China, stop drinking Iced Water!

Dear reader,

you know those peculiar situation that make your face look like this? o.O !
I’m sure it has happened to you. To me, it all happened in China, it was a rainy night in Beijing when…

I landed in Beijing Intl. Airport around 8 pm, very excited but also very tired after a long flight. As I arrived to the hotel close to the airport I couldn’t but think “Great! I’ll take a shower and go straight for Chinese dinner! :)” I went downstairs to the dining room thrilled to explore what the hotel had to offer: vegetables, noodles, steamed bread, some kind of meat, eggs, onions soups. The works, it all looked delicious. It was very hot though so I thought “Uhhh nice cold water!”.
Only that when I asked for water they brought me boiling water in the white cup

China Hot Water with Meals©Stanito, 2013

I’m not kidding about the heat. In Shanghai it was even hotter…

China Hell Heat Summer Shanghai©Stanito, 2013

… so when i asked for water I get  hot tea

China Hot water only©Stanito, 2013

I was intrigued and amused, definitely having hot tea is pleasant, although not what I had in mind as a pleasant refreshing beverage. If meals in China are meant to come with hot water in contrast to Western culture, probably for millennia, but why?

As I asked people in a restaurant in Xuzhou it turns out that there are many answers, I’ll report below the best ones I got:

Stanito: “So, why do you have hot water or tea with meals?”

Chinese woman: “My parents taught me. because hot liquid is best for digestion”

Chinese old man: “Cold water is bad, makes the fat solidify in the stomach, bad for health”

Chinese man 2: “Amm it removes germs, hot water cleans everything… Why do you drink cold water?”

And my answer was “Well, because it’s a relief, especially with this heat”. Then I thought about it, it could even happen that I get tap water, and given that I was in China, where you should normally be careful of what you eat and drink, didn’t seem such a good idea.

The funny thing is that as I kept asking this questions I found out that Chinese people are very curious about us Westerns too, especially outside of big cities, reactions are very amusing and pleasant, while in Beijing people barely look at you, in rural areas they are friendly and curious enough to ask questions. The lady in Xuzhou smiled back at me and asked “So… why do you drink cold water? When do you have hot water? Tea?”

I could communicate fairly well with this lady in Mandarin, and as we chatted in my mind I was making up theories on how Chinese perceive us:

  • They think we only have cold water with meals, and we drink tap water, which is insane
  • They think we only have coffee or tea with hot water
  • They think we consider a waste of time having to boil water before drinking
  • They think we are afraid to bourn our mouths
  • They think that if we drink raw water, we also eat plenty of raw food

I wanted to share these thoughts with this local friend but they sound crazy and I suspect that the real answer have more to do with history than it does with science anyway. We have been drinking tap water for ages with no need to boil it first. But in China you cannot do that.
You want cold water? Luckily for you bottled water is very popular! 🙂 Problem solved


6 thoughts on “China, stop drinking Iced Water!

      1. I lived in Beijing from 94-96, so every other day (joke!). No, but I have some very good memories. I attended a school called ISB, and we went to Qingdao, Yantai, and Xian for field trips. That was a blast! I remember being able to watch South Korean TV from Yantai. Because they’re so near!

        1. Wow, you could watch South Korean TV? That’s awesome! 🙂 All I could watch in China was soap operas, my favourite was the one of the Imperial times. Internet is also intriguing.
          One of the occasion where I had the ‘o.O’ was in a hotel in Shanghai, there was a drinks machine dispenser right next to the elevator, but no place to insert coins… So I asked at reception, and they said “It’s not possible to use it”.

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