The Maeklong Railway Food Market – A Strange Wonder of Thailand

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Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory loves trains, but I’m not too sure if he’d like this particular one. The Maeklong market railway passes right through the middle of a tightly packed market – so tight, that passengers can probably grab a few vegetables as they pass through. The market’s stalls are actually set up on the train rails, but shopkeepers know the train’s schedule, so just before it passes through, they quickly drag their goods into the shops and pull the roofs down. After the train has passed through, it’s back to business as usual. This happens no less than 8 times a day.

The Maeklong market has become so popular with tourists that there might actually be more people visiting to see it rather than buy anything. Located 72 km or an hour’s drive south-west of Bangkok, Maeklong is the capital of the Samut Songkhram province. Most people compare the market to something like a movie set; it’s that surreal. It’s amazing how every inch of space available has been utilized. The small stalls on either side of the railway track are made from tarpaulins and sometimes just a bedspread. They consist of plastic trays filled with vegetables and vibrant Thai fruit like mangosteens and rambutans. You can also find fresh-cut flowers, fragrant spices, cuts of meat, fresh seafood and poultry. And it doesn’t just stop with food; there are other goods to be purchased as well, like clothes, lingerie, toys, and pirated DVDs. Sometimes there aren’t even stalls, just people sitting on the ground with trays of fruit at their feet.

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The Pain of Growing Up – Being Stung by Hundreds of Bullet Ants in the Amazon Rain-Forest

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Among the most bizarre coming-of-age rites we’ve ever featured is the one followed by the Satere-Mawe Tribe, an indigenous tribe from the Amazon rain forest, Brazil. What a boy has to do to become a man in this tribal community is painful, to say the least – he has to withstand being stung by not one, but a swarm of Bullet Ants. In case you’e not familiar with this exotic insect, here’s an interesting fact: the Bullet Ant claims the number one spot on the SSPI (Schmidt Sting Pain Index), a scale created by Justin Schmidt that rates the pain caused by different Hymenopteran stings. Some say the ant’s sting is just as agonizing as being shot by a bullet.

In preparation for the initiation rite, the elders of the tribe collect the ants from the jungle. These ants are drugged and placed stinger- first into special gloves woven from leaves. As the drug wears off, the ants become increasingly agitated and are raring to sting. This is when the boy puts on the gloves and lets the bullet ants work their magic, for 10 whole minutes, no less. “It’s the same as having your hands on fire,” says one Satere man. But the real pain starts once the gloves come off, and the venom starts to take effect. As the pain continues to rise, the hands become paralyzed and look like stumps. But just one attempt is usually not enough to turn a Stare boy into a man. He must go through this ritual as many times as it takes for him not to cry during the process. The day he doesn’t shed a single tear, is when he becomes a real man. Sometimes, this can take up to 20 attempts.

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Friends in Real Life – Man Opens Iconic Sitcom Cafe in Beijing

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If you were a fan of the hugely popular sitcom Friends, you surely remember their favorite meeting place, the Central Perk Cafe. Tired of just seeing the characters experience the coziness of that soft orange couch, one Chinese fan decided to create his own Friends cafe, in Beijing.

Like so many of us, Du Xin loved Friends. “I’m crazy about Friends. For me, it’s like a religion. It’s my life,” he told NPR. After watching the show, he started searching around Beijing for a place where he could actually sit on an orange couch just like the one his favorite heroes relaxed on in the sitcom. When he couldn’t find a Central Perk, he decided to create it himself. And he wasn’t going to settle for something similar, he wanted a place that looked exactly like what he’d seen on TV all those years, down to the tiniest details. Tucked away on the sixth-floor of the Chaowai Soho complex, this replica of Central Perk has the coveted couch, the same windows and doorway as the original, the brick interior and even the same hand written snack items featured on Friends. In order to nail all the things he wanted, Du studied thousands of photos of the show’s set and watched endless reruns, and five months later he had the cafe of his dreams.

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Okunoshima Island – Japan’s Rabbit Paradise

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Okunoshima is a small Japanese island, located in the Inland Sea of Japan, in the Hiroshima Prefecture. What’s special about this place is that it is completely crawling with rabbits – a bunny paradise of sorts. Nicknamed the Rabbit Okunoshima attracts thousands of animal lovers every year. Feeding bunnies can be one of the most relaxing pastimes, and people come here to do just that. The island is a popular day-trip and weekend holiday destination.

Okunoshima might be a place of natural beauty, but it has a dark, dirty past as well. In the early 20th century, it served as the base for the Imperial Army’s lethal gas operation. Over 6,000 tons of about 5 types of poison gas were manufactured on this very island between the years of 1929 and 1945. The mission was top secret back then, so Okunoshima was actually omitted from maps and workers were sworn to secrecy. Today, you can still see the ruins of these factories on the island. Given its history, there are several explanations of the unusually large number of rabbits in this place. Some sources say the furry animals were brought over during World War II, to test the effects of the poisonous gases. When the war ended, the workers are said to have released the rabbits into the wild. Other sources claim that a group of children were on a field trip at Okunoshima in 1971, when they left behind 8 bunnies. Well, we might never know how the first rabbits got on to the island, but they did their job well – copulating to make sure they left behind hundreds of their progeny to roam the island today. Hundreds might not sound like a lot, but on an island just 2.5 kilometers in circumference they make their presence felt.

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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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