The Amazing Tree Houses of the Korowai Tribe

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In our part of the world, grown-ups are known to build tree houses for their kids, but there exists a parallel culture on this very planet, where the grown-ups themselves live in tree houses. I’m talking about the Korowai tribe of Papua, Indonesia, that has engineered and survived in towering tree homes as high as 114 feet above the ground. The tribe inhabits an inaccessible jungle located 150 km inland from the Arafura Sea, and was completely isolated from the world, until 1974, when they were discovered by a Dutch missionary. The Korowai tribe consists of a small society of traditional family ties, hunter gatherers who have been quite popular with the press for their cannibalistic tendencies.

However, what’s most fascinating about the Korowai people is the way they have designed their homes. There are a few reasons why they live up in the trees – to protect themselves from swarming mosquitoes, evil spirits, and of course, troublesome neighbors. What better way to escape the pesky next-door-neighbor than to hide up in a tree? Ideally, a Korowai tree house is constructed in a clearing, with a large Banyan or Wambom tree serving as the main pole. Once a suitable tree has been located, its top is removed. The floor frame is laid down first, made from branches and covered with sago palm. Walls and a roof are added, bound together with raffia. Additional poles are added to the corners for extra support. The average tree home ranges between 8 to 12 meters above ground level, but some go as high as 35 meters. Each house is sturdy enough to accommodate up to a dozen people.

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Tianducheng – A Small Piece of Paris, Made in China

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It appears that the Chinese have tired of imitating objects, so they’ve now moved on to entire cities. How else could you explain the gated community of Tianducheng, that boasts its very own Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and European-style villas? Located near Hangzhou, the capital of the coastal Zhejiang province, the community built by real estate company Zhejiang Guangsha Co. Ltd. in 2007 is a housing development meant to attract China’s rich and powerful. The developers apparently wanted to give the wealthy Chinese a chance to enjoy European culture without actually having to travel thousands of miles.  It took five years of meticulous construction and landscaping to create the entire 19 sq. km (12 sq. mile) community.

According to Lu Xiaotian, the company’s director, “The community can house up to 10,000 people comfortably.” Apart from the obvious touristy feel, the community also provides amenities ranging from a school, a country club and a hospital. All this, in the midst of the serene surroundings of a park atmosphere. The real estate group has largely capitalized on the fact that Chinese honeymooners tend to flock to Paris, and also that French designer labels and wine are popular status symbols in major Chinese cities. So the community of Tianducheng gives residents the opportunity to sit on the steps by their very own Bassin de Latone, a cleverly done imitation of the famous fountain located in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. They can also admire the Eiffel Tower, which is a 108 m high replica of the 324 m original, in their very own neighborhood. Apart from the obvious imitations of famous monuments, there are the Parisienne-style gardens surrounded by rows and rows of European-style villas.

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Vietnam Festival Is Dedicated to Meeting Ex-Lovers

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Most people cannot stand the thought of their partners even talking to their exes, let alone socializing with them. But things are different in a small community of Vietnam. A yearly ‘love market’ of sorts is held in the hillside village of Khau Vai, 500km north of Hanoi, near the border with China. It takes place each year, on the 26th and the 27th of the third month of the lunar calendar. During these two days, hundreds of ex-lovers from various hill tribes like Nung, Tay, San Chi, Lo Lo, Dzao, Giay and Hmong are reunited. They trek in from various mountainous districts nearby to be able to spend two days with the ones they could not spend their lives with.

This concept might sound extremely unusual to us, and there might be every possibility of a cat-fight breaking out if this unique love festival was held anywhere else in the world. But the people of Khau Vai have a strong reason for the celebrating their love market. It has been a part of their tradition for centuries, originating from a local legend. The story is rather sad – an ethnic Giay girl from Ha Giang had fallen for a Nung boy from Cao Bang., but she is said to have been so beautiful that her tribe did not want her to marry a man from another community. What followed was a bloody war between the two tribes. As the lovers witnessed the tragedy that surrounded their lives, they decided to part ways in the greater interest of peace. But their love did not die there. A secret pact was made between the lovers to meet each other once a year in Khau Vai– on the 27th day of the third Lunar month. The tradition is still being carried on today. On the designated days of the festival, local artists decked up in colorful clothes reenact this tale of forbidden love.

