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Sometimes, the cabbage and ginger soup falls short

China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-02-02 16:12

"Stop being fussy and just swallow it," my wife snapped, leaving me in no doubt her patience had run out. It was early 2009, our first Spring Festival since moving to Beijing, and I was experiencing the worst flu of my life. For two days I'd been running a fever and was virtually unable to get out of bed, which had prompted my wife to visit the nearby pharmacy to pick up some traditional Chinese remedies.

She had already made me eat an entire packet of tiny black balls without water - they tasted truly awful, like scrapings from a donkey's hoof, which they may well have been for all I knew - and she was now telling me to swallow a big white "pill" in one go.

I could barely get it in my mouth, let alone swallow it. "It's impossible. It'll choke me," I croaked before breaking into a coughing fit. She insisted the woman at the pharmacy had told her I should take one pill every four hours. I looked into the bag she was holding, spotted about 10 of these white balls inside, and my life flashed before my eyes.

Suddenly, her expression changed and she took the ball from my hand. She gave it a sharp twist, and what we both realized at that moment was actually a wax shell broke in half, revealing a brownish pill roughly twice the size of an M&M. She gave me a wide sorry-I-almost-killed-you grin.

It was on that day I vowed never to take my wife's health advice ever again. She grew up in eastern China, and I've discovered over the years she has very different ideas to me on how to stave off illness.

For a start, I'm not convinced by her argument that hot water is a panacea. Meanwhile, I'm suspicious about the extraordinary number of foods my mother-in-law says are "good for men's health" (she's desperate for a grandchild, so these are often the first items placed in my bowl at family meals during Spring Festival).

I was stuck by flu again shortly before Christmas and, having listened patiently to my complaints of feeling exhausted and depressed, my wife promised to prepare a filling dinner to lift my spirits. In my mind I pictured comfort food, the kind my mother would cook for me when I was a child. I saw myself tucking into hearty British fare, a nice stew of beef and potatoes, or shepherd's pie perhaps.

Nope. When I arrived home after work that night I was presented with a casserole dish filled with cabbage and ginger soup. Not to sound ungrateful, but my heart sank.

"Have you never heard of the phrase feed a cold, starve a fever?" I asked her.

"No, in China we think you should eat only light food when you're ill," she replied, adding for good measure: "Plus cabbage and ginger is good for men's health."

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