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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: Fan Death

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fan Death

I had a great day today wandering around Bejing and taking pictures of the Forbidden City, but perhaps the biggest smile was thing morning at my hostel over coffee with another couple girls staying there.  They are on a vacation in China and SE Asia after teaching for a year in South Korea. 

We were talking about various travel stories -- where have you been, funny things you've seen, favorite places and such -- when somehow the conversation turned to "fan death" in South Korea.  I told them I had no idea what they were talking about and then proceeded to tell me about an urban legend that is rampant in South Korea.

If you sleep in an enclosed room in Korea (which can get quite hot in the summer) with a fan on, you stand a good chance of dying from "fan death." 

They said that literally scores of Koreans told them this was true and had a variety of explanations for it: the fan would 'chop up' all the oxygen in the room and suffocate you, the fan created a vortex which drew the oxygen away from you and killed you, or the fan would cause hypothermia and kill you.  I told them that there was absolutely no way at all that a developed, civilized country could believe anything that crazy.

Then I turned to Wikipedia, while ordering another coffee:

Not only is this apparently a very common urban legend in South Korea (and only South Korea, which is odd), but the South Korean government actually has promoted this theory -- another aspect of this story that I didn't believe from the girls.  Here is that section from the Wikipedia entry, including a quote from the official South Korean government position.

"The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB), a South Korean government-funded public agency, issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that "asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners" was among South Korea's five most common seasonal summer accidents or injuries, according to data they collected.  Also included among the five hazards were air conditioner explosions and sanitation issues, including food poisoning and opportunistic pathogens harbored in air conditioners. The KCPB actually published the following:

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."

How weird is that??  North Korea?  Sure, I'd believe it.  But South Korea??


At October 20, 2009 at 10:41 PM , Anonymous Holger Mette said...

Haven't been to South Korea, but from my visit to Japan I'd believe it... You can always get a boat to Korea to have a look for yourself though of course!

I'm enjoying having a flick through your blog - there are quite a few familiar places with blog entries!


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