One of our favorite finds in Busan, South Korea, came almost by accident. I say almost, because it is a big deal in Busan, but we had no clue it was going on when we were in town, despite the fact that we always check and see if there are any festivals going on before we visit a city.
Often, we even go so far as picking cities because a festival is going on.
So when we found out that BIFF, the 22nd annual Busan International Film Festival was going on from October 12th to the 21st, we were very excited! We do love ourselves a good movie, after all. I have a soft spot for old gangster movies, circa Goodfellas, Scarface and The Godfather, while Carine is a sucker for comedies and dramas, like the Matrix, Fight Club and The Incredibles (of course neither of which are comedies or dramas…).
Being from Montreal, we have our own film festival, but it pales in comparison to other International Film Festivals. The closest comparison in our eyes would be the bigger Toronto Film Festival.
Well, we were in luck, because BIFF has films from all over the world, for all types of movie-goers. This year, it boasted over 300 films from 75 different countries, 99 of which were world premieres. On the judging panel, is the award winning writer and filmmaker, Oliver Stone.
We loved the vibe of Busan from the get-go. We stayed in the vibrant tourist-friendly Haeundae beach area of Busan. Normally home to affordable food stalls, karaoke joints out the wazoo, and a vibrant nightlife, for 10 days in October, it is also the home of the BIFF headquarters. It sees plenty of celebrity appearances, such as Jennifer Lawrence, who was in attendance to represent the movie Mother!. We may (or may not) have spent our days during the festival hoping to run into her.
The venues for the showings were a few different movie theatres, and you had to go on the spot to get your tickets. They also have night-time beach movie viewings that are free to the public.
Though we don’t normally go catch a movie while we are traveling, we made an exception for BIFF, ok we made 2 exceptions!
The first film we saw was called Mi Mundial, a Uruguayan movie about a kid wanting to make it big playing futbol (or soccer for us North Americans). It was a touching story based on a popular book by Daniel Baldi.
It is the story of Tito, a young boy prodigy who is pushed harder and harder as he grows up to pursue his families only chance at getting out of the hardships they endure. Titos’s family is poor, and they see from an early age that Tito is head and shoulders above the rest of the boys his age in football.
Without spoiling the plot of the movie, Tito endures some hardships himself, and questions his passion for the sport that captivates billions of people around the world.
Being from Canada, this movie easily could have been made about a little Sydney Crosby. It is a look into the pressure that comes with young boys or girls who give up their entire childhood in pursuit of achieving their dreams of becoming the best at their sport.
Far from a North American blockbuster movie, it hit close to the heart for both of us, and was one of the better movies we had seen in a long while. Carine may have shed a tear or two… not that that is anything new!
At the conclusion of the movie, the credits rolled to a classic Spanish song by the name of Los Caminos de la Vida, which perfectly summed up the film. Once the screen went to black, the movies director and producers, Carlos Andrés Morelli and Lucia Gaviglio Salkind took questions from the gallery for a good 45 minutes.
The next film we saw was called Equilibrio by Italian filmmaker Vincenzo Marra. The story of father Giuseppe, a priest from Rome. Tempted by a woman he is friends with, he moves from Rome to Campania, north west of Naples. His congregation is troubled by toxic waste, with many illnesses befalling them.
Father Giuseppe tries to get to the bottom of why all of this toxic waste is allowed to be dumped right in their backyard, only to find that the local mafia is responsible. The local organized crime family is allowed to run rampant due to a seeming absence of police or governmental presence in the area.
This movie was a little slow-paced, but between the acting, and the realism the entire film embodies, it was nonetheless a good watch. The portrayal of the mafia was not glorified the way it usually is in American films.
It was refreshing to see works that were put together by people we actually met, as opposed to big media companies, like most movies we watch are. It gives the films a truer feel. The lack of a big budget often leads to more emphasis being put on the writing and storytelling, which is a big plus in our books.
While it may not have been the Cannes Film Festival, BIFF was a unique experience for us on our trip and will be remembered fondly!
