Theories about Fan Death

Every summer Korea is plagued with concerns about the menace known as “fan death.” This  danger is apparently isolated to the Korean peninsula– as I’ve never heard of such a thing anywhere else.

Many of the older generation in Korea believe that sleeping with a fan in a closed room is extremely dangerous. In fact, if you do sleep with a fan, you may not see another sunrise. Some say that the fan will “slice up the air molecules” and make the air unbreathable. Like all urban legends, many people know it is ridiculous, but some people persist in passing around this story. I would have been dead many times over if it were true. So I have spent the last three summers in Korea wracking my brain about why people might believe this (even news reports will apparently cite fans as a possible cause of death!). Here are three theories I’ve come up with.

Dehyrdration: If it is ridiculously hot and humid (aka: all summer in Korea) you can get dehydrated very easily. Combine this with the warm weather tradition of sitting outside and drinking large amounts of soju late into the night and not drinking appropriate amounts of water afterwards. If you fall asleep in front of a fan a little drunk and sweaty, the fan will only further dehydrate you. In fact, a US climatologist said something similar and  had everyone believe he was a supporter of the plausibility of fan death. In extreme cases dehydration can lead to coma and death.

Elderly People: Every summer, even in the US, elderly people end up dying in hot apartments. If they have pre-existing health problems, summer heat can be too much for them and they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Especially if they don’t feel hot (because the fan makes them feel a bit cooler) they may not use an air conditioner in order to save money. This can lead to elderly ones dying in their sleep without an obvious cause. It’s understandable in that case that they fan my get blamed. The fan of course is not the reason, so much as the summer heat.

Cover Up This is my most conspiracy-theory-tin-foil-hat theory. You’ve been warned. But in Korea there is a great sense of public image and “saving face.” Your bad actions have an effect on your whole family. Emotional problems and mental illness are still considered a bit shameful. So perhaps if someone in your family dies of suicide, perhaps in the night, it is less shaming to blame it on something unexplained like fan death. It’s less controversial than saying that they overdosed on a lot of pills, or even that they died of something like alcohol poisoning. It might be easier for the whole family to let their friends and neighbors believe that it was a freak accident than something possibly intentional.

These are the theories I’ve pieced together after three years of collecting fan death warnings by older Koreans. Many of my younger Korean fans don’t believe it’s true, but my students tell me they still worry about it and tell me to be careful. But what do you think? What are your theories about fan death?


My Favorite Seoul Coffee Shop: Bean Brothers, Hapjeong


Any expat in Korea will tell you that coffee here is done a little differently. If you long for drip coffee in various roasts and flavors… you’re going to be disappointed at most Korean coffee shops. Espresso is the order of the day. Black coffee is now an Americano. Coffee with cream is a latte.

But I have found a coffee oasis about 10 minutes walk from Hapjeong station on lines 6 and 2. Bean Brothers has several locations, including a small coffee counter near Hongdae station and a large shop in Incheon, but the Hapjeong location apparently is their headquarters. They offer 2-3 roast of hand drip coffee (that they roast on location in Hapjeong) and 2 varieties of espresso for the usual blended drinks. They also offer tasty homemade baked goods (try their caramel cake or blueberry cream tart).

Their JB barista roast is probably my favorite. It’s a medium roast coffee that has a nice balance and isn’t too acidic. I don’t typically like black coffee, but the flavor is so fresh and perfect just the way it is, I would never add milk or sugar. It has a slightly fruity taste. According to the roast’s description card (that they serve up with each cup) it has notes of “peanut butter, makgeoli, and oolong tea.”

Update: upon returning multiple times to Bean Brothers (because I am an addict) I discovered that their coffee roasts change monthly. Every month there are 2, occasionally 3 new varieties to try. 


The space has an industrial chic feel. It seems to be housed in what used to be a large garage. The huge garage door now serves as a projection screen. There is plenty of seating downstairs around the coffee counter, but more above.


Like any cool cafe in Korea, it’s a popular space for couples. But there are plenty of 4 person tables for groups of friends. Some people settled down on the second floor with their laptops for a couple hours of work as well. This is made easier by the fact that the cafe is open until 11 pm and offers free unlimited coffee refills. Update: refills are now only for black coffee; espresso, americano, and pour over. If you buy a latte, they will refill with Americano. My friends and I weren’t sure how many free refills we could get, so we unwisely tested this. After 4 cups of coffee, it became clear that they didn’t keep tabs on this. It also became clear that 4 cups of coffee at 8 pm were a bad idea.


If all of this isn’t enough to win you over, consider the bathroom. Where else in Seoul can you find a washroom that throws this much shade at you?

top: in the men’s room, bottom: in the ladies room

My Korean Addictions

Living in Korea, I have discovered many cool Korean brands that I am a tiny bit addicted to. Here are a few of the best discoveries I have made for shopping in Korea. I have been a bit spoiled by all the variety in a big city like Seoul. All the cool, affordable shops are hard to beat (unless I’m trying to buy pants or shoes… then my options are minuscule and expensive).

