Going to Burning Man – Here’s a short reflection on the journey


I woke up this morning inspired to write on this dusty blog and to tell a bit about my journey to Burning Man and how it has shaped my life in the past few years. It’s that time of year again when everyone from around the world gets to “that thing in the desert” and I just stayed up till 4am packing and am now wide awake at 8am ready to make the trek, or rather, the pilgrimage or ritual of sorts to get up there.

For those of you who have read my blog over the years faithfully and encouraged me to write on it, this post is for you. 😉

Burning Man shattered my box in a way I didn’t think was possible. Already before I had arrived at Black Rock City for the first time in August of 2011, I had traveled pretty wide and far and had seen various ways of life. I had slept in yak hair yurts and participated in annual horse festivals in Tibet, lived in Europe for a year in an international intentional community,  trained across India and worked in slum clinics, and had traveled to close to 40 states in the US seeing the wide array of diversity the country has. As someone who had an “anthropological lens” I was always observing and data-filing in my head all the ways us humans live and work and love and marry and parent and procreate and protect and fulfill roles, live in community and shape identity.

When I arrived to Black Rock City for the first time in August of 2011, I had not thought that this type of environment could ever exist on this planet. I could not believe that this many humans could come together, and participate in a form of community that I had not thought possible, given all the industrialization and civilizing, consumerism and individualism that had set in.

It captured me, and I have never looked back.

My first day was one to remember. I had arrived on Thursday, which even though 4 days into the event, was the earliest I could get there because I was working an event for World Vision in Texas yet I had arranged with friends from Seattle and California to bring supplies like my bike and water, and I would be able to come with my little tent and duffel bag.

I had been dropped off at the gate of Burning man  by a friend and had to switch cars to get in and I got driven to Distrikt Camp, a large sound camp. I was wearing my jeans and a shirt and as I got out I realized not many were wearing these daily type of clothes that I had on. Sure, I had my international hippie-ish garments ready to wear but I hadn’t put them on yet.

I made the trek walking to my camp, which was on the other side of the city , and as I walked I became more and more excited to be in this environment.

There was no cell reception, or wifi, and you had to arrange to find your friends BEFORE you go to the event. I was lucky enough to spot that yellow penske truck at the 3:30 and G  location. My friends were there and I was happy to see two camp groups that I had connected being neighbors. One from Seattle and one from California and they were the Zepto Space camp and Mini Man Camp. Zepto had about 6 peeps, and MMC was a camp of 15 coming from Italy, Canada, France and Santa Cruz.

Yay! I was here! I set up my little cheap tent I had bought at a Texas Walmart the night before and before I could even do the next thing, I was roped into “Shawn, let’s go on a bike ride!”

Bam, off we went, a crew of five, and as we biked, my eyes lit up everywhere. Every little participation and interaction was fascinating and fun and new and exciting. Typing on this typewriter, drinking this cuba libre, talking to this 70 year old colorful woman, seeing groups of all demographics and genders talking to each other and sharing life…We biked out to the open playa to see some art…

And very soon I came across my cousin, Kirsten Berg’s art piece the Constellation of One. It wasn’t hard not to recognize, it was made of mirrors and would reflect in the sun. I told our bike crew “That’s my cousins art!!” another replied, “Let’s go!”


We went to check it out and it was beautiful. A star tetrahedron with bubble mirrors all over it. I was happy to see my cousin expressing herself as an artist, as I had seen her small art pieces in our grandmothers home growing up, which also involved shards of mirror.

I knew there was a secret door, and so I told my friends, I have something to show you….

We opened the small portal and went in…There was a man, shaved head, all dressed in white, sitting in the lotus position surrounded by battery powered candles. “Welcome,” he said.

We sat around him and he said his name was Mr. White. He began to explain the deep significance of this geometric shape and how it was resemblant of a Merkaba and could take you to different dimensions as he packed a pipe with what looked like some green powdery substance.

In a ritualistic way, he handed the small pipe to each of us to take a puff and hand it back to him. He carefully cleared the bowl and repacked for the next person, making sure none of us took two puffs. I don’t know what it was, but I could tell I was instantly high.

Thanking him for his gift, we walked out of the multi-dimensional spacecraft art of my cousin, and lo and behold there she was with her partner! We hugged, yay! I was finally at Burning Man for the first time. I tried my best to act sober as I said hello to them, and soon I was on my way biking again.

