The Quirks of Life in Korea: Second EditionPosted: May 13, 2010
Hand Phone Mischief – In Korea, cell phones are more commonly referred to as “hand phones”. In North America, we’re now pretty much completely reliant on smart phones. Most people I know back home are now using either a Blackberry, an iPhone, or something similar. Surprisingly, the smart phone hasn’t exactly taken hold here like it has in Canada and the United States. That doesn’t mean, however, that Korean phones don’t have their own special features that North American phones are sadly lacking. I was shown this nasty little trick by the captain of my ball hockey team: when sending a text message to someone, there is a text field that displays the ‘sent from’ number. By default, this field shows your phone number. Fair enough. If you go up and click ‘edit field’ on that number, however, you can change the number that will display on the message recipient’s phone. So, if I send a text message to John, and I change my ‘sent from’ number to Steve’s number, knowing that John has Steve’s number saved in his phone, John will receive my text message but it will appear as though Steve sent it. Are you following me here? This would definitely be illegal back home, but I’m really glad it isn’t over here, because I’ve had a lot of fun with this feature already.
*queue evil laughter*
Weird Ice Cream Flavours – If you read my last ‘Quirks of Life in Korea’ post, than you know how I feel about Korean pizza. Well folks, it just got a whole lot weirder. Korean ice cream. Although Baskin Robbins is hugely popular over here, probably even more so than at home, the flavours of ice cream sold here are very questionable. The first weird one I saw was green tea ice cream. Not so bad, I’ve even seen it at home a few times. How about pistachio flavour? OK, ok, again, sort of weird, but nothing that you can’t get at home if you look hard enough. How about a nice cold dish of corn flavoured ice cream? Say what? Oh yes, you read that right. Corn flavoured ice cream. If you’re thirsty after a nice big dish of that deliciousness, you can even wash it down with some corn flavoured water, if it suits you. Maybe you’re not a corn lover? Maybe a different vegetable tickles your fancy? Red bean flavoured ice cream is by far the weirdest one I’ve seen. I haven’t had the courage to try that one yet, and to be honest, I don’t really see it happening. How they even manage to sell this kind of ice cream when it’s sitting right next to mint chocolate chip just blows my mind.
Public Trash Cans – Simply put, there just aren’t really too many of them. I’m not sure if Koreans just don’t believe in them, or what it might be. I’ve really only seen public trash cans in subway stations and in the nicer touristy areas. By and large, they are missing from the average street or sidewalk. You must be thinking that Koreans must just be super environmentally friendly, to not even believe in having trash cans in public. Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. What ends up happening is one ambitious person tosses a bottle, or a can, or a food wrapper into the corner of a walkway or in front of a store entrance. Koreans, the good Samaritans that they are, would rather add to an existing pile than be a Smoggy and start a new trash pile. So what happens is these piles just accumulate and sooner or later what you have is a public trash pile. Who cleans up these piles, I will never know. Maybe the unlucky property owner of the location of the public trash pile. I’ll never know for certain. All I know is that trash piles aren’t too difficult to find, and people won’t even shoot you a bad eye if they see you tossing garbage onto an existing pile. The moral of the story is that if you’re strolling around town in Korea and finish that dukboki that you just had to have on the go, and think, “Damn! Now I have to hang onto this garbage until I get home!,” never fear; a public trash pile is just a short walk away.
Subway Sellers - It seems that you can’t take a train into Seoul, regardless of the time of day, without seeing an older man or woman trying to sell something. Sometimes it’s sock things that you wear on your arms, sometimes it’s ankle warmers, sometimes it’s a spiky plastic tool that you use to unclog your kitchen sink. Whatever it is, it’s always something. You can always tell when you’re about to be solicited when you see someone sitting on the train with a small cart filled with cheap products. The doors close, the train takes off, and they stand up and being their well-rehearsed spiel. “Let me show you why you need arm socks! Only 2,000 won for a pair!” (translated from Korean into what I assume they are saying!)
Fan Death – When it comes to good old quirky Korea, this is as weird as it gets. Try and stay with me on this one. Shortly after I arrived in Korea, I set up a fan in my room, and my room mate said “you better not leave that on at night. You might die.” I just awkwardly laughed, and didn’t think much of it. I later found out that Korean people actually believe this. I’ll say it again: Korean people believe that if you leave an electric fan on during the night, with your door closed, you. will. die. Well I did a little research into the justifications into this obviously erroneous belief. I did not make any of this up. Here’s what I came up with:
- An electric fan left on in a sealed room creates a “vortex” which will suck up all of the air and create a partial vacuum in the room, leading to suffocation and DEATH!
- An electric fan will “chop up” all of the oxygen particles in a room, leaving none to be breathed by the unfortunate sleeping soul, which of course leads to DEATH!
- An electric fan uses up all of the oxygen in the room, and creates lethal amounts of carbon dioxide which are then breathed in, causing DEATH! (this one makes absolutely no sense)
- If a fan is left directly in front of a sleeping individual, it will suck up all of the air in that person’s immediate vicinity, leading to suffocation and DEATH!
- As your metabolism slows at night, you become more sensitive to temperature. A fan left on over night will chill the room considerably and lead to hypothermia and then…. DEATH!
- This one is my favourite one of all. Fans blowing directly on the body deprive one of proper levels of “skin breathing”. As everyone knows, a severe lack of “skin breathing” can lead to one thing, and one thing only. DEATH!
Again, this is not a joke. Many people actually believe this. I asked my director about fan death, and she laughed and said she didn’t believe in it. But she was really shifty-eyed when she said it, and I wasn’t totally convinced. Koreans believe in fan death so much that all electric fans are equipped with self-timers, so that one can ensure that their fans will not stay on all night. In fact, the Korea Consumer Protection Board issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that:
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.
Erroneous beliefs surrounding fan death are sensationalized in the media, leading to even more erroneous beliefs. Take this excerpt from the Korean Herald, an English language newspaper in South Korea:
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.
Fan death, people. Believe it. I’ve talked a lot about this with friends here, and we have our own little theory as to why fan death is so frequently reported in the media. South Korea has a high suicide rate. In fact, it’s really really high. Ninth highest in the world to be exact. Personally, I think that fan death is a cover up for suicide. That’s just a complete guess, not grounded in fact in any way. But really, what else could it be? I refuse to believe that the country that bred the scientists that brought us Kia, Samsung, LG, and Hyundai could possibly believe anything like this. It’s just absurd.
That does it for this edition of The Quirks of Life in Korea. I actually had about 5 more things that I had written for this edition, but this post is long enough after discussing fan death. I’m always on the lookout for the quirkier aspects of life in Asia, and once I have enough for another post, I’ll be back with more.
Shout Out to Canada #2
A big shout out to Jon Conley, back in the Great White North. Our short time here was a blast man, hope things are going well back home. I’ll catch you on the flip side, back in reality. Probably no shirts off on the TTC though!