Cold as Poison
26 Nov 2005
I’ve been doing occasional translation work lately. It produced this IM conversation with Brad:
> John: ARRGHHH… look what I have to translate into English:
>> 学生：老师，有一个同学还没来呢。[Student: Teacher, one student isn’t here yet.]
>> 老师：他生病了。 [Teacher: He’s sick.]
>> 大家：啊？ [Students: What??]
>> 老师：他昨天到家喝了冰的汽水，晚上就发烧，拉肚子了。[Teacher: Yesterday he went home and drank cold soda. That evening he came down with a fever and got diarrhea.]
> Brad: hahahahahahahaha
> John: I hate that [nonsense]!!!
> John: fever AND diarrhea from a cold soft drink
> John: that stuff is poison in a can… just chill to activate the poison
> Brad: I’m sending you a long-ass Chinese email about “health” that was forwarded to me
> John: oooh, sounds fun
> John: hah… Thunderbird sent it straight to “junk”
> Brad: why do chinese people feel the need to make up bs explanations for their so-called health advice
> Brad: like if I say something about why chinese people tell me not to drink cold stuff, my manager or co-workers will say something like “most chinese people don’t eat or drink anything cold”
> Brad: so I ask why all the convenience and grocery stores have refrigerators full of drinks and ice cream
> Brad: apparently, young people are the *only* customers!
> Brad: and the reason they don’t get sick is because of their westernized diet…kfc and mcdonald’s
> John: what is that supposed to mean?
> John: that the traditional Chinese diet makes them weak?
> Brad: I guess
> John: later on in that translation comes this line:
>> 他已经打了针，吃了药，退烧了。 [He has already gotten a shot and taken medicine, and his fever has gone down.]
> John: wow, way to treat that damn cold soda
> Brad: did they warm up the saline?
> John: hehe… they poured it from a thermos[Translation note: In order to avoid intercultural confusion in this particular translation, I translated the first part with “he ate something that upset his stomach,” and the later part with, “he has already taken some medicine for it,” as getting the fever, the diarrhea, and the IV were not at all important details in this case.]
I’m a reasonable guy. I don’t reject all Chinese conventional wisdom. Some of it is very accurate, and some of it makes sense even to an unbeliever like me. For example, I’ve had the “cold drinks cause stomach pain” idea explained to me in this way: “The body expends energy maintaining a constant temperature. Cold liquids, upon entering the stomach, require the body’s energy in order to be heated to the same temperature as the body.” Yes, this makes good, thermodynamic sense. But when something goes too far and completely goes against (1) my personal experience, and (2) Western scientific/medical knowledge, I’m going to by mighty skeptical.
I have to admit, though, once or twice since coming to China I’ve eaten or drunk something cold and then gotten a stomach ache immediately thereafter. I can’t explain it. It’s as if living in China and eating Chinese food day in and day out warps my physiological reality. Yikes!