Wow, it's been a few days since I've posted. My Internet went down again and so I was unable to update you on my adventures. Time to make up for it, because today was the day I've been planning for all month - the day of the big shark dive!
I got up at 6:00 AM to catch an early morning KTX train to Busan. The KTX train travels at speeds up to 305 km/h. When it was first built it cut the time of the trip to Busan from Seoul down to 1 hour 50 minutes (from about 5 hours). But, since its creation more and more stops have been added and the the trip now takes roughly 3 hours.
The train is a lot like flying in an airplane, but a bit less comfortable and only half as fast. However, it sure beats taking a bus and it costs about the same price as a taxi to an International airport from the center of a big city.
My neighbour for the trip to Busan was Joseph. Joseph is a bit of an anomaly in that he managed to pick up a perfect North American accent for his pefectly fluent English, without ever having lived outside of Korea. Joseph was on a business trip this morning for his company which franchises English schools. Joseph was nice enough to give me a strip of his pastry, since I did not think to bring anything for the trip, and he also spent most of the trip explaining to me the history of Korea from the invasion of the Mongols to the beginning of the Korean War. Don't think he was boring me though, I was fascinated and kept begging him for more information.
I severely underestimated how long it took to get from Busan Station to Haeundae beach by subway. Quite soon I realized there were far more stops than I anticipated, and that I was not going to make it in time, so I jumped off and tried to catch a cab. I got in the first cab that stopped for me and tried to do up my seat belt There was only a strap with a hook, but no catch though, so I just imagined a seat belt.
The cab driver did not speak English, but he was so happy with my infinitesimally small amount of Korean and that I was Canadian that he phoned up (and woke up) his daughter, who had studied in Canada, to talk to me in English. This has happened to me quite often since I've come to Korea and it is always awkward for both parties.
The taxi driver then realized that I was speaking Seoulese (people in Busan speak a different dialect of Korean than do those people in Seoul) and decided to "correct" my Korean with some impromptu lessons, but I couldn't understand a word he was saying. He got me to Busan Aquarium though, and that's all that mattered.
The Aquarium is located right on Haeundae beach, which is a beautiful beach in a beautiful area of Busan, which is itself quite a beautiful city.
When I was dropped off I was five minutes late. I couldn't see any signs for the diving, and when I went to the front desk to ask where the shark diving was I was told that there was no shark diving. Undaunted, I went over to the Information Office and was told that I should go under ground. I went underground and someone pointed me up a set of stairs, but these stairs just led back out onto the beach. Eventually, after twenty minutes of searching, I finally found someone who could direct me to the course, which was in fact at Busan Aquarium.
After filling out the requisite paper work and watching some training videos the other four divers and myself got on our wetsuits and goggles and went over to the training pool.
On the way over we saw a separate pool of about eight Lemon Sharks swimming around. Lemon Sharks are about 9 feet long and are aggressive hunters and they had been separated because they were eating the other animals in the aquarium. These animals cost tens of thousands of dollars each, and the Lemon Sharks had caused an entire species of stingray to "disappear" from the aquarium as well as having torn the fins of and scarred the bodies of a number of the Sand Tiger Sharks. The aquarium had put a number of giant tuna fish in to attract the teeth of the Lemon Sharks instead, but Lemon Sharks are smarter than that and did not touch the tuna. We were actually one of the last two groups to ever see the Lemon Sharks, since they were being shipped to Thailand on Monday (this happened on Saturday).
This is my diving team. Michael, the instructor, is on the left, and then there are Takayla and Jake from North and South Dakota (not sure whom is from where), Justin from Baltimore, and Maggie from Pittsburgh. All four of the Americans are English teachers near/in Busan and probably had a much easier time getting to the aquarium than I did.
Justin teaches at a school for the children of rich parents. Many of his students are the children of doctors or lawyers and are rather spoiled. One of his students is the daughter of a Korean professional baseball player. His classroom is wired by CCTV and the housewife mothers spend all day scrutinizing his teaching in the viewing room. As stressful as that sounds he seems to have adjusted admirably and was very excited about the dive. I was happy to hear from him later that two of his students were visitors to the aquarium that day and had waved to him through the glass.
We took pictures of the dive with Michael's underwater camera, but since they aren't up on the website yet I'll just show some of the best pictures of past dives with a few extras I found on the Internet of some of the other animals we saw.
The Sand Tiger Shark, which I shot afterwards through the glass from the outside looking in. The Aussies, whom regular readers of this blog know are XXXX rated, only refer to this as a Grey Nurse Shark.
Lest you thought I was lying about being in the aquarium with sharks.
This is a picture of a Green Turtle, over some coral reef in Hawaii. The Green Turtle was my favourite animal in the aquarium. Apparently it is rather aggressive and thinks that every diver in the pool is going to bring him food. Michael put him in a holding pen behind us while we were training, and when I was not being instructed I would turn around every chance I could get to look at the turtle who was always staring me right in the eyes and/or snapping its mouth at my face. Being close enough to have my fingers (or nose) bitten by such a majestic creature was really exciting; it made my hair stand on end and my heart race.
This is a diver from another group, but I had a very similar experience myself. After lowering down into the giant tank (a round tank of roughly 30 yards diameter and 8 meters depth) I knelt down to wait for the other divers. While I was waiting I was welcomed by a curious Grouper fish. This species of fish has been caught in the wild and found to have an entire human inside of its stomach. Today it thought it would swim over and come within about two feet of my face. I was so excited I forgot to breathe and thought something was wrong with my respirator. How can a fish be big enough to eat a human, you ask?
This is how.
Obviously I didn't take this picture myself, but this is an exact reenactment of my first minutes diving in the aquarium, except I was on the other side of the glass.
After diving I was starving, so Maggie and I went over to an American pizza restaurant to indulge in some "Western food." Back in Canada I used to love pizza, but after eating so much fantastic Korean food with its exceptional spices and exotic flavours I found pizza quite bland. Maggie said that she used to love bacon but found it disgusting when she went home after her first year of teaching in Korea. I'm going to go back home in a month and not be able to eat anything but rice.
After pizza we went back to the aquarium and our shark diving experience counted as admission to the aquarium as well, so it was "free."
These piranhas look like they've already finished their last meal.
Catfish are called "maggie" in Korean, so Maggie insisted on taking some pictures.
This Jackass Penguin (that's its real name) spent all day diving down into the water to look at the guests. It was quite a hit with the children.
One of the highlights was when I got to hold this real live sea urchin in my hands at the petting tank. Maggie said that it was rare to find an urchin that still had all of its quills. I guess they tend to get broken off by all the people handling them.
"Do you know what that sound is, Highness? Those are the Shrieking Eels! If you don't believe me, just wait. They always grow louder when they're about to feed on human flesh!"
What do you get for the fish who has everything? How about a car. Hyundai shows what the inside of James Bond's Lotus should have looked like after he drove out of the lake in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Best day of the trip so far by a long shot. If you're in Korea make sure you head to Busan for the shark diving experience. You can find more information here.