Etude: Skills

Drinking hot liquids is a skill, which might be obvious to a rehabilitation therapist, but it wasn’t to me. Not until one evening thirty years ago when my Aunt Lori made tea for me, herself, and her son. Lori and I began drinking the tea immediately, aerating it as we sipped. Her son Justin just burned his lips. It might have been the first time he’d ever had tea, he was ten and I was a few years older. And I’d more or less grown up with Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger on tap. The sick part of me was momentarily proud to be on the adult side of that skill divide. But that feeling eroded quickly as my young cousin cried.

As skillful as I’ve become after 30 years of drinking hot liquids daily, I still haven’t achieved mastery, not if something my grandpa once told me is true. As a child growing up in Beijing, he observed that Chinese tradesmen working on his family home would drink boiling water straight from the pot with a metal dipper while eating lunch. His mother Louise said that they did this because of the ‘nightsoil’ they used to grow vegetables in their gardens. Essentially they’d eat food grown in human feces* and then retroactively sterilize it in their stomaches by drinking boiling water. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of this, but if it works, then that would be a skill worth having.

Another skill is sitting still.

*This part’s true. I’d wondered if this was just orientalist gossip that was current in the British & American expat community a century ago, but human manure was widely used. This article is fascinating. Did you know that in the late 19th century, several Dutch cities had vacuum sewers to more efficiently collect compostable human waste? Having read it, I’m now somewhat persuaded.

Update: Relevant article at Atlas Obscura that ties the drinking of hot water in Chinese culture to a more generalized sense of health. However it doesn’t really validate what my great grandmother said back in the 30s.

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