July 05, 2010

same same... just korea (III)

The last same same was all about relationships, and how Koreans like to demonstrate their love and affection. Well this time I will explore some myths the Koreans have revolving around death. Okay it's not going to be that deep, just fans and red means you're dead.

Myth #1 Writing your name in red, means you're dead.

While this seems interesting, and easily laughable, Koreans will not write their names down in red ink. I only have experience with my kids, and well they hate it, if I write a name on the board in red they freak out. They rather love it when I write my name down in red. They laugh and point, 'teacher is die'. They also practice this chant with whomever's name I write on the board. Writing your name, or any name for that matter, in red means that they are dead, OR that you want them to die.

I did some quick research and found out that it stems all the way back to antiquity, when red was the colour used to write the names of the deceased on tombstones, and town plaques. I wasn't able to find out any info on why writing in red means you want them to die, but oh well.. Either or, I don't get it, I really don't. Red is just a colour, although colours have huge connotations (ie pink for girls, blue for boys) and I figure it's a debate I'm bound to lose.

I should simply attempt to cash in on the belief. I should inform my kids that the red stigma also applies to candy, especially red M&M's, and that all red candy on down! (why shouldn't red candy get the price is right treatment? Smarties treats the red ones differently.. wait.. I wonder if Smarties are in on this conspiracy theory) Interestingly enough a huge tourist keepsake from Korea is a stamp of your name written in Korean. Well guess what colour ink pad they hand out with this stamp is? you got it RED. There are stories in Chinese culture that only the emperor could use red ink, perhaps that's why the stamps are divvied out with red pads. The conspiracy theorist in me would like to believe it's a covert operation run by Asian governments to eliminate travelers. Most likely the vendor just gets a laugh as he sees weiguks gleefully run away stamping their names in red.

Myth #2 Sleeping with a fan on, means you'll get your dead on.

I briefly heard about fan death just after I arrived in Korea. However using a fan at sub zero temperatures doesn't make sense, and was put aside due to irrelevance. Since the weather has started to cause perpetual sweating, fan chat has blown its way back into conversation, this time for good reason. Fan Death is about as simple as it sounds, well the idea is straight forward anyway. If you sleep while you leave a fan on, you will die, cease to exist, or meet your maker. That is pretty straightforward and is genuinely accepted amongst Koreans. That is the only part of the myth that most Koreans can agree on, what they can't agree on is why. They simply believe that you will expire. Now this seems to be TOTALLY outrages, and I assure you that I feel the same, it's crazy. Yet Koreans freak out similarly to writing their name in red. This is a country that believes this phenomenon.

Fans in Korea are sold with timers on them. It is considered a main selling feature. I'd have to believe that if there was a batch of fans whose timers failed, you'd have a hundred or so Korean families left feeding flies.

My kids and I worked on some riddles the other day and an interesting one came up. 'a man committed suicide in a room by hanging himself. Another man came into the room and found him in the hanging in the middle of an empty room. There was a puddle underneath the man, and he was hanging a metre off the ground' The solution: He was standing on a block of ice. They could do a Korean version of the same riddle, any Korean would understand the riddle, and any foriegner would be truly puzzled. Let's use the same situation 'A man commits suicide in a room, there is nothing in the room besides a 6 speed oscillating fan, that was running as another man entered the room. The deceased is curled in fetal position in the middle of the floor. The fan is against a wall. The man does not have any cuts on his entire body, how did he die?' solution: the man used the fan to kill himself, but how? what did the fan do?

There are several streams of thought on the issue, Wikipedia even has a great page attempting to explain several of them (please..please...please read the article). My personal favourite: that the fan blades chop up the oxygen molecules leaving you none to breath. Other explanations: the fans create a vortex and steal all the oxygen in the room causing you to asphyxiate. The most plausible cause of fan death, is that the fan will suck the moisture out of your body, It will also lower your body temperature enough to induce hypothermia, causing death. This explanation has even garnered support from the Korean Government advising people NOT to sleep with fans, because of fear of hypothermia. The country is obsessed with this myth, yet again I find myself entering into an unwinnable debate.

Yet again, I really don't get it.. I honestly don't get either Myth. Yet they are perfect examples that you believe what you are taught. At a young age all my kids have been repeatedly told about these two myths. It's almost beaten into their subconscious. When my kids see me write names with that red pen they FREAK out, they cringe, their body's physically repel. I've talked to some of my kids about fans and their reaction is similar, in all ways shapes and forms. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I can accept that, although I thought they were talking about diplomacy, I guess not. It is said that fans can steal our precious bodily fluids. I can't accept that, I thought it was the communists that wanted to steal them (Dr. Strangelove reference), I guess not, I'm just confused...

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