Just like anywhere in the world, China has its own set of seasonal customs. If you’ve never experienced China in the summer before, you might find some of them strange to say the least. Here, we talk you through the methods and the madness of China’s strange summertime habits.
Using an Umbrella in the Sun
Having grown up on a wet British Isle, I can appreciate a good umbrella. A childhood of being perpetually soggy teaches you to keep one close at hand. What is harder for me to understand, however, is when people use umbrellas on a glorious sunny day. This is somethings you’re likely to see a lot of in China.
In short, it means you won’t sweat through your entire shirt quite so quickly and you’ll be protected from the sun. While in some countries a tan is seen attractive and therefore desirable, in China the opposite tends to be true. In times gone by, if you worked in the fields then your skin would be tanned. If you were from high society, however, your skin would be pale. Therefore pale skin is seen as more attractive.
Such ideals were also upheld in the West at one time. Now, however, those with tans are arguably the ones with more money because they can afford to go on holiday to hot, sunny places.
The bigger issue I have with this habit is that if you insist on using an umbrella every time it rains and every time it’s sunny, there aren’t many days left when you’re not using an umbrella. You should probably start to ask yourself if you are living on the right planet.
The ‘Beijing Bikini’
Before you come to China there are some things you’ll hear about and see on the internet that will help you prepare. You may have heard of people eating chickens feet; someone might have warned you about the squat toilets.
What you might not be prepared for, however, is seeing the middle aged man walking towards you lift up his shirt to expose his hard earned beer belly. What’s that all about? This, dear reader, is the ‘Beijing Bikini’.
Whether in Beijing or elsewhere, if you go out on a summer’s night in China you’re more than likely going to stumble across a group of guys crowded round a street barbecue with their wife beaters rolled up to their moobs. Rather than a bizarre show of masculinity, however, this is just how demure Chines men keep cool in the summer months.
Some might say we should be grateful they’re not taking their shirts off completely. When you are sat on the bus, however, and the guy next to you lifts up his shirt to expose his entire stomach, it’s of scant consolation that he had the decency to keep his nipples under wraps.
Turning Off the Air Con
It’s the middle of the day at the height of the summer. You’re in the office and the only thing that stands between you and the horrible heat and humidity outside is that glorious monolith of an AC unit that’s currently on full blast. Then, all of a sudden, your colleague comes and turns it off. Don’t you know air conditioning is bad for you?
The idea that air conditioning is bad for your health is widely accepted across China. Chinese people believe that if you’re constantly going between extremes of temperature you’re more likely to catch cold.
However, I dare counter that just how cold weather itself does not lead to people getting ill, neither does air conditioning. In the same way that we tend to stay cooped up indoors together during the winter months in colder climates, so too do we stay inside with air conditioning on during the summer months in hotter climates. It is a virus that causes us to get sick, and the fact that we’re in close proximity to each other that it spreads so quickly. So if we’re already indoors together and already going to get sick, please can we do it without sweating as well?
Continuing to Drink Hot Water
You could be forgiven for thinking that the summer months in China would offer a reprieve from the constant hot water drinking. But you’d be wrong. While you may not agree that a nice cup of steaming hot water on a stifling summer’s day is the most refreshing of refreshments, you can’t say Chinese people aren’t consistent with this one. Chinese people believe that eating and drinking overly cold things isn’t good for your health. To be fair, there is evidence that warmer liquid is more easily absorbed into the blood stream. So finish that cup of hot water or you won’t recover from the flu you caught from sitting in the air conditioning all day.
Eating Spicy Hot Pot
There are few things better to eat during the winter months in China than spicy hotpot. The hot stew of meat and veg feeds the body while the company of friends and family warms the soul. But why do Chinese people continue to go for hotpot during the summer? I mean, when the pavement is practically melting outside, the last thing I want to be doing is eating scalding tofu from a caldron full of chili oil.
You might think that drinking a cup of tea in a London cafe and enjoying a spicy hot pot in a Sichuan restaurant have little in common,. However, they are both said to help you cool down in the summer. Consuming hot items will indeed cause you to sweat, which in turn will help you to cool down. It’s basic high school science stuff, really.
I continue to go out for hotpot during the summer for an altogether simpler reason, however. Because it’s amazing. The food is great and, more importantly, it’s a way to bring family and friends together.
I’ll never forget when a couple of friends from the UK came to visit me in China. The weather was great out so they insisted on going sunbathing in the park. I warned them that it wasn’t the done thing here, but they failed to heed my words. Within 15 minutes they had got up from the grass and put their clothes back, having been made to feel incredibly self-conscious by all the locals who stopped to stare at them. The locals, of course, were merely bemused at the sight of these these strange people lying half naked on the ground with no protection from the sun.
When you think about it, they were right to be confused. It wasn’t until I lived in China that I realized how preposterous the concept of sunbathing actually is. It basically boils down to wasting entire days sprawled out doing nothing as the sun cooks your skin and increases your chances of getting cancer.
You can argue for and against some of the other summertime habits on this list, but I’m definitely with the Chinese on this one.
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