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Loughareema – The Vanishing Lake of Northern Ireland

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When things mysteriously vanish in real life, sadly, there is always a scientific explanation behind it. And that includes Loughareema, the Vanishing Lake located on the coast road, a few miles from the town of Ballycastle, Ireland.

Irish lakes have always been the stuff legends are made of, and Loughareema is no different. At times, you could be driving down the entire stretch of the adjacent Loughareema road, go right to the middle of where the lake is supposed to be, and still not spot it. That’s because it conveniently vanishes from time to time. The trick to catching a good view of the Vanishing Lake is to be there at just the right moment. The lake actually drains itself out to such a degree that passersby wouldn’t even be able to tell that there was ever a lake in that very same spot. The secret behind Loughareema’s vanishing act is the fact that it sits on a leaky chalk-bed, a topographical feature called the ‘chalk ‘plug hole’. The hole sometimes gets jammed with peat, causing the depression to fill with water, which is when the lake is visible to all. When the plug clears, all the water in the lake drains underground at a rapid rate, so no one could ever know about its existence if they hadn’t seen it before.

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South Korea’s Toilet Theme Park

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We’ve seen our share of bizarre theme parks here on OC. Ranging from Hello Kitty to Atomic Reactors, we thought we’d seen it all. Until we heard of this extremely strange and slightly disturbing theme park in South Korea, based on the last place in the world you’d want to be stuck in – the toilet.

The Restroom Cultural Park,  in the city of Suwon, South Korea, is a massive complex dedicated to the humble toilet. The main exhibition hall itself is shaped like a large toilet bowl and the pathway leading up to it is adorned with bronze figures of humans in mid-squat. The facility was opened to public earlier this year and is the only one of its kind in the world. Other indoor exhibits include WC signs from around the world and toilet-themed art. What’s even more interesting than the toilet theme park is the story of its origin. Apparently, the place was initially home to the former Mayor of Suwon, Sim Jae-duck. He died in 2009, but that has not stopped the South Koreans from still regarding him as their very own ‘Mr. Toilet’. This was partly due to the fact that he ran a successful campaign in the 1980s to dramatically improve South Korea’s old toilet system, and also because Mr. Sim was born in his grandmother’s loo. So inspired was he by his place of birth that he built his own house in the shape of a toilet. He, in turn, is said to be the main inspiration behind the theme park.

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Nit Wit Ridge – A Mansion Built Entirely from Junk

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Nit Wit Ridge is such a whimsical name for a house. And I must say, the place completely lives up to its name. The 90-year-old two-and-a-half acre ramshackle home on the outskirts of Cambria, California is a Historic Landmark in the area and a fine example of folk art. It is located just a few miles down the road from another famous landmark, the Hearst Castle. Nit Wit Ridge is one-of-a-kind because it was built using millions of bits and pieces of recycled trash, and took over 50 years to complete. Arthur Harold Beal, a.k.a. Captain Nit Wit or Der Tinkerpaw, was a local trash hauler and loved all things rubbish. He basically suffered from the inability to throw anything away, collecting everything that the Cambrians threw away. So he used all his collections over the years, along with natural materials on the property to build the house, an effort that took him nearly a lifetime to complete, given his self-taught construction skills.

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The Paris Syndrome – A Bizarre Psychological Condition Affecting Japanese Tourists?

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Among a host of first world problems is the mysterious Paris Syndrome – that horrible feeling you get when you realize the beautiful City of Lights isn’t all that you imagined it to be. And strangely, the worst to be affected by this bizarre condistion are the otherwise calm and collected Japanese.

As ridiculous as it sounds, Paris Syndrome is very real. Because of the way the city is represented in the media, especially the Japanese media, a lot of people labor under the misconception that Paris is a quaint, friendly little place with affluence reeking in its every corner. The women are imagined to be dainty and beautiful, the city is expected to smell like Chanel No. 5, parks filled with pigeons and waiters bursting into song at the drop of a hat. In fact, many Japanese really believe that Parisians are all thin, gorgeous and unbelievably rich. Inevitably, their bubble is burst on their very first day in the city.

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Lighting Up Christmas – The Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando

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The Philippines is home to a variety of Christmas traditions, but particularly famous is the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando, the capital of the province of Pampanga, a 1.5 hour ride from Manila. Locally, the festival is known as the Ligligan Parul. It showcases the most popular product of Pampanga – the ‘parol’, or lighted stars. The artisans of Pampanga are renowned for their ability to create the biggest and most elaborate parol in the country. Each year, the best parol makers of the region show off their creations at the Giant Lantern Festival, vying for the title of ‘winning parol’ and lighting up the night sky.

