Saturday, February 7, 2009

What's OUR "Korean Fan Death?"

Nana and I were discussing the aforementioned phantom menace of Korean fan death at a party last night where one of our company happened to be Korean. She could corroborate the fact that, not only is fan death--sudden death while sleeping, popularly attributed to leaving the fan running through the night--frequently cited as a common cause of death in news reports and government policies, most Koreans, herself included, sincerely believe that it's true.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss this kind of belief as some strange, backward phenomenon presenting in a country still only a generation away from superstitious traditionalism and rampant authoritarian propaganda. However, hearing a young, educated, and otherwise sensible person trying to convince us that fan death is a very real danger to our health got me thinking. Surely there must be some fact we Americans take for granted that, upon the slightest rational observation, is patently absurd? What do you think? To qualify, the belief would have to be held my the vast majority of the population and at least passively supported by the government and the media, so that rules out most topics related to religion, global warming, or evolution.

I know most Europeans would tell us the desirability of the free market is a myth, and recent events show that their worst caricatures of how the market actually works may be closer to reality than we'd like to admit . . . though I still can't shake the belief that, in theory, free markets, regulated to prevent anti-competitive practices, still produce the maximum good for the maximum number of people.

In the UK and parts of the US, the anti-vaccination Autism scare could be a candidate if it picks up more steam. The idea that vaccinations cause autism does get some support in the media, the FDA hasn't forged any clear policy on the matter, and the belief is based on the same fallacy--that if two things happen at the same time or in sequence, it means the first caused the second--that gives us the Korean fan death scare.

So I ask you, loyal readers--are there any other Western myths you can think of that rival the Korean fan death scare?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Korean Fan Death on

Korean fan death appeared this week on, a website devoted to investigating rumors, urban legends, and the like. Check it out here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Korea's Team?

Last Monday afternoon (Sunday night for the US time zones), the Pittsburgh Steelers won their record sixth Super Bowl, and among the Steeler faithful there was much rejoicing. Steeler Nation has citizens in nearly every corner of the world: one dedicated fan even made the trip from his US Air Force base outside Seoul to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game a few weeks ago. (Link, about halfway down.)

Of course, Nana and I count ourselves as part of the Steelers diaspora, and had to suffer the indignity of teaching while our beloved team was in the Super Bowl. Doing so was a supremely odd experience. Because I grew up in Pittsburgh, nearly all of the people I love most in the world are Steelers fans. More than anything else I've seen or done since I've been here, stealing occasional glances at score updates while my people suffered all the agonies of watching your team win, then lose, then somehow win a championship game . . . this was the farthest I think I've ever felt from home. It didn't help that both of the games big highlights happened while I was indisposed: I was teaching during James Harrison's 100-yard pick-six at the end of the first half, and in a meeting during the game-winning drive. Then, when the Steelers did finally win, our celebrations were mostly vicarious: reading coverage of the game and the celebration, then watching the game itself (at last!) Monday night.

Little did we know how much of Korea was quietly celebrating with us. Tuesday morning, each of Seoul's major English-language newspapers ran a full-page spread on the Steelers' victory, with Hines Ward's statline prominently displayed. In case you haven't been following the story, Hines Ward is half-Korean, and his elevation to national-hero status in Korea after his Super Bowl XL MVP has helped alleviate some of the discrimination faced by bi-racial Koreans. He can still be found on the occasional billboard here, and he's one of the first things mentioned by Koreans when they find out I'm from the Burgh. My purely anecdotal observations also suggest that the Steelers, because of Hines Ward, sell the most merchandise here in the ROK.

I hadn't realized before this week, however, the degree to which Koreans had adopted the Steelers as their NFL team. While a knee injury kept Hines Ward from contributing much to the Steelers' win, most Koreans I've talked to about the game haven't seemed to care--they were genuinely happy that Ward's team won, and moved by Ward's emotional interview after the game. So, insofar as there are NFL fans in South Korea, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be South Korea's team.

Kinda cool, huh?

So, as Nana suggested to me yesterday, let this be a lesson to the Huston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars of the world: Make like the NBA's Rockets and sign a Chinese guy. It's a nation of 1.3 billion--there's got to be a football player somewhere in that bunch!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Trip to the Korean Dentist: Four Wisdom Teeth Enter, Three Wisdom Teeth Leave!

I dragged Justin downtown yesterday for a tooth cleaning and dental overhaul at a Korean dentist recommended to us by our coworker Gina. Dental care in Korea is very affordable, which is good because we don't have dental insurance. And fortunately, this dentist speaks perfect English.

Weird fact #1 about Korean dentistry: when you get your teeth cleaned, they put this little cloth over your face with the same cut-out shape you find on a doorknob hangar to let your mouth and nose peek out. Is it for privacy? I've always felt kind of awkward at the dentist trying to figure out where to look while the hygienist is doing my cleaning (I tend to obsessively analyze how well-groomed their eyebrows are), so having your eyes covered takes care of that question. It might also be to help them with work: when your face is under cloth, they can brace their hands against it and get better pressure on your teeth. A double-edged sword: both Justin and I commented afterwards that the cleaning felt rougher than US-style.

The dentist was terrific, though. I've never had my wisdom teeth out, and one of them came up in my back left. There's really not room for it, and it's been causing me some pain, so the dentist suggested I just have it out. I expected that. What I didn't expect was him saying we could do it then, and not make a later appointment. So I said yes, because I'm afraid of shots (I have had cavities filled without Novocain to avoid the shot) and figured I'd never get myself back down.

And it was so easy! I barely felt the shots, the tooth came right out, and I got my painkillers/antibiotics from the pharmacy downstairs. I spent the rest of the evening wondering when the Novocain would wear off, and then realizing that it already had. Worst moment of the whole thing: they have TV sets over the chairs, and somebody decided that the Anglophone would clearly choose to watch Eddie Murphy's Haunted Mansion movie. That hurt far more than the tooth extraction.

Weird fact #2: I asked him on the way out if I could keep my tooth, and he said yes, but it was illegal. I told him never mind, but ??? Why would it be illegal for me to keep my own tooth? If I'd left the dentist with the tooth in my head, that would be okay, but not if I left with it in my hand? Perhaps there is some sort of black-market trade in whitey teeth. If so, I wonder what it cures? And I'll never know, because I have so many that I won't catch it.