So I’ve just got off work and I’m about to leave the building for the ten minute walk to the subway. One of my upper level English students sees that I’m planning to eat a pear on the way and she’s immediately concerned.
“You’re going to eat that outside?”
“But it’s cold and windy! You can’t eat that outside!”
“Why not?” I know exactly what’s coming.
“You’ll get wind in your stomach!” The other students voice their agreement.
I know what she’s talking about because I’ve heard this before. Fear of getting cold “wind” in your “stomach” is considered at least as reasonable as covering your mouth when you cough to avoid spreading germs. But this time, instead of having the same old predictable conversation about how foreigners don’t know anything about getting “wind” in their “stomachs” or our “fire” going up and down, I decide to have fun with it.
“It’s no problem. Foreigners can’t get wind in their stomachs. Only Chinese people can get that disease. Getting wind in your stomach is a special disease only for Chinese people.”
She doesn’t believe me, and gives me an annoyed look to boot, like she’s not sure if I’m making fun of her/China/Chinese medicine or not. And I’m not, mostly; I’m just curious to see what will happen if I appeal to inherent biological differences between foreigners and Chinese (something that’s not uncommon for Chinese people to do in other situations) instead of chalking it up to cultural differences that affect how our respective societies understand health.
When Tianjiners wear face masks (口罩) in public it’s not because of air pollution or swine flu. These are cloth face masks, not medical face masks, and people wear them because it’s cold outside and they don’t want to get “wind” in their “stomachs” (受风 — to receive/suffer wind). I put quotes around those words because in Chinese medical theory they both carry important nuances and added dimensions that don’t correspond exactly with what we normally mean when when we say wind and stomach. (I borrowed this image from a Chinese website. It’s supposedly from Tianjin.)
For more about Chinese medicine: