So drained yet still positive. Need more.
Those are the only real thoughts taken down during the madness from the weekend at Korea Burn. It wasn’t necessarily chaotic but Korea Burn left a mark on me, albeit an unexpected one. So many great times with locals here have come and gone that I’d almost forgotten the other foreigners who actually inhabit this small slice of South Korea. Yes, there are those friends close and dear with whom some memorable stories have originated.
One, in particular, had been asking us to come along for a weekend with another 1,000 of our fellow foreigners at an island located along the country’s west coast. Eventually and at the last-minute, we say “yes.” I’ve been quite negative towards foreigner groups throughout my time here but honestly, I think the problem is with me above all. It’s difficult to overcome a level of pride that might force one to avoid social situations with others. I know because that’s me. Those thoughts run through my head as we scramble to prepare for the weekend out in nowhere land.
Many people know Burning Man as a huge festival in Nevada that draws thousands of people for a week-long celebration to promote “unconditional acceptance.” The concept is the same at the Korean incarnation yet much smaller in scale, thanks to a comparably sparse sample size of foreigners living here. Korea Burn is about US having some time at “home” while living in this completely foreign country. The only catch other than the admission fee is the all-encompassing 10 Principles. Above all, “Radical Inclusion” stands out and remains etch a sketched on my mind throughout the weekend.
This is a strange place for outsiders and negative feelings can easily spew out among certain groups. Among talks of books, music, experiences, and future travel plans filling the airwaves was the feeling of personal space. We can talk to anyone because there are no limits here. It’s not just the greeters at the front gate who are setting that tone because no matter which direction I walk, feelings of “home” envelope the atmosphere.Though I venture around quite a bit during the festival, my memories go back to two places: our tent camp and the theme camp including our friend as a participating DJ.
The first night is brief thanks to the long drive but great because we were all set for an amazing next day. On the following day, more of the same. A DJ leaves his music on to wake us up early in the morning but honestly, sleep can wait. It’s time to get started. Silliness fills each day and examples include long waits for a piece of free bacon and delicious french toast followed by multiple cups of cold earl grey. Friends paint each other’s faces and blow bubbles all over the place. Fake tattoos find their way on shoulders and bellies. “What’s the point of being serious out here?” I think and really start to embrace that thought. I feel 23 again and am loving it!
After a lengthy day of substituting dips in the water for a shower and walks around the camp to snap photos, we’re scoping out everything that we couldn’t see the night before. Eventually it’s time to eat and since there’s little time to prepare something creative to offer people, we decide that our contribution would be food. Judging from the random people who hang around and enjoy the various food cooked by us and other nearby friends, it goes over well. It’s okay for people to eat the food we offer because somewhere along the way, they’re doing the same for someone else. We should embrace this in our daily lives but instead, we’re always looking for the how’s this going to benefit me scenario. Shouldn’t we just accept that somewhere along the way, we’ll receive similar acts of kindness?
That righteous meal is followed by the sun’s descent, which means that the main event is coming. The prospect of torched wooden human effigies gets just about everyone’s blood pumping, not just this pyro writing to you. Lots of song and dance start off the celebrations, as a drum line and fire throwers lift everyone’s spirits in anticipation. And then to take me back to campfire-filled West Virginia nights, the flames came and take hold of everyone’s attention for at least an hour. Of course, the obvious action is to stare at its awesome power and why not? Fire is a fun thing to watch when serving a purpose like this. It can draw in even the least curious of people.
We all stare at the fire for as long as I can remember and for the rest of the night, the music takes over. Our friend’s theme camp contributes a limitless supply of tunes and its own fire to help ward off the insurmountable mosquito army. The night is mostly a success if not for a pesky reminder that we are still in Korea. Some guests at the nearby hotels decide to complain about the noise and call the cops, leading to music volume getting turned down. The pessimistic side of me thinks that nothing would be said if the music were blasting something they knew. We awake the next morning to a rain that signals not just the start of Korea’s short monsoon season but also the end of our time at this beach in the middle of nowhere. It’s a fitting end to a magnificent weekend. Along with the mosquito bites are the memories of laughter, friends, music, and fire.
At the time of writing, I’m sitting here and staring at my notebook and the Korean Burn Survival Guide handed to me upon entry wondering if I can have more. Can I go back now? These thoughts are dominating my mind these days. I’m thinking back to Korea Burn and considering going back at this exact moment. I mean, what if we just drove there now? Will I find the same scenes as that weekend? Or will it be some moment akin to those scenes in movies where someone goes back to a spot crowded with people the night before only to find emptiness? Most likely, it will be a quiet beach where families are searching for their own memories. Will they realize there were also memories made at the same spot only a week prior? Most likely not, but that’s okay. They are free to make their own, just as we were.
“Welcome Home.” I say.
This travel guide is part of our series on South Korea Travel and East Asia Travel. It was originally created on July 11, 2014. It has been maintained and updated (as of December 28, 2018) to reflect current viewpoints and travel trends.