Small talk. That little exchange of pleasantries. An introvert’s nightmare. What do you say? How do you to keep the conversation going?
Here in England, the English love to talk about the weather as it is so changeable here. It’s a great filler topic. If you are in the company of the Chinese, however, small talk evolves around food and health. Specifically, heaty and cooling foods. The Chinese believe in the balance of yin and yang (light and dark) in life. This also applies to food, which can give yin or yang energy. I’d have a cup of chrysanthemum tea, and someone will say, “That’s cooling. It’s winter, you should be drinking something more heaty.” Then the conversation goes in the direction of what drinks classify as being ‘heaty’. Or during the seasonal durian party in Singapore, someone will the comment about how heaty the fruit is. A huge discussion follows, on the ways to ‘cool’ our bodies down after eating durian .
I stretched this ‘heaty’ concept when I created one of the characters in my story. Ah-Fu was described as having a lot of fire in him. I also mentioned consulting physicians and prescription of herbs. Later on in the book, Yipor, the village elder, used ginger to heal her bad leg. These medicinal concepts tie in with my visit to London’s Chelsea Physic Garden, where I saw plants that heal, nourish and sustain. I will continue this theme of health, particularly as we head into the season of colds and flu. Just like most people, I am not a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) expert, but let’s pretend we are in a social environment and making conversation. Invariably, in this cold winter days, you will know someone whose got the bug or who’s been off sick, or who’s tried countless remedies without avail. Well, here are two things I’d talk about.
Colds and Ginger
Ginger is a ‘heaty’ food, so it’s good to have in the winter to offset the cold. Of course this won’t mean anything to you if you are not familiar with TCM. Let’s put it a different way. Scientifically, ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. This explains the why Yipor treated her swollen leg in ginger. When your ankle swells up due to a sprain, wrapping your ankle with a few pieces of ginger will remove the swelling.
In the same way, if you have indigestion, having some ginger (in tea or in a meal) will take down the bloating feeling. Same for when you have a cold, or a sore throat. Its spiciness warms you up, and offers relief on your throat. In a childish way, I imagine this is a battle ground. The fiery ginger is blasting off the bacteria in my sore throat. As they die off one by one, I feel the pain go away.
In the shops, you can even buy lemon and ginger tea. Whichever way you look at it, keep some form of ginger in your house. It’s a must-have for the winter months.
Coughs and Heat
Coughs are never pleasant. If you have it, you are exhausted by the involuntary recurring spasms. If you are near someone with a cough, the repetitive sound is wearing. Walk into any chemist and you will find a plethora of cough mixtures: for chesty cough, tickly cough, dry coughs etc. Maybe you haven’t found one that works for you, or you find them expensive during the cold season. If you are open to suggestions, here are my thoughts.
Cold edibles exacerbate coughs. So if you feel a cough coming, ie literally the first couple of times you start coughing, stay away immediately from cold drinks and food. I don’t just mean refrigerated items. Anything that is colder than 37oC is cold to your body. So when I say ‘cold’, I also include room temperature items like bread. After all, room temperature is about 20oC. If you are peckish, have something warm, like toast. Chilled sandwiches or a pot of yoghurt will bring on the cough. Stay away from them!
If you need a drink, make sure it’s hot, not water from the tap or from a bottle. I know it sounds bonkers, but just try it for a day, half a day or even a couple of hours. Then switch back to your chilled or room temperature foods. See if your chest tightens, your throat gets ticklish or you start coughing again. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If you are not used to this type of talk, it will sound like someone is giving gratuitous, unwanted advice, but honestly, it’s just small, friendly talk.
This article was first published 15 Nov 2018. Updated 30 Jan 2021. Secrets of the Great Fire Tree is a middle-grade fiction touching on Yipor, Ah Fu and their ailments. It is published by Aurelia Leo.