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Colours of China

Monday, 17 July 2017

Coping with the dog days of summer

Cooling off: People swimming in a pool in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. — AFP

Cooling off: People swimming in a pool in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. — AFP

“HOT, hot, very hot!” China entered its hottest period of the year last Wednesday – the San Fu Tian (Three Fu Days), also known as the dog days of summer.

Fu means lying with one’s face down, indicating that the weather is so hot that people rest on the floor to keep their body cool.

Dog days are calculated based on ancient methodology, according to the lunar calendar.

They are split into three periods – toufu (first fu), zhongfu (middle fu) and mofu (last fu).

This year, San Fu Tian – which features high temperatures and humidity – lasts for 40 days from July 12 to Aug 20.

Temperatures in this period usually range from 35°C to 39°C; some places can go beyond 40°C.

The “temperature control policy” at public places in China has not helped.

If you are expecting to be welcomed by a blast of cold air when entering air-conditioned areas, this is not going to happen.

China has strictly ordered all government departments, restaurants and public places – including shopping malls and hotels – to maintain an “ideal indoor temperature” to reduce power consumption.

During summer, air-con temperatures cannot go below 26°C while the highest temperature for heaters is 20°C during winter.

So, indoor temperatures in these places are usually between 28°C and 30°C in the summer.

I walked into the office of a tax officer sweating like a pig and was stunned to find her air-con switched off. On seeing me, she asked: “Are you very hot?”

I immediately replied with a loud “Yes”, hoping that she would do something, but she just gave me a smile that did not help to cool me down at all.

When I relayed this experience to a writer from China Daily, she gave me a smile, too.

“Air-con and cold water are bad for your health,” she said.

Yes, this is Chinese. They are very health-conscious, believing that cold is an evil energy that will damage your health. Ice cubes and “cold beverages” seem to be difficult-to-find items in Beijing.

The way Chinese define cold drinks is different from Malaysians, who expect something below 15°C.

Many restaurants do not have ice cubes and beverages in the fridge, including those being sold at convenience stores, are just slightly cooler than room temperature.

One scorching afternoon some two weeks ago, I desperately wished for some cold beer and walked into a middle-end restaurant but the bottle served to me was not cold.

“This is the coolest I could find,” said the waitress, adding that they did not have ice cubes to go with it.

Not a fan of “warm beer”, I changed to a soft drink and it was not cold either. Of course, they were all kept in the same fridge.

Frustrated, I cancelled the drink and asked for a glass of water.

What I got was a glass of hot water – not warm, but hot water. This time, it was my turn to reply with a smile, a bitter smile.

This reminded me of the theory a photographer – whose parents manage a Chinese traditional medicine shop in Bukit Mertajam, Penang – once told me when we were on an “ambush mission” under a tree in the hot sun.

He said when we consume cold drinks, our body will automatically release heat to warm the liquid to the normal body temperature and thus make us hotter. So, a hot drink has a more cooling effect.

I do not know how true this is because I have never tried; I do not want to burn my tongue.

The Chinese have their own ways of combating the blistering heat.

They eat fruits and vegetables with cooling effects such as watermelons, green beans, barley, bitter melons, bean sprouts, lotus roots, bean curd and sour plum juice.

They also use san fu tie, a type of medicinal patch to be placed on the acupuncture points.

San fu tie, which is made of traditional Chinese herbs, has been used for more than 2,000 years to relieve coughs, asthma and arthritis, and the hottest days seem to be the best period to treat these winter illnesses.

Feedback from the users says they felt better the following winter after using the treatment.

On the first day of San Fu Tian, over 6,000 people sought the treatment at the First Hospital of Hunan University of Chinese Medicine.

The seaside, parks, cooling scenic spots such as forests and mountainous areas, and indoor entertainment outlets like karaoke and shopping malls saw a surge of visitors escaping the sweltering heat.

The China Meteorological Administration has issued an orange-level high temperature alert, the middle level in a three-tier warning system, at more than 15 provinces and regions, mostly in the northwest, northern and eastern China, including Beijing.

Notices have been put up in the lifts of my apartment, reminding residents of the summer heat wave.

The apartment management was being very kind and thoughtful by providing tips to prevent heat stroke such as avoiding outdoor activities from 10am to 4pm; drinking more salt water, cooling herbal tea and green bean soup; taking a one-hour nap and using sunblock during outings.

It also reminded parents to warn their children of the danger of swimming in rivers and lakes.

Tags / Keywords: Beh Yuen Hui , columnist

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