Friday, July 30, 2010

Fan death

One of our most memorable moments in Chile was a dinner we had with our friend's host family. The season was turning, and cold had set in. In Chile, there are traditional foods for each time of the year. When it is cold, people drink a lot of matte. This is a type of tea drunken using a silver straw with slits at the bottom to keep from eating the leaves.
It is widely believed however that if you step outside after drinking a hot beverage without covering your mouth your face will freeze permanently. They believed this so strongly, they literally prevented us from leaving the room for at least fifteen minutes until they could be sure that our faces wouldn't freeze from the shock. This commonly held belief was so strong, that even well educated Chileans held strongly to this superstition. Everyone knew a friend of a friend whose cousin's mother-in-law had actually had this happen to them.

We have found a similarly bizarre conviction here in South Korea. It is called Fan Death.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Fan death is a putative phenomenon, generally accepted only in South Korea, in which an electric fan left running overnight in a closed room can cause the death of those inside. Fans sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on. The specifics behind belief in the myth of fan-death often offer several explanations for the precise mechanism by which the fan kills. However, as explained below, none of these beliefs stands up to logical or scientific scrutiny. Examples for possible justifications of belief in fan death are as follows: * That an electric fan creates a vortex, which sucks the oxygen from the enclosed and sealed room and creates a partial vacuum inside. This explanation violates the principle of conservation of matter, as indoor fans are not nearly powerful enough to change the air pressure by any significant amount. Additionally if the room is closed and sealed, there is no place for the oxygen to be removed to. * That an electric fan chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe. * The fan uses up the oxygen in the room and creates fatal levels of carbon dioxide. * That if the fan is put directly in front of the face of the sleeping person, it will suck all the air away, preventing one from breathing. This explanation ignores both the fact that a fan attracts as much air to a given spot as it is removing from it, and the fact that most people point a fan towards themselves when using one, which causes air to move past the face but does not change the amount of air present. * That fans contribute to hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. As the metabolism slows down at night, one becomes more sensitive to temperature, and thus supposedly more prone to hypothermia. If the fan is left on all night in a sealed and enclosed room, believers in fan death suppose that it will lower the temperature of the room to the point that it can cause hypothermia.

The Government of Korea doesn't alleviate this erroneous fear but rather propagates it.

In summer, mainstream Korean news sources regularly report on cases of fan death. A typical example is this excerpt from the July 28, 1997, edition of The Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper:

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.

It makes me wonder what strange beliefs we have.


sharon said...

Nessa Dearest,

I love your experiences of the Korean culture and appreciate your sharing them. Your curiosity and enjoyment and enthusiasm for Korea and for life shines through all your stories and makes reading them enjoyable. Even your suffering is entertaining, as it reminds me of similar yet dissimilar situations I have gone through and am going through. It is fun to experience Korea through your and Kyle's adventures.

Love, Your Mama

Karen said...

Great post, Van!

mrphd said...

"How we know what isn't so." Great book.