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Six unusual Asian curtain-calls


Charles Darwin would have been proud of these Eastern exits...

Published on Aug 23, 2010

By Joel Quenby

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the … sauna,” to misappropriate an old saying. Alas, the mangled advice comes too late for Vladimir Ladyzhensky. The Russian finalist of this year’s World Sauna Championships died after collapsing at the event alongside last year’s champion, Finnish rival Timo Kaukonen. Both were “apparently suffering burns,” according to the BBC.

Happier times at Finland's World Sauna Championships

The competition, which has been running in Finland since 1999, features entrants from about 20 countries. Participants withstand a startling heat of 110C fueled by additions of a liter of water to the stove every 30 seconds. The last man remaining in the sweltering sweatbox wins.

While police investigated the fiasco, the tournament’s organizer, Ossi Arvela, said he was grief-stricken—although he sought to deflect the heat: “All the rules were followed and there was enough first-aid personnel. All the competitors needed to sign in to the competition with a doctor’s certificate.” 

Fins love wacky races as much as boiling-hot saunas. The country hosts numerous gimmicky “sports,” including wife carrying, mosquito slapping, mobile-phone throwing, swamp football … and that’s just for starters. “I guess all Finnish summer sports were invented by drunk people,” Harri Kinnunen, two-time organizer of the Boot Throwing World Championships, speculated to the BBC.

Without wishing to belittle the recent tragedy, or the dubious honor of being “World Sauna Champion,” I can’t help being reminded of evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. More specifically: The Darwin Awards: A Chronicle of Enterprising Demises (est. 1985). According to Wendy Northcutt, author of the Darwin Award books: “The awards honor people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”

Let us reminisce about some, er, notable Asian entries, and take solace in the fact that even if life has no reason or rhyme, we can still opt to shuffle (or, in numerous cases, rocket) off this mortal coil in a philanthropic manner, and simultaneously cause widespread mirth for the ghoulish e-mail-forwarding masses.

CAMBODIA: A Cowardly Death (2007 Nominee)

A Khmer Cow in Cambodia (by Christian Haugen via Flickr Creative Commons License)

The sounds of a violent scuffle led some rural Khmers to the discovery of a man’s naked body lying beneath the frightened family cow. Injuries to his head and genitals suggested he had been trampled to death. Later probing revealed the victim’s divorce had been finalized 10 days prior to his fateful last fling. In it, his ex-wife—and a previous one—both blamed the horny beast’s insatiable animal lust for the dissolution. (Charges were not pressed against the cow, which had clearly suffered enough and only acted in self-defense. No bull.)

VIETNAM:  Plug-in Baby (2005 Winner)

A tourist making light of death for cheap laughs (by Don Fulano via Flickr Creative Commons License)

When 21-year-old Nguyen pulled out an old detonator he had found after a drinking session with friends in Hanoi, he tempted fate by insisting that the rusty old contraption could never, ever, possibly explode. His friends begged to differ. So to prove his point the hapless man put the detonator in his mouth, then asked one of the disbelievers to plug the dangling wires into an electrical socket. According to police, “the explosion blew out his cheeks and smashed all his teeth.” And, incidentally, killed him.

JAPAN: Wiped Out (1999 Nominee)

"Where's that janitor?" An elevator attendant in Tokyo by Keng Susumpow (via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Hoshi, a 24-year-old part-time janitor in Tokyo, was cleaning an elevator when he noticed water leaking from its roof. So he rode a second elevator up the shaft, exited its concealed side door, and hopped on top of the leaking lift. While he mopped the puddle, the car resumed ascending, crushing the over-committed janitor into the ceiling of the building (and presumably leaving the roof considerably messier than before). Despite the incident being reported by Mainichi Daily News, the Darwin Award’s jury was dubious, citing various reasons for doubt (culminating with: “elevators have a “stop” button on the roof, so a person … has one last recourse”).

INDONESIA: Booming Black Market (1998 Nominee)

Illegal firecrackers do a booming trade in Indonesia (by Diane Does via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Although illegal in Indonesia, firecrackers are available on the black market (particularly for celebrations such as the Eid Al-Fitr feast held at the end of Ramadan). Two residents of villages in East Java, 28-year-old Isomudin and 20-year-old Matkijo, obtained a large quantity of the illicit explosives then connected the detonation fuses to a motorcycle battery. When the mindless pair fired up the ignition, the resulting explosion could be heard two kilometers away. Eight foolhardy onlookers were injured—and the dynamite duo went up in smoke.

THAILAND: A Charming Exit (2004 Nominee)

Wowing Thailand's tourists (by Neil's Photography via Flickr Creative Commons License) and tragic Boonreung (inset)

During his snake-handling gig in Sisaket province, Boonreung “the Snake Man” was bitten on the right elbow by a deadly mamba. Lesser mortals would have rushed off for a dose of antivenin, but the 34-year-old opted to self-medicate—with a shot of whiskey and some herbal medicine. Then it was on with the show, until paralysis stalled proceedings. Being unable to speak, Boonreung did not object when bystanders dragged him off to hospital, where he later succumbed. Ironically, the snake mishandler is immortalized in the Guinness Book of World Records for spending a week in a roomful of venomous snakes in 1998.

(DIS)HONORABLE MENTION: One of the most notorious villains in
world history met a Darwin Awards-style sticky end. The genocidal Attila the Hun had conquered all of Asia by A.D. 450, but the Karma Police finally caught up with the bloodthirsty tyrant at the age of 47. The fearsome Hunnic madman—who earned the nickname “The Scourge of God”—died in a fashion that was fittingly bloodthirsty. Literally: Attila drowned in a nosebleed on his wedding night. Indeed, after post-nuptial feasting and toasting his happily married future, the mass murderer drunkenly inhaled—and suffocated in a snoutful of bloody just desserts.


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