I recently celebrated my 18 month anniversary of moving to this fantastic city, and I’ve found that the longer you live here, the more you find some Chinese habits quirky and silly rather than alien or culturally significant.
For example, it’s quite well known that Chinese people drink hot water instead of cold water, because they believe that cold water will make you ill. Nothing refreshes you on a hot, humid day like a glass of piping hot water, eh?
There’s also a rule that women shouldn’t drink anything cold while they’re on their period, because it’ll congeal the blood in their uterus. Yes, because science works like that.
Many Chinese people believe that the common cold is caused by breathing in too much cold air, rather than the spread of bacteria and viruses through contact, sneezes, coughing, etc. This explains why most Chinese people don’t think to put their hand over their mouth when they cough or sneeze – who cares about spreading germs, it’s the cold air’s fault.
My Chinese teacher spent about 20 minutes one day explaining what I should do whenever I get angry – the solution is to drink a lot of carrot juice. Why? Well, carrot juice makes you fart, and if you ‘fart out’ all the anger from your arse, then it won’t come out of your mouth in the form of shouting. Yeah. She genuinely believes this. One of her hobbies is Chinese medicine and she’s very knowledgeable about it, and while a lot of it involves natural remedies that really do work, some of it is so based in superstition that it’s difficult to contain my amazement that she believes some of the things that she does.
One other strange thing Chinese people do is hang their bed sheets out in the sun. At first I thought they were just drying them out after washing them, but later I discovered that this often isn’t the case – they hang them out dry, believing that the sun will somehow clean and ‘purify’ them. This seems fine, but the fact that you’re hanging them on a dirty handrail right above a busy road… Hm.
I don’t mean to belittle some of these beliefs, as some of them do seem to have a basis in fact. For example, drinking cold water being worse for you is apparently due to the fact that hot water aids digestion and breaks down fat faster, whereas cold water causes fat to congeal. Also it may have something to do with the fact that drinking water here isn’t the greatest in terms of quality, and perhaps the habit is also a remnant from people boiling the water first to get rid of the bacteria and parasites.
However, a lot of these things are so steeped in superstition rather than any kind of empirical science that it boggles my mind. I’ve heard of a few that are simply ridiculous: one friend told me about a Chinese ex-girlfriend who believed that running around a running track clockwise will damage your heart, due to the magnetic force of the earth.
Some habits are just downright dangerous or stupid, for example most electric scooter drivers don’t turn on their headlights after dark because it ‘wastes the battery’. I’ve seen people in cars doing the same thing. Not cool.