I am an anonymous blogger who runs a moderately successful Korea-related blog. Earlier this year, I wrote what I considered to be a well-researched article on fan death, demonstrating that it is indeed plausible. It generated a strong reaction immediately, but what was notable was that even after 10 months, many expats absolutely cannot get their head around the idea that fan death is real, even though I explained the science step-by-step and provided external citations from a climatology expert and the U.S. EPA. At best, those expats cannot believe that my post cannot be anything but satire, and at worst they throw verbal feces at the post, the blog, and my intellectual ability in general. Not even my fabled Korea-Japan Saga generates this level of bile and animus.
Pray tell, the Expat -- What is it about these expats that makes them behave like birthers screeching even in the face of Barack Obama's birth certificate? Why do they hate fan death so much?
- Assiduously Adding Knowledge!
Most of you can tell by the tone and humor that this questioner is none other than the inspiration for Ask the Expat, The Korean. Naturally, he asks one hell of question as well.
I spent a good half-hour reading his post again and the subsequent comments. The overriding majority of them were people trying to poke holes in the argument by over-sensationalizing a tiny part of The Koreans argument. The rest of the comments were either in agreement or under the impression that the Korean was joking around. Read them yourselves. Oddly enough, that thread is more civilized than most Fan Death threads.
The best thing to do is this:
First, find an English teacher. No wait, find twenty; a hundred, it doesn’t matter how many, just find them. I don’t care where they’re from or what they look like. Now that you have their attention, tell them that kimchi reduces the aging process and helps keep skin younger and fresher. No wait, that’s not good enough. Tell them that you believe in fan death and just sit back and listen to them roar with laughter and accuse you of being illogical, irrational or just plain ignorant. Wait until the laughing and name-calling subside and then tell them that you still believe in fan death. Careful though, their head might explode or they might launch into a self-praising tirade about how science and logical reasoning works.
Some of you might be laughing now. Some might be making really clever insults up like how I’ve "been in Korea too long" or that I probably think that "kimchi is very spicy". That’s fine though. I don’t suffer from Korean Derangement Syndrome (KDS). This syndrome is a self-imposed barrier that blinds and forbids the mind from accepting anything that doesn’t fit into one’s pre-determined narrative of who Koreans are and how they think. It’s an illness that forces the brain to disregard proven facts and instead offer knee-jerk reactions based on unfounded and unwarranted emotionalism.
The origin is hard to figure out, but I think it has to do with Korea's constant claim to superiority over other Asian (and western) nations. We could be talking about how scientific Hangul is, why Koreans are good at golf, or how chop sticks have made Koreans so good at hand sports, it doesn't matter. There's just something about these superiority claims that riles people up. After reading and hearing about so many Koreans who belief such claims, the reaction starts to become more and more aggressive and dismissive.
If you hear it too much, KDS can be triggered simply by someone highlighting a point of pride in Korean history or culture. It doesn't even have to be a contentious point. Like this:
"Did you know that in the founding legend, Dangun's mother was named Ungnyeo?"
"What? That's so stupid! Koreans are so gullible to believe that myth! Where's my Bible?"
That might be an extreme example, but the point is that KDS has trained people to react this way. Do people view it as a threat to their own idea of supremacy?
Let’s take a look at the fact that kimchi is easily among the world’s healthiest foods. Those suffering from KDS would claim that Koreans are just being overly nationalistic in their enthusiasm, but Health magazine says,
"Kimchi is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacterium helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”
Unfortunately, facts don’t matter when dealing with KDS-infected expats. They can be shown an extremely comprehensive study proving the claims’ validity, but it will still be wrong. In their perfect minds, they’re correct and the Koreans are trying to make themselves appear more exceptional than they deserve. Luckily, since KDS became so fashionable among expats, Koreans can no longer be proud of kimchi. Phew! That was close!
How about fan death? Most expats don’t bother to look into the science of fan death and rely on faux-claims of suffocation and hypothermia, but if they were to inform themselves, they would see that fan death is in fact very true and very real (albeit rare). Luckily, just as the Korean understood, he knew not to quote a Korean scientist and went with an American source known as fucking the Environmental Protection Agency,
"Portable electric fans can increase the circulation of hot air, which increases thermal stress and health risks”and
“Don’t use a portable electric fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside.”
Hyperthermia is what could get you, but again, those pesky facts don’t matter because someone told those freshly-minted expats that Koreans are unreasonable. How else could they believe in such a thing?
I wish I could say that it’s limited to those two items, but I would be lying. As I mentioned above, sufferers of KDS have deeply-instilled gut-reactions to many points of Korean pride. Dokdo and the East Sea come to mind. While the argument is one that continues to truck along, many expats prefer to assume that it’s Japanese territory and that Koreans are just overacting. You will probably be laughed at by some if you make the simple statement that Korean history started in 2333 BCE when Gojeoson was founded. In their superior minds, Korean history started in 1953. I could talk about spicy food, dog meat, medicinal food and Korea’s clearly unique and separate cultures from China and Japan, but it would do no good. Korea Derangement Syndrome is just too strong for facts.
And if it sounds like I’m talking down to those who suffer from KDS that’s because I am. It’s a willful ignorance that parallels the loons in the US who believe that Obama is not a natural born citizen and that he wants to create death panels, also known as “birthers” and “deathers” respectively. I don’t know if KDS is about western superiority or arrogance either; it’s just a blatant denial of facts which don’t fit into a fixed idea of what Korea is or should be.
I must say that I can understand a bit of my fellow expats frustrations. Sometimes it's hard to find a lot of diverse opinion in Korea. If you ask one Korean about a particular issue, there's a high chance that a large majority of other Koreans feel the same way. Take the stereotypes that teachers or American military personnel put up with. We are both accused of being criminals, but that's just not true. The US military is still viewed as 100% guilty for the Armored Tank incident and that's all the Korean population needs to know. Of course, as GI Korea knows, there's much, much more to the story, but Koreans know what they know and they don't care. Did you know that Yongsan Garrison's soil has been destroyed by the American military? Expats might not know that. The US military might not know that, but the Korean people ALL know that.
The point is that Koreans take a lot of what they hear at face-value. I'm not saying they're gullible or unreasonable, it's just we -the expats and non-Koreans- have to put up with so much misinformation about us and the world's interaction with Korea that after awhile we shut-down and start rejecting everything we hear as being bullshit. It's not fair, but the fault falls on both sides.
I would recommend that Koreans tone down a bit and double-check their own facts and figures and that my fellow expats start reading books and papers a bit more and rely less on what online forums and whiny short-term expats claim. I understand that some might get tired of hearing about the same Korean highlights over and over again, but no one is forcing you to repeat or promote them. Do some research; make up your own minds and stop following the lead of that one expat who infected you with KDS.
So, it's not fan death. It's being bombarded with reasons why Korea is special.