Sunday, 20 December 2009

Diving with Sharks in Busan

For two months, we were waiting for this trip. We were waiting to look death straight in the eyes.


Our first evening in Busan City began with a REAL chicken burger meal from Burger King (Ken and I don’t have these kinds of luxuries in Andeok), ending in a satisfying slumber on a round, prettily pink bed in the motel room. At 30,000 won a night, the motel was unbeatable, just a few minutes’ stroll away from the exquisite Haeundae Beach.


Waking up at a time I cannot remember (it was the weekend, right?), Ken and I walked down to Haeundae Beach to catch the blazing morning sun. The sparkling sand and glistening crystalline water brought many visitors to Haeundae’s sapphire coast. After taking in as much as we could of the salty breeze and icy air, we bought an affordable breakfast of sandwiches and coffee at the nearest 7 Eleven convenience store.

Next, Ken, Casey (the Andeok Elementary School teacher), and I went to experience the delights of the Haeundae Market. Much like the ones we saw in Seoul, Pohang, Daegu, and Andong, the potent essence of fish wafted throughout the market’s corridors.

(A few hours later…)

Surprise, surprise! Guess who showed up smack dab, right in the middle of the downtown area – our great friends, the Andong English teachers! We made sure to given them a proper tour of the area…the fabulous beach, market, and department store (all that we had learned of downtown Busan in the past four hours…).

Filling up on sugared cinnamon doughnut sticks and hoeddeok (mouthwatering syrup-filled pancakes), we moseyed down along the Haeundae coast to the famous green, oxidized mermaid statue of Princess Hwang-Ok (a human by day and a mermaid by night), sitting solitarily upon her rock, waiting for absolutely no one at all.

As the ocean-blue blanket threw itself upon us, we made our way back along the coastline’s luminescent path, which was budded with pastel coloured lights, changing evanescently from one hue to the next.

The last item on our agenda for the day was to watch the awe-inspiring movie Avatar. The sheer imagination and exceptional vividness pouring out from the movie screen made it relatively easy for caramel buttered popcorn to fall straight from our gawking mouths, straight into our hungry laps.

Alas, the night ended early. Ken and I wanted to be prepared for our appointment at Death’s door early the next morning.


After eating a light brunch of heavenly hot chocolate and toasted onion bagels, we marched forward toward the Busan Aquarium, ready to take on a tank full of hungry…ravenous…sharks.

Scuba diving with the sharks was no joke. We were in no way allowed to touch the sharks (although my hair brushed the tail of one of them), and we were advised to keep our fingers and arms close to our bodies, just in case. Of course, we were assured that no one had been attacked or eaten…yet. We went through a briefing with the instructor, learning how to equalize the pressure building up inside our heads when we lowered into the tank, when to inflate our BCDs, when to signal that we were out of air…

The next step was to gear up and practice breathing out of the mouthpieces connected to our air tanks (believe me, it takes some muscle to carry all of that equipment). We learned how to communicate underwater via simple hand signals, purge water out of our rubber mouthpieces, and clear water out of our facemasks (I was complimented by the instructor on my water-clearing technique, which he deemed to be worthy of an instructor :)).

Aside from the comments the instructor had told us – the sharks eating other sharks, one of the enormous fish eating one of the sharks…oh, and a couple of the sharks being on a diet – we happily (and ever-so cautiously) entered the tank swarming with almost ten sharks, ranging from beautifully spotted leopard sharks to pasty-grey sand-tiger sharks.

Our keen audience was composed of the Busan Aquarium visitors, of whom, many of them were holding their cell phone cameras to the chilled glass. The peace signs I shot out at many of the children left them stunned, and only widened eyes and slow-moving waves were returned back to me. Our eerie waltz around the aquarium filled with killer beings must’ve been bewildering. Luckily, Ken’s “waterproof” case, sealed with vegetable margarine (my suggestion in the place of petroleum jelly) and bound with layers and layers of red duct tape made for one heck of a water resistant camera.

With only the sound of air bubbles escaping our mouthpieces after every exhaled breath, we admired the striped fishies that were curiously swirling at our feet, the gigantic, ten-foot monstrous fish that could’ve fed all of Korea, and the bug-eyed nurse sharks with teeth going every which way (they kept opening their mouths when swimming by us… ). We were at one with the water. We effortlessly glided around the massive tank with some of nature’s wildest creatures.

Even with the tank’s icy water, chilling my very soul…even with my air tank’s regulator slowly leaking my life support (as Ken pointed out to me in his video), I wouldn’t have traded those thirty extraordinary minutes for anything.

Not getting eaten was a success. Being in the presence of toothy, bug-eyed, grinning sharks was a success. Capturing every moment of our shark adventure…was definitely a success.

That’s one more check off of the bucket list :).

- Jess


  1. Amazing! How many shark teeth did you gather from the bottom of the tank?

  2. The instructor picked up a whole bunch of them, but we only kept one tooth each.

  3. christine(jess' mom)13 January 2010 at 10:29

    I don't know why but that brings memory of the book 'The old man and the sea' by Ernest Hemingway to me. What a wonderful experience you never forget! Congratulation!

  4. I myself tried swimming with sharks and for some reason hyperventilated a bit so I headed back on the boat. Congratuations to both of you.. promise I will try again.