Electric fan: cooling device or a killer?Now that it’s starting to get warmer, I’m having problems sleeping. When I was living in San Francisco, where the summer can be colder than the winter, I got used to falling asleep with a couple of down blankets and ice-cold feet.
Because I have no air conditioning in my room and opening the window is no help, I’m going to take my life into my hands. I’m going to have to use an electric fan.
I encountered the fear of fan death for the first time three years ago, during my first visit to Seoul since I was an infant. I asked my host’s daughter whether there was a fan around.
She did, but warned me not to close the door while I was using it as I slept. With a serious look on her face, she said, “You could die.”
Apparently, using a fan with the door closed could kill you. When I asked how, she didn’t know, but she had heard about it happening.
I had never heard of such a thing in the United States, but then I had never used a fan in a closed room back home, so what did I know?
Her earnestness scared me. When I got ready for bed that night, I turned on the fan, turned off the light, nudged the door shut ― then opened it again, just a crack.
That summer, I was reading an English-language newspaper regularly ― not this one, as it didn’t exist then, but another that shall remain unnamed, to spare it embarrassment.
One day, a foreigner wrote into the features section, asking whether fan deaths have actually occurred. The columnist said, yes, they have, and you could die that way, giving some scientific reason ― had something to do with suffocating or the body temperature dropping too much.
“What kind of newspaper prints this garbage?” I thought, and berated myself for ever fearing fan death.
That night, and for the rest of the summer, the door stayed shut and the fan stayed on. I’m sure my host was terrified that she’d find me lifeless one morning and have to tell my mother, “I tried to warn her, but she insisted on sleeping with the fan on. It’s not my fault.”
Other than a couple of early-morning encounters as I stumbled toward the bathroom, the fan posed no hazards. It appears that fans kill only Koreans, not foreigners.
Since then, I’ve asked several educated and otherwise sensible Koreans about whether it’s O.K. to sleep with the door closed and the fan on. They looked horrified and said the same thing: “You could die that way.”
Maybe so, but after hours of tossing and turning in sauna-like conditions, I’d welcome anything that would put me out of my misery.
by Sei Chong