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Adding to our repertoire of experiences ranks very high up on our list of things to do in life. Carine has told me a million times that she wants to scuba dive. Since meeting the love of my life, there’s not many things that I’m not open to trying, but I must say scuba diving brought about a certain fear in me.
For one, I was deathly afraid of sharks. Even if I’d had no interactions with one (up until snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef a few months prior). This fear can be attributed to movies like Jaws, that sensationalize shark attacks. In reality, you are more likely to live to 100 years old or being hit by an asteroid, than you are of being attached by a shark.
The next reason that I was sort of afraid of scuba diving is because of the unknown of the ocean. It’s so vast, with so many creatures that are bigger than us, and that we are just not used to seeing.
I knew that both these fears were unfounded, so wanting to fulfill Carine’s wishes, I said let’s do it.
One of the reasons that Carine had always wanted to scuba dive was to see a whale shark! For those of you that don’t know, whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean. Also, their name is confusing, are they a whale or a shark? Well, they are definitely sharks. Add to that the fact that they are vegetarians (friendly giants as Carine likes to say) and it’s no wonder why she’s in love with them! They can measure up to 12 metres long, and weight up to 21.5 tons. Think about that for a minute.
She did a lot of research, and I mean a lot (did you know that she is the research queen?). So after looking into where the best place to get our scuba diving certification was, she found out that a little island off of the Eastern coast of Thailand, called Koh Tao, was renown as being one of the best places in the world.
Not only is Koh Tao a beautiful island that has plenty of marine biodiversity, but it is also one of the cheapest places in the world to get your open water certification. So she looked into which of the 100+ diving schools we should sign up with. Again, after much research, we decided to go with one of the best reviewed places on the island, Roctopus.
Another thing that Koh Tao is known for, is having whale sharks nearby. But these creatures are not known to be easy to spot. To give you an idea, there are instructors who have dived off Koh Tao over a thousand times who have not spotted one.
When looking for diving schools, there are a few things to look out for. Generally, Tripadvisor is a great resource to see what others have to say about a certain school.
A few things to look for are group sizes (do you want to dive with just your buddy and the instructor, or in a larger group?), costs, boat types (if you easily get sea sick then look for a bigger boat), and very important, how is their equipment?
If you are having trouble choosing between schools, I would recommend narrowing your list to 3-5 schools, visiting each one and checking out their vibe and gear. That is often the most important thing, for me at least.
Apart from the thousands of 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor, the communication with Roctopus before booking our course was excellent. They really weren’t pushy, even if we were ready to book with them online before we got there. They told us to just come to the dive shop when we get to the island, and if we were comfortable with what we saw, we could sign up then. Talk about confidence in their business!
So we booked our ferry tickets to Koh Tao from Phuket with the idea of staying for about 5 nights. Roctopus were also great in guiding us to choose which accommodations to book.
We got to Koh Tao and checked ourselves in pretty late at night, and first thing the next morning we were at Roctopus to see what the deal was. We were shown their facilities by one of their very friendly managers. He showed us the pool that we would be learning in, showed us all of the equipment that we would be using and how well it was cleaned and maintained (a very important aspect of choosing where to dive). It wasn’t long before we were officially signing up. We had the rest of the day to hype ourselves up, because the next day was going to be our first day of orientation.
So the big day arrived, and after a lazy morning, we strolled into Roctopus to meet our team. First we met John, a British chap who has been living in Koh Tao as a dive instructor for about 2 years. If you like direct, no-nonsense and a dry sense of humour, John is your guy! He is also pretty fun to hang around, but don’t tell him I said so!
Then we met the other two people who would be doing their certification with us, Carl and Ernst, two Swedish firefighters vacationing in Thailand for a few weeks.
The first afternoon was spent going over the practical side of diving. We were in a small classroom while John walked us through some of the course material we would need in order to pass the practical exam. A few hours of this and then it was to the bar with our team and John to get to know each other a little.
We really hit it off with John, Carl and Ernst, but more on that later. That night, John tells us that we would have some homework for the next day. I LOVE homework… Can you sense the sarcasm here? At least this time it is stuff that interests me, so it wasn’t so tedious.
