Thursday, July 28, 2011

Night Diving

Yes, you read that title correctly – I finally gave in and tried a night dive. I don’t think I would’ve done it voluntarily, but it was part of my Advanced Diver Certification class that I’ve been(slowly) completing. The five dives you must complete in order to be called an Advanced Diver: boat dive, deep dive (to 100 feet), advanced buoyancy control, underwater navigation, and night dive. Well, I’m happy to report that I did in fact make it through the night dive successfully, and am now an Advanced Diver!

My verdict on the whole night diving thing: definitely not as scary as I had been imagining for the past 6 months. I’m pretty sure I was mostly hyping myself up about it – which Matt told me I was doing, but of course I wasn’t able to believe him until I actually bit the bullet and did the dive. What really helped is how many people we had going with us on the dive – our class was huge (about 20 people), we had a few different instructors, and a bunch of people even came as “tag-alongs” (Matt was one of them). In my opinion, there weren’t many things to see in the water compared to how many fish and other sea life we see on our dives during the day. I remember hardly seeing any fish at all, but to be fair,what we did see was pretty interesting. In general, I would say night diving is more about the actual experience than anything.

My “buddy” during our class was one of my best friends, Amanda,so staying together during the whole experience made both of us feel much more relaxed. We dropped down into the water somewhat still near the shore(this was at the Sunabe Sea Wall – a dive spot we’re both pretty familiar with) and swam out to the deeper area (only about 35 feet), where we dropped down onto our knees on the sand below. This area that instructors generally call “the classroom” is where Amanda and I (staying together) navigated a straight line and back again, using our compasses in the dark. After our skills were performed, our instructor Allan, who we feel very comfortable with as well, led the way around as we went deeper to about 60feet, looking for interesting night-life under the water. Amanda and I felt safe as we literally swam holding hands (so as not to lose each other!!)and stayed right behind Allan the whole time. I enjoyed that part the best, because Allan seemed to find all of the cool things and pointed them out to us – we saw glow-in the dark, neon sea slugs, sleeping Stone Fish,baby Puffer Fish, and a ton of shrimp with glowing red eyes!

Amanda and I before the dive

Me getting my gear ready

It was such a beautiful night as well – the temperature was warm, the water was still and smooth as glass, and there was a full moon outside. And now for the information everyone reading this probably really wants to know: just how dark was it down there at night? Well, Matt was right when he had told me you would be able to see without your light on… up until a certain point. When you are in shallow water (10 feet or less), it is true – I didn’t need my light at all. The light of the moonshines right through the water, and it is actually quite pretty. As you descend to 30 feet or so, you need your light, but you can still faintly seethe surface and rocks and things around without it, because of all the other people and lights in the water with you. Even at 60 feet, where you could really only see exactly what your light was pointing at, I never felt panicked or felt as if I was going to run into something or get disoriented and not know which way was up (which I was actually very worried about for some reason!). The only thing I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do on my own was keep track of where we were or where we were going. We let Allan do all of that – we just blindly (no pun intended) followed him, and he led us back to the entrance.

Check out this video clip Matt took of all of the students under the water - including Amanda and I when we are getting ready to do our navigation:

This photo is making it look a little darker than it actually was, but this is pretty much how it looks - you can really only see where your light is!

Check out this video clip of a shrimp:

Check out this video clip of a large Hermit Crab:

When we surfaced, we just relaxed, floating on the still water in the moonlight, looking up at the stars and around at all of the lights on Okinawa. It was actually one of my favorite parts of the night, and it wasn’t freaky at all. After it all, Amanda and I actually had a really great time, and we both said we’d even do it again. We were thinking it would be fun to do as a group on a Friday night – you know, go for a dive, get some burgers for dinner afterward… isn’t that how you spend your Friday nights??


