Wednesday, August 24, 2011

FanDeath: The End Is Next To Your Face

                One of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard in my life has happened here in Korea and it is that you can die because of a fan in your room.  Yes, you read that right Koreans believe that you will die if you leave a rotating fan on overnight.  No it’s not because the fan will transform into an evil Decepticon and stab you but there are several theories on how a fan will kill you. 
              The first one is if a fan stays on too long it will chop up the oxygen molecules in the air and you will die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  No, Koreans are not selling fans that have laser-sharp fan blades that can rotate near the speed of light but every single fan in the country cannot be sold unless it’s on a timer.  This is taking an urban legend to new heights when capitalism is affected by it. 
Be afraid be very afraid.
            The second theory is that if you fall asleep the fan will severely lower the temperature in the room and you will die from hypothermia.  You may now want to pick your jaw off the floor because I know you’re thinking that in the South that is the exact point of having the fan run during a hot, summer night. 
You have been warned.
            Lastly, if you leave your fan on and all of the doors are shut and your windows then you will die from suffocation because the fan will create a vacuum removing the air from your room.  What’s funny to me is that it is probably theoretically possible for all three of the Fandeath’s to occur just like it’s possible for Superman to travel back in time by reversing the Earth’s axis.  I mean sure anything is possible, right?
             It's probably one of those things that came about because running fans cost money and parents didn't want their kids running a fan all night so they said a fan will hurt you if you leave it on so the kids wouldn't run up a high electric bill.  It's similar to how our parents told us if we stared at a TV for too long and were too close then we'd go blind.  However, this Korean urban legend has gone to a whole different level.
            Here are some links to websites about FanDeath and articles in Korean newspapers attributing a person's death to overexposure by the fan.
So true, Korean style.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sleeping on the Floor

            Last week I had my four day vacation and on Thursday night I had a very entertaining night but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share my adventure as I ended up sleeping in my hallway outside my apartment.  But sometimes in life stuff just happens and if you can’t laugh at yourself then you aren’t really living.  So here is my story of how I ended up sleeping on the floor.
            Last Thursday was the first day of my vacation and I made the most of it by getting my apartment in order, paying off the last of my student loan, getting a haircut and shaving my beard off.  After all that I met up with Jonathan and we went to a mutual friends place for some drinking and games.  There were five of us and we did the standard drinking games but also sat around and talked about Korean society.
            Everyone commented on some of the same things I’ve touched on, specifically the lack of public trash cans, the intense education system and the huge generation gap between the oldest generation and the young one that’s around my age.  Brad, the other guy Jonathan and I were talking to, felt that the younger Koreans are waiting for the old generation to die off so they can then start to implement progressive changes.  A fair point but I think that can be the case in any society but that’s another topic for another day.
            After we finished our drinks we went downtown and decided to go to Speakeasy as our first stop.  They were starting to close up since it was 1:30am on a Thursday but I then saw that Dan Henrickson was there with some of his buddies and we sat down to hang out.  It was at this point that I realized I might have had a couple because I could understand everything Dan was saying.  Dan is Canadian and has the total accent with more “Eh’s” than you can shake a hockey stick at and I understood him perfectly.  So either I was suddenly fluent in Canadian or I just thought I was.  Regardless we hang out for a bit then bounced to meet up with some other people that Dan knew and sat on a patio.  It was fantastic to sit on a real patio and just hang out but I was only there less than an hour before I decided to go home. 
            I walked home, headed up the stairs to my apartment, pulled out my key and unlocked the door.  Except the door didn’t unlock because my key snapped in half with one part still in the deadbolt, and to my shock, the deadbolt hadn’t unlocked.  I was stunned because I knew I couldn’t unlock the door but I still tried to force the broken key back together and then twist it so it would unlock.  It wouldn’t work because when the key broke it somehow stripped itself and wouldn’t catch again.  
Ironic how there's a heart in the key hu?
            I then decided to walk around the apartment complex to see if I could find the janitor’s closet and hopefully find a tool to twist the key.  I walked around but I couldn’t find anything so I went to look at my window and see if I could’ve climbed up to it but there was absolutely no way.  I went back to my door and tried to open it again but had zero success.  That was when I got real serious about getting in my room because if I didn’t I had nowhere else to go.  I wasn’t sleeping in a disgusting sex motel and it was 25 minutes to Jonathan’s place and that was if he was even there so I decided to try my only option left.  I lined up myself up, braced myself against the wall across from my door and kicked my door as hard as I possibly could.  The door just laughed at me because it didn’t budge.  I tried again and again but was stopped cold. 
            I paused and collected all my energy knowing that I’m 2.5inches from my soft bed, a cold glass of water and channeled my inner, “I am the only Highlander!” and kicked that door with every ounce of determination and nothing.  Absolutely nothing happened.  I dropped my head and grudgingly admitted defeat by lying down and falling asleep in front of my apartment.
No way a solid steel door keeps this man out of his bed at 3am.
            I woke up to my neighbor shaking my shoulder and I quickly showed her the broken key in the deadbolt.  She called my landlord and after five minutes of trying to twist the key he finally got it open.
Worst bed ever.
            I don’t know why I wasn’t suppose to stay in my apartment that night but everything happens for a reason even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.  Now let’s take a moment and think about how if I was kicking my house door back home it would’ve busted no problem.  Korea has virtually no petty crime but my apartment door is so strong it would’ve taken C-4 to open it.  I think it sums up Korean culture pretty well.  They don’t want you to bother them and you won’t break down their cultural barriers unless they decide to let you in.  Lastly, how fortunate was I that I didn’t break the door down, my neighbors didn’t call the police and I didn’t break my foot while trying to break into my own apartment.  
           If you've got a funny story like this then email me and share it with me.  I've also fixed how you can comment on my posts so anyone but the spamers can comment now.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vacation Time!

