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Fan Death

Ah, South Korea: a major economic powerhouse of Asia, world leader in technology and a .... superstitious country?

Here's a particularly strange urban legend of "Fan death" where an electric fan, if left running overnight in a closed room, can cause death of those inside. The urband legend is so pervasive in South Korea that manufacturers had to equip fans with a timer switch that turns them off after a certain period of time!

Can an electric fan cause harm to its user? The Korean Consumer Protection Board once stated:

"If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [the] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration 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."

Link - Thanks Stephanie D!


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Ondol has nothing to do with charcoal. Modern ondol is simply radiant heat floors, usually through electric coils in cement or through piping hot water through pipes in the floor. All perfectly safe.
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I "taught" kindergarten in South Korea, and would crank up the air conditioners in the hot humid summers, only to have the Manager burst into the room and fling the windows open, thus saving the kids from fan death and returning the room of 6yr olds to a state of dehydrated semi-consciousness.

Other popular national myths include: The 97 financial crisis was orchestrated by the IMF, and that America intentionally keeps the two Koreas separate because they would be too powerful combined.
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Wow. I lived in Korea for a couple years (87-90) and wondered if they still believed that air conditioning caused asphyxiation by removing oxygen from the air. Don't remember the fan phobia, though. Just that they had a big preference for oscillating fans.

As for ondol (charcoal) heating, I thought that had been phased out a couple decades ago, in favor of safer methods. Loved the heated floors when I was there, though. Great for napping.
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