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Busan & “Fan Death”

“Fan death” isn’t really specific to Busan, it’s country wide; however, this is my last post about Korea and I just have to talk about it. Fan death is a very serious thing and not something to be taken lightly in Korea. Fan death is the misconception that leaving an electric fan running in a closed room (no windows or doors open) can lead to death, literally, death. To try and get across just how seriously this is taken in Korea, consider that in 2006, the Korea Consumer Protection Board (a government-funded public agency) issued a consumer safety alert and 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.” The media coverage doesn’t end with the government… in 2011, The Korea Herald, wrote: “A man reportedly died on Monday morning after sleeping with an electric fan running. The 59-year-old victim, only known by his surname Min, was found dead with the fan fixed directly at him.” The fear has been embedded in Korean culture with stories dating all the way back to the 1920’s warning of the risks of nausea, asphyxiation, and facial paralysis from the ‘new technology’. Supposedly, in recent years opinion is shifting with younger Koreans due to information available on the internet. Just in case any Koreans read this, I have slept in a closed room with a fan pointed directly at me for the entire night many, many times over the course of this past year and I live to tell the story!

Busan is a coastal town a few hours south of Seoul best known for it’s beaches and seafood. We told ourselves we would bundle up and check out the beaches regardless of the weather, but really, who were we kidding? It was over 40 degrees in the Philippines and hovering around zero degrees in Busan. One day we attempted to see the scenic side of Busan and visit Taejongdae Park, a natural park facing the open sea on the southernmost tip of island Yeongdo-gu. It took almost two hours to get there and once we were there, all we wanted to do was leave. The wind whipped around and over the cliffs trying to simultaneously freeze and blow me away. The original plan was to walk through the park but there was no way we were doing that once we  experienced just how cold it was. Since we had come all the way out here, we bought tickets for the small tourist ‘train’ that takes you around the park. It’s hop-on hop-off style, but we only  got off at one stop (the lighthouse) and then got the next train all the way back to the start. It’s also worth noting that while the train was quite full, nothing was open – the cafe and indoor viewing platform were closed up giving us no refuge from the cold. At least we can say we saw the ocean…!



On the way back to our apartment from the park, we walked the area around BIFF square searching out dinner from the hundreds of street vendors set up.



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Other than the above outing and our evening at Spa Land (see separate post), we spent the majority of our time in Busan wandering around – and ducking inside as often as possible. Busan is home to the world’s largest department store: Shinesgae Centum City Department Store. From our short time in Korea, we concluded that Koreans love department stores, and I loved them too. They take the best “Hudson’s Bay” or “Macy’s” that Canada or the States has to offer and better it times a million. Every Korean department store that we went in (and I made sure to test quite a few) was beautifully laid out and decorated. The multilevel shopping centers were all organized and easy to navigate, not overcrowded and yet full of everything imaginable, and incredibly clean. The food courts were an entire floor and consisted of hundreds of stalls all specializing in something unique.

A large portion of the products sold were made in Korea by Korean brands. This may not seem that important or interesting, but it is incredibly fascinating to me. We live in a world where almost everything we buy is outsourced or manufactured abroad (in the US the percentage of apparel made overseas is in the high 90’s). By this point, most of us are highly aware of the growing human and environmental impacts the manufacturing industry has in developing nations like India, Bangladesh and China. (*If you want to learn more, check out the documentary “The True Cost” available on Netflix.) So I was impressed that in Korea, everything from makeup and skincare to clothing and household goods is made in Korea, and sold for very reasonable prices on a large scale. Most of my makeup desperately needed to be tossed, so I stocked up on natural, organic, made-in-Korea makeup, face wash and multiple lotions. We also ended up with a couple animal-shaped and printed face masks, which are currently all the rage in Korea.
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There are multiple Lotte Department Stores in Busan and all of them have a viewing deck on the top level.  The one attached to the Shinesgae was where we first went for a view, and while it was nice, the best view is from the Lotte Department store near the Busan Port. Supposedly it’s amazing, but unfortunately for us, we managed to show up on the one day of the month it was closed.
For our three nights in Busan we rented a private apartment through Airbnb; it had been awhile since we’d had a place to ourselves. Like everywhere else we stayed in Korea, we were given a basket of small towels (think hand-towel size) and no large towels. The first time this happened, Dan and I were stunned…are we supposed to use these tiny towels to dry our bodies? Yes, you are. Other than the fact it’s nowhere near large enough to cover you, it’s not that bad once you get used to it. Noting the quantity of towels we were given at each stay, we figured that you are only supposed to use each towel once and then toss it in the laundry basket. In the end, it’s about the same amount of laundry if you wash a large towel once a week and this way you are drying yourself with a much cleaner towel.
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Our stay in Busan was the first time we had to control the in-floor heating ourselves and luckily our host had attempted to cover the overly complicated controls in sticky notes . In this particular place, you had to switch the floor heating to water heating when you wanted a warm shower. That was the “heated” and “indoor” sticky notes… it only took one minute in a cold shower to figure that one out.
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One thought on “Busan & “Fan Death”

  1. Anna Jean Mallinson says:

    Korea sounds like a thriving, well run society. I am impressed with the fact that they produce most of their own manufactured goods. “Fan death” is bizarre, especially as you say that it goes back decades to the beginnings of electric power and that evidence is cited to support its claims. i wonder if there is in our culture an erroneous belief that governs people’s behavior. Certain segments of the population have unproven convictions (for example, that vaccination causes autism) but they are not wide-spread. I love reading about different customs having to do with personal hygiene, like the small towels.

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