The next morning we get back to the classroom and discuss our homework, pass some more tests, and then finally we get suited up for the pool.
John showed us everything from getting the wetsuit on, to putting together all the gear. Then we get into the water, and the first thing that he teaches us is how to breathe through the regulator (fancy/technical word for what you breathe through). This was the first thing that really made me realize how different scuba diving would be.
When you are diving, the way that you breathe is so different than what we are used to. Without getting into too many specifics, the main difference is how much you are trying to conserve your breath. The reason for this is to use less oxygen, so you can dive for a longer time. So the trick is to breath in little breaths, and breathe out for as long as you can. It’s quite unnatural at first.
It’s pretty freaky when you go under water for the first time and start breathing through the regulator. You stay below the surface of the water for so long, it was just the nuts, and we are only in the pool at this point!
We then go through some drills. How to retrieve your regulator if it comes out of your mouth, how to get water out of your mask (don’t you dare call them goggles, you will owe John a drink every time you do!), how to start getting your buoyancy under control.
Buoyancy, something I probably had never thought of before going scuba diving, is probably the biggest skill necessary, after learning how to breathe. In layman’s terms, controlling your buoyancy is being able to control the depth at which you are swimming. This is important for a few reasons, notably so that you don’t end up crashing into the coral, and also so that you don’t end up going deeper than you are supposed to.
So we get these skills done, and let me tell you we are starting to get really excited to go into the ocean! But, one step at a time. Class is over for the day, so back to the bar to take in the beautiful sunset, grab a drink with the group, and to talk about our day. John tells the 4 of us that we are progressing nicely, and that once again, we have homework to do…
The good news is, this was the last of our homework, and the next morning we meet for breakfast and go over any last minute questions we have before the practical exam. Well, all of this studying paid off because between us, we scored a 100% and a 98%, but I won’t say who scored which 😉
With the practical exam under our belts, it was now time to do what we came to do. Back at Roctopus, we load up the pick up truck with our gear, and we head out to the pier. A group of maybe 20 students, and 5 instructors jumped onto our boat and out we went into the great big blue.
While we headed out to our scuba spot, Carine and I are now freaking out that we are about to do this for real. Carine was actually more nervous than I was, and more nervous than I would have thought she would have been. This was all her idea after all!
We get to our dive spot, get our gear ready, finish up our BRAID pre-dive check, and here we go! We jump in and gather together at the surface for one last talk before we head in. Everyone ready, we grab the rope that anchors the boat, and we start our descent.
Maybe I never thought of how you descended before, maybe I thought you just swim downwards (if that even makes any sense), but let me tell you, that is not how you do it… To descend, you actually just exhale, a lot. As you exhale, your buoyancy decreases, and you start going deeper and deeper into the ocean.
After descending to about 10 meters, we just take a moment to take in what is happening. We are 10 metres, below the ocean, with a tank strapped to our backs, but at least we have each other to keep ourselves calm, and still feel like we are somewhat in control.
We had seen coral reefs before, while we were in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, but this was something else. The fish, wow, I mean there were schools of barracuda swimming within throwing distance of us. And I’m talking thousands, too many to count. What a scene.
A large part of our first and second dives on that day consisted of skills training, similar to what we had practiced in the pool. Taking your regulator out and fishing for your secondary one is a lot more nerve-wracking when you are out in the ocean though!
We did still get to just swim around in formation with our team and take in the beauty of the ocean around us.
And just like that, it was over. We do a quick safety stop, 5 metres from the surface, something the body needs in order to flush the extra nitrogen out of your body, and then we break the surface and just float around for a few minutes.
“Babe, what did you think? It was so cool”, Carine says. I agree. That was like no other experience I have ever had. The greatest part for me, I’ll get back to that!
So back to the boat, and back to the bar (notice that there is a reoccurring theme here). We debrief with John and our Swedes, and guess what, we are freaking great scuba divers! Well, at least as so far as you can say for two people that have been in the water for a combined 60 minutes at least, but it’s a good start!
