Death by Fan

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Korea is slowly killing me at the moment with its summer. Breaking into a sweat by just walking in the shade wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts is not my idea of a fun day out when you’re just going to the shops. It’s a case of constantly having to drink water and searching for anywhere that is air conditioned. Unbelievable as it may seem, you can see quite a few Koreans walking around in jeans, coats and sweaters when it is at least 32C (90F) and 85% humidity. Then there are those who appear to have similar traits to a traditional vampire and shy away from the sun, covering their face with a huge visor or using an umbrella as a shield against the dreaded ultraviolet rays. However, I think that this behaviour has little to do with the heat. It’s probably more of an Elizabethan attitude of desiring an abnormally unhealthy pale skin.

Personally, I cannot handle this heat. I had the discomfort recently of having to dress up for an interview. This meant shirt, tie, trousers, socks and shoes – the full office attire. I wore just about everything a sensible person would not choose to wear in this climate. Within seconds my body was trying desperately to cool me down by opening up pores and letting the moisture trickle out. By the time I got to the interview my trousers and shirt were sticking to me like I had just been involved in a wet executive competition and had won first prize.

Without cooling aids I think I would turn to mush. But I’m in a country where the reliance on cooling equipment is not welcomed by everyone. Many Koreans will be all too familiar with the term ‘fan death’. It was something that I had never come across before, but it is strongly believed by many Korean citizens that you will die if you have a fan on at night. In fact, the Korean government funds the ‘Korea Consumer Protection Board’ (KCPB) which issued a safety alert in 2006 stating that asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners was one of Korea’s most common seasonal ‘accidents or injuries’. They also 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.’

A common myth in Korea is that a fan will remove all oxygen or that it will reduce the temperature so dramatically that a person within range of the cooling breeze will surely die from hypothermia. Many is the time when perspiration is pouring out of me that I would welcome such a sharp decrease in temperature and even embrace a cold marble slab. In my dreams there is a time when I can function normally and walk 20ft outside my apartment without breaking into a sweat. Now, that would be real cool.

For further information on Korea’s deadly killer visit:

© John Brownlie 2010


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