By George R. Hogan
Want to play a little game? First, find an English teacher. No wait, find 20; a hundred; it doesn't matter how many, just find them. I don't care where they're from or what they look like.
Now that you have their attention, tell them that kimchi reduces the aging process and helps keep skin younger and fresher. No wait, that's not good enough. Tell them that you believe in fan death, and just sit back and listen to them roar with laughter and accuse you of being illogical, irrational or just plain ignorant. Wait until the laughing and name-calling subside and then tell them that you still believe in fan death. Careful though, their head might explode or they might launch into a self-praising tirade about how science and logical reasoning works. Don't worry, they're still wrong.
The expatriate readers here are already laughing. In fact, they're looking at my picture and accusing me of being an idiot. They'll probably make really clever insults up like how I've been in Korea too long or that I probably think that kimchi is very spicy. That's fine though. Unlike them, I don't suffer from Korean Derangement Syndrome (KDS). This syndrome is a self-imposed barrier that blinds and forbids the mind from accepting anything that doesn't fit into one's pre-determined narrative of who Koreans are and how they think. It's an illness that forces the brain to disregard proven facts and instead offer knee-jerk reactions based on unfounded and unwarranted emotionalism.
To trigger the KDS, all someone has to do is highlight a point of pride in Korean history or culture. Let's take a look at the fact that kimchi is easily among the world's healthiest foods. Those suffering from KDS would claim that Koreans are just being overly nationalistic in their enthusiasm, but Health magazine says, ``Kimchi is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its 'healthy bacteria' called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacterium helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study."
And more good news: ``Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer." Unfortunately, facts don't matter when dealing with KDS-infected expats. They can be shown an extremely comprehensive study proving the claims' validity, but it will still be wrong. In their perfect minds, they're correct and the Koreans are trying to make themselves appear more exceptional than they deserve. Luckily, since KDS became so fashionable among expats, Koreans can no longer be proud of kimchi. Phew! That was close!
How about fan death? Most expats don't bother to look into the science of fan death and rely on faux-claims of suffocation and hypothermia, but if they were to inform themselves, they would see that fan death is in fact very true and very real. Luckily, I have dealt with many expats suffering from KDS, so I know not to quote a Korean scientist, so I went with an American source known as the Environmental Protection Agency: ``Portable electric fans can increase the circulation of hot air, which increases thermal stress and health risks." And: ``Don't use a portable electric fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside." Hyperthermia is what could get you, but, again, those pesky facts don't matter because someone told those freshly-minted expats that Koreans are unreasonable. How else could they believe in such a thing?
I wish I could say that it's limited to those two items, but I would be lying. As I mentioned above, sufferers of KDS have deeply-instilled gut-reactions to many points of Korean pride. Dokdo and the East Sea come to mind. While the argument is one that continues to truck along, many expats prefer to assume that it's Japanese territory and that Koreans are just overreacting. You will probably be laughed at if you make the simple statement that Korean history started in 2333 B.C. when Gojoseon was founded. In the expats' superior minds, Korean history started in 1953. I could talk about spicy food, golf, chopsticks and Korea's clearly unique and separate cultures from China and Japan, but it would do no good. KDS is just too strong for facts.
And if it sounds like I'm talking down to those who suffer from KDS, that's because I am. It's a willful ignorance that parallels the loons in the U.S. who believe that Obama is not a natural born citizen and that he wants to create death panels, also known as ``birthers" and ``deathers," respectively. I don't think KDS is about western superiority or arrogance either; it's just a blatant denial of facts that don't fit into a fixed idea of what Korea is or should be. I recommend that my fellow expats start reading books and papers a bit more and rely less on what online forums and whiney short-term expats claim.
I understand that some might get tired of hearing about the same Korean highlights over and over again, but no one is forcing you to repeat or promote them. Do some research; make up your own minds; and stop following the lead of that one expat who infected you with KDS.
The writer has been teaching modern Korean social issues and current events for the past four years in southern Seoul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on his blog at www.asktheexpat.blogspot.com.