Black Gums Are Considered a Sign of Beauty in West Africa

I’ve read about people getting tattoos on the weirdest places of their bodies, but this one just beats them all. Never before have I heard of people getting their gums tattooed. Not in any particular design, but just a uniform black color. This is actually a popular practice among women in West African countries like Senegal, because over there apparently, black gums are a thing of beauty.

Tattooed black gums are especially popular in small towns and villages like Thies, in Senegal. Women here practice this ancient tradition to get a smile that is considered more attractive. Of course, the process is nothing short of painful. Marieme, from Thies, is one such young girl to have gone through the procedure. I watched a documentary on YouTube that covered her journey from having regular gums to the more desirable black variety. Before she went for it, she said, “I want black gums to obtain a more beautiful smile. It’s become an obsession. I do fear the procedure. But I’ll be OK.”

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Frano Selak – Truly the World’s (Un)Luckiest Man

What would you call a man who has managed to cheat death seven times, and also win the lottery? ‘World’s luckiest man’, might just be an understatement. But that’s exactly the story of Frano Selak, an 81-year-old music teacher from Croatia.

At first glance, there’s nothing noticeably special about Selak. He looks pretty much like your average, everyday octogenarian. But the life this man has lived is quite extraordinary. He survived one plane crash, several train and car wrecks and other disasters such as falling out of a plane through a door that was blown open, only to land on a haystack. Obviously lady luck’s favorite son, the icing on Selak’s record came when he won a £600,000 (almost $1 million) lottery about 7 years ago, on the occasion of his fifth marriage. Until recently, he owned a luxury home on a private island and a vast fortune. But Selak realized that “money cannot buy happiness,” so he sold his home, gave away his fortune to family and friends and moved back to his old home – a modest dwelling in Petrinja, south of Zagreb, right in the middle of Croatia. The only bit of winnings that he kept for himself was to pay for a hip replacement operation and to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary as a way of thanks for his luck. He now enjoys his life with his wife in his humble home.

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Loughareema – The Vanishing Lake of Northern Ireland

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

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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The Real-Life King Arthur and His Biker-Druid Followers

If you’re a King Arthur fan and plan to visit Stonehenge sometime soon, you should totally go there on the summer solstice. Because that’s when your chances are high to spot the real-life King Arthur and his 20,000 followers – a motley crew of tourists, pilled-up teenagers in sportswear and neo-druids.

Their leader, formerly known as John Rothwell, now claims that he is the living embodiment of the 1575-year-old legendary British monarch – King Arthur. He rose to fame in the 1990s, when his efforts to open up access to Stonehenge during religious festivals like the summer solstice paid off, after winning a case at the European Court of Human Rights. Fast forward to present-day and you will find Arthur elected as the ‘Battle Chieftain’ of the Council of British Druid Orders. ‘King Arthur’ and his ‘Loyal Arthurian Warband’ represent the political wing of Britain’s neo-druid community. What’s more, King Arthur also has a partner, his very own High Priestess, and the two of them are quite active these days in protesting for ancient druid remains to get out of the hands of archaeologists and reinstated to their rightful resting place.

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Finnjet – A 29-Meter-Long Junk Limousine Worth $1 Million

What weighs 7,500 pounds, is 29-foot long and made completely from junk scraps? Why, a limousine of course. ‘Finnijet’ belongs to Antti Rahko, a 72-year-old chauffeur from Finland. He immigrated to the US in 1984 and is now a resident of Palm Beach, Florida. It took Rahko 10 whole years to build the limousine from scratch, initially using two Mercedes Benz station wagons joined together, several parts from a 1962 Chrysler Imperial and various components from other vehicles.

The vehicle’s humble beginnings are hardly visible today, but Rakho says the process of building it was never really complete. He just kept adding parts however and whenever he could. “I had my own car shop, I bought and rented cars.” Eventually, he thought if he succeeded in welding two cars together, he would not need to sell more than one car. That’s how the idea for the Finnijet was born. The car is so well appreciated that it won a prize at the Art Car Parade competition in Houston, twice. Earlier this year, it was taken to Europe for the first time, to be shown at the Essen Motor Show. Packed in a 12m long container, the organizers paid all the costs of transportation and even took out a million dollar insurance policy on the car.

