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I’ve only  just heard of this but it strikes me as quite a strange superstition. Apparently, people die in Korea from fans!

Asian girl

This isn't the type of fan we're referring to...

Fan death, as in the fairly standard consumer air fan that most people are familiar with and can be purchased at Walmart for $31.88, is an urban legend in South Korea that blames the electric fan for suffocating, poisoning and freezing people if it is left running overnight in a closed room. Fans manufactured and sold in Korea have timers and warnings.

We're not talking about these types of Korean fans. Though they do look deadly!

These are the culprits! They even look guilty.

According to Wikipedia, The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB) even warned against them and said they are a leading cause of seasonal deaths.

As you can tell by this shocking report, the phenomenon is mainstream news worthy!

Beware of fans!

Beware of fans!

Related Stories

http://postcards-from-the-world.blogspot.com/2009/04/mysteries-of-korea-fan-death.html

http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2009/01/fan-death-is-real.html

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/30/korea-fan-death-and-your-belief

http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Fan_death (this one’s really funny)

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You will get something like this which will allow you to eat at the wedding

Rory and I had a bit of a fun argument last night. We were looking at options for wedding invitations and the websites we were looking at also were selling food tickets as well. I was a bit confused about this. Rory explained that it is customary for guests to receive food tickets when they turn in their wedding gift (money stuffed into a small envelope.) While I knew that money is supposed to be given instead of toasters and glassware I didn’t understand the whole ticket thing. As long as there are no wedding crashers, we should have a good sense of how many people will come to the wedding and can just let people eat without having to give them tickets in exchange for their gift. Rory explained that it is a way to keep track of how many people are eating and because it is what everyone is used to doing. Who am I to argue with that?

This is what Rory and I will look like at the wedding (minus the whiskers)

Now I received a slightly related link to a New York Times article about the tradition of giving money at Korean weddings and it interests me further to find out that the tradition is to open the envelope in front of guests and mark how much they paid in a ledger. I find this to be a bit insensitive and slightly unfair but I don’t think it’s done to purposely shame people into giving more, it’s just a way of doing the whole wedding present thing in a simple, quick, efficient and open way.

I find the article interesting mostly because of the idea that some people were using the wedding ceremonies of politicians and their families as an opportunity to bribe them with large cash gifts. I don’t expect anything similar to happen at our wedding but I think Rory and I agree that we can be bribed pretty easy 😉

Red envelopes with money are the standard gift at traditional Korean weddings

Here is a link explaining some of the Korean gift giving customs. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us.

 

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Racism in Korea

Japanese aren't loved in Korea

An article in the NYT yesterday reminded me of a story:

My first day in Korea in 2005, I was riding the subway, watching an old wrinkled Korean lady bouncing a really cute baby on her knee. The kid’s eyes were locked on mine as he garbled and cooed and his grandma smiled shyly at me in my amusement. Then the subway stopped and a young couple, a businessman and an old man came into the car. I kept making stupid faces at the child when I started hearing a loud Korean voice over the normal din of a midday train ride. At first I ignored it but then it became louder and more vicious sounding. I finally looked to see the old man sitting down and he was litterally spitting as he cursed foreign slurs directly at me. I was shocked and looked back at him. He stood up, assisted by a cane, and kept yelling at me. I moved back slightly, a little frightened when the grandma with the child said something to him in a stern voice and he sat back down. He kept muttering curses at me though until finally the young woman said something to him. She said it politely but with an edge and he finally shut up. She then turned to me and apologized. Her boyfriend did the same. I got off at the next stop. His eyes followed me out the door, as did the chubby cheeked Korean child.

Multiple generations live together in Korea

I didn’t know what that was about until later, it was explained to me that Koreans, especially the older generation, are pretty racist. It comes from living on an island. It comes from conservative education that tries to instill a strong sense of nationalistic and ethnic pride. It comes from Japanese invasions and drawn out wars. It comes from being stuck between some very distinct societies. It’s kind of normal there. That’s one of the reasons why it is a really big deal for me to be marrying Rory.

Long after I left Korea and travelled the rest of Asia, I looked back at my time and the people I met in Seoul. There was a serious shift happening and my generation in that country were torn between two very distinct cultures; that belonging to the old and traditional, conservative values of their parents and their own free-spirited, confused and artistically hungry sense of selves.

