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Fan death (wikipedia.org)
52 points by jv22222 on Nov 12, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments



Fun story:

A few years ago I was backpacking around Asia met some friends in northern Vietnam. We were 6 or 7 people so we just rented out a dorm room in a hostel. There were 2 beds left, which were later filled by 2 Koreans.

That night we were all hanging out and the Koreans were quietly minding their own business. It was pretty hot, as Vietnam usually is, so we had the ceiling fans going strong.

Just before turning out the lights, I bent down to the lower bunk and asked if it was ok to turn them off and leave the fan on. I get a mostly blank stare as he murmured a word or two. It didn't sound likely anything close to a "no" do I smiled and said goodnight!

Fast forward to breakfast the next morning, and we're talking about our sleep and someone asks if we heard what they said before turning off the lights. Turns out it was "fan death." Most of us hadn't heard of it before.

Poor guys probably didn't sleep all night.


Why didn't they just keep a window or door open too?


1) There were no windows in that room

2) Never leave a bedroom window open in SE Asia, unless you love mosquito bites


> Never leave a bedroom window open in SE Asia, unless you love mosquito bites

A bit weird. How do you guys in the west repellent bugs during summer?

In China, we use window mesh + mosquito coil + vape mat, work like magic most of the time.


Lots of places do not have that many mosquitoes.

In the places that do have a lot, mosquito nets on the windows might be installed, or you plug a mosquito repellent.


As a Korean it is funny to see this in HN. And yes, almost everyone used to believe this so that my parents always taught me turning off the fan before sleeping. This psudo-theory is so widespread that it is used to assassinate someone in fictions.


Years ago I first took the Wikipedia article at face value. Later on I thought to myself that it’s too far fetched for a majority of people to believe in it. I had also heard that maybe it started as a euphemism for someone who had committed suicide and caught on. Can you shed any light on how common it is? Is it something that people with less education tend to believe?


These are just some of my thoughts. Even my parents used to believe in fan death, and both my father and mother are very well educated. My father has a PhD, and my mother has a Masters.

The younger generation don't believe in fan death anymore. Still, many of the older Koreans that believe in fan death are very well educated. However, talking to my parents, they were not educated to think critically, and even today that is not a value that is stressed in Korea. Essentially the majority of older Koreans were raised in a society which had dictatorships, coup d'etat, assassinations, censorship, and government controlled media. Koreans had great economic success, but less freedoms, similar to the situation in China today. Questioning the status quo is detrimental, and keeping your mouth shut is a virtue still taught in Korea today. Knowledge such as fan death is just accepted as fact, and it stayed engrained until recently.


Thanks for filling me in. I can definitely see how that history and culture could make fan death a fact.

Follow up: while critical thinking isn't encouraged or taught, does knowledge of the widespread usage of fans and the lack of associated deaths elsewhere ever come into conflict with their worldview?


I can ask my parents and get back to you.


It is generational, rather than tied to education. Even very well-educated Koreans born before around 1980 tend to believe in this. I would say it is close to 100% of people over 40. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles would call you stupid for not believing in it. My doctor believed in it. Younger people believe in it less often but it is still very common.


I find it kind of facinating. Do they know that most of the rest of the world doesn't believe it? Do they just believe people are dying from fan death in the west but no one has connected the dots for their cause of death?


The fiction sounds interesting! Do you have a reference?


I saw some mangas do it, copy and paste "선풍기 살인" in Google image search. They are often referenced as the most perfect assassination in the Korean web to make fun of the ignorance of the authors.


Moldovans believe you can get sick from leaving a window open and the breeze coming in. You can be on a packed, sticky hot microbus and they will not crack open a window.

I don't think this superstition is specific to Eastern Europe because I've heard some Germans state similar things about leaving windows open and getting sick.


There's a variant of this in Indonesia too: http://www.expat.or.id/medical/masukangin.html


Sweden: my mother, my aunts, grandparents on both sides etc. This goes mostly for cars. The thing about opening windows in a house is a bit more hit and miss.


In reality, you need a fan in an enclosed space to prevent death—at least in zero-G.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_in_space


This makes me think of all those pre 1960 American films where someone gets wet in the rain, then at best gets a cold, at worst gets a fever and dies.

I believe its quite common in southern Europe to believe that swimming after eating will lead to stomach cramps and drowning.

I'm surprised to hear the eastern European thing about breezes etc. It was quite common in western Europe and America to open windows even in winter for sleeping children, I believe the practice is still common in scandinavian countries.


> its quite common in southern Europe to believe that swimming after eating will lead to stomach cramps and drowning.

Taking a bath and showering too...


How does that work? I thought the fear was you wouldn't be able to swim due to cramps, and drown. That isn't really a concern in the shower. And you aren't really using the same (or any) muscles in the shower, to risk a cramp anyway.


Anecdata for Sweden - yes for me. Some people even let their babies nap (well tucked in) in the stroller in the winter.


I had heard that it was a way to report on suicides without needing to specify how they died.


That seems plausible.


I think we have some of these things in the Netherlands as well, people believe (among others):

* Air draft causes a stiff neck

* Freezing meat twice and eating it will make you sick

* Cold in general will make you sick ("catch a cold")

* If you hold your poo to long, you can never poo (well) anymore (from the grandparents, pretty sure they believed it, actually it may be true to a certain degree but they used to go when one need to go asap.)

I'm sure I'll come up with more.


>* Freezing meat twice and eating it will make you sick

Uh, every frozen meal I have ever seen has come with the printed warning not to freeze it again after it has melted?