Friday, July 15, 2011

Korea Trip - Part 2

Our Korea trip got off to a great start, but the second half definitely had some of my favorite parts - including some more unique Korean restaurants, an incredible palace, and something that I haven't gotten to do much of in the past couple of years... shopping in real "American" stores:)

Our second dinner of the trip was at a small restaurant that felt like we were dining in someones house... upstairs... in a bedroom... with a table instead of a bed. It was called Baedongbaji, and not only was it located in a house, but it was also very poorly marked, making it extremely difficult to find. We tried taking a taxi there, but this was apparently such a hidden place, that even the taxi driver had to pull over and ask for help. Actually, before he could, a very nice Korean (and English-speaking) man walking with his family stopped and asked us if we needed help. He didn't know the restaurant, but ended up using his iPhone to get the phone number and called the place for us! A side note here about the South Korean people: I've always had the impression that Koreans were slightly less than friendly, but after our trip, I've realized that quite the opposite is true - I found many of them to be incredibly nice and helpful.

The outside of Baedongbaji - literally a house!

Our room with a view

This was such an interesting meal, and they just kept bringing out more and more plates!

One of the things I really liked - spicy tofu

A cute little area in Seoul called Insadong

Insadong had many hand-made crafts, jewelry, soaps, candles and souvenir shops - this was a little outdoor mall where everything was handmade.

Absolutely hilarious candy stand guys!

Check out this clip of the guys making the Korean Candy on the street:

Korean Candy called Kultura - made from very fine strands of honey and filled with nuts - was really good!

The following morning, we decided to check out Gyeongbokgung Palace - the main and largest royal palace back in the days of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. It's name means, "Palace of Shining Happiness", and it was much larger than I expected.

Right as we entered the main courtyard, they happened to be having a change of guards ceremony beginning. It was a fairly large ceremony, with many guards marching and carrying colorful flags.

Very cool to see

This palace had my favorite architectural and design elements I've seen in Asia so far!

I'm in love with these Octagon-shaped windows!

The colors and detailing was incredible

There were so many buildings - we kept going through them and coming across more as we ventured from courtyard to courtyard. This is me looking a bit lost, but really, I'm just in awe of how many courtyards there were!

Beautiful mountains in the background

A photographer's paradise:)

gorgeous views

Pagoda above a museum that was part of the palace grounds

Gorgeous bridge and pavilion in a little lake near the back of the palace

Inside the Korean Folk Museum

Ancient UGG Boots!

These were less than comfy - I couldn't even walk in them!

Dinner later on that afternoon at a small but incredibly popular place that only had four things on the menu - it was a "no frills" place with great noodles and delicious dumplings!

We finally made it to the shopper's paradise known as Myeongdong, where I was excited (can you tell) to shop at their 5-story Forever 21 (after just having visited H&M)!

As the sun sets, Myeongdong became even more bright and loud as street vendors set up stands for food, clothing, jewelry, shoes, sunglasses - anything you can imagine - in the streets!

Me picking out some bracelets for my girlfriends:)

The streets of Myeongdong at night - my favorite district in Seoul! I could have spent all weekend there!

We couldn't leave without some night shots of the city, and we finally got a decently clear evening the last night of our trip. We took advantage of it by climbing back up to N Seoul Tower and taking some photos.

We had to leave for the airport early the next morning and could sleep the rest of the day back at home, so we decided to stay up quite late our last night and explore a couple of the night markets. While they didn't quite make our list of best night markets we've been to based on the items sold, the street vendor food was actually a great experience in itself.

The soup had some seaweed in it, which I really enjoyed, and those dumplings were delicious! We also drank some Korean beer and Soju (very strong Korean Rice Wine).

Fried Octopus


Toilet paper that doubled as napkins at the night market

We even made a friend in Korea - a Japanese man at the same food vendor tent that ended up giving us some of his food to try - definately a fun way to end the trip!

I love Asia! I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to experience so many countries that most people never will! We've visited a few big cities now, and Seoul is definately on my list of favorites.