ArtBox: If you need anything cute or quirky in terms of stationary, home/office/fashion accessories, or even kitchen gear and houseplants, you should go to ArtBox.  It’s a delightful, whimsical world stocked with cute socks, pretty pens and notebooks, imported perfumes, even passport covers, and mini room fans. Cool 3D puzzles and window box garden supplies populate the shelves of bigger ArtBox stores in places like Gangnam and Sinchon. I have to limit my number of ArtBox visits because it is almost impossible for me to leave empty handed.

Some recent ArtBox purchases.

ArtBox is a great place to get unique presents for people as well. And I love their pens. Pens I bought there my first winter in Korea still work today. I really hope that ArtBox expands more internationally because it’s fun, attractive, and not too expensive.

Korean Cosmetics Brands

Etude House: I typically get my nail polish and BB/CC cremes from Etude House. They have the “Play” collection of nail polish which  has dozens of shades. Those hard to find in between colors (like a soft, mossy blueish green) are likely to turn up on the Play shelf of Etude house. Their CC cremes are super lightweight and start white, but adjust to your skin tone. The BB Cremes give more coverage, but still lay nicely on the skin– not giving the applied-with-a-paint-roller look. All their base makeup also has SPF 30. My favorites are the Glow CC creme and the Precious Mineral BB creme.

Skin Food: I love Skin Food’s mineral eye shadow palettes. They only have about three different palettes, but each one is fairly neutral and will work on any skin tone. The mineral makeup stays put pretty well even after a day in Korean humidity. I also love Skin Food’s botanical based cleansers like their Honey and Black Tea face wash. It doesn’t feel like it’s drying you out. They have a some nice dusting powder and even dry shampoo which is great to toss in your carry-on when traveling.

Tony Moly: I only recently started frequenting this shop since one opened near my apartment (and initially I was put off by the silly name). I love Tony Moly for their lip colors. They have nice creamy lip stick that goes on lightly. I love soft sheer lip colors like their Lip Click pens. They also have some tints that go on like a sticky gloss, but the pigment really lasts even after the glossiness fades. Tony Moly also has the cutest and best smelling hand cremes. Peach hand creme in a peach shaped jar. Ditto for banana, apple, and several other fruits. The creme is pretty good quality beyond its novelty value and doesn’t feel greasy on.

Kyobo Books: This is a seriously cool book shop. Many locations, like my favorite one connected to Gwanghwamun station, have books in multiple languages. Their English section is huge. They have a sizable collection on Japanese and Chinese books too. And they even have a few shelves dedicated to French (I may have picked up Le Petit Prince to practice with), German, Portuguese, and Spanish books. It’s great for foreigners living in Korea, or even just on a longer visit. Plus, it’s an excellent resource for Koreans who are looking to improve their skills in any of those languages.

Kyobo is more than just books, many larger locations will also have sub-stores inside them for music and DVDs. Some even have mini ArtBoxes inside…I have a serious problem, I know. All the Kyobo books have fun kid’s section as well– it’s nice to see a love of reading being nurtured in the little ones.

Honorable Mentions:

I have also discovered some awesome Japanese brands in Seoul such as Uniqlo and Muji.

Uniqlo doesn’t have a lot of exciting individual pieces, but has all staple clothing pieces you need (for men and women). I can always find nice tissue thin cardigans and tank tops for summer there, plus Heat Tech leggings and camisoles (sometimes even with pretty lace trim) for the winter. It’s great for picking up your seasonal basics. They also occasionally have some cute accessories and dresses.

Muji is really cool, but I don’t typically buy a lot from them. They are mainly housewares and furniture with some clothing, foodstuffs, and stationary thrown in. The Muji I saw in Tokyo had a huge food section and bigger clothing section that was similar in tone to Marks & Spencer or a high end, minimalist Target. If I was living long term and furnishing a home in Korea or Japan, I would probably get most of my stuff out of Muji. It’s like… the Japanese Ikea. The furniture nicely mid-end quality and price with clean lines and functional features.


random moments living in Korea

None of these things are necessarily big enough events to deserve their own posts. But they are little moments and memories I have from over the past two years. They represent the life I’ve had here. Chaotic and comical, sometimes a bit weird.

*Teaching my students that “panties” is not an appropriate thing to call male underwear. This word has become Konglish and is used to describe anyone’s underwear of any sort. I quizzed them on it later.

*Going down to the subway with my flatmate one afternoon in my new summer dress. An old man coming up paused at the sight of us and said, “Wow! Beautiful.”

*One night my flatmate decided to put her name in an anagram generator and it turned into one of the biggest laughs we ever had. And now we both have secret codenames.

*The night we all very seriously sang Disney songs at noraebang (a private karaoke room).

*Transporting a crying cat to Incheon via a train and two buses. Then giving up and just walking the last couple km because Incheon buses suck.

*Having my flatmate drag me to an amusement park and a kpop concert and forcing me to enjoy myself at both.

