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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. Read More »

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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Danza Voluminosa – Cuba’s Plus-Size Dance Group

If you thought the world of ballet dancing was reserved exclusively for the slim and petit, well, it’s time to think again. Because the Cuban dance troupe ‘DanzaVoluminosa’ (literally meaning Voluminous Dance) is here to prove you wrong. Comprising of eight dancers and a combined total weight of over 1,600lbs (more than 200lbs per dancer), these heavy beauties have taken the tutu way past its traditional size ‘zero’.

In a recent video report on DanzaVoluminosa by the Associated Press, the founder of the troupe Juan Miguel Mas explains, “The most important thing is that it elevates the self-esteem of the overweight. It helps them to not be sedentary and get out and move, live, work, investigate and love their bodies, too.” Juan says that the purpose of the dance troupe is to find harmony, and the fulfillment of being human. The group was founded way back in 1996 and had been a hit in Cuba ever since. In 2004, it was the subject of a documentary film called Defying Gravity. Hailing from Cuba’s capital city of Havana, the group is focused on breaking traditional stereotypes and giving overweight performers a chance to realize their dreams. The dance troupe is the brainchild of Juan Miguel, who wanted to find a way to adapt modern dance techniques to suit the physical possibilities of overweight people. It has so far produced three full-length choreographies and thirty shorter works. The latest offering from DanzaVoluminosa is called ‘Crisalidas’ or ‘Chrysalis’.

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Finally! Brazilian Burger Chain Introduces Edible Paper Wrappers

Have you ever been so hungry that you actually munched on your burger’s paper wrapper without even noticing? It happens to me all the time, and while I don’t think it’s a big deal, some people are actually disgusted when that happens. But thanks to Brazilian fast-food chain Bob’s, they don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Slate.com reports U.S. consumers alone threw away over 75 million tons of packaging waste, in 20101, and only half of that was recovered through recycling. Food packaging is a real environmental issue and scientists have been working on edible wrappers for years. At the start of 2012, Harvard scientist reported they have developed a WikiCells, “novel edible forms” that could be used to wrap, bottle and package food, and take the flavor of whatever they contained. Now, almost a year since their announcement, a Brazilian burger chain has launched an intriguing ad showcasing edible wrappers. It’s unclear whether they are based on WikiCells technology, but judging by the clients reactions, they don’t taste bad at all. These novel burger wrappers look like traditional paper ones, which kind of confused Bob’s customers, but the restaurant reports their campaign was so successful than nobody threw out the edible wrappers.

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Dutch Artist Spends 20 Years Building Life-Size Replica of Noah’s Ark

Inspired by Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis, Dutch artist Johan Huibers built a modern day replica spending a whopping $1.2 million on it. His reasons for building the vessel  – he feared the effects global warming would someday have on his country, flooding included. The idea came to him in 1992, when he had a dream about his native land submerged in a flood similar to the one in the Book of Genesis. He continued to think about it until he finally did something about it. And the result is a 130m long, 29m wide, 23m high ark that he completed in 2005. Weighing almost 3000 tons and built from Swedish pine reinforced with steel, it is quite hard to believe that ark might be seaworthy at all, but this modern-day Noah assures us it does indeed float.

A carpenter by profession, Johan Huibers has now opened his full scale ark to the public and is attracting thousands of tourists from the world over. Located in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, the ark is something that would even surprise Noah, for it has a restaurant, two cinemas and of course, a menagerie of life-sized plastic animals. Towering over the flat Dutch landscape, the ark is easily visible from a nearby highway. Across the arks main hold is a huge space of stalls, where visitors can view a large collection of stuffed and plastic animals like zebras, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears and buffaloes. There’s also a petting zoo, where less dangerous real-life animals like dogs, sheep, rabbits, ponies and a few exotic birds are housed . On each level of the boat, around its edges, are displays about the history and dress of the ancient Middle East, a few scenes from the life of Noah, and games for kids like water pumps and levers that lift bales of hay. But the ark is not just about tourist attractions. Down below, there exists a honeycomb system of hatches, each opening an area where food could be sealed in for long-term storage. The curvature of the upper deck could be used to collect rainwater and also to let the horses and other animals get some exercise. Huibers says that his boat gives people a pretty good idea of how Noah’s ark would have worked in practice.

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$100,000 Luxury Tree House Is as Comfortable as a 5-Star Hotel

Britain’s most luxurious tree house belongs to builder Chris Whalley. The incredible abode that he unveiled just last week took him over seven months and £60,000 ($98,000) to build. Located in Blean, Kent, Whalley’s tree house is made almost entirely out of driftwood that he gathered from a nearby beach and is meant to be his holiday home. What’s most unique about the house itself is that it comes with all the comforts a five-star hotel has to offer, including plumbing, electricity and even a rustic décor that goes very well with the natural surroundings.

I must say that I’ve fallen in love with this quaint little house, just looking at the pictures of the interiors. There’s something so charming about the place that it reminds me of the Beatrix Potter books I read as a child; of course, with some modern conveniences as well. The beds are covered with the finest Egyptian cotton linen, and the bathrobes and towels are from Waters and Noble. The kitchen crockery is also top of the range. Some of the pieces of luxury furniture in the house are well worth over £1,500. Everything inside the house is one-of-a-kind, including the concrete-wood effect kitchen worktop and the tree trunk sink. As if all this wasn’t good enough, Whalley’s house even comes with an elevated hot tub, for the ultimate experience in luxury. The entire construction rests 20ft above the ground on a 25 ft red cedar tree, making it not only the most deluxe habitable tree house in England, but also the highest. It is located among other holiday log cabins that Whalley built six years ago. Naturally, the view from the house is brilliant.

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Chinese Farmer Builds Wind-Powered Car

A 55-year-old Chinese farmer has come up with a unique invention that might just make him a millionaire. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen vehicles that run on alternative fuel sources, but Tang Zhengping’s invention is really something else. The car he built in three months is 1m high,  3m long and powered by wind. But the best part is this – it has the potential to reach a speed of 90mph (140kmph). This does seem too good to be true for a wind-powered vehicle, but Mr.Zhengping from Beijing, the city that hosts the largest car show in the world, has a different story to tell.

According to Mr.Zhengping, the vehicle runs on electric generators and batteries, which are recharged by the large fan spinning in the front of the vehicle. The two solar energy wings at the back also support the generation of electricity. While one set of generators and batteries are working, another two get charged. For now, the batteries need to be charged every two days and the fan and wings provide extra electricity when the car is in motion. “It goes at a maximum speed of 140kmph and lasts longer than an electric car, which usually doesn’t have generators,” says Mr.Zhengping.

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Lighting Up Christmas – The Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando

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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