Special thanks to Michael O’Dwyer for his photography contributions. Please click here to view the rest of his photos from Korea Burn.
For previous accounts of Korea Burn, please click the below links.
Korea Burn 2014
Korea Burn 2014 was a success. Forget the controversy of eighty dollars. Everyone who attended the event would tell you it was one of their best experiences and memories in Korea. People who complained about the cost have simply never attended a Burn; are devoid of personality; or have little to no idea regarding the amount of organization, planning, art grants, time, costs, and construction put into this event. To the foreigners who raised their noses to the event – you missed out.
I traveled to Korea Burn via a Wink bus where I tried to share a little bit about what I knew of Burn with the attendees. After the urination demons were properly exorcized through numerous pit stops, we had a nice little warm-up party on the bus.
When we arrived, the organization and construction of the event surpassed my expectations. Greeters worked non-stop to help check everyone in. Each attendee was provided with a map, booklet, and a verbal orientation about Korea Burn. The staff continued to work very hard throughout the weekend informing Burners of upcoming events, troubleshooting individual problems, finding a lost Dachshund, and ensuring a positive atmosphere. Several members of the Korea Burn staff have poured their heart, sweat, tears and blood into this event for over a year. Their efforts were not in vain – it was a job well done.
The camp itself looked phenomenal. Over the trees and near the ocean I could see a moonlit temple and towering effigy on the horizon. The Audio Avenger camp beamed streams of light into the night sky. I could hear sounds of music, laughter, and the unmistakable greetings of old acquaintances. The energy was electric and I could sense the anticipation. Best of all, the weather was relatively clear all weekend, which was a blessing considering the monsoon that almost ruined Korea Burn in 2013.
The community improved this year. Camps were better organized and provided more interactive experiences for Burners. Whether the camps had photo booths, body painting, fed burners, or provided interactive games; nearly every corner turned represented an opportunity to build community or share in a fun experience. I watched an amazing hip-hop show put on by Blessing and Ryan. I fed on a never-ending supply of bacon from the Random Acts of Bacon Tent and I thoroughly enjoyed climbing the structures in the Bucaneers n Buried Gold Camp. I witnessed a dodgeball tournament, sumo wrestling, and a game of corn hole (bean bag toss). I also napped in the transcendent Jelly Fish Dome and avoided breaking my ankles on the in-ground trampolines. There were so many events, classes, and camps this year that I did not get to see or experience everything.
I received several cool gifts from people that were creative, thoughtful, and took time to construct. The gifts were so amazing that I gave some of them to my co-teacher and assistant who I love dearly. They thought the gifts (hand-crafted necklaces) might have been a little expensive, but the gifts provided me an opportunity to share Korea Burn with them. My favorite gift was Wheeler’s fire ring given to me by Captain Planet himself. He was needed several times to help attendees remember to leave no trace.
When evening approached, the Burning of the Man and the fire spinners were breathtaking. Hundreds of people cheered as a huge effigy representing Burning Man and the four elements burned to the ground. Saturday night included more dancing at either the Audio Avengers Camp or the Sounds of Fire and Ice camp. Burners either jumped rope with flaming ropes or lost their inhibitions to the ocean. Burners danced, conversed, shared and enjoyed each other’s company well into the daylight.
I left Sunday, but words fail to capture Korea Burn. The events, gifts, constructs, activities, classes and food were merely catalysts for something greater. The true nature of Korea burn lies within the inexplicable bonds people form with each other, the inspiration drawn from letting go, and the sense of fullness that only true community can bring.
For me, the best part of Korea Burn was Rooted Camp. They spent countless hours and many sleepless nights preparing their camp. To raise funds for their camp, they sold jello shots in Hongdae Park. Their energy at the fundraiser inspired me to return to Korea Burn.
I was lucky that I got to spend so much time in their camp. Although they never attended a Burn event, they kept an immaculate site, held Yoga Classes, and focused on building community. They provided Burners with boards to write messages. They used a Polaroid camera to capture the messages and attached them to their art tree. Their hospitable camp encouraged conversation, community building, and the opportunity for people to share their individuality and ideas. Their camp was not about partying, but building a sense of community and connection with each other. Their dedication to Korea Burn and the experiences they helped to create restored my faith in the future of Korea Burn.