*That time at a dinner party when everyone asked me to demonstrate my aegyo and seemed impressed by my skills

*My first year of teaching when a student froze up during our parents’ day performance and I just had to take his hand and move him across the stage, saying his lines for him.

*The time a kindergartner decided to bite my butt.

*At a different dinner party when I accidentally bit down on a chili pepper that was accidentally left in the stew after it was done steeping. I played it cool and excused myself to the bathroom where I chugged yogurt and washed my lips which had already gone numb.

*A lesson on rock musicians with my high schoolers really just becoming a lesson on why drugs are bad. But having my students genuinely enjoy the Jimi Hendrix and Rolling Stones music I played.

*The constant food stealing battle at my first school between the teachers and the development staff.

*My first boss going “on vacation” and never coming back

*Getting scolded by another foreigner for eating western food. Then catching them eating pizza with their Korean significant other.

*Having the tiniest child in a class who cried all the time suddenly start loving me and hanging all over me right before the end of term.

*Teaching my middle school students how to give a proper fist bump.

*Teaching my advanced literature class the word “bromance” and watching them apply it to The Great Gatsby

*Having a student ask me quite seriously, “Teacher, what is a gay bar?”

*The time my shoes didn’t quite survive my trip to Busan when an unexpected wet snow came it. My Taiwanese friend gave me hot packs to put on my numb, wet feet.


Traveling and Elitism

Subtitle: Does traveling make you better person or just give you a chance to spread your bad attitude internationally?

I’ve seen a lot of comments online lately as a backlash to the big traveler/backpacking blogosphere. It makes sense. The internet has made it easier than ever to hear about traveling and it seems like everyone is doing it. The world is becoming more globalized with the internet as well. People watch entertainment and listen to music from countries they’ve never been to. They even study other languages or exchange ideas with people from all around the world. Study abroad is gaining greater emphasis at most universities. I’ve even found myself saying that travel is the best form of education.

Is that statement in itself elitist? Is it also narrow and elitist to say only the rich can travel? And does everyone who travels actually learn anything?

I suppose anything that involves money draws a line in the sand between those who can and can’t afford it. I think it’s important at this point to say that I grew up poor. With second hand clothes, worries over maybe no electricity this month, living on a single parent’s paycheck to paycheck. There were a few years that were extremely hard. I will never minimize that experience and I understand how stuck in it you can get. I was lucky in many ways and later some things improved and in my teens I had many opportunities. I have had some support from my family, but the life I have now, I built myself from very little. I pay my own bills and am dependent entirely on myself at a fairly young age.

I have been meaning to do blog post about realistic and budget friendly traveling for a while now, and I will, but for now I will say that it’s a myth that travel is only for the rich and those with a disposable income. Maybe that’s a myth that’s perpetuated by elitists to make them feel like special snowflakes. Traveling doesn’t have to be first class, luxury hotels, resorts, and restaurants. In fact, those are typically the types of vacations that can reinforce this traveling elitism because they cost so much, and they can quite literally put up walls between you and the people who live where you’re staying. Traveling with volunteer groups, traveling to teach, traveling to work on organic farms: these are all ways to travel cheaply or even get paid while traveling to other countries. It’s hard work, but it’s a way to see the world even if your pockets are empty.

My least favorite people that I meet on my travels are those who have seen a lot, but learned very little. People who seem to travel to reinforce their own prejudices instead of break them. People who keep the locals at arms length. Instead of respecting and appreciating other cultures, they treat the world like a playground where they can pave the way with money (sometimes their parents’). Yes, these people suck. So do people who believe that after a few weeks or months, or even a year, they can carry an entire country home in their pocket. They “did” that country and are experts on every facet of it– politics, culture, history. Even if they spent zero time with the local people, ate at McDonald’s half the time, and read nothing beyond the Lonely Planet guide.

In spite of all this, I stand by the fact that travel is the best form of education. Like any learning, some people aren’t open or interested in learning when they are given the opportunity. But when done in earnest, traveling can teach you new things about the world. It can show you new options for solving problems, conducting relationships, and living your life. It teaches you your strengths and lays bare your weaknesses.

Not everyone can travel. But if it’s in your power to make it a priority, there are plenty of options that don’t require a trust fund. If you have the privilege (and yes, it is a privilege) to travel, you should make the most of it. It is even more precious because it is an opportunity that not everyone has. You should try and learn from it and then pay it forward– use what you’ve learned to help or teach others who might not have those opportunities. Try everything you can– even if it means pushing out of your comfort zone, talk to everyone (okay, not everyone…), try to learn some of the language, and understand another facet of the world.

Even though I spend more on airline tickets than I put away for my retirement, I can’t regret it. Travel truly changed my life and taught me how to dream. It’s introduced me to incredible people, ideas, music, and food. I’d like to think it’s also made me a marginally better, more socially conscious person. It’s definitely made me want to share my experiences through writing and through working in education both abroad, and eventually, back in my home country.