Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Korean Derangement Syndrome

Here's the question:

Dear Expat,

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”
“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.


Roboseyo said...
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Roboseyo said...

Great post. I was gobsmacked when I went back to AAK's Fan Death post (which I loved) and saw just how much response it had had.

I've also seen the kneejerk expat thing...it's sometimes hard to push against it, and not let my views get crystallized.

I'm also intrigued by the surprisingly low amount of deviance from commonly accepted public opinion here (on a certain, limited set of topics)... but expats sure can be guilty of the same thing.

조안나 said...

I'm afraid I'm guilty of KDS... at least a little bit.. I don't know when it happend... somewhere between the american beef protests, the dokdo argument and how kimchi cures swine flu, but Korea has made me rather jaded. I'm trying my best to be open and I'll try to do more research on these claims. I'm pretty sure I wrote a post about fan death before I read AAK's fan death post, after reading which, I even told my friends about how fan death is real... we just have another name at home... when it's hot, people die. Thank you for writing this post. I hope others read it and realize thier wrongdoings and change thier thinking patterns.

Oh, but I have heard that all that pepper paste in the Korean diet causes stomach cancer, so I'm not sure if kimchi would be preventing that one... but... I haven't read anything on that in a while, you can check on that yourself.

Chris in South Korea said...

Nice post - and props the AAK! for checking you out.

Part of the care for KDS will come when Koreans stop considering kimchi some sort of super food and two rocks with no trees with fighting for with lives and fingers. No, certainly not every Korean thinks that - in fact, quite a few of the adult students I teach tend to rebuke some of the sillier things.

But it is easier to rag on the things that just don't make sense. Walking on the right? hahaha...

John from Daejeon said...

Are you sure kushibo didn't leave this question?

BTW, I think Fan Death is probably a great way to kill someone and get away with it...well, I guess you could only get away with it in South Korea. I don't think the Northerners have many fans or much electricity to run the few they might have.

The Expat said...

No, it was The Korean himself. I'd like Kush to drop by though.

The Expat said...

아나 and Rob:

I think we all have suffered from a fair amount of KDR (especially from the beef protests and Chosun articles this year), but I have really tried to break the habit and I certainly don't introduce some of the memes to new expats. That's something that really gets me. "Seasoned" expats tend to rail into Korea and Koreans to new teachers under the faux-guise of helping them adjust to Korean life.

I always try to remember what Hurt said: Don't include to word "Korean" when someone or something bothers you. Same goes for race and religion.


You're certainly correct that adults English speakers tend to buck the trend, but they are not really representative of the general population. I think, however, that they are a sign of things to come, yet I've been a little disheartened by some surprisingly anti-Korean sentiments coming FROM Koreans who have spent a lot of time abroad. I'm not a fan of self-loathing.

the Korean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the Korean said...

Thank you Expat! The answer was just great.

One request -- I actually meant to type "bile and animus", not "vile and animus". Would you mind fixing that? Thanks!

Kaylin said...

This is a great post. I think you are absolutely right that when outsiders are confronted with so much nationalism they tend to rag on low-hanging fruit or what they think may be low-hanging fruit. Suggestions for a self-KDS exam?

Sean said...

While I understand that fan death is real, I would guess it is significantly overdiagnosed by Koreans as a cause of death. Of course, we could get into "proximate cause vs. underlying cause" here (in this case, I would argue that "pure fan death" would be so rare as to be considered nearly impossible).

kushibo said...

No, it was The Korean himself. I'd like Kush to drop by though.

I wouldn't touch Fan Death with a three-meter pole.

snowmon said...

lol best blog post of this year!! I enjoyed it thoroughly. This is a sign that future is bright, we all just need to understand each other and meet at halfway.

alexander said...

just now i stumbled overt this post and i just can agree on the frequent occurrence of the KDS. unfortunately the CMS (closed mind syndrome)- a phenotypical similar disease - is very wide spread in korea. while the KDS people just laugh at korean 'facts' the CMS people just claim ultimate truth for their 'facts'. while you find these two diseases on opposite sides of the fence, the symptoms are the same.

as studied biotechnologist / pharmacist the arguments and half truth which are thrown around cause me real bodily pain.... i just cant stand them. its is a pain to see people with absolute no sense of thermodynamics try to explain fan death or rebuke it as well as people crying about kimchi with zero knowledge in microbiology or physiology. the smarter among them cite published studies without the background knowledge to interpret the results of the cited studies.
as example just a quick look into the WHO cause of death statistics reveals that yes koreans suffer much less from colon cancer than europeans ergo kimchi helps :) on the other hand they die in much higher percentage of stomach cancer ergo kimichi is bad. many KDS and CMS people like to pick only one of these facts while actually both are somewhat true.

as for the fan death it is a bit strange that so many people field hypothermia caused by hot air, without realizing that to actually increase heat transfer due to increased air speed, the air has to be hotter than the human (and that also only applies if the human would be dry like a brick ^^). so again yes it could be true but also somewhat wrong. unfortunately most people on both sides of the fight are quite wrong ^^

sry i think i said to much ^^ just my few thoughts ^^


Skyhawk02 said...

You're still wrong about fan death, that entire post was based around the idea that sweating cools you off by cooling the air around you, which is FALSE. Sweating cools you off by evaporating, having a fan blowing on you speeds up the evaporation process, making you cooler, not hotter.

Miggs said...

Nice post! I think you've subtly described without saying out loud the comorbid root disorders of KDS, which are WSC -White Superiority Complex and AITSD-America is the Shit Disorder. Not to be racist, this is only empirically derived, but the most complaining and haughtiness I've seen from foreign teachers have come from white teachers who, for the first time in their lives, have lived in a country that may have as much nationalistic zeal as their own and have also faced discrimination for the first times in their lives. The natural reaction, as you point out, when confronted by a challenger is to attack. I've seen it watching the behavior of many Americans during these Olympics, especially in regards to their treatment of China, who is battling for medal supremacy with America. I can't speak for China, the might be doing the same thing. but I digress. WSC and AITSD, worth a post.