            This week I have my first vacation since coming here in March. Since I work in a Hagwon, a private academy, I don't get the longer vacation time that the public teachers do. I know a bunch of people that went and traveled around Korea, Taiwan, Jeju Island and the South Pacific but this month is all about saving the Benjamin’s for me. However tomorrow I will go outside of Gwangju to what is supposed to be a beautiful river located within a gorge at Gangcheonsa.
            I really was ready for a couple of days off from school just so I could read, write, exercise, and just enjoy not being in the ridiculous heat here. It's as oppressive as back home but without the sundresses and patios to look forward to at the end of the day.
            I know that I haven't talked about what the education system is like here so I'll take the time to do that now. The school year goes from about the end of February through the end of July and then from September to early February. The public schools get about two to three months off in total but that really doesn't matter if you work at a Hagwon. Now a Hagwon isn't limited to just English as it can be in any subject or field including athletics like Taekwondo. So even though the kids will be off from public school they will still go to three or four different Hagwon's so they won't fall behind in their studies.
            This is important to understand because these kids have no idea what a true vacation is. They don't have summer vacations filled with camps, lazy days and hanging out at the pool or lake. To be able to relax and enjoy not being in school is such an alien concept that even when they have time off they still use most of it to study. Sometimes the English books we use talk about kids being at a summer camp or at the lake and I have to spend time explaining what that means and then I’ll teach through the lesson.
            After being here and experiencing this, I really have a soft spot for these kids when it comes to giving them homework over the vacation. I can't make myself do it since I know they're in two other Hagwon's that will be giving them homework. In addition, Josh and I, my coworker who is fantastic to work with, don't emphasize a lot of grammar and vocabulary but we push on pronunciation and fluency. For example we’ll try to tell Western expressions and jokes but it is like training Data or Spock because before they can understand a Western joke you have to set up what the cultural meaning is that makes the joke funny. That whole process is hilarious in of itself.
            One thing that isn't funny is how damaging this relentless pressure to always study is for the kids. Korea has an extremely high suicide rate for children* and it's because of the pressure put on by Korean society to excel and not disappoint or shame their families. So if they spend all of their time studying and preparing for their big state exams and then they don't meet their family’s expectations to excel on those exams, they believe what else is there to live for? These state exams are similar to the ones we have, ACT, SAT, TCAPS etc but on steroids because of how important they are to being admitted into a university here.
            Anyways, only 33 days until college football season starts and I can’t wait to watch the Vols, on delayed replay of course, run through the T in Neyland Stadium!