In the early days, parol had simple star shaped designs, but they have evolved a lot over the years. Today, the biggest ones are about 40 feet in diameter and shapes vary from floral patterns to religious symbols. They are generally made from materials like soft drink straws, crepe paper, glass, plastic, bamboo dowels, and some even contain assorted electronic parts. For the artists who make the parol, excelling at their work is a matter of pride and building a reputation. Several hours go into the making just one of these superb works of art, and the cost can rise to several thousand dollars. Of course, once the Holiday Season is over, their creations have little use.

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Belgian Hotel Lets You Spend a Night in the Human Digestive System

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Up until now I’d always associated Belgium with chocolates. But not anymore. Not since I read about the gut-wrenching (well, maybe that’s an exaggeration) experience that customers have at the Hotel CasAnus, located on a small island halfway between Antwerp and Ghent in Flanders, Belgium. The place is just as horrendous as it sounds, at least as far as exteriors are concerned. Shaped and designed like an enormous human intestine, the hotel is the creation of Dutch designer Joep Van Lieshout. The place is one large human colon, and the finishing touch is the rear – a giant replica of an anus.

Not everyone might envision spending their vacation inside a structure dedicated to the human digestive system, but surprisingly, a large number of people are actually interested in such an experience. The interiors aren’t all that bad, featuring double beds, showers and central heating. Run by Belgian art lovers Geert and Carla Verbeke-Lens, who purchased it as a part of their collection at the 30-acre Verbeke Foundation sculpture park, is certainly one of the most unique hotels to spend your vacation at. According to Carla, “guests are really happy to sleep undisturbed in a place surrounded by nature. They can see black swans and frogs and discover the stars in the night sky, as well as visiting all our different exhibitions. More and more travelers are coming to us from all over the world to explore what they call a ‘unique place’.” That’s no exaggeration, stats show that more than 20,000 tourists visit the Verbeke Foundation each year and many of them choose to stay at CasAnus. Several other activities take place at the foundation, like art exhibitions of collages and bio art.

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Coffee Won’t Keep You Awake at Tokyo’s Hypnosis Cafe Colors

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Apart from a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, the menu at the Tokyo Hypnosis Cafe Colors, in Shinjuku Golden Gai, also features some offbeat items, such as Trauma Erasure or Past Life Regression.

Tokyo is known for its unique cafes, many of which have been featured on Oddity Central (Cuddle Cafe, Vampire Cafe, Hammock Cafe, etc.), and today I’m thrilled to add another one to our growing collection – the Tokyo Hypnosis Cafe Colors. As the name suggests, this intriguing venue uses the power of hypnosis to attract customers (and maybe trick them into coming back). Originally opened in the city of Sapporo, the hypnosis cafe moved to the Shinjuku district, in Japan’s capital city, where quirky establishments are becoming increasingly popular. Numbering just eight sits, all at the bar, the Hypnosis Cafe Colors offers visitors the chance to try out a number of hypnosis techniques, including reconnecting with your inner child, quit smoking suggestion, or trauma erasure. Simple hypnosis is performed by an expert who also plays the role of bartender and magician, and is basically free, but special techniques cost between ¥1000 ($12) and ¥50000 ($600).

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Thailand’s Cobra Village – Where Men and Snakes Live in Harmony

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Sixty years ago, a doctor from Thailand had a vision for his small, dusty old village – to convert it into a major tourist attraction. And in an attempt to do so, he actually convinced his fellow villagers to raise pet snakes in their homes, putting them in shows for tourists. Surprisingly the ploy worked, and today the village of Ban Kok Sa-Nga in Thailand’s Northeastern Province of Khon Kaen is better known as ‘The Cobra Village’, among tourists.

All of the 140-odd homes in Ban Kok Sa-Nga have at least one pet snake, which they place outside in wooden boxes. The pet snakes range from deadly ones, such as king cobras or monocled cobras, to less dangerous ones such as copperheaded racers and pythons. The atmosphere in the village itself is always festive; it is one big snake show theme attraction. The snakes are bred in captivity and put together in daredevil shows such as – you won’t believe this – man vs. snake boxing matches. Obviously not for the light-hearted, these shows involve the handlers taunting an already enraged giant king cobra. As the snakes slither across the stage, the men pull their tails to provoke them further. Despite all the weird stunts that take place in these shows, what spooks out most tourists is the level of comfort the villagers share with the snakes. Most people are terrified of these creatures, but the people of Ban Kok Sa-Nga don’t even bat an eye-lid. Even the children are completely at ease; they are taught how to handle snakes, how to fight them and feed them, at a very young age.