Now I should go back a bit here. Koh Tao has a special dive site called Sail Rock. It’s special for a few reasons. For one, it is beautiful. Two, it is a trek to get there, you have to leave well before sunrise to get there before it starts getting packed with other dive schools. And three, this is where people see whale sharks…
So, when we were given the option to do dives 3 and 4 at Sail Rock (albeit at a cost) we jumped on the opportunity, because well… whale sharks! Hopefully.
On day 4 of our open water certification training, in the wee hours of the morning, maybe around 4AM, we set out from our hostel towards Roctopus. Man oh man, we are not morning people, we would much rather stay up until 4AM than get up at that time, but it was a little easier this time, given what we had in store for us that day.
So once again, we pack our gear into the pick up truck, get to the pier, and get on the boat. This time we are in for a good hour and a half before we get to sail rock. One of the perks though, was the beautiful sunrise we got to watch off the top of the boat while having our breakfast. So peaceful so beautiful. A perfect beginning to the day.
What was great about our second day in the ocean, was that our skills were mostly completed. Today, all we needed to do was to swim around and take in the beautiful corals and fish near Sail Rock.
I’m sure you have heard of coral bleaching, and what a big problem it is. We did see that while on the Great Barrier Reef. Luckily on our scuba diving experiences in Thailand, we did not see any bleaching, which was encouraging.
And the fish, oh man did we ever see a lot of fish, and so many different species. We saw: a huge school of trevelly, pick handle barracudas, parrot fish, angel fish, remora swimming around my leg like I was a shark, butterfly fish, banner fish, trigger fish, grouper, etc. Now, I didn’t know what any of there were before, but they sure were awesome!
After the first dive of the day we all had a nice lunch together on the boat. As a side note, it was the first time I ever had massaman curry. What was wrong with me, never having it before? So delicious!
At this point, there were a few people still in the water, just snorkeling, while the majority of us where chilling on the boat, waiting for our last dive.
WHALE SHARK!!!!! Everyone grab a mask and jump in the water!
You don’t have to tell me twice!
We grab a mask, and jump overboard. We look under the water, and there it is. A baby whale shark, maybe 3 metres in length, was swimming away from us.
But we knew better than to dispair that we missed our chance. John had told us that whale sharks usually swim in figure 8 patterns, meaning if they are swimming away, they will most likely double back. And this time was no different.
I saw it turn around, and this time it was coming straight at me! I am a big guy, almost 2 metres tall, but this creature, it was just so big, so powerful looking, but also so serene and calm. At no point was I ever nervous, I was seriously just so thrilled that I was seeing a whale shark, because how many people can say that they have?
After this whole ordeal, we still had our fourth dive to complete. It was probably the “easiest” of our 4 dives, in the sense that we both felt very comfortable, performed the skills we needed to flawlessly, and were just great underwater buddies.
That’s another cool thing about scuba diving – you always dive with a buddy. So Carine is now not only my best friend, my wife, and my tag team partner, but she’s now my scuba diving buddy too! We worked great together! Communicating underwater is also something I hadn’t given much thought to before doing it. It is a lot of sign language, most of it taught to us before hand, but sometimes made up on the spur of the moment, and often hilarious! I wish I could show you how I tried to signal her that I saw a parrot fish… hilarious.
Our last dive over, it was with great pleasure that John announced to us that were now certified open water divers! It was hard work, a lot of studying and understanding new concepts, performing tasks that 72 hours earlier were foreign to us, but we did it. And with distinction too if I may add. John told us (and he swears he doesn’t say this to everyone), that we (along with our friends Ernst and Carl) were the best team he had dived with in a long time.
What was the best thing about scuba diving? For me, it was the sense that nothing else matters at that moment, other than breathing, checking your air supply and depth, checking for your buddy (these are the 3 things you have to do every 10 seconds) and of course take in the beauty of the ocean. I have never felt so disconnected from any problems I might have, or stresses nagging at me at that moment. All that matters underwater is that you are scuba diving.
