Archive for the ‘Beliefs and Practices’ Category

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A China-Mesoamerica Connection?

Friday, December 19, 2008

While getting dressed this morning, I was watching an episode of Iron Chef–the joys of YouTube!–and discovered that the Chinese likely have similar kinds of beliefs about hot and cold as Mesoamericans seem to have. In the episode–the Horsehair Crab Battle–Iron Chef Chen Kenichi prepares gyoza stuffed with boiled crab meat, crab liver, and ginger; you can see them preparing them here (starting around 1:25):

At 1:50, the color commentator, Dr. Yukio Hattori (“always a pleasure”), mentions that he can tell us why Chen has included ginger in the dish. He notes that the Chinese have a belief that crab meat takes heat away from the body, while ginger has a thermal effect on the body, warming it up. So, many Chinese places, he notes, serve tea with ginger to warm people up. Combining ginger with the crab balances out the heat transfer, I suppose.

This actually sounds very similar to the beliefs people have here. Certain items are cold (“taking heat away from the body”), which is the case for fish here, even though they may be cooked and served warm. Other items, by contrast, are warm–chilis for example–bringing warmth to the body, regardless of the temperature they are served at.

Now, I don’t expect there may be any direct connection between the Chinese and Mesoamerican beliefs (one borrowed from the other, or handed down from common ancestry), but I do wonder if this might be a fairly common belief around the world, independently invented and developed. It will be interesting to find out. I need an ethnomedicology course.

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Fish Are Cold Even When They’re Cooked

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I got a quick primer today in traditional medical beliefs, something I will have to investigate further.

I had known that there is a belief that the cold is not good for you, or at the least, you have to be careful with it. So, even though the weather is quite warm here in the city and in Mexico City, people bundle up their small children. And once I was suffering from a sore throat here, and thought what better thing to have than a Popsicle? I had no idea it would be frowned upon until people saw me and wondered what on Earth could I be doing to my health.

Today though, I found out that the beliefs are more complex than I originally understood. Apparently, it is not merely whether something is cold or not, but what its essence is. So, everything is classified as being caliente ‘hot’ or frío/fresco ‘cold/fresh’ and one must know how these things interact. Hot things are good for certain things, cold things for others.

And things are classified according to their essence, rather than to the temperature they happen to be at the moment. So, I was complaining of a delicate stomach and commenting on some fish I ate. My sister-in-law said I shouldn’t have eaten the fish (I agreed, but for different reasons) because it was cold. But, I pointed out, the fish was cooked and warm when I ate it. No, she said, fish [béllá] is classified as being cold—that’s its essence—even if it happens to have been cooked. She then gave me a few more examples of how various foodstuffs, medicines, and even people can be classified.

It was very interesting and I will have to sit down with her again to make sure I have all the details and to find out how everything is classified.