GIJIPO BEACH, South Korea – A while back, someone invited me to some weird event on Facebook. Since I am a lousy Facebook friend, I let the request sit on my page giving it little attention or concern. But instead of lesson planning one day, I decided to “like” the Korea Burn 2012 page, an event billing itself as “a festival to celebrate the love of people for people, the art of the human mind, and the creativity of display.”
I immediately decided I was going. The problem was, I didn’t really know what I was going to. (And yes, I read the event description.)
I did, however, know that I got around a million notifications from that page per day that were filled with excitement, countdowns, and advice on travel arrangements. This excitement was contagious, but I still didn’t know what I was excited for. I asked around to a few friends, but they too didn’t know what it was all about.
All anyone seeme d to know was that we needed to bring our own tents and food for the weekend; there would be nothing available to buy, we needed to bring something, a “gift”, to share with the community; we had to “leave no trace” when we left; and, on the last nig ht, there would be a huge fire where an equally huge wooden man would be burned.
As I dove further in to what Korea Burn exactly would be, I learned about the original “Burning Man” that has been held every year since 1986 in Black Rock Desert , Nevada in the US. This Burning Man is a week long, and has upwards of 50,000 people in attendance. Then I watched the video “Oh The Places You’ll Go at Burning Man” on YouTube and became even more confused, excited, bewildered and inspired. (If you want to witness the true spirit of the burn, watch it.)
Still not knowing exactly what I was getting myself in to, I packed up my food, water, tent, and my “gift” of glow bracelets and got on the bus bright an early on my precious Saturday morning. We were heading five hours northwest, to Gijipo Beach in Anmyeon, just northwest of the famed Boryeong Mud Festival. After driving forever, in a daze, we got out of the bus and instantly stepped into another world.
We were greeted by a vast array of different characters, including a girl in a sheer dress blowing bubbles and shouting, “Welcome to Korea Burn!” Nearby, a man in a strange hat repeatedly banged a gong. A group from Pohang wore unicorn horns tied to their heads, while a few Korean girls raised up a sign: “Welcome Home”.
Folks in all shapes, sizes and colors walked around in various stages of undress. A nearby forest in the background stood dotted with a rainbow of different tents and shelters. An immaculate ocean beckoned in the distance, but in the foreground, we were swimming in a sea of backpack-sporting waygooks that would put a winter holiday in Phuket to shame.
We navigated through crowds and headed into the forest to make camp, passing dozens of painted, laughing faces. Acoustic music serenaded us from somewhere in the background. The air was fresh and the weekend was new, and we noticed someone walking slowly upon a tightrope stretched between two trees. A 40-something-year-old woman paraded around, proudly shirtless, juxtaposed by a Korean family innocently camping with their children.
The camp was alive, and busy preparing their two most important things for the weekend: booze and body paint. There was never a shortage of either. A great vibe buzzed around the festival. There was no such thing as a stranger. No one questioned your motives for giving; no one scoffed at your “weirdness”. The dress was casual or optional. No one judged anyone—everyone was just there to have a great time and enjoy life as a human being on Earth. At one point a girl approached me and asked if she could paint blue dots all over me. “Yes!” No questions asked.
All events at Korea Burn were made by the people and for the people. At the special theme camps you could, in no particular order, get your body painted, trade bacon for poetry, cuddle with strangers, tie-dye shirts, craft friendship bracelets, learn to juggle, listen to storytellers, drink strange combinations of liquor and vitamin supplements, hula hoop or discover belly dancing. It was such a full, all-encompassing experience that it would be a gross understatement to say that “there was something for everyone.”
At night, the festival really burst alive. The beach was alight with glow sticks, sparklers and fire, as two giant wooden men were erected as centerpieces. Fire dancers twirled flames in what was reminiscent of pagan ritual. Drums were beating. Then, the wooden men were lit on fire; even this huge spectacle of flame had no concrete meaning. It is open for interpretation. It is whatever you need it to be. We experienced it deeply. We savored it. And everyone danced and music played until the wee hours.
Korea Burn has no definition. Don’t look for one. You experience it. You define it. We define it. It is truly the ultimate do-it-yourself festival. No prerequisites, no experience necessary.
You can check out Brent's blog, Kimchibytes, here.
More Korea Burn 2012 Photos
by Brent Sheffield