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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Electric fans: the deadly menace 

The great thing about living in a different country is how it opens your eyes to the fact that when you put a whole lot of people in a single place and let them figure out life and what it means, it can result in some interesting ideas and strange customs. You get somewhat blinded to the idiosyncratic nature of your native culture due to your lack of perspective and comparison; since I've been away, it still comes as a shock to come back to NZ and see just how small-town it seems (rugby as a national obsession - not that I'm immune, nor want to be, to that - the mad rush to blame Asians for everything; the natural inclination to drop celebrities down a peg or two etc, etc.)

Korea. Well, I could go on for 10-20 pages on the customs in this country that intrigue/confuse/amuse/irritate (pick your adjective) me. But I would like to bring your attention to the one custom that I believe is the king crazy Korean belief (ah, alliteration, the cornerstone of every mediocre blogger's post): fan death.

No, nothing to do with supporting sport a little too much. Okay, here is a site that documents a 1997 article from THE KOREA HERALD (on of the two major English newspapers here) that demonstrates just how deeply rooted this quaint little superstition is:

The heat wave which has encompassed Korea for about a week, has generated various heat-related accidents and deaths. At least 10 people died from the effects of electric fans which can remove oxygen from the air and lower body temperatures. . . .

On Friday in eastern Seoul, a 16-year-old girl died from suffocation after she fell asleep in her room with an electric fan in motion. The death toll from fan-related incidents reached 10 during the past week. Medical experts say that this type of death occurs when one is exposed to electric fan breezes for long hours in a sealed area. "Excessive exposure to such a condition lowers one's temperature and hampers blood circulation. And it eventually leads to the paralysis of heart and lungs," says a medical expert.

"To prevent such an accident, one should keep the windows open and not expose oneself directly to fan air," he advised.

That's right: in Korea, they firmly, utterly, totally believe that if you go to sleep in a room with the windows and doors closed and an electric fan going, you will wake up the next morning dead. All of my smartest students believe this. I have friends who teach doctors who believe this. I ask all Koreans - when I remember - why they believe this, and not one of them has an explanation as to the reasons behind it. The site linked above has a few explanations that tenuously link the fans to death, but as the site goes on to explain, none of them make a lick of sense.

Here’s my theory: during the heat of summer, a lot of poorer, older people are forced to remain indoors with nothing more than a fan for cooling purposes. It doesn’t really do much good, and a handful succumbs to heatstroke. Koreans who discover the body are confronted with a stinking hot, empty room, a dead pensioner or young kid, and an ominous spinning fan. What would you assume did it?

everynight that I fall asleep in Korea with my fan going on me and the windows sealed I wake the next day I thank my lucky stars for getting another chance.

Confucious say: "man who sleep with fan on face make fan happy".
I just took one look at the oven in my kitchen, and imagined a bedroom set up in it. Cooking! Of course, the fan circulates the air and ensures even cooking through. Idiotic. Open the window, fool!

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