Our group went to another art installation right after, and this one was always held a special place in my heart to this day . It was Marco Cochrane’s welded torso of “Truth is Beauty.


One could climb it and I did. I went to the top of the torso, and I found the piece moving to me and I loved it. (To this day, it has been my favorite piece on the playa. Maybe because it was one of the first I ever interacted with.)

So yeah, movement happened around the playa, the sun was setting, and my heart was bursting with energy and joy as I traversed around this playground.

The night had came and I knew some of my friends from my small hometown of Woodside were throwing a little gathering and party near the main man base structure in the center of the playa. Happening north of the man at 12 0’clock I saw the group There was a table and drinks were being served and I saw my hometown friends and they gave me great big hugs lifting me up in the air. Some 50 of us hung out and reconnected, some of whom we hadn’t seen since the middle school years.


Then all of a sudden as we were close to the man in the center of the playa, two large fires ignited about 200 meters from us, then another 2, then another, 2 and another 2, and soon, there were 24 large fires surrounding us ALL AROUND. As I attempted to wrap my brain around the fuck was happening, my crazy long red haired friend Tyler yelled out to us all and the playa, “BURNING MANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!“””

Indeed it was. Indeed it was.

So what now? Did I expect that I would connect with a person that night who would become my partner for the next year, helping me become a better human and more conscious and aware? did I expect that I would go back year after year to help with my cousins art, deepening our relationship and friendship in ways I had wished to have with a cousin? did I expect I would discover this radical environment to be a social experiment that could be prototyped and applied around the world pushing and breaking cultural boundaries and values, some which need breaking and reflecting again? did I expect that I would travel around the world to the first regional burn in Israel to see some of those cultural boundaries pushed and write about it as a journalist? did I expect that I would eventually work for the Burning Man organization helping facilitate social impact projects that burners do around the globe???

The short answer is no, but what in life can we expect? The journey in Burning Man culture has been amazing and I am excited to see where it manifests and iterates next. Last year close to 30% of those participating at Burning Man (20,400 people) were from out of the country. Burning Man is going global. From the roots of the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up, to the far reaches of the world.

All the open minded, pioneering, rule breaking, and envelope pushing peeps from every country are coming to the petri dish of Black Rock City; of Burning Man; to be inspired, encouraged, shaped, and whatever else they may experience that brings them to another trajectory and vision. These spirits and artists and makers and dreamers are going back to their home communities and bringing the spirit of Burning Man locally. And now that spirit is being brought to the highest levels of governments and corporations and non-profits around the world we’re seeing. There are lessons to be learned and extrapolated, and indeed the 100 plus academic papers and publishings prove there is an unlimited amount of philosophy and analysis into this thing in the desert that is blossoming around.

For those who know me well, they know Burning Man has been a large and exciting part of my life. and they know for a crazy ass adventurer like me who never seems to satisfy his thirst for new countries, cultures and experiences, Burning man must be important for the amount of time and energy I have given to it.

I’m leaving today for the playa, and I’m excited as fuck. Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting, if you’re at Burning Man this year. Find me at 2:45 and Esplanade at Burners Without Borders Camp.

Video of our Zepto Crew including my first sunset walk for me on playa

Film about those 24 burning effigies, made by my co-worker at BWB, Christopher Breedlove 🙂

a reflection . .

I’m always a little sad when a vibrant life passes. 

I remember a few years back when I saw a memorial collage honoring a young man of 28, who had passed while kayaking rapids… Based on the photos, one could tell this man had joy in his life. His smile was a contagious one could see and his friends pictured next to him were happily affected by his presence.

I didn’t know him, but I was moved with his memorial..And I began to weep and let it out, yet slightly smiling knowing that he was at least able to share his spirit with those while he was here.

Yesterday, I found out that another strong spirit passed. Yet this person I knew… Candace Coffee and I met as part of an international group of students and professors on a survey trip of Tibet. I was still in college and she had recently graduated from UCI with a degree in dance and international studies. She had aspirations for grad school, and future endeavors around the globe.

Candace and her little ones, Jude & Jack

I got to share many wonderful memories in this season of traversing China and Tibet with Candace and our group. Whether it was playing Gang of Four cards on a sleeper class train from Beijing to Xining, sharing spicy yak noodles for lunch, or even the lamb kebabs that the Uyghurs would make on the street. It was exploring monasteries and nunneries, bathing in mountain hot springs, horseback riding in the country, sleeping in yak hair tents sipping on that special Tibetan drink we all love; yak butter tea. གཟུགས་པོ་བདེ་ཐང་།! (Cheers in Tibetan)

Ah the memories! Such ones are close to my heart, and 13 years later, I still feel a connection to all of those who were on that trip, because in today’s world, a trip like that does not exist anymore due to heavier travel restrictions in the Tibetan region.

