Vail Daily travel: Beware of ‘fan death’ |

Vail Daily travel: Beware of ‘fan death’

Nicole Frey
Travel correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyA neighbor moving into Samsung Apartments.

Editor’s note: Vail native Nicole Frey spent 16 months living in South Korea and now is traveling through Southeast Asia for a few months. We’re serializing her blog about living overseas Sundays in the Vail Daily for the next few months. E-mail comments to

If you go to sleep with your door and windows closed and the fan on, you will die. The fan will rob your bedroom of all oxygen and you will suffocate in your sleep.

That’s the premise of “fan death,” a very real, “scientifically proven,” Korean condition. It’s part of the basic elementary science curriculum taught in local schools. The South Korean government lists “fan death” as one of the five most common causes of death during the summer in the country. Everyone from young children to the elderly live in fear that one day their handy electric fans will turn on them and snuff them out as they slumber.

“Children,” I say to my students, “I sleep with my door and windows closed and the fan on every night, and here I am talking to you, alive and well.”

“No, Teacher,” they reply, “Korean bodies are different. We will die.”

You just can’t argue with that.

Here in Busan, rainy season has begun, and I’m convinced the country’s economy is sustained solely by umbrella sales. Back in Vail, rain tends to cools things, but here it turns the city into a sweltering sauna. I’ve all but abandoned straightening my hair, instead letting it run wild in its embarrassingly frizzy state. My face is still wondering why we left cool, dry Colorado for this steam room and is punishing me with an ever-present oil slick. The humidity has also sent my hair and nails into a growth spurt … strange things are happening.

Busan is a city of contrasts. Lush green mountains separate the many boroughs that make up the metropolis. Those boroughs, which hold about 3.5 million people, are filled with an uninspired concrete jungle of squat buildings – in a cornucopia of pastel colors – holding all types of shops and restaurants. These concrete boxes are juxtaposed by taller concrete boxes, generally apartment buildings, offices and malls.

I live in one such unimaginative 15-story highrise. Home is a two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of building 3 in the Samsung Apartments in the “dong” or borough of Mandeok. Front doors are all aluminum here. I’m not sure why, but it’s awfully loud when you slam them. There’s a little entryway where my roommate and I leave all our shoes for the other to trip over, and then you’re in the kitchen/dining area. A two-burner gas stove is standard. It looks like a glorified camping stove, and it works just fine if you’re not planning anything fancy. We have the luxury of a microwave and toaster oven, but conventional ovens are not standard kitchen appliances here. It should go without saying: we have a rice cooker.

The last roommate left a lovely, comfy sectional couch and big TV, but she’ll be back to claim those at the end of the month, so Sarah and I are going to have to scrounge up some new furniture. Off the kitchen is the laundry room with a deep blue washing machine that looks like an overgrown bread maker. All the water from the machine drains directly onto the floor and into a drain at the lowest point in the floor. I still panic for a moment when I see 3 inches of water in the laundry room.

There is no dryer – they’re not common here. We have an enclosed patio with a large drying rack suspended from the ceiling, which can hold sheets and other larger items. Everything else dries on portable drying racks, and on a good laundry day, the whole apartment is covered with drying clothes. It generally takes a couple days for things to dry. Once dry, they lack that great fresh-from-the-dryer feel. Instead, they’re stiff. And without a dryer, every little speck of lint and hair still clings to the clothes. I suppose it’s a hassle, but you simply budget laundry time more carefully, and know that if you wash those jeans Sunday, it’ll be Wednesday before they’re on you again.

All in all, it’s a comfortable home, and I feel lucky to be here.

Support Local Journalism