Twitter Flickr RSS feed

Oh, Shanghai There

Tales of an Englishman living in Shanghai

Dave On February 21 2012

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.


  1. A Chinese says:

    1. The purpose of drinking hot water is, as you had mentioned, to aid digestion.

    2. I guess u must be a male. When women have menses, due to the loss of blood, we tend to feel cold. When we drink hot drinks or have warm meals during menses, we do feel better. That is the most important, isn’t it? Unless you are a WOMAN, you are in no position to comment about this, isn’t it? Why don’t u get one of your caucasian female friend to drink only warm drinks and eat cooked warm meals during menses to see if it is really helps?

    3. When u dry your sheets in the sun, assuming that the air is clean, the sun does kill bacteria – isn’t this proven by science?! Moreover, assuming once again, that u are staying in a place with good air quality, can you not smell the smell of sun on the bed sheets once it is dried? It smells fabulous.

    I think you should make some effort into understanding why people do certain things that are not inline with your own belief system. If that person cannot explain it well to you, it doesn’t mean that it is wrong, it just means that they do not understand why they are doing it. What you should be doing is to ask a person who actually knows what he is doing, instead of making judgmental statements like this. Do note that just as you judge others, other people are judging you too. What makes you think that we do not think that you are silly as well? It is just that we do not think it was necessary to put these information online, that’s all.

    FYI, science still cannot explain many things. And certain Chinese words just do not translate well into English. So, you should perhaps, make some effort into understanding what it really means.

    • Dave says:

      Oh hi, thanks for commenting.

      You might not want to get so super defensive about things you read here. This blog was more intended to entertain my friends and family back home, not to educate people curious about Chinese customs. This post is an observation of cultural differences rather than claiming that Chinese ways are “wrong”. I’m sure that some of our 老外 ways are just as silly and quirky to you. I did not intend to denigrate, I was just having some fun.

      Drinking hot water, fine. Drinking hot water when it’s 35 degrees outside and humid? Fine if you can do it, for me that’s uncomfortable and would be for most English people, given that our weather rarely if ever reaches that kind of extremity, and water is drunk to refresh rather than to aid digestion.

      Drying sheets in the sun, fine. Hanging already dry sheets out over a busy road in a city where the air pollution is often at dangerous levels, probably not so fine.

      There’s no need to react with such vitriol to a silly blog post like this. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry if I offended you, but it certainly wasn’t my intention. I did write this almost a year ago, but to be honest I don’t really feel like I need to defend anything I wrote as being overly judgemental or insensitive.

      It seems you’ve taken things I’ve said and interpreted them as a general “ha ha, they’re doing it wrong”, rather than the way in which it was intended, which was simply to highlight a few Chinese beliefs that many foreigners would find strange, sometimes inexplicable. I even said a couple of times in the post that I don’t mean to belittle these beliefs, just that they seem strange. My intention was not to judge, it was simply to observe and report.

      As a foreigner living in China, ‘making an effort in understanding why people do certain things not inline with my own belief system’ is something I do every day. You should not presume to judge my character based on a single, tongue-in-cheek blog post.

      Anyhow, I don’t want to argue with you. I appreciate your comment and apologise if something I said caused you to be offended – but you should know that insulting Chinese culture was never my intention, only to highlight some of the differences that seem odd to us 外国人. Perhaps I can offer you a glass of carrot juice? 🙂

    • white female says:

      Typical Chinese! hahaha. Ready to start screaming and arguing so she doesn’t “loose face”

      • Dave says:

        Hah, I don’t blame her for getting defensive. Every culture has its quirks and beliefs that seem funny to others. She just misinterpreted my post as me ridiculing Chinese culture, which was not at all my intention – it was only pointing out some of the quirks that seemed particularly unusual or illogical to me.

  2. Caid says:

    Perhaps I can offer you a glass of carrot juice?


    • kodi says:

      I looked into some these superstitions and have challenged what I deem to be foolish unreliable beliefs whenever I can.

      For example: Don’t use a cell phone in a thunderstorm….. I looked at the statistics on the total number of people are struck by lightening each year and how many of them were on a cellphone or a land line at the time. Needless to say the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a person never ever being struck by lightening unless 1.) He/she is the highest thing around 2.) Holding onto or is near the most conductive object around 3.) A combination of 1 and 2 together raises the risk considerably. Regardless of the facts I still see signs in parks around the country warning people about the dangers of using their cell phones in the rain. The funny thing is that I encountered most of these signs near huge steel towers or tall trees, which reminds me of what really not to do in a thunderstorm.