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Aogashima Island – Living inside a Volcano

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Can you imagine yourself living in a giant volcanic crater? Well, for starters, you can forget about Starbucks. But it sure would be the ultimate destination to get away from it all. It’s not all that surprising then, that about 200 people actually inhabit the Japanese volcanic island of Aogashima, with only one school and a single post office.

Aogashima, a part of the Izu Archipelago, lies two hundred miles south of Tokyo, in the Philippine Sea. The island and its 205 inhabitants (as of 2009), are a part of Japan and governed by Tokyo. When I first saw pictures of this breathtaking location, it sort of reminded me of an inverted pudding on a plate. Or an oddly shaped donut. But Aogashima is really a volcano within a volcano. The island is quite well known for having a volcanic caldera within a larger caldera. So what you have is one big, giant crater, which is the island itself, inside which is nestled a much smaller version of itself. This gives the whole island a rather mysterious appeal, almost like something out of a fantasy movie. It’s hard to believe there are such places still left in the world, untouched by noisy human activity.

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Meet the Flintstones in Arizona’s Real-Life Bedrock

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If you are a loyal Flintstones fan, then you’re going to love this, especially if you live around northern Arizona. Because that’s where the real-life Bedrock city is located. Not an actual city of course, but a place to go to 365 days a year to experience Stone Age with your favorite cartoon characters. Closed only on Christmas day, it’s an improvement over the first Bedrock city in Cluster, South Dakota, which is open only from the middle of May through Labor Day.

Arizona’s Bedrock City was built in 1972, by Francis Speckles, son of an investor. At the time it used to feature a live Fred and Barney. But that wasn’t easy to sustain, given the isolation of the area and the shortage of local workers. But the isolation is actually a blessing-in-disguise, because it gives the place a whole lot of charm, and an authentic Stone Age feel. Today, the place consists of colorful concrete structures that recreate the magic of the 1960s animated series. Located at about a half hour’s drive south of the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City is a great roadside stop for people who want to relive some wonderful memories, especially those who grew up in the 60s and 70s.

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Strange Wedding Customs – The Crying Ritual of the Tujia People

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Throughout history, various cultures have had strange requirements of their women. But none perhaps as strange as the custom of crying before marriage, as followed in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. According to the custom, it is mandatory for a bride to cry at her own wedding, whether she likes it or not.

The crying marriage ritual was at its peak during the early 17th century and remained so until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is said to have originated during the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), when historical records reveal that the princess of the Zhao State was to be married into the Yan State. At the moment of the princess’ departure, her mother is said to have cried at her feet, asking her to return home as soon as possible. This is said to be the first crying marriage ever. Although the custom is not as popular now as it used to be, there are still a large number of families that practice it with gusto. In fact, it is a necessary procedure for marriage among the Tujia people, in China’s Sichuan Province. The ritual itself is pretty simple – the bride has got to shed tears. If she doesn’t or is unable to, her neighbors will look down upon her as one of poor breeding. Worse still, she could even become the laughing stock of her village. In one extreme case, the bride was beaten by her mother for not crying at the wedding. Perhaps the girl was too happy to be free from her mother?

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World’s Worst Hotel Warns Visitors Not to Sue Before They Arrive

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What’s the worst hotel you’ve ever stayed in? Never mind, it couldn’t have been any worse than the Hans Brinker Budget Hostel in Amsterdam, which actually prides itself on being the “world’s worst hotel”.

While most other hotels go out of their way to convince potential clients they have the cleanest rooms, the most comfortable beds and the most incredible views, the Hans Brinker hostel lets everyone know just how awful their accommodations are. Some of their most popular advertising slogans include: ”It can’t get any worse. But we’ll do our best” or “Improve your immune system – stay at Hans Brinker!” Pretty funny stuff and although a lot of people who stayed there confirm it’s pretty much all true, it apparently just adds to the charm of the place. Despite management’s best efforts to warn guests about the rudimentary facilities of their establishment, most of the hotel’s 511 beds in 127 rooms are occupied these days. Of course, the fact that no room costs more than €25 ($32) can be considered an incentive.

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