Archive Page 2

Time Traveling

Since most of my time in China was reserved for the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, I knew I wanted to get a slice of rural life. So I picked the small village of Hongcun to visit that is well preserved and, well, lost in time. Of course its idyllic setting made it a favorite of art students who were here in droves painting the scenery.

I stayed in a home, a traditional courtyard home, that also serves as a tea house for the visiting art students. This guy’s house was listed in my Lonely Planet guide, but he only discovered that when I showed him the book. He doesn’t seem to get too many westerners. This was my view from the courtyard balcony.

One thing I noticed is what looked like whole legs of pork hanging from people’s homes, or maybe they were butchers. Just sitting there hanging outside…I think I will stick to tofu.

The art students gave the village a youthful vibrant vibe.

But it didn’t really detract from the authenticity of the village life.

I found what seemed to be the tallest structure in the village, a very old viewing tower within one of the old stately homes, from which I could see the rooftops of the village.

The village is surrounded by a small lake with a picturesque bridge.

And on the other side, a small river where kids would play with the bamboo rafts.

Which were just there for public use it seemed.

But, not being content to just see the village that everyone was drawn to, I decided to take a walk outside into the surrounding countryside, where I could walk among the rice paddies.

And see first hand fields being tilled using water buffalo, and a way of life that has not yet completely disappeared from China.

And then the next day I got on a bus and arrived here, Shanghai, the future is waiting…

Huang Shan – Islands In The Sky

No this is not a scene out of Avatar, and no I did not die and go to heaven. This is Huang Shan, the fabled mountain of Chinese artists and poets. A truly incredible place.

It’s really not a mountain with one defined peak, but rather a multitude of granite peaks and deep gorges with vegetation clinging to what seems like sheer rock. I always thought those images one sees on Chinese scroll paintings were fantastical imaginings, but I assure you they are real landscapes.

I was fortunate to get up the mountain the day I arrived, after an overnight train ride from Beijing, and a four hour bus to the town at the base of the mountain. I got up there just before sunset.

Accommodation at the top was pricey, but worth it. Having left my full pack at a place in the base town, my goal the next day was simply to walk myself down amongst the misty peaks via the Western Steps. It was truly an otherworldly landscape, accentuated by the ever changing mist and clouds.

At one moment something is exposed.

And the next it is partially or completely hidden.

The “trails” were really a series of steps of stone between peaks with much up and down climbing. I found myself on this harrowing series of steps going down deep into a gorge, with the steps built from stone completely protruding from the sheer vertical granite mountainsides, and very short railings.

At some point I started to wonder if this could really be the common way down. Then I came across this.

This is where my sense of safety kicked in and I decided I was not going down that! I soon found out I was on a different trail that was not for the faint of heart, not that I ever considered myself faint of heart. So I had to do a considerable amount of climbing to get back to where I made my wrong turn, I wasn‘t at the Western Steps but the Western Gorge Trail. All the way down, and all the way back up, but it was worth it!

But I can’t really complain, not after seeing this guy.

Up near the top there are all these locks on the railings left by young couples over the years to show their commitment to each other, along with the ever present posing for pictures.

It’s too bad I do not have my lovely lady with me to share all of this, but if I did, we surely would have put one of these up there.

Beijing – Yesterday and Today

Although this is one big sprawling city of 16 million (all of New York State has but 17 million) it has felt like three distinct cities. The oldest is the huge forbidden city at the center. This is the ancient imperial “city” where the dynastic rulers would rarely venture from.

This is a huge complex of walls, huge ceremonial gates, and at the core, the heart of the imperial court, where the rulers and their minions would reside.

Nothing but the best for China royalty.

As you can imagine, the place is overrun with tourists, the majority of them Chinese. Oh, and did I mention it’s quite dusty here, and windy.

This guy puts John Lennon to shame.