      As far as the hot water superstition goes: Actually hot or warm water can aid with digestion and the absorbance of vitamins etc…. However, the idea that cold water will hurt someone is simply ridiculous. I asked doctors both in China and in the west about this issue. The consensus is that warm or hot water has its minimal health benefits, but cold water will absolutely not hurt you. Furthermore, cold foods wont hurt you either. The whole idea of drinking hot water well into the 21st century has survived in China simply because most of the water available to the most people in China is not potable and is unfit for drinking. However, drinking any amount of hot water will not have health benefits if its full of heavy metals and pollutants as is the case these days. Whats scary is that one of the local Chinese doctors I spoke to tried to convince me that Chinese have some key anatomical differences from other “species” of people on earth. She was telling me that Chinese are a different animal…… HAHA funny! But I think I’ll stick to Darwin and science when it comes to matters of such importance.

      As for cold beverages and meals during menses I actually conducted my own experiment with this myth. I challenged every female I meet to have ice cream while in menses. The result has been that they have also felt better. Why is this? I think its because of the placebo effect or dopamine released during the sweet treat, or perhaps the effect of cold on a sore spot (sports medicine does use cold and heat to treat soreness) this can sooth the sore area and ease swelling. All in all Chinese culture is not a culture in which asking questions or challenging conventional wisdom is accepted practice, so with that being said when some old lady tells you your whole life that drinking warm or hot water will make you feel better I can see how it would work as a placebo because those who don’t think outside the box and try something cool will never know. However, Lots of people are challenging this conventional wisdom which is why there are cold drinks in every shop : )

      Another thing is the myth that drinking hot water is somehow the remedy for everything….. This is a very 17th century idea. In the west we used to make tinctures and soda water with a wide range of herbs and plants to cure all manner of illness, but needless to say all that was bullshit or else we would have stuck with it. A funny thing about our early alchemy in the west is that some of those useless tinctures and mixtures are now huge name brand soft drink companies… COKE, PEPSI, Dr. Pepper, etc….

      The most annoying myth that so many people in China are being fooled by is the anti-radiation apron recommended for pregnant women. It’s the most ridiculous thing to believe a thin piece of cloth is going to protect someone and their baby from radioactive waves!! The FACT is that the sun gives us more radioactive waves than all the electronic equipment we will ever be exposed to. Humans have been giving birth since the origin of our species and they survived fine without anti-radiation aprons.

      Another thing that is remarkable to me is how when a woman gets pregnant they must instantly transform into a useless bedridden human being. They really believe that everything will harm their baby. No wonder these boys here are so spoiled and feminine.

      Western women on the other hand often carry on with life as normal until the day they give birth given that there are no unexpected complications.

      One thing that is wasteful and uncomfortable is when people blast the air conditioner and open the door or windows because they believe the air-con will hurt them. This is one of the dumbest things I ever heard. Almost as dumb as the time Chairman Mao threw the country into turmoil because he was so confident that communism would catapult the country ahead of the West within 10 years, but it actually failed and ended with the starvation of 30,000,000 people. If the cold is so harmful then why aren’t all people who live in cold places sick all the time or even dead?

      One girl’s mother refused to allow a fan in the hospital room because she thought the fan will chop up the air and cause the girl to suffocate in her sleep.

      However, One thing that isn’t a myth is the rampant suffering, self victimization, and inferiority complex that many locals have because they are so embarrassed of themselves or so ashamed of their past to meet criticism with reasonable discourse. Everyone is entitled to their opinion no matter where he/she is from because we all live on this planet and to be fair if we allow archaic ideas to disseminate throughout the world humanity as a whole will undoubtedly take a step back or what they call 落后 in China.

      I recommend that all mainlanders take trips to Hong Kong and Taiwan to see examples of societies built by Chinese which aren’t entirely contrary to reason and the natural values of humanity.

      And if you feel the need to victimize yourself in response to my posting and claim that I am intolerant and harsh toward mainlanders then please begin by explaining why so many wealthy, government leaders, and intellectuals hold getting foreign citizenship in the West as a life goal.