As all of us were becoming friends at 3,650 meters in Lhasa, staying in our guesthouse three blocks away from Barkhor Square, something triggered in Candace’s body and she took a turn and was beginning to lose her vision..


She was flown to Hong Kong for immediate medical attention. As we learned some time later, she had to go back to the States. She went blind in one eye, then the other, then her vision regained…She felt numbness in her body…and for a while, she and many physicians did not really know what was going on in her body. 

As it was discovered, Candace had Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), a rare condition of which not everything is entirely known about.

And I didn’t see Candace for a few years after then…

When I saw her again, it was with our fellow partner on the Tibet trip, Jared. And together we shared a day and evening together, laughing and reminiscing. She had gone through some humps, but was in general good spirits and still very strong and able. I think she may have been doing a bit of dance, and acting as well.. This was 2004/05..

Yet, as the course of events that would happen for Candace’s life from here on, she would be encountered by a different sort of ‘Tibetan Himalaya’ to climb. These Himalayas which she would consistently conquer and overcome, regardless of what the level of intensity they could be.

I was inspired always by Candace, and while I didn’t get to see her as much face to face in LA, I felt I was still a part of her life through her photos. Whether she was traversing to beautiful places, gracefully dancing or fighting for the openness of embryonic and stem cell research in California, her life was vibrant, and encouraging. It was a joy to see her become a sweet, sweet mother for her two monkeys, Jack & Jude.


I had another cry last night, and I looked to the stars of the Hi-Desert. In the distance, I saw a red sparkly star just above the horizon of the mountain range…And I named that star Candace, because she is a star…and her life and how she emanated it will always be here.

I will miss you Candace..Thank you for being You..

Until we meet again…Au Revoir, Adios, Auf Wiedersehen..


Video of Candace talking about NMO

Contributions can be given to an education fund for Jack & Jude, Candace’s precious boys

candace 2
Candace and Marlen near Qinghai Lake, looks like yaks in the background..

After 14 countries this Summer, it’s back to INDIA and NGO Work ~


Ok Ok Ok Ok~

It has been a while since I posted an update. Sometimes, when I am moving so fast from place to place, there isn’t really much time to reflect. I have learned more and more to live in the present and experience the days fully. Only now do I really have some time to give an update on the past and what is happening now.

Some have requested a new post and to keep blogging, so here it is and thanks as always for the support through reading and commenting, whether online or in person.

When I posted last, I was in India and it was the month of May.

Now 5 months later, I am back in India in the the city of Kolkata. My last post highlighted my experience with this Mother Teresa figure I have been friends with for 10 years. His name is Francis and shortly after I posted on his life, he sent me an email requesting me to come fill in for him while he is gone in Europe for the Fall.

Well, can one say no to Mother Teresa if she asks you to help? Haha, after some short reflection, I felt it was time for me to do some volunteer work again. It had been years since I last was involved in such work, yet it felt right to do it. So here I am.

But before I go into the details of this work, I will quickly update on what just happened for the past 5 months.


After Darjeeling in May, I flew to Israel for a month. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the land, and it was one of the more amazing experiences I have had. I loved Israel and the Israeli people. I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went and made some amazing friendships. I was also there when the tension began with the unfortunate killings of the teenagers, and I left right before the Israeli Defense Forces were mobilized. Many I met did not want conflict at all, but what would you do if your home country was attacked? Conflicts aside, Israel has a special place in my heart and I will continue to go back as the years go on…I recommend everyone to visit and have a good time there. Let me know if you want contacts to meet.

Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel



After Israel, I flew to the Balkans and traveled around Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In the month of July, this region is beautiful. I had visited Romania in 2000, and now 14 years later, I visited friends I had made back then. The same family that hosted me back then, hosted me again. I love how with the help of social networks today, I can keep in touch with my friends from all over the world.

Then after the Balkans, came that thing in the desert and this year was nothing short of spectacular again. I was there in the Black Rock Desert for two weeks and had a nice time there.



Then it was off to prepare for India and this is where our story continues….