And just outside the ancient fortress, the army folks were doing drills. The police and soldiers were everywhere in and around the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

Another aspect of old Beijing is the Great Wall, which snakes over the northern fringes of the municipality one to four hours drive out of town. Unfortunately, all this work apparently went for naught, as the wall was never an effective barrier to the Mongols and such, let alone Coke and McDonalds.

I hiked a four hour stretch between Jinshanling and Simnatai. When you get far enough away from the end points the mass of tourists thin out, as there is quite a bit of climbing up and down involved. But there are always local vendors trying to sell water, trinkets and even beer.

The views from the various watch towers were great.

Back in town, the second part of Beijing I noticed was the Hutong, the old alleyway neighborhoods of courtyard homes and small shops.

Everywhere, the bikes were ubiquitous. And the sense of a grey dustiness was unavoidable.

These neighborhoods seemed frozen in time, but yet were very active with life. Here a group of men watch a Chinese Chess game.

As the city continues to develop and modernize, these old neighborhoods are being bulldozed over, and although some have been deemed historic and will be preserved, many more will succumb to the future that is modern China.

Which of course is the third side of the city one can’t help to notice.

Things are being done here on a scale and at a pace like nowhere else in the world. Here is the innovative CCTV building.

Top name architects from around the world are being brought in to design cutting edge buildings that become instant landmarks. Here the National Theater of Performing Arts, which is surrounded by water, has a glass ceilinged entry way that leads into the structure.

And then I just happened upon this place, called appropriately “The Place”. A block long rooftop video screen, perched three or more stories up on pillars and lined by high end shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Oh yea, the Olympics were here as well. The swimming was done here in the “Water Cube.”

And of course, across the street, the landmark “Birds Nest” National Stadium.

Ok, now it’s time for a break from the city as I head south for the mountains around Huang Shan. But before I go, what do you think?  How would Gretchen look in this?

The Great Leap Forward

After 48 hours of flying, and 6 hours of sleep, I woke up and took a great leap out of bed and found myself here.

My hostel is in a what is called a Hutong. They are the modest dusty neighborhoods of old Beijing, and they are disappearing fast to the rapid development that is turning old Beijing into a new powerhouse city of Asia.

But the dusty ghosts of the past live on, for now.

But who comes to Beijing to see old dusty neighborhoods? Probably not these folks.

No, they come here to see the imperial history and to see this guy.

One can not get into the Forbidden City of the old Chinese dynasties without passing under Chairman Mao. But apparently the watchful eyes of Mao aren’t enough, as there are police or army everywhere it seems. But they are still short on Fashion Police.

That is certainly around Tiananmen Square. Synonymous in the West with the brutal crackdown on a peaceful pro democracy protest in 1989, it is always under the watchful eye of the government. You must go through security just to get there.

And of course they seem to like rules here, including No FaceBook, No Twitter, and no WordPress, etc. Well this American says no way, and that’s why you’re hopefully reading this now. But the government can’t seem to stop people from superstitiously putting their money in water fountains.

And this long day comes to a close.

But not before a trip to the night market…

Are those skewered starfish? Surely those are not scorpions? OMG, they are. And think of the lucky one who gets to eat one of those delicious tarantulas. No, I did not try one, and no I won’t.

48 Hours And A Wall To Climb

Well I am here in China! Unfortunately the WordPress site is blocked by big brother here (along with Facebook – what are they afraid the people will find out about some of my friend’s latest trip to the bathroom?).

So I am having to climb the great firewall to do this post, so there will be fewer pictures and I can’t control the formatting for the time being.

As you can (hopefully) see I spent quite a lot of time on airplanes just to get here the cheap way.

The shore of Lake Erie near Detroit

Sunrise over the South Pacific as we approach Australia

Finally arriving in Sydney (Oh wait-I'm only halfway there!)

So six airports and 48 hours later I arrived seeming like a zombie. No I was a zombie.

I am all better now.

Time to explore Beijing.

Home is Where the Heart is

And it’s harder to leave a home when it’s not empty. And since my sweet fiancée Gretchen moved in a couple months back, my home has become our home, and it has grown brighter, warmer, and cozier – and harder to leave. This is definitely where my heart resides!

