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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Korean Myths – Fan Death

photo : Dave Harvey

photo : Dave Harvey

The quiet humming as it sits in the corner sends chills down my spine. On quiet nights I lie there awake, staring, fearing. I don’t want to become yet another statistic, I don’t want to die of fan death. Again.Fan Death. The rumours run like wildfire. Whispering  in the streets and alleys, mentions in the news. What is this killer, this plague? Why does it only affect people in Korea?

If you sleep with a fan on and the doors and windows closed, you will die. I don’t mean dead tired, I mean six feet under. Pushing up daisies.  Dead. I know: while researching this article it happened to me. Don’t worry; I got better.

But why? For many years I have slept with fans on in Waygook (that place that is outside of Korea). Why does the harmless house fan become a killer in Korea? ‘The main cause of death seems to be asphyxiation. “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’ (Korea Herald). Asphyxiation can also happen if the fan is too close to the face. The continued forced air leads to difficulty in breathing and eventual death.

Now, this isn’t the only reason to fear fans. The devious little devices are doing more than just lowering your body temperature. That electric motor that seems to be humming away harmlessly is also plotting your demise. Another chilling excerpt from the Korea Herald testifies to another of the fan’s many devious  modes of destruction: ‘Based on the statement, the police assumed that Kim most likely had died from suffocation after she fell asleep in her room with an electric fan in motion the previous night. Fans can remove oxygen from the air.’

Fan death has been explained to me in two ways, both of which I am led to believe are true by their simple scientific plausibility. The first is that the motor’s electric spark divides oxygen molecules, changing them from O2 to CO2 molecules. The other is that the fan blades simply destroy the oxygen atoms.

The figures of recorded fan deaths are disturbing: during one short week in 1997, 10 people, including a 16 year old girl, died of fan death (as reported by the Korea Herald).

These needless deaths don’t just happen to Koreans, either. Two years ago one of these vicious atom-smashers claimed the life of a Canadian teacher in Mokpo. The fan was reported as the official cause of death.

Fans don’t just kill. They can injure and infect. I, myself almost lost a finger earlier this summer to one of these malevolent machines. A close friend of mine caught tonsillitis (as diagnosed by their doctor) from a brand new infectious appliance.

There are a few possible explanations for the exclusively Korean nature of fan death. It seems that in other countries apartments are built differently, allowing more circulation of air when the room is sealed. Also, Korean physiology is different than that of foreigners. Finally, Korean fans are designed differently. This is why so many sheltered foreigners don’t believe in fan death: the conditions in their countries just aren’t right for this fatal affliction.

Avoiding fan death is quite simple. It is the old air in your sealed room that kills. Fresh air is the cure. Just leave your window or door open a crack and you’ll be fine. With fresh air circulating and renewing the supply of oxygen there is little chance of death. Please, just don’t take any chances. Beware, be careful.

Reprinted from the Ulsan Pear – September, 2004