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Macabre Rituals – The Annual Cleaning of the Dead at Pomuch Cemetery

It’s fascinating how bizarre the rituals of the dead can get. The latest we’ve discovered is from Pomuch, Campeche, a small Mayan town in Mexico. In Campeche, the day of the dead, which is not unlike Spring Cleaning, is honored each year. On this particular day, families visit the cemetery to participate in the ritual cleaning of the bones of their loved ones. The squeaky-clean remains are then placed on display along with flowers and a new cloth for veneration.

The custom applies to anybody who dies in Campeche, ranging from young to old. Every corpse is buried for three years and then, on the Day of the Dead, the bones are dug up, cleaned and transferred to a wooden crate. The waiting period of 3 years is important because the bones need that time to dry out. The wooden crate is placed on permanent display in the cemetery. From then on, people go to the cemetery to pay their respects and clean the remains every year. Nov 1st is the day dedicated to dead children, known as the Dia de los Niños (Day of the Innocents), and Nov 2nd is for everyone else. The custom of cleaning the remains of dead relatives is said to date all the way back to Mayan practices – when the skulls of ancestors were retained and worshipped. The significance behind the ritual is to help people deal with the pain of losing a loved one. It is also believed to keep families together. The most important belief, however, is that a relative whose remains are poorly taken care of can become angry and wander through the streets.

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LOTR Fans’ Fantastic Real-Life Hobbit House

Now here’s a house that all you LOTR fans out there wouldn’t mind spending a few nights in. Or maybe, the rest of your lives. If you’ve been an admirer of the hobbits who inhabited Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world, this house is something you’ve got to see. The 600 sq.ft. dwelling was built by architect Peter Archer for his clients – a Chester County couple with grown kids. Lifelong fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, they wanted the house as a worthy shrine for the rare books and Tolkien-inspired memorabilia collected over a period of 30 years of travel in the U.S. and abroad. The stone cottage is tucked away into the Pennsylvania countryside, a picturesque location befitting the hobbit-style house.

Before he took up the project, Archer wasn’t too well versed with the nature of Tolkien’s works, but he caught on rather quickly. “Upon starting the project I read the book The Hobbit and watched the Lord of the Rings movies, but more importantly, looked at the range of writings by Tolkien, including amazing sketches he had done to illustrate his work,” Archer says. “I remember at the start saying that we would be happy to design the structure but we were not going to do a Hollywood interpretation. We wanted it to be timeless. It was built in 2004 but looking at it, you could think it was from 1904 or 1604.” Working closely with another Pennsylvania architect Mark Avellino, he was able to “interpret Tolkien and create the beautiful details that make this such a special building.” He also credits the host of builders and landscape artists who put in every effort possible into the making of what has come to be known as the ‘Hobbit House’.

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Nit Wit Ridge – A Mansion Built Entirely from Junk

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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Man’s Addiction to Heavy-Metal Earns Him Disability Benefits

Here’s something worth banging your head over: 42-year-old Roger Tullgren, from Hässleholm, Sweden, was cleared for state disability benefits after he’s been certified by three psychologists as a heavy-metal addict who can’t function at his workplace unless he is allowed to wear black T-shirts and camo pants, and rock out to loud heavy metal music.

The Swedish edition of The Local first reported about Roger Tullgren back in 2007, soon after his addiction to heavy-metal was acknowledged by psychologists and the state employment service agreed to pay part of his salary. Apparently, his interest in heavy-metal started in 1971, when his brother came home with a Black Sabbath album. Since then he’s been hooked to everything that screams heavy-metal, sports long black hair, a collection of tattoos and wears skull and crossbones jewelry. Nothing really out of the ordinary so far, he’s not the only man in the world passionate about this culture. But in Tullgren’s case, it started interfering with everything else. Because he couldn’t help attending hundreds of heavy-metal shows and events every year, often skipping work, his employer eventually tired of his antics and the aging rocker found himself without a job and relying on welfare. Luckily, after some sessions with occupational psychologists who certified his addiction to heavy-metal as a disability, Roger Tullgren earned the right to a wage supplement from the local job center.