But it is time to once again to venture from the loving nest and explore the world, camera in hand.

Actually this all started with Gretchen getting the honor of being invited to Brisbane, Australia to speak and teach at a conference there. Of course I knew I had to go along. And hey, with China just 10 hours north of there, why not go there as well? And then there is New Zealand laying out there nearby in the ocean…

So a one week conference has turned into a 6 week trip for me (China, Australia, New Zealand), and a three week trip for Gretchen in Australia.

First stop for me, Beijing. Too keep costs down, I had to do it the hard way. So on May 6th I leave for Beijing connecting via Detroit (2 hours), Los Angeles (4 hours), Sydney (15 Hours), Guangzhou (8 hours) and finally Beijing (2 hours). You do the math. Oh yea, and 8 hours of layovers…

This will be the worst stretch of flying in my experience, it better be worth it.

So as long as the Great Firewall of China does not impede my ability to post (I understand they block this site there – but I have a plan) look for updates soon from the Middle Kingdom or maybe even the floor of an airport somewhere.

And Queen Bee, I will see you in Australia!

I miss you already.

From Down Home to Beijing – Obama Gives NC Made Go Board to Chinese President Hu

Our local master go player and master carpenter, Frank Salantire, was tapped by the Obama administration to make a go board from special Hawaiian koa wood, which was presented to President Hu of China this week.

This all was done in less than a week. Frank was asked to do this because the president of the American Go Association remembered what a fine job he did making a unique go board in the shape of North Carolina for our 2006 Go congress.

And as you can see, it made the news in China.

An American Moment Like No Other

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He has been called a socialist, elite, too black, not black enough, inexperienced, presumptuous, a long shot, un-American, even a terrorist. But today he is simply called Mr. President.

Unbelievable as it sounds, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. And of course, I had to be there. And we traveled in style. Change has not only come to America, but I got a new car.

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Once again America can lead by example. Many people in other countries, such as England and France, can not imagine an African minority in their country ever being elected to the highest office.

Just as significant, the most reasoned, balanced, intelligent and thoughtful person was the one to assume office. Democracy somehow worked this time! This is a clear break from the past of partisan, ideologically and theologically based ignorance and fear that has been the norm for too long. Sanity, reason and real compassion has returned to the White House along with the first African American president.

This is why some two million people (the largest crowd ever in DC) converged on the Mall in Washington, DC and some 2 billion people around the world watched with a collective sigh of relief.

And it began with a concert and ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. A fitting place for the first African American President (also a tall lanky man from Illinois) and the same spot where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. A dream indeed fulfilled!

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There were many great stars and musicians there including Tom Hanks, Denzil Washington, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder and of course the band to play right before Obama spoke – U2. True to form Bono reminded the then President-elect and the world, “This is not just an American dream, it’s a European dream, an African dream, an Israeli dream – and a Palestinian dream” You tell ’em Bono!

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Contrary to his socialist label, it seemed that the Obama presidency has spawned a plethora of entrepreneurs selling everything Obama throughout DC.

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Even Obama at the beach buttons.

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And “Yes We Can” cookies at Union Station.

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The night before, the excitement was in the air as the whole mall was lit up in anticipation.

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Tuesday morning people were everywhere. They came to witness history, such a diverse crowd of happy if not cold people – all 2 million of them!

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They came from all over the country and the world, the rich and powerful and meek and humble. With so many people it was amazing to hear later that there had been no arrests the whole day.

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And then the moment was upon us – “I Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…”.

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And then we cheered, hollered, cried and hugged loved ones and total strangers. It was great to be there with Gretchen and my good friend Jeff.

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And a little while another thing to cheer about – the exit of Bush! Good bye and good riddance!

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And at the White House, somebody new was moving in as the sea gulls celebrated and the bands prepared for the parade.

