China tradition: green tea or ‘just’ hot water? - Guest column - Katja von Glinowiecki
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China tradition: green tea or ‘just’ hot water? – Guest column

Ode to hot water 白开水

Ever wished there was a magic potion, something like out of an Asterix and Obelix comic, that could cure all diseases, ease all pains and bring you back and beyond your full potential? Well, look no further. The Chinese have found it long ago and are happy to share their secret to physical and mental health, longevity and a happy life.

They call it 白开水 baikaishui. Boiled hot water. Boom.

This might sound like a joke to you, as it has to me when the grandmother of my Chinese host family first forced a cup down my throat when I came down with stomach problems (as 99% of foreigners do when they first get to try “real” Chinese food). But let me tell you, the water worked its magic, created a cozy warm feeling in my belly and helped me overcome my first episode of many stomach pains in China. And not just stomach pains, but colds, headaches, period pains, fevers and other ….

I guess it all starts with the fact that the tap water in China is undrinkable, and causes anyone brave enough to try it (and I’ve been there) to come down with a violent case of diarrhea. In order to make it drinkable, Chinese boil the water and with that hopefully all the bacteria out of it. Still, the real reason for them to drink it hot lies in the ancient art of Traditional Chinese Medicine. They believe that hot water, or at least very warm water helps your digestive system as well as your blood flow. Cold water on the other side is associated with slowing down your organ functions and causing your muscles to contract.

So, don’t be surprised when you see even Kindergarteners walk around with a thermos hung over their shoulder at 30 degrees Celsius outside, moms scolding their kids for drinking a yoghurt drink straight from the fridge, or the Chinese grandma blaming your love for cold drinks for your period cramps. All they do is care for their loved ones in a way that their ancestors have passed on to them and that has proved itself successful.

Boiled water is the only true and real cure for almost all evil for them.

And let me tell you, after five years in China, I do prefer to drink warm over cold water. It is my go-to drink in general, and also when I’m feeling a bit off. Of course, it’s not exactly the same as the Chinese prefer it, which would be blistering hot. Yet it is a habit I have taken on and kept even after returning home to Germany. And I do have to think back to the Chinese grandma whenever I suggest to my German friends to battle their pains with a cup or two of hot water.