      Note: My opinion is not meant to be a sweeping generalization, but instead it was compiled from experience with a representative sample which may be bias due to the circumstances in which I met the people I came in contact with. With that being said stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Featured Posts

Foreigner advice from a Chinese person

On pretty much every blog you’ll read written by a foreigner living in China, the main focus is always on those little differences in Chinese and Western thinking. Things like the Chinese inability to queue properly, the non-existent health and safety procedures, the ridiculous bureaucracy… and given that my last post was about what I consider to be “funny Chinese habits”, I’m happy to admit that I’m as guilty as anybody else […]

Funny Chinese habits and beliefs

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 […]

Hao jiu bu jian, happy new year, and keeping mum and dad happy

好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn – “long time no see”), everybody. I should apologise for not updating for so long, but if I did that be prefacing every post with the same thing, and that’ll get boring pretty quickly. Recently China celebrated the Lunar New Year, which is a […]

Tales of Yang Mei #5: Scary fast

I’m off to Australia and New Zealand for 3 weeks, so don’t be expecting any updates for a while… though at the rate I’m updating here, you probably shouldn’t be expecting too much anyway. Here’s a quick ToYM to tide you over… Yang Mei teaches people from all over the world (and unlike the majority of Chinese people, she has come to appreciate different cultures because of it), including America, England, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Japan […]

Audi-driving douche kills parking attendant over 15RMB (£1.50) parking fine

This happened pretty much just down the road from me, which – as any George Carlin fan will know – suddenly makes it a million times more interesting. So here’s the quick version – an Audi owner gets into an argument on the street with a female parking attendant/meter maid about a parking fine he’d incurred. He got in the car and tried to drive away before the attendant could write him up, so she stood in front of the car […]

Leftright, westeast, on a horse

Well, that’s one of the weirdest titles I’ve ever written. The Chinese language has a few awesome quirks, probably acquired through thousands of years of use. One of my favourite things is the way they combine or compound words to make a whole new word, often with a different meaning. Sometimes, the words are opposites. For example, the word zuǒyòu (左右), literally means “left right”, but put together the word comes to mean “approximately” […]

Ma man, mama ma ma

Looks like I’ve been more than a little remiss with my blogging over the last month or so. I’ve got a very bad habit of starting blogs and then not updating them. My problem is that I only like blogging when I feel like I have something to say, when really I should just be doing plenty of little updates. In all honesty, I haven’t been up to very much in the last month or so that has been particularly exciting… but then, this is supposed to be a blog about living in Shanghai, not […]

Possibly the most hardcore VW Santana ever

OK, so this isn’t Shanghai, but it’s still worth posting. The city of Kunming – capital of the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan – has around 7 million residents. It is more known for its traffic, with over 1,000 cars added to the already overcrowded roads each and every day. Now, I see a few pretty mean feats of driving living here in Shanghai on a pretty much daily basis – and when I say “mean feats”, I […]

The best kind of dictionary

There are a hell of a lot of westerners in Shanghai – many come to study, many come backpacking, some to shag as many Chinese girls as they possibly can… but I’d estimate that the vast majority are here for work. A lot of them are contracted to be here for a while, so they inevitably take Chinese lessons to help them get through daily life here – ordering in restaurants, telling cab drivers where to go, etc. Apparently quite a common thing for Chinese teachers […]

Tales of Yáng Méi #4: Laurence

Yáng Méi told me this story just today. Unfortunately it needs a little explanation, but hey, you’re here to learn, right? So, she has a Japanese student who had a friend visiting him. His friend is called Laurence. When Yáng Méi went over last week to teach her student, he introduced Laurence to her. However, in an attempt to make it easier (and, I suppose, more polite), he transliterated Laurence’s name into Chinese and introduced him as that. At this […]

Oh man that is so cow vagina

OK, Chinese slang is weird. 牛逼 (niú bī) is often used by Chinese teenagers, and it’s slang for “awesome” or “great”. Occasionally it’s shortened to just “niú“. The phrase is interesting, however, because it literally means “cow vagina”. It’s most often written 牛逼, even though the second character 逼 actually […]

臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu)

Stinky tofu (chòu dòufu)

When I talk of Shanghai, I often speak of the amazing food. And I’m not mistaken in doing so – this city is amazing for the sheer range and quality of the food on offer. You can find restaurants serving food from anywhere – not just all corners of China and the rest of Asia, but also gourmet hamburgers, Indian […]