Francis works with the children and youth that have grown up in the massive train station called Sealdah in Kolkata. It is one of the busiest train stations in India and indeed the world, with hundreds of thousands of people in and out everyday. It is bustling with porters, people going to work, street merchants, and from 6am-11pm, there is a sea of people that take some keen navigation to move through and along. Being back in India, one always has to be aware of where you walk.

Francois 3

The boys of the Railway station are a tight crew. They look out for each other and some do little jobs to make some money, such as carrying luggage or goods. They sleep at the station, just on the ground, some live with their families, some have no family. Some are married (because it is common to get married at a young age) and some are fathers at age 18. Some have a wife that is expecting and some have mental and physical disabilities.

Francois 30

The list goes on. But like any boy, they like to have fun, and they like to have freedom. Most of their lives, they have had no formal education and the local government has not been able to assist their lives in any relevant way. This is where Francis and his Pilgrims of Charity Friends Organization comes in.

The work of Francis’ work involves just being present like a big brother or father to the boys. He provides them food, his smile and is there to help with any problem that they may encounter. For instance, one of the boys fathers had passed away and the mother had no where to go. Francis was able to arrange accommodation for her and a place to work.

Besides, being with the boys and giving them education twice a week, Francis also has a host slum where he provides basic first aid to the occupants of the slum. Most of the people who live in this slum are Bangladeshi and don’t have the same type of opportunities in Kolkata. They are slightly discriminated but the situation for them in Bangladesh isn’t much better, so they live there near a river (picture the water black) and the train station.


So, I have been here for a week already and I have been the new “Big Brother” to the boys. They all met me in May, and were all happy to see me again. They enjoy having an American as a friend and are curious about all sorts of things. I also have visited the slum and have been addressing the medical needs. There is everything from common lacerations and abrasions, to skin, eye and ear problems. For more serious matters, I bring the person to the local hospital and with my NGO card, I can get them in right away for treatment. I have seen some pretty bad skin issues, because the fact is that the people don’t take as much showers as they should. Common hygiene is not really practiced or known, and with the treatment I administer, I also educate as best I can.



Besides, the slum and Train station work, I also visit the local government hospital a couple times a week and it is still is as difficult to see as it was for me 10 years prior when I came as a student. Yet even though the conditions are difficult to see, the simple human to human connection is still needed. And the very simple action of going to an old man, who is looking dazed and to hold his hand and look him in the eyes with a smile and respect can bring even him to some grateful tears. It is sometimes the most simplest actions such as these, that can spur life into the temporarily broken bodies and spirits in the hospital.

I am grateful to be here, but it is also another one of the most difficult experiences in my waking life I have ever experienced. To see so many on the street, disabled, hurt, diseased. After so many people, it sort of becomes commonplace and one can just accept that everyone in this environment is struggling to eat but that somehow no one is really starving. The Bengali people do look out for each other, but can only give so much of their own resources.

Now for these boys, they can live in the train station their entire life. And to be honest, some of them probably will. They love the station, it is their home, their identity and family. Yet, it is not the best place to raise a baby or a family, and of course there can be exploitation or even kidnappings, as it happened to one of the little babies of a young man we know.

When I visited the boys earlier this year, I got an idea to bring more education resources to them through the use of laptops and technology. I felt they were more than capable to interact and learn programs, and that with the right initial directions, they could self teach themselves and add to their own livelihoods.

Now, 5 months later, this idea has transformed into raising $5,000 seed money and acquiring 8 laptops to kickstart the classroom/computer lab project (link here). The simple mention of my decision to help these boys has inspired 4 of my friends to come volunteer alongside and contribute collectively to make the classroom a reality for them.

Just a couple weeks ago I proposed the project to the boys and asked if it was something they wanted and they all raised their hands enthusiastically. When I asked them a good location for them so they can all walk there easily, they gave me the best location and district.

Next week, my friends arrive and soon the classroom (titled Avasar Shala) will begin in addition to the existing work of the Pilgrims of Charity. I am writing from an internet cafe now where I pay 15 cents an hour and listening to some deep house music. It is the weekend, and I will definitely take some needed rest after my first week here.

Thanks for reading, for the continued support at this time. I launched a small campaign for the project and if you want to contribute financially, you can. Or if you want to visit me while I am here, come. I will stay till Dec 20.

Cheerio and Connect with me on FB if you ever want to chat more deeply.






10502390_10154809883165717_5626502655377406327_nAll photos used with permission by Tara Beth Currah