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They lined the streets and building tops to see the new President and the beginning of a new era. We were fortunate to get a spot right behind the White House across from the Presidential viewing stand. They told us it couldn’t be done (be at the swearing in and see the parade) and we replied – Yes We Can!

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Lots of pomp and circumstance preceded the presidential procession.

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And of course Joe and Dr. Jill Biden.

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Ladies and gentlemen the First Lady and the President of the United States of America, Barack and Michele Obama!

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Yes, that is the Commander in Chief.

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Godspeed Mr. President.

A Chance at Redemption

In less than two weeks time all of us over the age of 18 have a choice to make. The choice is not simply black and white, or red and blue, but rather right and wrong.

Eight years ago the wrong man and the wrong team managed to come to power under questionable circumstances. This last eight years has been one of the most divisive times in American history. And the current president is almost universally seen as the worst ever in many regards. At a time when we as a nation, and the world as a whole, needed more than ever to try to bridge our differences, the current administration has unilaterally driven a wedge between different points of view within our country, and between the USA and the rest of the world.

Of course George Bush is not on the ballot in two weeks, but what he stands for is. Unfortunately, only one of the two men who have a realistic chance to become President has what it takes to reverse the damage that has been done.

Please, hear me out as to why I think Barack Obama, this man with a funny name and a non-traditional upbringing, is not just the only choice but an exceptional choice of the kind we rarely have the chance to mark a ballot for.

A Unifying Force

Barack Obama is literally an open book. He has written two books (one 13 years ago, well before he had any ambition for national office) that chronicle his life and his worldview. Every bit of both books reveals exactly what we see in public today – a very thoughtful listener, someone who always tries to find common ground, someone who always gives respect to opposing views, someone willing to sacrifice personal gain to do what’s right, someone with the unique combination of abundant confidence, a steady hand, and humility of spirit and tone. It is exactly his kind of temperament that is needed in a time of economic or military crises, and exactly this kind of tone that is needed to heal the division domestically and internationally.

Competence

Barack Obama did not get where he is today by privilege of birth or wealth. He was raised by his single mom and his grandparents of modest means in Hawaii. His accomplishments are due to his exceptional mind and competence. He has a profound ability to learn, analyze, and assess complex issues and situations along with a gift for communication and putting people at ease. This is vitally important in a position like the presidency. He is not from an elite class, he has become elite, as in the top of his game, by raw intelligence and much hard work. When we choose a doctor we don’t want someone who is just like us, we want the most competent and skilled medical man possible. In other words, the most elite doctor we can afford. The same should hold true for the Presidency. How many of us really want Joe the plumber as the leader of this great country?

Issues

So you may agree with everything I have said up to this point, but still not favor Obama based on one or more issues. But there are many issues to consider. You may be pro life but not happy about the war in Iraq, where many innocents have died. Pro life can be seen as broader than just pro unborn life. Look at the breadth of the issues before deciding who is or is not pro life.

You may be someone who wants smaller government and less taxes, but government (and it’s intrusion in our lives) has grown under Republicans lately, and Obama is committed to lowering taxes for the vast majority of Americans. Remember, government (and deficits) did not bloat under 8 years of Clinton as it has under Bush. This is not your father’s Republican Party. The fact is the most recent examples show that Democrats have shown more fiscal discipline than the GOP. It wasn’t always this way, I admit, but it is now. I guess this is not Jimmy Carter’s (god bless him) Democratic party either.

Experience

Some say Barak Obama is new on the scene, not experienced enough, and is not proven. Many of our best presidents (according to historians) were equally “inexperienced” such as Lincoln, FDR, Ronald Reagan, and Eisenhower to name a few. Of course he is not totally green. Obama has served 7 years in the Illinois state legislature and 4 years as a US senator. But on top of that, he has been running a campaign for president for almost 2 years now. One measure of a candidate is to look at how he has run his campaign. Barack Obama has been the Chief Executive Officer of an organization that employs 2500 and has taken in 600 million in revenue, with 130 million in the bank. He has run a very well organized and very disciplined campaign operation and has surrounded himself with the best and brightest in their respective fields. He has attracted young and old, men and women, black and white from all across the country. He has not been overly reactionary or overly negative. He set a high standard for himself early on and has kept to it while suffering attacks even Karl Rove has said went too far. If how Obama has run his campaign is any indication how he would run his administration, he will be on his way to being one of the most effective presidents in modern history.

