It was about 40°C (104°F) when we first arrived in Shanghai on July 27th 2016. During the day it was too hot to even walk outside because it felt closer to 50°C (122°F). Despite this crazy temperature, when we arrived at Isaac’s school for a meeting, we were offered hot water to drink! We assumed that their water cooler was broken or something, but no, Chinese people just like their water hot.
There are many online debates about whether it’s healthier to drink water cold or hot. Many claim that drinking hot water burns more calories, some say that it’s more hydrating than cold water and others claim that it helps cool you down. In China, kids grow up drinking hot water at school and it doesn’t stop there…
When you go to a restaurant, you will be served either tea or hot water. Don’t bother asking for ice, you will be most likely be met with head scratches and “mayo”s, which means “don’t have”. If they are extra accommodating, they may run out to a nearby shop to buy you a bottle of water – it’s happened to us!
The airport might as well be the Sahara dessert if you’re craving cold water. You will find plenty of hot-water dispensers that are completely free, but cooler water is much more challenging to find. Alcohol and tobacco shops sell fresh crab but not water. KFC only offers tea, but if you meet a creative employee, they will put some ice in a cup of hot water for you.
Finally, there’s vending machines! Hooray! But wait… even those will sometimes only sell hot water. No matter how desperate you may get, don’t you dare drink that tap water. It is full of dangerous chemicals and will, at best, have you sitting on the toilet all week.
Speaking of vending machines… they are truly unique in China. If you explore the metro stops in Shanghai, you will quickly discover that there are three types of vending machines. Ones offering cold water, room temperature water and hot water! The best part? It’s not just water that’s served hot…
I didn’t grow up in America where every restaurant offers you free ice-cold water, but I did grow up drinking cool sink water from restaurant bathrooms in Europe. But whatever, I understand the health benefits and I’m happy to give hot water a chance. However there are some liquids that should NEVER be hot.
7-Elevens are a popular chain in Shanghai. They sell delicious on-the-go food like sushi as well as practical items like cheap chargers. Also, to my ultimate horror, some of them have what looks like a freezer except it is full of hot beverages. Fizzy grape-flavored drinks, apple juice and liquid cranberry yogurts are all heated up – ON PURPOSE!
As yucky as drinking hot apple juice may seem to you (and me!!!) it is important to understand and appreciate different food cultures around the world. I know plenty of Asians who want to puke at the thought of moldy blue cheese smeared on crispy unsweetened bread. I also wouldn’t dream of offering a Chinese person beef tartar, a Czech delicacy consisting of raw beef mixed with raw egg.
After all, culture shock is the reason we all love to travel. Isn’t it?