It’s the 61st Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (National Day or 国庆节). Partayyy! That’s what it was in Tiananmen Square. Cotton candy, corn on the cob, massive floral displays, and… multi-colored plastic devil horn headbands. I have yet to discover their significance. But in essence, the mood on the square tonight resembled that of our Fourth of July. It was unfortunately (or fortunately) not the security-ridden atmosphere that I’d previously conjured up in my mind. Perhaps last year when China rounded its sixth decade the mood was a bit more conflicted, but I doubt it. All the controversial censorship, arrests, and injustices that plague the foreign press coverage on China feel like bitter annoyances when you stare into the crisp, glistening characters on two giant flat screens that illuminate messages of technological success, economic progress and a harmonious society. There is no looming sense of dissatisfaction here but one of overwhelming pride. After all, tonight’s square wasn’t empty but bustling with a smiling crowd snapping photos of their kids posing with Chinese flags and peace signs. And in the end, what’s not to be proud of? All the bad aside, because every country has its dark side, China’s unprecedented growth in the last twenty years is not to be taken lightly. Recognizing the pressures experienced in the past from both within its borders and abroad we might make rational sense not only of China’s rapid economic development but also of its political system. Of course there are many problems left to tackle here, but every citizen deserves a day to honor and rejoice in the successes of the country they live in.
To be honest, there’s no song whose lyrics better capture the science behind the Chinese interpretation of food and drinks. Science? Interpretation? Yeah, that’s what I thought at first. It all started when I came to Nanjing in 2010 and heard that eating too many lychee fruit would disturb the “qi” in one’s body. Being an unconvinced foreigner, I ate about 10 lychee fruits with no problem. During that time, I also discovered that many Chinese girls refused– absolutely refused– to drink beverages cold. For the daughter of a host family I stayed with, an ice-cold water bottle was about as soothing as nails on a chalkboard. Then came my time in Beijing, where I started to learn about the “balance” of one’s internal body temperature… how eating too many goji berries will make one “catch fire” (上火) , which, ironically, could make someone’s immune system weak enough to catch a cold. Confused yet? It gets better. I am now on my fourth trip to China, and every day I discover I know less and less about just about everything. But back to food. According to almost every Chinese person, youth included, each and every food we eat has an impact on our body in one direction or the other–hot or cold. For example, spicy or greasy foods, certain fruits (including lychee and goji berries, as I’d been told before) cause heat in the body. This excess heat, if not balanced with something cool, will result in sicknesses, including a sore throat, fever, infections, stomach pain, and more. So what classifies as “cool” if iced bottled water is out of the question? Herbal teas are the main remedy for negating the effect of foods that cause heat in the body. Certain soups, fruits, “bitter melon”, and a mixture of calcium and magnesium can also do the trick.
But here’s the catch: Like most things that everyone “agrees” on, there’s always an occasional lack of consensus. I’ll share the following conversation from my lunch at work this past week, where I brought a bag of longan fruit (龙眼) to share with my coworkers:
Coworker 1: Mmm, these are sweet.
Coworker 2: Don’t eat too many, you’ll “上火”! (catch fire)
Coworker 3: You can’t 上火 from eating longan.
Coworker 2: Yeah you can– they’re just like lychee fruit…
Coworker 4: You’ll 上火 from eating too many lychee, but you can’t 上火 from longan…
Coworker 2: Hm.. I’d still be careful.
Two years ago, I’d scoff at the idea of “catching fire” from eating too much of a certain kind of fruit. But 20 lychees and 1 sore throat later, I’m a believer… if only to fit in.