Who is Barack Obama?

And lastly, Barack Obama is not a Muslim, he is not a terrorist, and he loves America. His mother was a Midwestern Christian and his father was a Kenyan agnostic. He himself became a committed Christian when he was in his twenties. But as Colin Powell has recently said when he endorsed Obama, “Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” This is from a Republican Secretary of State who served under George W. Bush during 9/11 and the Iraq war! If this man can get past the bias of his party affiliation and the misinformation about Barack Obama, anyone can. You can!

The choice is clear, with one pull of a lever, mark on a paper, or tap on a computer you can vote against the cynical and dishonest ways of the past and at the same time vote for the next great leader, a true statesman, and an honestly decent human being who just happens to bear the name Barack Hussein Obama.

Links:

A neutral site debunking the lies about Barack Obama (as wall as for Sarah Palin and John McCain):
http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/obama.asp

Good Presidents and Experience:
http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2008/Info/experience.html

Colin Powell Endorses Obama:
http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/powell-endorses-obama/?scp=3&sq=powell%20endorsement&st=cse

Burning Man – A Mirage in the Desert, or Was This Real?

Welcome home!

Black Rock City: If you’ve been there you know…

What happens in BRC - stays on the blog.

If you’ve heard of Burning man before, maybe you’re curious. If you’ve never heard of it, tread carefully on this blog post, it may induce nightmares, or you may find yourself in the desert next year questioning what you believe.

Warning: For those of you who are put off by all out freedom of expression, public nudity, or sexual innuendo, you may want to spend your time on the Internet taking in something a little more pious, like a Sarah Palin or Osama bin Laden speech, since some of this post is probably rated R.

The Man - waiting to burn.

The Man - at the center of it all.

Burning man has been happening for the past 20 years or so. It started as an impulsive act of self expression on a Beach in San Francisco and has grown to a city of 50,000 (called Black Rock City) that springs to life for a week every summer in the Nevada desert – or playa as it is called. And then it quietly disappears for the rest of the year, leaving no trace. Pack it in, pack it out.

Black Rock City (2007) from space (courtesy of Google Earth).

Just a week before Burning Man started, my girlfriend Gretchen and I decided to go and become residents of Black Rock City. We had both heard about it for years and were curious. Where else can you go to see bizarre, beautiful, elaborate, and often flame breathing art in the middle of the desert, stroll a “city” of 50,000 in your birthday suit, ride a boat car across the desert, contemplate the meaning of it all at a temple that will burn at week’s end. Where else can you have a ride on a 30 foot tall teeter totter, enjoy a drink or a dance in a sand storm, and a get full body power wash in lieu of a proper shower? Exactly, so off to Nevada we went.

A few thousand topless cyclists in the desert dust.

It’s an experiment in “radical self expression, radical inclusion, and radical self reliance” among other things. What does that mean? Well it’s hard to know unless you go. We felt right at home.

The morning walk to center camp. Who's that amazon in the blue panties?

People from all walks of life and of all ages can be found at Burning Man. The one thing they will have in common is that they’ll accept you as you are, which creates an incredible atmosphere of freedom…

That's quite a handful!

That's quite a handful!

To wear very strange costumes, and eye-ware…

Those are called IGAAKS - www.igaaks.com.

Those are called IGAAKS - http://www.igaaks.com.clothes not suitable for the office.

…and clothes not suitable for the office.

Aren't we cute in our matching purple skirts?

And of course, nothing at all, which I did on many occasions.

Just out for a stroll

Just out for a stroll on the playa.

As you can see, couples come in all varieties on the playa, and are free to express their affection. Which of course is a perfect manifestation of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as well as the theme for this year – The American Dream.

