Moses Chan dives to the unseen, uncelebrated places that keep the world ticking — salmon farms, oil rigs, the hulls of tankers. His job as a commercial diver has taken him around the world and introduced him to a host of new cultures. He talks about life underwater, and how his global travels have inadvertently shaped his worldview.
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The first year is spent trying not to die
In dive school there’s a whole year of learning how not to die. The work itself ranged from digging an underwater trench waist-deep in oyster shells, to inspecting flat-bottomed ships the size of football fields in near-total darkness. All the while, you have to prepare mentally to manage risk, because you’re alone in an incredibly strange and dangerous environment.
In diving, you’re forced to focus and to block everything else out — there’s no space to think about what you're going to eat for lunch or worry about your troubles. You’re either thinking about your air supply, your backup, or about the job at hand. Even when that work becomes monotonous, you have to stay alert.
My work is essentially underwater engineering without the engineering degree. I inspect ferries, work on oil rigs, or check pipelines and cables. There’s a steep learning curve. My first job was on a Norwegian salmon farm. The first day was intense: not only was there the combination of dealing with a foreign language and being 50 metres underwater, but also that you’re under the influence of nitrogen, which basically makes you feel like you’re high. A big part of the job is learning techniques to focus and control your physiological response, such as concentrating on your breathing. It can become quite peaceful.
I’ve worked and traveled all over, and I’ve picked up the ability to speak to different cultures. When I started, I thought I would be alone in the water doing mechanical work, but more often than not I find myself operating as the point of connection for people from different nationalities. If I’m on a crew with, say, French-speakers, Spanish-speakers, Russians, and Lithuanians, my language skills are often very valuable since I can help ensure everyone's on the same page. It’s the difference between whether a job works or not — it has to make sense to everybody.
You might not end up loving everyone you work with, but at the end of the day they hold your life in their hands. In one instance, I was below water when a boat with spinning propellers started coming closer and closer. My teammate also noticed and yanked me up with moments to spare.
I go where the work takes me
While I was working in Norway I had to transfer funds back and forth with my family in Canada. I was paying through the nose with banks until I discovered TransferWise. I was skeptical at first, but I gave it a try and haven’t looked back since. I’ve easily saved hundreds of pounds.
It’s helpful when it comes to securing contracts around the world, too: you have to make yourself easy to hire, and part of that is making it easy to get paid. TransferWise’s multi-currency account has been great for that. Maintaining money between separate accounts used to be a nightmare, but the TransferWise multi-currency account lets me convert between currencies and keep everything in one place.
I’m now based in Estonia, but I still have ties all around the world. I’m a Brit who was born in Hong Kong and grew up between Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan. I also have relatives in the US and Canada. I learned when I was young how to deal with being thrown into so many cultures. Instead of retreating into your heritage, you have to accept the different parts of your upbringing. I didn’t have a choice as a child, but growing up I noticed that it fundamentally changed me for the rest of my life.
When I meet people who have similarly diverse backgrounds, the feeling is just electric. Even if you don’t click personality-wise, having the same outlook on life sets a base for common understanding. This worldview helps me recognize different modes of thought and the different problem-solving processes people use. That interconnectedness is essential to my life and the work I do.
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As told to Christina Thomas exclusively for TransferWise. Photography provided by Moses Chan.
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