As weekends go, last weekend was a good one. On Thursday I decided to do something that I’ve wanted to do since secondary school. I decided to become a qualified SCUBA Diver. It was easy enough to sort out. Since before I arrived in Korea I had my eye on Deep Blue Quest, a diving school north of Seoul. I sent an email to Russ, the guy who runs the school and asked for a few details. Turned out there was a PADI Open Water diving course starting that weekend, just need to tell them I want to go and transfer the money to their account to save myself a place. Done and done. I didn’t quite realise how much it would be, and it ended up being double what I thought it was (I didn’t account for the additional price of the Open Water section, the amount I paid is just for the Confined Water weekend) but it’s still about the same price I’d pay at home so I’m not complaining.
The course started on Saturday, 8.30am, meeting at Geumneung station. This posed the greatest real challenge of the weekend. I went to Bupyeong after work on Friday for a few drinks and left early, getting home about 1am. Here’s the tragic bit, I set my alarm for 5am! It was difficult, years of loving my sleep have taught me that no matter how excited you are about something, getting up in the morning is always an epic battle of wills, brain against body. Brain often switches sides, one moment providing a host of reasons for body to throw back the covers and then, once body is almost convinced, it switches and tries to convince body to stay in its warm bed. Luckily body is slower to react than brain, so the switch usually fails. At 5am however, both sides are firmly of the opinion that getting up is a bad plan. I just about managed to drag myself to the shower by 5.30am. Shower done and the world seems a little brighter, not literally, it’s still pitch black outside, but I’m now ok with the fact I’m awake. Just as I’m about to head out the door Joe walks in, seems me and starts laughing. “This is life!”, he bellows before passing out. I’m out the door, on the subway and starting the hour and a half journey that took three hours.
Once I arrived I found myself pretty far outside central Seoul, passed fields of snow and pods of high apartment blocks. I got to the station about 15 minutes later than my 8.30 arrangement. There wasn’t anyone about, I searched for a bit before jumping in a taxi and trying to get the driver to understand where I wanted to go (I had the address in English, but not in Korean). First try, no luck. Back on the street. I approached a few taxi drivers having a coffee and asked tried them. They didn’t understand my mimed SCUBA diving but when I tried to pronounce the name of the pod that it turned out to be in, they understood. 10 minutes later I was walking through the door, to the surprise of Russ, who was waiting for my call so he could come pick me up. Damn not having a phone. But I’d arrived, so it was time for the training to begin.
PADI Open Water courses are part Classroom based, part Confined Water (Pool) based and part Open Water (Ocean) based. This weekend would complete the Classroom and Confined water sections, with the Open Water section planned to take place in April, when the waters a little warmer. For the first few hours Shawn, the other guy on the course, and I watched a few training DVD’s, following along and answering questions in our Diver Manuals. After each section we had a Knowledge Review section where we went over the questions with an instructor who made sure we understood all that we were being told. This section covered everything from equipment to pressure calculations, and dive safety to environmental factors that affect divers. It was all pretty interesting and each section was followed by a preview of what we’d be doing on our Confined dives later that day.
About 4 hours later and our brains were full of facts and all sorts, it was time to go diving. We jumped into the van and made the short trip to the small pool where we’d be having our first dive. There were only the two of us doing the Open Water, with one more was doing a Rescue Diver course (that looks exciting). We went to a small pool, 5m deep and located in the basement under a school shaped like the Disney castle.
I’ve decided I like diving. First thing we did in the pool was go over a few basic drills, then, much sooner than I expected, I was at 5m. It’s kinda like when you go for your first driving lesson and double take when the instructor says ‘OK, let’s pull out into the road’. But it was great fun. Before the end of the day I had learned to remove and clear my mask, achieve neutral buoyancy, fight off attacking sharks (kinda) and a whole bunch more. We finished about 9pm, which left me with a decision to make, head home or stay in Geumneung. I realised if I went home I’d just about have time to sleep five hours before making the marathon effort to get back for 9am the next day. It seemed like a bad plan. Russ invited me to join him for dinner and so the two of us went for Korean BBQ. A good few bottles of Soju later, discussion having included everything from diving and kayaking to secret societies and world power, we decided to call it a night. Russ recommended I stay at the local 찜질방 (Jimjabang) and gave me the tour before he headed home.
A Jimjabang in a kind of bath house. When you go in your given a locker and a set of clothes similar to hospital scrubs. But these are only for the mixed sex communal areas like the sleeping hall. The locker is for your clothes, all your clothes. That’s right, if you want to enjoy the Jimjabang, you do it in the buff. I won’t deny my initial trepidation at the idea. I like to think of myself as confident and open to new experiences, I guess this was the test. I dropped my boxers and went for it.
I’ve decided I also like Jimjabang’s. The slightly awkward feeling of walking round completely naked in a building full of other naked people quickly passed and I found that the only problem I had was making the decision between going to the sauna or hot baths. I stayed in the bath’s as long as I dared before deciding it was bed time, I had an early start the next day and I’d had more than a little Soju. My bed for the night was a mat on the heated floor of the communal sleeping space, a huge hall with about 100 people already sleeping. The mat looked uncomfortable, but I had one of the best night’s sleep in a long time. The next morning I got up, spent some time in the baths before heading back to Deep Blue Quest.
A few more hours and I was back in the pool. I completed all the required sections of the training that day, got them all signed off. The only thing now is to complete my Open Water dives in April. After the even session I had dinner with Russ, Shawn and another trainer before heading home, via Bupyeong and a big night out.
Altogether an awesome weekend. And its Chinese new year so I got Monday off work to recover. Now I’m just counting the days till my Open Water Course.
If you’re interested in learning to scuba dive in Korea (and I strongly recommend that you do) then I recommend Deep Blue Quest. Also, If you do decided to do it after reading this blog then please tell them you found the place through me, as they have a referral reward scheme. Just post below and I’ll tell them to expect your email.
To contact Deep Blue Quest go to http://www.deepbluequest.com/index.html
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