What makes a person fat? The Chinese have a simple 4-part answer:
The charm of the answer lies in the fact that each of the four “causes” is pronounced in basically the same way, written “tang” in pinyin. Each one has a different tone, though, which makes it fun. When Chinese people hear the answer they have to think for a second, running through their mental dictionaries, matching up the proper tones to the four corresponding concepts.
Charming answers are all well and good, but to a Westerner, two of the four make no sense at all. Let me give you a run-down.
糖 means “sugar.” This idea has been around for quite a while. Eating sweets will make you fat. Nothing strange here.
躺 means “lie down.” Again, it comes as no surprise the assertion that inactivity leads to weight gain.
汤 means “soup.” This one I don’t get. Eating soup will make you fat?? I always thought that the high proportion of water in soup would cause you to fill up on liquid if you ate a lot of it, and water isn’t going to make you fat. This answer goes contrary to that. I talked to some Chinese people who agreed that eating soup does, indeed, cause one to gain weight. I’m kinda baffled.
烫 means “hot.” The idea is that eating hot food will cause you to put on weight. This just seems utterly ridiculous. Sure, heat can denature proteins in food, but come on! Again, I found some Chinese friends who agreed with this viewpoint. I’m mystified.