for learning about diving so much more passionate

What is the happiest or funniest moment you’ve shared with anyone SCUBA Diving?

The happiest and most thrilling experience I have had diving in Borneo was being able to dive with a whale shark. Swimming along side the world biggest mammal was the most exciting thing I have done! The funniest thing was coming out of the water after a dive, and looking up at the boat. I was face to ‘face’ looking at some bodies bare backside and dodging the poop coming from it when there are no toilets on board. Luckily we all had a good laugh about that!

Heading off to Santun Island for a dive

There is of course many risks involved in SCUBA Diving.. have you ever had any scary moments? If so, what happened, and how did you overcome them?

The scariest time I had diving in Borneo happend only a few years ago. We were diving about 30 km off Labuan and it was a night dive. The weather forecast was good, and we were about to get in the water, when suddenly the sky darkened. The wind picked up, and we were in the middle of a fierce storm! All five of us were terrified! The rain was pelting down and we lost many belongings overboard, including most of our clothes. An Oil tanker passed, and must have noticed us because it came back picked us up. They towed our boat, and gave us overalls to wear but then proceeded to take us to the police!! They thought we were illegal immigrants trying to sneak ashore. We spent two nights in the police station while things were sorted out before we were allowed to go. I was just grateful everyone was unharmed and made it safely back to land during the whole ordeal.

Eng diving with some pleasure divers

You’ve done over 1000 dives now in your life. That’s incredible, and something not many people can be proud enough to say. Is there any times that you went for a dive that you would count as your favourite dive? What happened to make it so special?

My favourite times diving in Borneo are to shipwrecks, and my favourite shipwreck is very close to Kuching! It is the Japanese liner the Katori Maru which was used to carry soldiers during the second warld war. It was sunk by a Dutch submarine on 23rd December 1941 with loss of 1100 personnel.

For those interested, here’s some details of the ship:

  • Owner: Nippon Yusen K.K.Tokyo
  • Built in 1913 by Mitsubishi,Nagasaki,Japan.Yard No. 230
  • Date of completion: 11th of September 1913
  • Launched: 30th of March 1913
  • Gross Tons: 10,513
  • Length: 152.3m
  • Beam: 18.3m
  • Speed:14.5knots.

Sunset from Damai beach, Borneo, where Eng is currently based

You’ve worked both for companies and as a freelance SCUBA instructor. What is the most rewarding of both jobs? and what is the most challenging of both jobs?

The upside of being a freelance instructor is I can set my own schedules and time tables, pick my own dive sites and pick my own students. The downside is of course the cost of supplying and maintaining equipment and advertising.

Eng teaching Anthony (of www.manvsclock.com) dive techniques

The upside of working for a resort or company is that the students are supplied, the  equipment, boat, swimming pool and venues are all on hand, and I am usually paid a retainer. The down side is I am under pressure to certify people as quickly as possible, and sometime some establishments prefer different metheds of teaching than what I am comfortable with. Of course, my current employer is excellent, and I am lucky to work for him.

Eng & I after successfully completing my Advanced Open Water course

SCUBA diving in Borneo is something you are extremely passionate about. What advice would you give someone interested in trying SCUBA Diving for the first time?

Someone asks what it is like to dive, and I tell them its like going to a different world. I think it would be the same feeling as going to outer space. You are floating in water like being in a space suit. The scenery is totally different and every thing seems to be floating in slow motion around you.

Just try diving in Borneo – you will be amazed!

Have you ever become so passionate about something that it has changed your whole way of living? What motivates you? What challenges (like not being able to swim) did you have to overcome to be able to realize your dreams?