Friday, July 03, 2015

Heat and health

July and August are the "big heat" of Guangzhou. The temperature camps in the thirties and we start using our air conditioner on a regular basis and cold showers become de rigeur. Compared to many of my colleagues, we start using our A/C fairly late. We're lucky to have an apartment facing the right way with the an air current that can cool for the early and late parts of the summer. I only got used to regular cold showers last year surprisingly - I'm not sure what took me so long to adjust to what is a very natural part of living in a subtropical climate.

The rise of summer brought the end to my gym-going days. My local gym, just to recap, is a cheap, er, simple Chinese-style gym without the bells and whistles of air conditioning and fully working machines. But that just means that in Guangzhou I have two parts of the year: swimming and running. I've spoken about Chinese swimming pools before. For swimming, I'm again thankful for my breaking my knee: I can now swim further than before I arrived in China, currently I can swim 30 lengths and I could do more if, in another Chinese quirk, the pool didn't need to rest between 11:15 and 2:30pm. (Most pools have sections of the day that they're open: 6:00am - 7:30am, 9:15am - 11:15am etc.) Unfortunately for the swimming part of the year, it coincides with the school summer holidays which turns the pools into dumpling soup, which is almost impossible to swim lengths in.

My physical fitness aside though immunity and other imbalances are big issues. I more often than not have mouth ulcers; I get rashes, frequent colds, the occasional random welts etc. This might seem odd: I'm fit; I don't eat badly; sleep reasonably well; don't smoke; drink regularly but very moderately. But a discussion with Chinese in Guangzhou often broaches ideas of another kind of health, which come from Traditional Chinese Medicine. People here talk about "internal heat", "dampness" "hot" and "cold" foods etc. regularly and how they affect their health. This is perplexing to newly arrived teachers. Students avoid potato crisps because they're "hot" even when they're cool. My scheduler couldn't come into work one day because she had watermelon the previous day which was too "cold". Me, well, anyone who's given me a foot rub, massage or taken my pulse (chinese style) has said I have a problem with "dampness" or "damp heat".

There are "cooling" herbal teas available in 7/11 stores as well as dedicated herbal tea stores to help bring down this "heat", and you could cook your own Chinese herbal medicine, but there are a host of other treatments to expel those toxins and restore balance. I'd had "scraping" before after a masseur said it'd be beneficial to reduce the "dampness" and having these symptoms again I thought I'd give "cupping" a try. My loukam (my sister-in-law's husband) accompanied me in the process: You lie face down on a bed while a technician heats the cups and places them on your back. The cooling air in the cups sucks the cups onto the back, drawing your skin in quite considerably and over time the blood rises to the surface. The placing is quite an interesting process, but they have to leave the cups on your back from about ten minutes and that is not exactly comfortable. The process leaves marks on your back, too, the more dampness you have the more it leaves a mark. In the photo you can compare the difference ;-)

There are people who are skeptical about the whole system of Chinese medicine as well as parts, but there are habits which regardless of your convictions on the subject can be useful in different environments. I'm happy to try them out and see what happens.