When I lived in Korea, my adult students used to warn me all the time about sleeping with an electric fan on. I lived in apartments without air conditioning and about 24 hours after arriving in the intense heat and humidity that is August in Korea, I went out and bought a fan.
It was a great electric fan, and I still wish I could have brought it home. It had a remote control, and could be set to oscillate up and down, or back and forth, or both at once in a kind of wave pattern. It had various speed settings. Very hi-tech.
Anyway, living in a high-rise apartment building with little cross-ventilation and almost no air circulation meant stifling sleepless nights. I slept with that fan on almost every night.
Somehow this topic came up in the advanced English class I was teaching and one of my students got very frantic about it. As a student, this woman, an unmarried middle school teacher in her 30s, had always been cool-headed and rational when some of the other students could be argumentative and moody. So I couldn’t understand what she was getting so upset about. Big deal, I thought, so I slept with the fan on.
Then I learned that most Koreans believe that if you fall asleep with a fan aimed at you, you’ll die. When I asked my students how I could possibly die from the fan, the answers varied. My face would be paralyzed, one told me. Or I would suffer from hypothermia. Mostly, though, my students said that the fan would “take my breath away.”
My insistence that I had grown up sleeping whole summers with the fan on was met with shock and skeptism.
By the time I left Korea, I knew that this belief about sleeping with the fan on was a widespread one. But I had kind of forgotten about it. Until now.