Drinking hot water
For years I have carried around a hot water thermos, usually filled with tea but sometimes water. Sometimes the water is hot, sometimes it is cold. It ranks just below my phone and my wallet for my essentials when leaving the house.
In reality, these habits are fairly strange for an American. Instead, they are characteristic of my experience of daily life in mainland China, when I lived in Beijing. Even though it was summer, almost everyone carried around a thermos for hot water, and more often than not, this thermos had some tea leaves thrown in the bottom of it. I don’t think anyone would claim that these were high-quality drinks, but carrying around some hot water / tea was just how one stayed hydrated whilst going through daily life. In general, the assumption in China is that water should be drunk hot (first, all water must be boiled to decontaminate it, and second because it’s generally thought to be better for the body to drink hot or warm liquids instead of cold), so when water was served in a restaurant or other places it would also be hot. I thought this was a little strange at first, considering how hot the weather was. But after I tried letting boiled water cool and unknown substances precipitated out of it, I decided that I might as well also drink my water hot so I didn’t have to think about what was dissolved in it. I guess I’m also pretty laid-back about the temperature of my water; by comparison some of my American friends refuse to drink hot/warm water. After living in China, I would say that I drink hot water more than I used to, but I’m not exclusive about it and like a cold glass pretty often as well.
It turns out that this culture of hot-water drinking is far less prevalent on the island of Taiwan. I don’t think I’ve been served hot water in a restaurant. I very rarely see other people carrying around hot water thermos (and of course no one really does this in the States). One of my Taiwanese friends even commented on my habit of carrying around a thermos as “more Chinese than most Taiwanese people”. Strangely, though, I still see that hot water dispensing machines are prevalent like drinking fountains (obviously in every convenience store), but I think I’ve only seen another person use one once.
I also drink tea. I like to drink loose-leaf, tasty tea. Especially when I am sitting in one place, but I also like to carry it around in my thermos. It seems that while everyone drinks tea here, it’s not beverage that people take time to think about and seek out, especially in the younger generation. Milk tea is probably the way that most young folks drink tea on a regular basis, and then maybe some generic barley tea offered along with a meal in a restaurant. Young folks are more likely into seeking out good coffee, if they have a beverage of choice.
Young Taiwanese women are not athletic. This is a broad generalization, of course, but one that I think most people will agree with. Idealized images of women are thin with perfect skin, gentle curves and slender limbs. They are never muscular. Sportiness, athleticism, physical strength – these things are not “in”. In reality, I think that many young Taiwanese women do like physical activities – but I think they are kept to moderate level, and would never be broadcasted as part of their general identity. Engaging in physical activities leads to all sorts of states that are generally unseemly (sweatiness, dirtiness) so there isn’t much desire to associate with them. This generally contrasts to the American concept of a “sporty” woman as a desirable role-model/identity. Toned women dripping sweat (in cute work-out gear, of course) are common icons. When I was in college, I think most of my female friends wanted in on that image (at least sometimes). And of course, oftentimes my friends were simply into sport for the love of the activity and not afraid to show it.
I really enjoy pushing the physical limits of my body and have fun doing such things even though they often involve sweat, dirt and unseemliness. Compared with the average Taiwanese girl, I am very athletic – overtly willing to climb on things and bruise my knees and try to run up mountains.
I am partially inspired to write this whole post because I just completed a marathon – ok, so past the 30 km mark, I walked as much as I ran, but I still finished it – and was struck by the lack of other young women in the event. Now that I have access to the stats, I can see in numbers what I had a feeling for yesterday. There were only 48 people registered in my division (women, age 20-29). By contrast, there were nearly twice as many women registered for the bracket of 30-39, same for 40-49, and the bracket of 50-59 year olds had almost as many as 20-29. There were also 500 men in the registered for the age bracket of 20-29 years old – more than an order of magnitude in difference over the number of women. But we might as well hop to the overwhelming difference in numbers: for the whole marathon , there were 4279 men and 295 women registered. Interestingly, this discrepancy doesn’t hold for all of the events. In the half marathon– there was still an extreme difference, and it holds for all categories (totals ~3000 F registered, ~13,000M). But for the 9km, particularly in the age bracket of 20-29 the numbers are almost the same: 2105 F, 2684 M!
And while looking at the registrants for one athletic event is far from scientific, I think that it provides at least some anecdotal support to my feeling that young women generally aren’t athletic. However, for many, it may not be that they are actually entirely uninterested in sports, but instead keep to such activities “in moderation”.
(Also, if you were curious – in last year’s New York City marathon, ~30,000 men finished and ~17,000 women finished. While that is still a big gap, it’s not a gap of an order of magnitude… )
Eating on the street
I already mentioned this, but it’s still true. I haven’t changed my ways – haven’t gotten more patient or civilized and I continue to munch of food as I walk, even though adults eating on the street is only common at nightmarkets. One of my Taiwanese friends brought this up as an indication of a state of unhealthy rush that a person might be in that they need to eat while walking. I agree somewhat, but what’s wrong with a little multitasking sometimes? I like eating, and I like walking and sometimes I’m really hungry. Also, they’re relatively compatible activities…at least for some foods.
Eating fruit whole, all the time
While we’re on the topic of eating (one of my favorite topics), I have a habit of munching through whole fruits that I have yet to observe another person do while I’ve lived here. It seems that fruit here is meant to be sliced or blended. And that’s fine by me, but sometimes I am hungry, or I am walking down the street (or both!) and thus stopping to slice up my fruit is too much effort. Also, I eat fruit all the time. Sliced fruit is usually served as a post-meal dish, or as a part of entertaining guests. But in addition to after meals, I like to eat fruit before meals, between meals, and as meals. Nomnomnom.