“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
- Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, 1933-1945
As we were leaving the apartment yesterday my wife asked half-jokingly if I thought our hamsters would die if we forgot to turn the air conditioning off before going out. For a moment I thought she'd developed an overly high opinion of the machine's ability to freeze our one-room living space, but it turned out the perceived danger was 'fan death'. Fan death? Yes, it seems that leaving your aircon on, or even a simple fan, while you sleep in a sealed room can result in death from asphyxiation, poisoning, or... certainly something anyway.
I find there are times in Korea when I don't know whether to just laugh at the absurdity of some of the facts I am told, or just get angry and grind my teeth together as I dare to suggest that perhaps, just maybe, people here are not the arbiters of all that is true, and just because everyone believes something it doesn't make it right. I think in any country there's often a prevailing opinion, but in a more homogeneous society where the 'group' is more important than the individual, it becomes especially difficult to challenge established notions.
And what a notion it is, with the news media regularly updating the grim fan death statistics, and fan manufacturers careful to design auto shut-off timers into their products to avoid killing you. In fact, a forty-seven year old man died of fan death a couple of weeks ago - it's true - it was on KBS News. As Wikipedia's fan death page documents, some people go so far as to ensure they leave their car window slightly open when their vehicle's aircon is on to avoid the dreaded fan death (so why don't people die from the aircon in the sealed environment of aeroplanes?) The more you read, the funnier - or more infuriating - it gets.
So, and not for the first time, a lively debate between my wife and I followed as I attempted to find a diplomatic way of explaining that this apparent urban legend was possibly the silliest thing I'd heard all year, and the topic ended with me accepting the challenge to find evidence contrary to the accepted truth as propagated by the Korean media and society as a whole. Fortunately, this was not a task which proved particularly challenging.
But is my wife, a graduate from a fairly prestigious Korean university and the holder of a second degree from a British institution, really convinced? Naturally everything I found debunking the myth of fan death was from a non-Korean source, and herein lies another thing I've learnt while I've been here - if the rest of the world believes one thing, and Korea believes another, the people who are correct are...