I want to personally thank them for reminding me about the importance of community and helping me to see so much light in the world during a relatively darker time in my life. I wasn’t mentally in a great place during Korea Burn, but their inspiration will leave a noticeable mark on both my photography and writing in the future.
Leaving a Legacy for the Future of Korea Burn
This is likely my last Korea Burn so I want to leave a few thoughts for future Burners. I sincerely hope that what follows in the next few paragraphs will help inspire future Burners to not just show up, but to understand that the most rewarding experiences of Burning Man come from contributing to the community.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What was the last thing that changed your life?” Was it a person, a book, an event, or simply a revelation? Maybe it was a well-deserved scolding from your mom, a friend who wasn’t afraid to tell you the truth, heartbreak, or a close encounter with death.
I can easily count life-changing events on one hand; they are rare and difficult to duplicate. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that time and the monotony of life slowly erode life-changing experiences. What was once crystal clear and supported by the type of conviction that justified being alive, slowly decays into nothing greater than the excitement one might share for a new episode of Game of Thrones. Real change doesn’t just heighten emotions for a season – it changes how you live your life from day-to-day.
Many people have struggled to define Burning Man. You’ll often hear, “You have to experience it to understand it,” or that “It can’t be described with words.” These are the same words I’ve used to express my conversion to Christianity when I was 17. I know many who attended Korea Burn will read the above sentence and puke all over their mosquito bites, but bear with me. Change isn’t mental; it’s often a gut feeling that is so powerful it melts doubt and skepticism into hope, awareness and adrenaline.
Sure, I’m aware of the valid criticisms towards my faith and I still harbor many doubts. But, the experience, the warmth, the connection, and the overwhelming love I felt changed me. Like my conversion, people at Burning Man are often marked by change. They label themselves as Burners and in a sense evangelize so others can share in their rich experiences. They become a community and many Burners are inspired to radically change their lives. Perhaps the decisions these Burners make after experiencing Burning Man are also ridiculed, questioned or doubted. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter. The most important decisions in life are often not determined by logic. Whom we love, our career choices, and our desires to chase dreams against all odds often defy logic. We can pretend all we want, but at the end of the day we often choose to follow the desires of our hearts instead of the barriers we erect in our minds.
I have no right to describe or attempt to define Burning Man – I have never been to the real thing. However, I do believe Burning Man is simply a metaphor for life change – radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, and radical community (communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, leave no trace and participation). Why have these principles? I think because they lead to the 10th principal of Immediacy.
Immediate experience is what is constantly sought after. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience. Be here. Be now!
Do you see it now? Burning Man is not just a good party. Burning Man is the creation of an environment that strips away mental, physical, and spiritual barriers. It’s an environment that helps free people from their past. Fear of community and fear of others is stripped away and replaced by a community that only desires for you to explore your own mind and be true to yourself – and it changes and inspires lives.
Why else would a Korean come back to Korea and try to recreate what he felt and experienced at Burning Man in Nevada? Why else would volunteers work selflessly throughout the year for a five day event and stay into the wee hours of a Tuesday morning cleaning trash to preserve Burning Man’s principle to leave no trace. Why else would a band of beautiful girls get together and spend sleepless nights to create a tree that builds community, inspires dreams and represents messages of hope.
Burning Man is fun, it’s a great party, and people give beautiful gifts and create inspiring structures. I’m fully convinced, however, that at the root of Burning Man there is a community of changed lives that helped change each other. This is why no matter what Burn you attend in any part of the world people greet you the same, “Welcome Home.”
To future Burners, I challenge you. Bring at least one Korean friend. Don’t just arrive, but ask yourself what can you do to contribute to the community? Can you set up games? Can you teach a skill? Can you cook? Can you create art? Can you photograph and blog? Can you serve and assist others? What you contribute is only limited by your heart and imagination. Finally, you must leave no trace. As soon as you have trash at Korea Burn store it away. Do not throw cigarette butts on the ground! Be perfect in this regard, for it is perhaps the one thing Burners around the world along with local communities will judge you by.
I wanted to thank everyone who works tirelessly throughout the year to put on this event. You’ve given so much to all of us in Korea and I hope you find true satisfaction within your giving. You’ve inspired me and you inspired so many others to live fuller, more meaningful lives. Thank you. I hope to one day finally come home.