Two points were driven home to me today during class:
ONE: Minnesota is very cold.
We were discussing weather (as a way to practice making comparisons) and laoshi asked everyone how cold it was in their 家乡, or hometown. It’s around 20-25ºC here, and most people said between 15º and 25º. After a few responses, she asked if anyone’s home was colder, and I raised my hand. Quickly doing the conversion (from 20ºF), I said that Minnesota was about –5ºC. This was absolutely shocking to everyone except my friend from Switzerland – although, in all fairness, even Minnesotans think the snow is a little bit premature. It’s still over 30ºC (90ºF) in Thailand!
Later in the evening at dinner, we were discussing winter in our various countries. Alice asked me if they ever cancel school because it’s too cold, and I said yes, when it’s below –40º. (Fun fact of the day: –40º is a very convenient temperature because it is the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit.) I believe that Diederik actually choked on his food, and the laughter was so loud that I couldn’t explain further for several moments. Apparently not many of their countries ever get below 0º!
TWO: I really need to work on numbers in Chinese.
Let me clarify – counting to 1000 is easy, but beyond that, things get hairy. In English, as in every other language that I’m even remotely familiar with, we divide numbers into groups of three digits. That’s how we write them (1,234,567,890) and how we read them (1 billion, 234 million, 567 thousand, 890). But – surprise surprise – Chinese is different. They use groups of four digits, which means that same number is now written 12,3456,7890 and said 12 yi, 3456 wan, 7890.
Trust me, it’s harder than it seems at first glance. You have to mentally move the commas (in the right direction, no less) and then come up with the right units to use after each grouping. They don’t have words that conveniently translate to “billion” and “million”; instead they have 亿 (hundred-million) and 万 (ten thousand).
Granted, this difficulty works in the other direction as well. Our units are awkward for them and they have trouble remembering which way to move the commas as well. Thus a Chinese person may tell you that China has 14 billion people – because China does actually have 14 亿 people.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure that I said Xiamen had 25 billion people today. I was off by a factor of 4 because I chose the wrong unit and failed to move the comma far enough. FAIL.
I had dinner with my friends from the Taiwan trip. I really can’t express how much I enjoy their company. I guess a trip like that, even more so than living together in China, encourages bonding, inside jokes and shared experiences, and general familiarness, which gives our group a really good dynamic. We joke around a lot but really learn from each other. We ask a lot of questions about each other’s countries, so I learn both from their answers and from the process of verbalizing mine.
After dinner, I worked very diligently on two tasks – Chinese vocabulary reviews and organizing the pictures I just got from my travel buddies. I managed to go from 5 hours of reviews left to 1, and from 1600 pictures to 600! Yay, progress.
I also spent a few minutes in there searching to a problem that has been bothering me for a while: Seriously, is drinking cold water that bad for you? I just don’t know what to think about this life-threatening issue. In America we’re told to drink water, but I’ve never heard anyone give advice about what temperature the water should be or when you should or should not drink it. In China, however, I feel like I might as well be holding a loaded gun in my hands instead of a glass of cold (not even ice!) water, for all the warnings of adverse health effects I’m likely to receive.
This is a big problem for me, though, as I have a tendency toward dehydration and like my water ice-cold. I don’t even think they have a word for that in Chinese, as my requests for 冰的 (iced) have yet to return a beverage that is more than slightly cool. I’m working on developing an appreciation for tea, but even once I get there, I think that I won’t understand the Chinese people’s thing for hot water. They call it fancy names (白茶, or ‘white tea’) but don’t let it fool you – it’s hot water. Thanks, but I only swallow my own spit, and I don’t care how “good for my body” it is.
The only person who has even attempted to justify this warning is my Spanish friend, Carlos. He told me that when you’re hot, you should drink hot things so that you get hotter, causing you to sweat more, which cools you off. I told him that was stupid. If you’re hot you’re already be sweating, but obviously it isn’t enough because you’re still hot!
One fairly rational explanation I found online concerned not the dangers in the present, but dangers that humans faced in previous generations. In China, as in much of the world, water was not safe to drink until it had been boiled. While they do eat fruits, even their vegetables are all cooked, so maybe it’s not that surprising that they still take their water hot.
Perhaps the least helpful comment I found online is basically the same as what I hear every day: “Hot water is good for you . . . Cold water is not good for you.” Gee, thanks, now I understand!
There was also a Snopes article regarding an chain email with the following warning:
“It is nice to have a cup of cold drink after a meal. However, the cold water will solidify the oily stuff that you have just consumed. It will slow down the digestion. Once this “sludge” reacts with the acid, it will break down and be absorbed by the intestine faster than the solid food. It will line the intestine. Very soon, this will turn into fats and lead to cancer.”
“We are unable to find in reputable medical literature mention of frosty beverages causing cancer . . . Chilled liquids do not solidify ingested fats when the two meet in the stomach: the internal heat of the human body quickly nullifies any temperature differences”
So, here’s the rest of the information I found online (all conveniently affirming my desire to drink cold water)
- the American College of Sports Medicine’s Position Stand on Exercise and Fluid Replacement states that fluid needs to be cooler than ambient temperature, meaning between 59 – 72°F.
- Colder fluids leave the stomach more quickly than warmer ones, allowing faster rehydration.
- During hot weather, cool beverages will have a cooling effect on the body. Drinking cool beverages can help to cool us from the inside.
- “There’s no need to worry: cold foods and beverages do not harm any of our internal organs, so we can feel free to enjoy them.”
- Most people who drink cold water are likely to consume more of it, since it tends to taste better and is more satisfying. Even if drinking cold water results in marginal water loss, the extra water you will probably drink will help make up for this.
Please let me know if you have further insight on this matter, before I die of an overdose of ice-water.