“Are you cold?” “Have you eaten today?” These aren’t just questions, but also greetings. Things weren’t always nice in China, and as far as industrialized countries go, China is a teenager… Though one in quite the growth spurt. These questions became greetings during the rougher periods of Chinese history, when food wasn’t readily available and the winter months were deadly. Being an incredibly traditional people, they still use these phrases today as a way of remembering what life had been like during extreme poverty. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that every body has Qi, or life energy, flowing through it, and its metaphorical Kryptonite just so happens to be cold… it’s not hard to guess how and when this theory might’ve started.
Fast forwarding to 2013, the Chinese people absolutely despise being cold. When I’m sweating, they’re wearing a jacket. The heat is blasting in every room, turning a room from comfortable to boiling. My students gasp when I teach them in a T-shirt, as if the fact that it’s Winter outside somehow means this class room isn’t sweltering anymore. Even when I’d taken a trip down south to the humid, 75 degree city of Guangzhou, people were still wearing track jackets, sweatshirts and pants. Exiting and entering places during the Winter months is an easy way to get heat shock, feeling as if you’d left the frigid, biting wing to step into a furnace or sauna. They only drink hot water, and I’ve scalded myself too many times drinking from a cup that a Chinese person had served me. Even if you request that your water be cold, most restaurants will still only serve it to you boiling, because if you didn’t already know, “it’s good for your healthy.” They take this ‘no chilled liquid’ thing so seriously that at some venues, even cold beer and soda aren’t unavailable!
In a country that hates the cold so much, I stick out like a sore thumb. For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t get cold very easily. I was well known around my alma mater for wearing shorts in the snow, and for several years I didn’t own a single pairs of jeans. Weird maybe, but any reaction I’d ever gotten in NY was nothing compared to the ones I’ve received in China. As the Spring begins and the weather is heating up to the mid 40s and 50s, I’ve broken out the gym and cargo shorts. Walking on the street attracts a lot of attention, their stares can be so intent that they become 180’s; stopping, turning and following me as I pass by. “Do you know it’s cold?” and “you aren’t wearing good clothing,” are pretty common responses, often with Alien or Foreigner added into them. Several people have even called me a madman. The best reaction though was when an the older gentleman grabbed my arm and asked me where my clothes were. He seemed genuinely disturbed, like he wasn’t going to let go of me until I’d explained to him why I had to go and upset his world by wearing shorts on a cold day.
As it begins to heat up, my clothing choices will become more and more socially acceptable, and I just hope that I haven’t scared too many of the Chinese before that happens. I’ll end this post with a Chinese proverb that describes how they feel about cold perfectly: “Whether it is slight cold or great cold, the end result is still ice cold.”