Korea Burn 2013 was a disappointment this year. With that said, it was still my favorite event of this year. The problem for me was that 2012’s version of Korea Burn set the standards ridiculously high. After experiencing such a wonderful event last year, I was foolish enough to think last year was the norm and the event would only improve with each additional year. I was wrong. Unless bloggers in Korea and the expat community can do a better job of educating people about Burn Korea, the event will have more to worry about than meteorological disasters.
Let me be clear – I take responsibility for this failure. I don’t know if it would have helped, but I should have written a pre-event post explaining the history and nature of Burning Man and Korea Burn. I felt like people already understood Korea Burn after last year, but I forgot that I live in Korea and over half of the people who showed me the way last year are no longer here.
Burning Man is not a show. It’s not a rock concert. It’s not a music festival. Korea Burn is a community event. If Korea Burn is a success or a failure, it is a shared responsibility of the community – not the organizers. If you disagree, you really have no concept of Burning Man. I don’t think the failures of this year reflect the organizers of the event – they worked their asses off. The failures reflect the community.
I saw two huge problems with Korea Burn this year. First, there was no education on Burning Man. Last year, when burners got off the bus, someone actually stopped and explained to them the meaning of the event. Before the event, numerous posts about the meaning of Burning Man were being spread online. People did not hear the phrase “leave no trace” for the first time on the Sunday morning of the event while cleaning their campgrounds.
Burning Man is hard to describe, but at least the attempts from last year provided some credence towards the event being something more than an excuse to do drugs or have sex. That same inspiration and education for Korea Burn was lacking this year: the camps were not as good last year, there were less costumes, and there were less events and classes. Instead, two girls on ecstasy licked my face because my beard felt good on their tongues. It wasn’t the worst experience of my life, but it felt empty compared to last year. Where were the yoga classes on the beach, the numerous dancing parties, the dance classes, the individuals handing out home-made items and the stories of how creativity and self-expression helped people overcome personal tragedy? Last year was inspiring – this year was a good party.
The second problem was the party was located on Wayguk Beach. Once again, we failed as a community to reach out to Koreans to make them feel comfortable and come to the event. I know in some ways this is very difficult. Burning Man is an event that originated from an English speaking country and the event revolves around individuality. Korea Burn happens in a country where Koreans feel embarrassed if their English is not perfect. Additionally, Korean culture is one of the most collective and group oriented cultures in the world.
Yet, it’s not uncommon for Korean college students to go camping together and spend nights bonding over ramen and alcohol – lots of alcohol. In Korea, this is known as MT or membership training. Forming bonds between people is very serious in Korea and Burning Man is not alien to this concept or to alcohol. We need to get on universities and collegiate groups involved. I believe there is a desire for Koreans to bond and share their culture with foreigners. I personally see Korea Burn as a great way to make this happen. If Korea Burn never expands outside of the expat community, we really have no right to call it Korea Burn.
Apart from these two major problems, there were many commendable things about Korean Burn this year. First, people who showed up on Friday were assaulted with torrential downpour. I lost a photographer for the event because he woke up with college books and photography equipment ruined from flooding inside of his tent. Let me assure you, this is a former military guy and he knows how and where to pitch a tent. Had my equipment and bags been inundated with water, I would have also left like some people did – and no one blames them. The people who stayed, however, are a true testament to the power and commitment to Korea Burn. They were awarded with two days of great weather and despite my advanced criticism – a successful event.
We had some fantastic artist and contributors this year who enhanced the event. I would like to share their work. I know Burning Man is not about consumerism, but things constructed for Burning Man events cost money. It’s important to respect individuals and groups who pay with time and their own money to make a better experience for everyone.
The clean-up was pretty good this year. One of the concepts from Burning Man is to “leave no trace.” This is followed with religious tenacity during Burning Man in Nevada. It’s also the right thing to do. If we all leave no trace of ourselves, we save a ton of work for other people, do right by the environment, and also create positive image for Burning Man in Korea. Btw, image is kind of important and if Korea Burn continues to be successful the event needs a good reputation or we will not have a good area willing to host the event. The coordinators told me the clean up was good compared to other festivals, but it needs to be perfect. This is still unacceptable.
Finally, here are my favorite pictures from my camera for the event. I still believe in Korea Burn and I had a wonderful time. I know I criticized the event, but it’s only because my love and expectations for Korea Burn are incredibly high.
To see the rest of the pictures from Korea Burn 2013 and the WinK photobooth please click here. I will be uploading the rest of the pictures throughout this week.
Also, feel free to check out coverage from last year’s Burn Korea.
The Digital Journal – An account of the weather conditions on Korean Burn 2013.