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This is a great photo from flickr photographer 2five1

That train ride now reminds me very much of an elevator ride I took with my dad and great grandmother in her building when I was young and she was alive. A stubborn, Irish mother of 14 in rural Quebec, Great Grandma D’Arcy was a live, fallen power cable, full of spark and energy, often seen dancing a jig with a grin on her face. However, when two large black guys entered the car, her smile distorted as she began dropping N-bombs and cursing the most foul obscenities I think I’ve ever heard. Even as a young child I was shocked. I understood though that it was just her ignorance, her life in ethnic isolation. Not so different from the old Korean man on the train. I think Korea is one generation away from being awesome.

A lot had to happen for change to come about in the West

Going back to the NYT article, it is good to see that the government and laws in Korea are starting to reflect the new realities. In just the past seven years, the number of foreign residents has doubled, to 1.2 million and younger people are starting to marry non Koreans. People might read the article and think, ‘wow, what took them so long’ but consider that an interracial couple was denied a marriage license recently in the US.

I don’t often tell her but I am supremely proud of my fiance for choosing to stand up against the traditions of her family and her country in order to marry me. Women like Rory have started challenging the norms. They are Korea’s version of  Richard Loving. I’m hopeful that our children will be the ones who set Korea free.

Related articles:

After 40 years, interracial marriage flourishinghttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/

Just Plain Uncomfortable http://crystar683.wordpress.com/

Korean Shamans

I like this pic. There are a few Korean iconic symbols that maybe I'll let Rory explain. 🙂

When Buddhist priests and temples were prohibited in the walled towns three centuries ago, anything like a national faith disappeared from Korea, and it is only through ancestral worship and a form of  shamanism that Koreans were able to fill that human need for spiritual guidance.

Though Korea is now more religiously diverse (see Korean evangelist Reverend Moon Sun-myung and photo below from his recent marriage of 20,000 people) Shamanism is still a very common practice and the blessings of shamans are still sought after for everything from taking a new job to, in our case, deciding if we are a good match, making sure we don’t have any opposing energies, advising on the best possible date to get married and predicting the success of our marriage. This is decided not only on our Chinese zodiac signs but also on major recent personal events, for example we shouldn’t be married if there is recent death in the family or on the same month as our parents, etc.

Mass Wedding

This isn't how Rory and I will be married. It seems a little generic...

 

The process is kinda good because so many factors are out of our control that it actually takes some stress off of us during the planning process. It is proving to be a bit problematic for some of our friends and family though, as we tried to have a fall wedding and told people to plan as such, but in the end we are now marrying in May. (Sorry if this caused you strife) Technically it is out of our hands and hopefully this will explain why.

The Korean Shaman interprets the Chinese sexagenary cycle, a 60 year astrological and elemental cycle, and also takes into account other religious, spiritual and personal history to heal, predict and council on major life decisions and events such as political elections, divorce, employment and marriage. As far as their involvement in our marriage (so far), the shaman based their interpretation primarily on the scientific 60 year cycle which maps the earthly and heavenly positive and negative energies to predict the best possible date for the wedding. It is also the same process which will suggest when the children should be conceived and whether the marriage will be happy and healthy. Sounds a bit frightening really.

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The Korean word for Shaman is 'mudang' 무당

It’s an interesting calendar based on the Heavenly Elements 木 (wood), 火 (fire), 土 (earth), 金 (metal) and 水 (water). Each of these elements is further divided into positive and negative energies (yin and yang – but negative isn’t necessarily bad, but more like a battery has two poles). Yin and yang are tied to the moon and the sun, female and male respectively. The five elements multiplied by the two energies make the 10 possible Heavenly Stems of the calendar. These correspond to a repeated cycle of ten years in the lunar calendar and are paired with the repeating 12 animals of the more commonly known Chinese zodiac (Earthly branches). However, there are corresponding hours each day for each animal as well, which further determines personal traits of each individual. It is a bit complicated, which is why people probably consult shamans in the first place.

The combination of 12 animals and 10 elements repeat every 60 years. It’s interesting because apparently the 61st birthday (hwangap) is a significant milestone in a person’s life as pre-industrialized Koreans rarely made it to this age but also because it means you have lived an entire cycle. Rory’s dad turns 61 in April and so we are expecting a big party in advance of our own celebration.

korean shaman

Shamans in Korea are almost always women.This one is performing a ritual dance.

Hopefully this explains some things about how we came about the date for the wedding and why it took so long to nail down. There are plenty more interesting Korean traditions and rituals though so keep visiting the blog to learn more.

By the way, according to the Shaman, I am metal monkey.

Interesting extras:

Shamanism – NY Times article

Fact – There are an estimated 300,000 shamans, or one for every 160 South Koreans, according to the Korea Worshipers Association, which represents shamans.

Korean Shamanism

Performing a ritual