Freezing does not kill microbes, and additionally formation of ice during the freezing breaks the internal structure of foodstuff making it better medium for bacterial growth. So repeated freezing-unfreezing, especially if the product is taken into room temperature and back allows unwelcome microbes to proliferate. Like with all food poisoning hazards, it will not make you sick with 100% certainty, but increases the risk enough that it is not recommended.

This is near word-by-word translation of the guidelines of Finnish medical society [1] and food safety authority [2].

It is difficult to call "do not freeze stuff again" an unfounded superstition equal to fan death if it is the common recommendation by national authorities.

[1] https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/terveyskirjasto/tk.koti?p_art...

[2] https://www.evira.fi/elintarvikkeet/valmistus-ja-myynti/elin...


Ok I didn't consider the "makes meat more permeable to bacteria" -argument. Still, bacteria do die from repeated freeze-thawing cycles. But, in any case, I doubt many people ever investigated the scientific evidence.


>Ok I didn't consider the "makes meat more permeable to bacteria" -argument. Still, bacteria do die from repeated freeze-thawing cycles.

Not really. They multiply during the thawing and lie "inactive" during freezing. So repeated freeze-thawing cycles = several generations more bacteria than you started with.

Bernhard Redl, an associate professor in the molecular biology department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria:

"It is clear that freezing does not kill most of the bacteria," said Redl, "but puts them in a dormant state." (...)


> * Freezing meat twice and eating it will make you sick

That's not unreasonable. There are different ways to give the safety advice:

1) Don't do it. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-store-food-and-...

or

2) It's fine so long as the meat defrosted in the fridge, and your fridge is keeping the correct temperature. Don't re-freeze meat kept out of the refridgerator for longer than 2 hours. https://food.unl.edu/it-safe-refreeze-raw-meat-and-poultry-h...

Sometimes the simpler message is safer.


> Freezing meat twice and eating it will make you sick*

It won't necessarily make you sick, but it will have much more bacteria after been thawed (the same bacteria it had frozen, but now reproducing again during the time the meat is in normal temperature before getting frozen a second time)


Another interesting aspect about Fan Death is Hacker News obsession with this subject. There have been been about 15 stories on Hacker News about this so far.


Well if it's over several years that's fine. It's an interesting oddity and I'm sure the readership changes over time as well, making it new to plenty of readers.


My father is the oldest of a very large bunch of kids. When I ask him to count my aunts and uncles, he always mentions one who died as an infant.

And guess what the "cause" was? Now I understand it better, I always wondered WTF he meant when he said someone left a fan on in the baby's room.


Oh wow I can't sleep without a fan. I stayed at a hotel in Berlin with no a/c or blower option and I had a terrible nights' sleep. The follow year when I went back to that hotel, they had a fan waiting for me. Bless them. I even travel with a USB powered fan on airplanes, because those little nozzles of recycled farts they keep moving further away just won't cut it.


"Yohan Yoon noticed that his Korean-American parents kept opening the door to his room whenever he slept with the fan on.. So what’s behind this superstition and what role does culture play?"

Vid - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW2OZfcowp0


This is no more odd than my mother’s family’s belief that sleeping in front of a fan causes illness & stiff muscles.


My parents believe that 'air draught' can cause the common cold. It was considered pseudo science in the 1960-1990s, and largely ignored by Medicine. As it turns out, draught and cold makes you more receptive to the virus. (I guess that's where it got its name from)


Yeah, in Poland, it seems all my family from my parents' generation and older believe in that too. As a kid, I had endless battles with all of them over opening a window. E.g. it would be too hot for me, but everyone would say, "close the window, there's a draft and it'll get you sick". smh.

"Stiff neck" 'teekert mentions and "ear pain" would be mentioned as dangers of draft too. It's so pervasive in the local culture that I even have to occasionally remind people from my generation that common cold is a virus, not a side effect of exposure to elements.


I still believe that avoiding drafts is a good thing.

When you're contaminated (and you don't know because you don't feel it yet) you shouldn't stress your immune system with additional stuff like the temperature differences between different body parts. Why do you want less of blood circulation in the contaminated areas?

What is called "extreme hot" for North or East Europe is a pretty normal temperature for human species anyway.


> What is called "extreme hot" for North or East Europe is a pretty normal temperature for human species anyway.

What is called "pretty normal temperature for human species" is barely bearable for me, and has been so since I was a kid. It completely destroys my productivity.

I recall reading here that the "productive" temperatures fall into the range I consider comfortable, so I must not be too much of an outlier.


Same in Sweden when I grew up. (80s)


Are you dutch by any chance? I spend hours in the back of my grandparent's car driving through Germany, sweating and being miserable because my grandfather "would get a stiff neck from the air draft". I never believed it.


I'm from Flanders (Belgium)


Is your mom’s family Russian or Eastern European?


And since my roommate in Japan fell asleep in front of an air conditioning and woke up with a severe bronchitis, I know that falling asleep in front of an AC isn't the best idea either. Luckily I was suffering from severe diarrhea at the same time, so we both had something to make fun of each other. Although his laughter sounded a bit weird due to the bronchitis.


No offense but basing the conclusion that sleeping in front of an AC causes bronchitis on a single observation is the way to help such misunderstandings into the wild.


No offense, but believing that falling asleep directly in front of an air conditioning when soaked in sweat on a 36°C day will not cause any health issues is a bit naive. I would know that even without a single observation.


I certainly will believe that it will not feel very nice indeed.




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