who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

well, blow me down

when you first get to korea, just about everything is new and different.  you spend most of your time people watching, gazing in awe at the countless examples of strangeness that ooze from every nook and cranny in this odd country.

once you've been here for a few months, the novelty wears off.  things that used to floor you, are now largely unnoticed.

you forget that it's not normal to drink beer from a plastic bottle.
you stop having to remind yourself to get toilet paper on your way out of the restaurant to the shared, public toilet.
it no longer strikes you as disgusting to have to throw used toilet paper into a bin, as opposed to flushing it down the bowl.

by now, forks and flattering female footwear are a distant memory.

so once you've reached this stage, it is both refreshing and surprising when you stumble upon something that still tickles the western cynic within.  for me, this topic of fascination and amusement has provided us with hours of hilarity.  and the funny thing is, it's not a joke.

if i told you that it was a cultural belief, you'd be hard pressed to find it polite to laugh about - right?  what if i told you that it is also afforded the reputation of taking many korean lives every year?  a recognised killer of the elderly and young.  it strikes in summer and leaves families traumatised is its wake of destruction.

not a laughing matter, you're thinking.
you'd be right.

until i told you that this ruthless killer was this guy:

fan death

i shit you not.  this is a real, medically accepted cause of death in korea.  no joke.

as the temperatures rise in the summer months, so too do the levels of fear and caution around this very dangerous appliance.  i'd love to tell you that the fatal blow ('scuse the pun) is a manufacturing fault that causes the fan to burst into flames, engulfing everyone and thing around it in a fatal explosion.  however, that would make too much sense.  instead, this killing machine uses a far more subtle method of slaughter.

to convince skeptical westerners of this phenomenon, koreans will provide one of the following explanations:

theory 1: when left on overnight in a sealed room, a fan creates a vortex, sucking all the oxygen from the room - hence leading to suffocation.

theory 2: the blades of a fan chop up the oxygen particles in the air, leaving none left for the sleeping victim to inhale.

theory 3: the fan itself somehow uses the oxygen in the air, as fuel - leaving dangerously high (fatal) levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

theory 4 (and my personal favourite): fans cause hypothermia.   now i don't know about you, but there are nights in africa where the temperatures are so unbearably high that i would pay good money for a fan effective enough to cause hypothermia.

i will forever treasure the look of utter perplexity, that the kids had the other day, when i shattered their worlds with one simple truth:

"did you know that no other people in the whole world have ever died from fan death?"
"but teacher ... why?"
"well, no one dies from fans anywhere else but in korea"
"haull" (annoying throat noise they make to indicate surprise)
"i don't know ... why do you think that is?"

blank blinking stares.

the belief in fan death is not an out-dated myth, held only by the inbred and village idiots.  no,no.  fan death is a medically accepted cause of death.  it is regularly reported on in the media.  well-educated, credible public figures acknowledge and fear it.

so serious is this matter, that the government-funded Korean Consumer Protection Board issued this public safety alert in 2006:

"If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes [the] bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [an] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration [sic] and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open."

to combat this crisis, all fans are sold with health warnings and switch-off timers.

a few weeks ago, a friend of ours was down with a very bad bout of the flu.  to counter her raging temperature, she slept with her fan on all night.  and to counter that, she kept her windows wide open.  she did this, not because she had bought into the myth - but rather to ensure that if she did peg in the night her death certificate would not be delivered to her welsh mother stating that her daughter had lost her fight for life, to a fan.

when i decided to write a post about fan death - i gave it a considerable think.  cultural differences are very often at the centre of a heated debate over here.  especially in the multicultural community we are in.  words and their meanings are often interpreted out of context.  offense is easily caused without intent.  being a westerner in korea, you have to be especially careful to not pass judgment and always be aware that somethings are neither wrong, nor right ... only different.

i could have approached this with more objectivity, yes.  i'll admit that it lacks a respectful tone.  but had i tried to present this matter to you in any nicer way, i couldn't have given it the ridicule it deserves.

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