As for our team of John, Carl and Ernst, we couldn’t have had a better time with anyone else! Laughs, buckets, great times underwater and above it, we will never forget the wanker from the UK and our two cute Swedes – friends for life!
Our next stop is going to be the Philippines, which is exciting because we have been waiting to go diving again. And from what we hear, it’s one of the best places to go diving.
Until our next underwater adventures!
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I remember being very young and thinking to myself, I should be allowed to drive. It looks so easy and like so much fun! As I was growing up, my dad used to let me steer from the passenger seat, even if my mom wasn’t thrilled at the prospect.
Later, I was upgraded from “steerer” to “shifter” in our old ’91 Hyundai Sonata! That was a thrill, and surprisingly when I would shift into 2nd instead of 4th my dad wouldn’t get too upset with me.
Then, when I did my driving courses, my instructor would always tell me “slow down“… “ya ya, when I take the exam, I’ll slow down“, I’d tell him. I passed my exam, easy-peasy, and bought myself a run down ’90 Chrysler LeBaron. I was one of the first of my friends to get a car. I was always the chauffeur, and I loved it.
I’ve always felt comfortable driving, and I would say I am a great driver. Hopefully most people who have been in my car would agree! So when we first got to Australia, and the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road presented itself, I wasn’t fazed at all!
Since our trip to Australia went from Cairns to Airlie Beach, and then to Brisbane, renting a car wasn’t really necessary. Most of these places were easy to get around in by foot or public transportation.
Then, we got to the Sunshine Coast, more specifically to Buderim. At first we took a bus to go into town and to the beaches of Maloolooba and Marouchydore. But after a few days, we decided there was more to see, so we finally rented a car!
Coincidentally, it ended up being the same car we sold before leaving on this amazing trip, a Nissan Pulsar (the Australian version of the Versa).
I think a lot of people assume driving on the other side of the road is difficult because they think you’ll end up driving on the wrong side. But that only happened to me once, or maybe twice, but the real difficulty is simply staying in your lane!
Mistakenly driving on the wrong side can happen (usually when you’re on a small dirt road, or in a parking lot), but staying on the correct side is a lot easier than you would think, as you just follow traffic. There are usually medians too, so physically getting onto the wrong side is harder than you would think.
Staying in your lane though… that did take some getting used to. I was always taught that when you are driving, you should hug the left side of your lane. They say to do this because you are more likely to get hit from your right side than you are from your left side (when driving on the right side of the road). So that was the hardest impulse to break. For the first day or two, Carine would keep getting nervous and telling me “stay in your lane!”
Being such a great driver, I would get so mad at myself. Since you’re driving on the left, you now need to hug the right side of the lane. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting half in your lane, and half in the lane to your left.
But after two days or so, I got the hang of it. After a week, it no longer even felt like I was driving on the ‘wrong’ side anymore.
I drove a bit in the Sunshine Coast, and then did the Great Ocean road, from Melbourne to Portland and back (about 1,000kms) in a Wicked mini camper 2 sleeper.
The next difficulty is where to look when you are crossing through an intersection. Usually, you look left first expecting cars going from left to right. But now the cars are coming from your right, so if you look the wrong way you could be in for a terrible surprise! This did happen to me once while driving through New Zealand, and it was definitely the most terrifying ‘driving on the left’ experience we had, but we are still alive, again, thanks to my great driving skills! Sarcasm? Meh, you decide!
But the most exciting ‘driving on the left’ that I’ve done is, without doubt, the 4,500+ kms I did through New Zealand. It was conquered with the help of 2 different camper vans and a trusty Nissan Pulsar for a few days. We cruised through the South Island of New Zealand in a Spaceship Beta 2S and then drove a 4-berth motor-home we relocated for Imoova (a relocation service for campervans in New Zealand).
So ask me, “Derek, should I drive in a country that drives on the opposite side that I am used to?”
The answer is easy! Are you a good driver? Yes? Go for it!
No??? I think you answered your own question. Do us all a favour, and take the bus!
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