While I was in Beijing recently for some meetings, I had dinner with a group of co-workers. The private room was set with two large tables in the upstairs of a local restaurant. Each table sat 10 people and a large, glass lazy Susan filled the middle of the table. As food was added to the table, we would slowly spin the lazy Susan and help ourselves to the dishes. I did have to chuckle with the thought of having had a lazy Susan at our family dinner table growing up. The Chinese are so polite and slow when turning the food to offer it to each guest. The 8 kids at our dinner table would have had that thing spinning one way and flying back around the other way to make sure they got the last piece of chicken.
As items were being served and offered around the table, I noticed one woman, passing on many of the dishes. I took notice because as the one of two Americans sitting at the table, I was trying to be respectful and to try most everything offered. I also was trying not to show any reaction when the duck’s head was served along with the sliced Peking duck, the restaurant’s specialty dish.
As the dinner went on, we got to know each other a little better and the conversation was a little less formal. So of course, I had to ask why she had passed on so many of the dishes. She responded with the fact that she was pregnant and she needed to stay away from hot foods. The person to my right, leaned in and said “it’s a Chinese thing.”
I’ve been here in China now just over 2 months and I get the “it’s a Chinese thing” but what folks here need to understand is I have a curious mind and well, telling me “it’s a Chinese thing” is not a dismissal to me, It’s an invitation to start asking questions.
And so, I started in. I asked to explain why and how hot foods would effect a pregnancy. This is when the other American at the table, a male, got up and moved to table 2. This should be considered a warning to the male readers – I will be using the “U” word in the next couple paragraphs, so you may want to go back to the blog on The Great Wall and look at the pictures.
I learned from the women at the table that according to traditional Chinese medicine there are foods that are considered hot and cold. That the body requires you balance the intake of these foods in order to stay healthy. They talked about the yin and yang of foods. That yin foods are believed to decrease the body’s heat and lower the metabolism and that yang foods are dense energy and increase your metabolism. They talked about how too much hot foods or yang may give you acne and bad breath while too much yin might make you tired and depressed. Fascinating. I had to know more.
The woman who was just 4 months pregnant was concerned with getting enough yin foods. I learned that eating seaweed, coconut milk, pork and leafy vegetables strengthens the uterus and that eating hot spicy foods should be avoided as it damages the yin.
The person to my left, pointed at my plate and suggested I eat the skin I had peeled from off of the fish they had served. She said it would help with the dryness of my skin, pointing to my face. Have I mentioned that the Chinese can be a bit direct?
When I got back to the office in Shanghai, I brought up yin and yang foods to the women I work with. I learned more from them about the effects different foods might have on the body and also how it effects your mood. Too much yang can make you obsessive and controlling. Too much yin can make you passive and lethargic. They even joked that too much or too little of yin or yang can effect your hair and that I must have too much yang in my system because my hair is curly.
I’ve been looking into it and find it all very interesting. With a little dedicated effort I may return from China with a stronger uterus, great skin, a calmer personality and straight hair.