Bizarre Korean beliefs and urban legends

1.     Fan death – To me, this is the most hilarious urban legend that I’ve encountered.  Apparently, a number of years ago, a man in very poor health was sleeping in a 90+ degree room with the windows closed and had a fan blowing on him, and the fan, in combination with his poor health and alcohol-induced state, caused him to dehydrate and get hypothermia, killing him. Conventional conclusion: don’t go to sleep drunk, dehydrated, and in poor health while the room is ridiculously hot and lacks proper ventilation. The Korean conclusion: fans and air conditioners, when used in an enclosed room, will somehow remove the air from the room and cause you to suffocate. The explanations can vary, like the device “sucking out” the oxygen, the device “chopping” the oxygen up, or pushing the oxygen down to the floor and leaving you nothing to breath. Fans that you can purchase at all of the retailers here have shut-off timers on them that the manufacturers, government, and doctors strongly suggest for you to use so that you do not die from the fan. Everyone in the country, with few exceptions, believes in this and will not accept any notion to the contrary. Korean doctors and academics have researched and documented this “phenomenon” while doctors and academics from around the world have researched and documented how it is not the case and how ridiculous this Korean belief is.  Read more on Wikipedia.

2.     Never write a name in red ink because it will cause the person to die. The justification goes like this: red is the color of blood – blood’s appearance is a sign of death – conclusion: writing a name in red will cause someone to die. The children, and the teachers even more-so, are terrified of having a name written in red.

3.    Your blood type has a direct correlation to the type of personality you have, or will have, and other various things about your life and lifestyle. Never mind things like genetics, environment, and life experiences – it’s your blood type.

4.    The season you are born in determines how tall you will grow. Again, never mind genetics and environment, it all has to do with the season you were born in. There has been substantial research in this field by Korean experts, and every time they find a population that doesn’t follow the trends that they expect to find they will simply label it an anomaly and entirely insignificant.

I’ve landed in Korea!

I landed in Busan, South Korea last night. The flights getting here were interesting, particularly being shepherded through additional security in Tokyo while in a rush to our next flight. The manager of the recruitment agency picked us up at the airport and drove us to the hotel.

The hotel is essentially a block away from the school, around the corner down a small street. It’s a “love motel” – the kind typically reserved for affairs. It is an extremely nice little hotel, though, and apparently love motels are some of the best cheap hotels in the country. When we arrived at the hotel, I accidentally put my arm around Brandi in the presence of the recruitment manager, which public displays of affection are a faux paux here, but I don’t believe that he noticed.

The hotel room has an entry for taking off your shoes and provides sandals for use in the bathroom. The electronic devices are all very integrated; attached to the room key is a card that is put in a slot in the entry to turn on the power in the room, and the remote for the television also controls the air conditioning. There’s a water cooler, since the tap water isn’t potable. The bathroom is very nice; it has a drain in the middle of the bathroom for the shower, which is closed-in toward the top but allows water to pass under the glass.

For breakfast this morning, we bought little pastries from the nearby market. We went to the school before lunch and met with some of the staff and other teachers, and then three of the teachers took us out to lunch. The school is on the second and third floors of a large corner building, and the facilities are very modern and brightly colored. It looks like a very fun and positive environment, and all of the people we met were friendly.

For lunch, we ate at this little restaurant near the food market; I had bibimbap(a hot rice, noodle, vegetable and egg dish) and Brandi had gimbap(kind of like Sushi). The meal for all five of us cost 13,000W, which is about $10.

We just got back from shopping at HomePlus, a Tesco-owned multi-floor department and grocery store. We were surprised to find a lot of familiar U.S. products, but the store as a whole was more expensive than the local market vendors when it came to most things we saw.

Most people know a few words of English, and in general everyone has been very polite. It’s weird to be unable to communicate, and to be an outsider in a very homogenous culture.  I definitely feel like we stick out, and that everyone around us knows it.

Tonight, two of the teachers are going to bring us to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner and show us around a little. They’re also going to help us get subway cards, since the subway runs right by the school and it will be our primary way of getting around.

A video should be forthcoming, so that you can actually see Busan.