It's way past summer now, but there are a couple Korea-specific things I meant to write about. Since linear time is over-rated, let's take a quick trip back to those sweltering hot months... a time when, in America, it's perfectly acceptable to sleep with a fan on and wear t-shirts.
First up is Fan Death. Here they believe that you should not sleep in room with the fan on if the windows are closed. The fan can chop up the oxygen molecules and you will suffocate, or the prolonged exposure to the fan wind can cause hypothermia, and you will DIE. I'm not joking. There are still cases every summer of people dying from "fan death"- doctors put it on death certificates, the government issues warnings, manufacturers can only sell fans with timers, and every smart, educated Korean I've asked about it says it is absolutely a real danger. This past summer at Mud Fest I stayed in guesthouse with many friends, and it was hot and some of us were sleeping with a fan on. One of the Korean friends, from a different room, came in around 8am and TURNED OFF our fan. He left and I immediately turned it back on. I thought it was rude, and strange, to come into a room you aren't staying and adjust some one else's cooling devices. My only "logical" explanation was that he was concerned about us dying from Fan Death.
The other thing is how much Koreans try to stay out of the sun. They consider lighter skin more beautiful, so they don't sunbathe or want to get tan, plus the sun is unhealthy and can damage skin and cause cancer. There's evidence that sunscreen isn't as healthy as it is marketed to be, often containing harmful chemicals and not lowering the rates of skin cancer. There is something to be said for staying in the shade or wearing hats and long-sleeves, but Koreans take it to an extreme. The summers here are hot AND humid, yet most Koreans wear pants, jackets, sun visors, face masks, gloves, boots, and umbrellas... ALL summer. It is astounding to me, who loves the feeling of a little sun on my skin, and who is already sweating in shorts and t-shirt, that they could be so bundled up. I think that Koreans have slowly evolved to not sweat in the heat. Seriously. This comic is by Luke Martin, from ROKetship on Facebook. It's perfect because it is SO true, this is what my whole summer was like.
Showing shoulders or upper chest is immodest, so I hardly wore tank tops last summer. On the few times my shoulders were exposed, older women would talk to me frantically in Korean, gesturing to my shoulders and then up to the sun, looking concerned. At the beach it's rare to see bikinis, or even other beachwear. Even in what I considered to be conservative summer clothes, I still got stared at a lot. That's one thing I appreciate about the cold here- now that it's 40 degrees colder, it makes sense to me to wear jackets and hats, and blend in a smidgen more.