I have been drinking a lot of hot water lately.
I am close to finishing my first full year working as an English teacher in China. After almost a year in this vast, booming, ancient country, I have learned more about the culture and myself than I could possibly describe or retain. One of the most intriguing aspects of this culture which comes up into conversation more than might be expected is the practice of “Chinese medicine.”
Let me preface this by saying that I know next to nothing about Chinese medicine. I know that it is highly controversial in the Western world which loves empirical, scientific evidence derived from clinical studies. While more research is being conducted, and less is left to philosophical and metaphysical ambiguities, we also love our quick-fix pharmaceuticals. Most of us do not want to invest the time it takes to feel the effects from drinking tea from a certain type of root or a deer antler. Many of us, I imagine, are also not fond of being used as pincushions (see: acupuncture).
What I have gleaned, however, from various conversations and readings, is the heart of Chinese medicine – and, indeed, a lot of Chinese philosophy – lies in maintaining balance within the self. The world-famous depiction of this is in the Taoist symbol of yin and yang. In order to be a healthy individual in mind, body, and soul, one must remember that the good and the bad are inextricably linked and always in flux. In fact, they depend entirely on each other. While this obviously plays into the metaphysical side of things, there are real, physical aspects that have an effect on health.
So, I’ve been drinking hot water.
When I first came to China, when my body was adjusting to the climate, food and conditions here; all of my coworkers advised me to drink hot water. Being the cold-water-loving Westerner that I am, my original thought was, “Why would anyone do that? Coffee counts, right?” Even when I honestly asked why? I was frustrated to find that no one gave a proper answer outside of “It’s good for you!”
Then I got sick. It was the sort of eye-burning, wheezing sick that can ruin a good week. Finally, before bed one night, I caved and drank almost an entire kettle of hot water.
The next morning, I felt like a new person. I drank more hot water, and my sickness was gone by the next day.
All it takes is a quick Google search to find the varying attitudes and beliefs around drinking hot water. Some say that it has a purifying effect on the body and mind. Some say that it does nothing. In this aspect, I am still on the fence, but I want to zoom out.
When interacting with new and unfamiliar parts of life, it is easy to retreat into what is known, what is comfortable, what is familiar. While this was a small event (wondering when was the last time a bad sinus infection gave you a spiritual revelation?), I think the implications can be far reaching. It is easy to stick to something known – nothing will be hurt or lost. But what will be missed? What unknown aspects of this life might be perfect opportunities to heal parts of ourselves that we don’t even know are damaged?
It takes baby steps to heal ourselves and find balance in our lives. So why not try a glass of hot water?
– Andy Thigpen
Andy is a Florence, Alabama native with a penchant for wandering. He is currently teaching English to children in Changchun, China. He is the co-founder of ‘Boxcar Voices’, an open-mic poetry and storytelling group dedicated to showcasing works of writers and performers both local and abroad. Language and travel are the two loves of Andy’s life, and he is the happiest when chasing them.