What’s in a name

Mandarin Chinese is really an amazingly interesting and intricate language, and the more I learn, the more interesting it becomes. One interesting facet of Chinese is how they render western words in Chinese. Translating things like product names can be difficult, because you have to transliterate the sound of the words into Chinese as best you can, but the words should also have some kind of relevant meaning. Before Coca Cola was first introduced to China […]

Face is on the menu

As anybody who knows me will tell you, I have an unhealthily immature obsession with anything to do with the face. I don’t know why. I just love the face. What’s not to love? I’m also a big fan of Chinglish and badly translated signage. So you can imagine how excited I was to see “Lamb face” on the menu at a local noodle place called “Surface”. Unfortunately you don’t really get a sheep’s head in a bowl if you order it – it’s a fairly obvious, if slightly strange mistranslation […]

Tales of Yáng Méi #3 – nage

My Chinese teacher has quite a few American students, since she speaks English well and there are plenty of Americans here trying to improve their Mandarin. One of her recent ones sticks out, because he’s something of a rarity here in Shanghai – a black guy. If there’s one group of people that get stared at more than my kind of wide-eye, it’s black people. There just aren’t many around, many Chinese people can probably claim to have never seen one, and […]

Politicalamity (heavy reading)

Not a Shanghai-specific post, and not written by me – but if you’re at all interested in how the communist system in China works, this makes for a great read.. Written by Patrick Chovanec, an American professor of Economics and Management at Tsinghau University in Beijing, this primer gives a very approachable and pretty comprehensive overview of the Chinese political system, as well as the shuffle in leadership that is due to happen in autumn 2012. I’m certainly […]

Chinese air conditioning

As summer arrives in Shanghai, the weather has taken a sharp turn towards hot and humid. Today it’s 32 degrees celsius outside, and you’re sweating pretty much from the moment you leave the house. Thankfully, Shanghai is well equipped to deal with the May heat: any shop, restaurant or […]

1200 miles for a passport stamp

Apologies for the lack of recent updates. Yesterday I came back from spending the weekend with friends of my girlfriend in Seoul. While I’d love to say it was a trip purely for the sake of pleasure, my visiting there had an ulterior motive. While I love living in Shanghai, sometimes I do feel like they have me jumping through increasingly ridiculous hoops just to stay here. For starters, the visa: you need a visa to come to China in the first place […]

China bans time travel

Great Scott, this is quite interesting. While I do love living in Shanghai for a variety of reasons, the main thing that makes me a sad panda here is that China is a little censor-happy. And when I say ‘a little censor-happy’, I mean titanically, gigantically, massively censor-happy. But a recent development has […]

Tales of Yáng Méi #2: fan qie jiang

Here’s another story told to me by my wonderful Chinese teacher, Yáng Méi (Carrie). It’s quite similar to the first one, but then again, most of her stories involve her hapless students and misunderstandings in restaurants. This particular student is another American, but this guy is a super serious businessman. Carrie claims that she’s never seen him laugh. Having studied for a few months, he was comfortable with ordering food in fast food places, but like any […]

Drinking in backwards land

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 […]

Tales of Yáng Méi #1: chao haizi

Pretty soon after moving here I started Chinese lessons. You kind of have to, it’s next to impossible to get by with just English here – but quite honestly I welcomed the challenge of learning such a difficult language. My teacher is awesome: she comes to my flat twice a week and gives me 1-to-1 Mandarin tuition. It’s crazy how much progress I’ve made over the last 5 or so months; going from completely useless to only slightly useless. I can now order food and […]

On top of the world

My mum visited me a few weeks ago, and for her benefit I did something touristy for once – we decided to go to the tallest (and probably my favourite) building of Shanghai’s skyline, the Shanghai World Financial Centre. It’s more commonly known as the “Bottle Opener”… I’ll let you guess why. The 100th […]

Fuck this Sichuan food

No China blog is complete without some pictures of awful English translations on signs, menus and posters. I’ve already taken enough in the last 6 months to fill up a few albums. However, sometimes one just jumps out at you. On Wednesday we went to lunch at a Sichuan place we hadn’t been to before. […]

Hello / ni hao

Oh, Shanghai there. I’ve decided to start this blog after 6 months of living in Shanghai, as somewhere to log the weird and wonderful adventures I’m having over here. So far living here has been an amazing experience, with plenty of amazing moments. Since last August, I’ve not only moved to an entirely new […]


Twitter Updates

No public Twitter messages.