“It’s safe, it’s hot.”
“Ok, thanks…you boiled it though, right?”
“No, but it’s safe, it’s hot.”
“It’s from a bottle, right?”
“No, but it’s safe, it’s hot.”
“I can’t drink water from the tap.”
“Yes you can, because it’s safe. It’s hot.”
So I looked down at the cup of hot water in my hand, forced a smile, and took a small drink.
Today is my fourth day of class in Shanghai. The weather here has taking a surprising turn; heavy rain over the weekend flushed lots of the smog out, so Sunday and Monday were filled with the exquisite treat of sunlight and blue sky, just in time for us to stay indoors. While both yesterday and the day before tempted us all with trips to the Bund and the Pudong, most of us stayed in our dorms, studying for our first official week of classes. Monday was day one of school, politely reminding us that we are here to learn Chinese, not just on vacation. After over two months of winter break, this mindset was difficult to grasp.
So while Monday marked our first official day of classes, along with the celebration of passing the one-week mark in Shanghai, it also marked the day many of us got ill. I, being raised in a strongly medically-oriented household, decided to look for medicine…until I decided it wasn’t worth the effort three seconds later and decided to let whatever ailment I had run its course. When I mentioned to my roommate I had a sore throat, things started to spin out of control.
My teacher said I should not attend class Tuesday. I was advised to wear a surgical mask, so as to not infect those around me. I was advised to stay indoors until further notice, turn the heat in my room up to nearly thirty degrees Celsius (in Fahrenheit, that converts to “REALLY hot”) and to be very careful when interacting with anyone else. I felt like I was a plague victim being quarantined. My roommate brought me some hot water from the tap, which I told him I couldn’t drink (see above). After this exchange, he told me he knew a phrase in English about apples and doctors. He informed me it was incorrect, and that “water” (which you may have heard of) in essence was a cure-all for every disease. Considering that WebMD had listed my sore throat and coughing to be symptomatic of anything from the common cold and strep throat to rabies and the Ebola virus, I decided that it would be worth it to try this mysterious beverage known as “water”. However, he did not accept my drinking of bottles of Hong Fu Springs as acceptable and insisted that I drink from the tap, something I knew that shouldn’t do as it could cause a far more apparent and violent “illness”, so to speak, China’s version of “Montezuma’s Revenge” (possibly “Pu Yi’s Revenge”? I don’t know how to name diseases). He was insistent, and I did not want to be impolite. Fearing the worse, I drank a mouthful or two. It’s been about seventeen hours since this interaction, and nothing has happened to me…yet. Maybe he was right, and the magical water of Shanghai had cured me of all these ailments. I don’t have a sore throat anymore, but I’m still sick. Perhaps Shanghai water was all I needed for the sore throat, or maybe the virus was running its course. The worst is behind me, and the best remains ahead. I hope it stays that way for the rest of the trip.
P.S. If you do come to China, don’t drink from the tap. I think this one time for me was the exception, not the rule.