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Modern-Day Samurai Can Slice a Speeding Bullet with His Blade

There are some things you would only expect from superheroes or action heroes; like slicing a bullet in half with a blade. So when a real-life, modern-day samurai does it, it’s certainly worth ooh-ing and aah-ing over. Isao Machii, who has been honing his sword skills since the age of five, is able to slice a pea-sized bullet traveling at 200 miles per hour, fired at him from a BB gun from about 70 feet away, in mid-air.

Isao Machii is now the headmaster of a samurai school, and what a fine example he is for his students. His hand-eye coordination is so precise that it earned him a Guinness World Record. His sword skills are so accurate that he is rumored to be unmatched by any other swordsman on Earth. He recently accepted a challenge from filmmakers, because what he does is impossible to view by the naked human eye. Shot at a firing range outside the hills of LA, Machii’s feat was recorded at a speed 250 times slower than normal with one of the world’s most sophisticated cameras . The witnesses were a filmmaker and Dr. Ramani Durvasula from California State University. Both were stunned to silence the moment Machii’s blade hit the bullet.

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The Blood Qur’an – A Holy Book Written with the Blood of Saddam Hussein

We’ve heard of fanatical lovers writing letters to their beloved in blood. But Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein took this practice to a new level. In the late 1990s, he commissioned a calligrapher to make a copy of the Qur’an, using his own blood as ink. For the project, Saddam donated 7 gallons (27 liters) of blood over the course of two years – the time it took for the book to be completed. The book still exists, and no one knows what to do with it.

For now, Saddam’s blood-inscribed Qur’an is being kept behind locked doors in Baghdad. The unusual book is both sacred and profane, so officials are quite unsure as to how to deal with it. Islamic clerics are confused over the decision to either destroy the book or preserve it as a reminder of the dictator’s brutality. It is most likely that Saddam was quite aware of the controversy his project would spew, given the taboos in Islamic culture over human bodily fluids, but he went ahead with it anyway. His intentions were clear – he had said that the book was his tribute to God because his son had survived an assassination attempt. In the words of one Iraqi citizen, “On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionize the remnants of the Ba’athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days. And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur’an with the reverence of a holy book.”

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Natural Canvas – Artist Etches Beautiful Illustrations on Mushrooms

If you like unique art mediums, you’re going to love Corey Corcoran’s work. The Boston-based artist uses mushrooms as canvases for his original illustrations.

Creating really good illustrations is hard enough on paper, but on the surface of Ganoderma applanatum (also known as Artist Conk mushroom) is even harder. You can erase a mistake on a piece of paper, but once something is etched into the skin of the mushroom, it can’t be undone. But that doesn’t seem to bother Corey Corcoran, on the contrary, it’s probably one of the things that attracted him to this weird choice for a canvas. He has to be very precise when engraving the fruits of his imagination into the mushroom, using the changing shades of brown to create truly unique works of natural art. The size of his works ranges from six inches to two feet, depending on the mushroom canvas, and the theme mostly revolves around plant life, insects, and people.

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Women Living As Men – The Sworn Virgins of Albania

Earlier this year, we posted about Bacha Posh, the little cross-dressing girls of Afghanistan who spend their childhood dressing and living as boys. But there are places in this world where women swap genders for an entire lifetime. Albania is one such place, where sworn virgins exist in accordance with their familial code of ethics called Kanun, of Leke Dukagjini.

According to the non-religious Kanun tradition, families in some parts of Albania must be both patrilineal and patrilocal. This means the family wealth is always inherited by the men, and a woman moves into her husband’s home after marriage. Marriages are arranged at a very young age, if not at birth, and once deemed eligible to marry, the woman must become a part of her husband’s family. The role of a woman is severely circumscribed, reduced to taking care of the children and maintaining a home. A woman’s life is considered to be worth only half of that of a man. For the followers of the Kanun tradition, dress is an important marker to distinguish between genders. The men wear trousers, close-fitting caps and wrist watches, while women are dressed in skirts, headscarves, aprons and sometimes even veils. That actually doesn’t sound too odd, does it? But here’s the twist – a woman can choose to become a man in a Kanun society, by simply dressing like one. So an Albanian woman who dresses like a man, is a man. A change in dress is all that’s needed for a change in gender. Born out of a social necessity, women who become men in Albania are called Virgjinesha (the sworn virgins).

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

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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