One funny thing I’ve noticed about living in Shanghai (and I’m guessing China/Asia in general) is some of the little things that just seem to work the ‘wrong way round’. And I’m not just talking about the cars driving on the wrong side of the road (real countries drive on the left, damn it, how are you supposed to draw your sword when you’re driving on the right?).
When I first got here in late August, I hadn’t started learning Chinese and so I was limited to asking for only the very basics – luckily, as essentials, water (shuǐ) and coffee (kāfēi) had been added to my vocabulary very early on. One day I was desperate for a cool glass of water in the sweltering, humid late August heat, and stopped at a small cafe to quench my thirst. “Wǒ yào shuǐ” (“I want water”), I said, beaming with immeasurable pride at being able to string together 3 Chinese words. Amazingly, the beaming Chinese girl behind the counter nodded in understanding, and a minute later delivered a glass of water. I had done well.
I brought the glass to my lips with the proud grin of a man who had navigated an extremely basic exchange of ideas, anticipating instant refreshment… only to have my lips almost burnt off. They had served me a glass of hot water. HOT WATER. What kind of savagery is this? Sadly I didn’t have the words to express that I wanted cold water, only that I wanted water. So there I was, the proud grin wiped off my face, hydrating myself on a sticky 32 degree Shanghai day with a glass of piping hot water.
That day, I learned that in Shanghai (and I assume China in general), if you ask for a glass of water at a restaurant, it’s assumed that you want hot water. I later learned that if you ask for coffee, it’s assumed you want iced coffee. I also learned that apparently I was in the wrong for expecting it to be the other way around.
What. The. Hell.
When I query why the default is hot water, I get told that 5,000 years of Chinese medicine has divined that hot water is good for you, and iced water is bad for you (especially for your stomach, apparently). Who am I to argue with 5,000 years of tradition?
Well, I’m Dave, that’s who. This is madness. What next, China? A pint of hot beer, perhaps? Maybe a nice mug of cold cocoa?
Apparently if you live here long enough, you get used to it (and even start to enjoy it). Never, I say. Never.
I will not be treated like a teabag.