An American dream.

Maybe you’ve heard of the organization Critical Mass, where bicycle riders take over the streets en masse to make a point about transportation. Well at Burning Man a few thousand woman participated in the annual Critical Tits ride to make a point about their right to go topless. And why not? If boys can go topless, why not girls as well? Besides it’s hot!

I want to ride my bycycle...

I want to ride my bicycle...

Burning Man is first and foremost the people who make it happen.

But of course with the people come all kinds all kinds of strange and unlikely art installations to be found on the playa, spread out over a vast distance. Some whimsical…

The Flaming Lotus Girls

Some critical.

No time for TV at Burning Man

No time for TV at Burning Man

And many suitable for climbing!

That's not a Hummer - it's a Bummer!

That's not a Hummer but rather a Bummer!

Never a dull moment.

And nothing is too big for the open desert. The logistics of getting all of this here, two hours north of Reno along a small two lane road that becomes dirt after the last town, becomes an incredible undertaking.

Some installations are made out of metal.

And some are made of wood, like this multi-level temple that is built every year, used as a sacred space for contemplation and such and then set on fire on Sunday night.

The temple Basura Sagrada is just ashes now.

Black Rock City is spread out over 7 square miles, so many people ride bikes from place to place. Another alternative to walking is getting a ride on one of the many “art cars” or mutant vehicles. Black Rock City even has a DMV – Department of Mutant Vehicles. No other motorized vehicles are allowed to drive around.

No room on this mutant.

These cars come in all shapes and sizes, from artfully redecorated golf carts to elaborately modified trucks with multi levels. Day and night they slowly move (5 MPH) across the open playa or down the city streets, usually playing music and full of riders.

Is that a phone driving by a two story milk carton?

You just never know what you will find wandering around here. When visiting the temple we happened upon a wedding taking place at sunset. The temple is pretty far out from the city center. You can see the man in the distance, he is at the center of the whole circle that outlines the city.

Wedding with Tetras blocks in the background.

And at dusk the Lamplighters come out to hang gas lamps along the major avenues of the city. As night falls, the fire rises, and things only get more active…and strange.

The Lamplighters bring light up 12:00.

The heat dissipates and people start moving…

Jumping for joy at sunset.

And always the Mutant vehicles lumbering on the playa, sometimes blowing fire.

The fire breathing snail car in our neighborhood.

And the night doesn’t end…

Playing with fire!

Until well into the next day. So sleep wasn’t always so easy.

Who is that with the well placed camera bag?

We found the desert environment not nearly as bad as the warnings implied. Sure it was hot by day in the sun, but so pleasantly dry. We just had to drink plenty of water. And the sand/dust storms that rolled through most of Saturday provided a little more drama, as if that was needed.

Gretchen braving the elements!

But the whiteouts were fun, much better than those sub-zero whiteouts of snow in Buffalo. And we got to use our goggles and masks we brought just for this kind of thing. Radical self reliance in action!

Portrait in stereo in a fellow burner's goggles.

Of course riding a bike in the whiteout may not be such a bright idea.

Burning man heaven.

We were worried that with the intense dust storms that went on into Saturday evening that the burn would be canceled. We had to leave the next morning and it would be a shame to miss the culmination of all this.

The gladiator/dance dome, quiet before dark.

But fortunately the dust cleared, tens of thousands gathered around the man, and the burn commenced a couple hours behind schedule. His arms were lifted, and the pyrotechnics began!

Hugs explosions engulfed the whole structure in a ball of flames, and it slowly burned until the man fell and it all collapsed into a large bonfire.

It's sad to see him burn.

At that point, the crowd was allowed to approach the large fire, encircling it counter-clockwise, firemen at the ready.

Some people had things they just had to burn.

A Bushfire.

Some found it a spiritual experience.

Dude!

We just basked in the glow of the intense heat and bizarre revelry, virgins no more.

Gretchen with her headlamp on.

The man burns in 357 days…