Asking for Water in China

I gave the Europeans a hard time over the summer for their assault on h2o.

China is worse.

First, you can’t drink from the tap. A pain.

Second, asking for water in a restaurant is too challenging. I ate at Steak King across the street from my apt in Shanghai two days in a row. Same waitress. On the first day I asked for water, and pointed to “water” on the menu (which had the corresponding Chinese characters below the English phrase). It cost 4 yuan so I assumed it’d be mineral water or something.

She brought me a mug of boiling hot water. No tea, no flavor, just hot water. Might I ask what anyone would do with a cup of boiling hot water? I told the waitress, No, I want cold water. She didn’t understand. I said, “Ice”. She brought me back the SAME MUG except with ice cubes in it. Now I had a cup of boiling hot water with ice cubes. Two counteracting forces fighting vigorously for what they believe in. 10 minutes later the ice won and I drank lukewarm water.

The next day I went through the same routine with the same waitress. Only this time i made it clear when ordering, “COLD water. ICE!” She nodded. She brought me a mug of boiling hot water. I sent it back. I said, “ICE”. She brought it back boiling water w/ ice cubes.

I know I’m doing something wrong…when Eisen ordered for me I got a tall glass of cold, iced water. Not boiling water. Maybe I should ask for boiling, hot water?

7 comments on “Asking for Water in China
  • Maybe it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t drink water in a Chinese unless it had been boiled first! I’ve gotten sick twice in the Philippines just by drinking water at restaurants.

    My next guess is that there are two different characters for water in Chinese, just as there are in Japanese. They might even be the same characters. The Japanese character for hot water is 湯. The character for cold water is 水.

  • Actually drinking hot water with a little lemon squeezed in, first thing in the morning, is really good for you (clears out anything left hanging around your ‘system’ from the day before). It wouldn’t do much harm any other time of day, either. But…bummer. Can’t you just buy bottled water for non-restaurant times, and order some other drink with meals?

  • Chinese hardly ever do cold water even in the blazes of summertime. It’s one hundred percent cultural. Bottled cold water is a recent invention — most Chinese don’t see the point in bottled cold water. Cold soda (pop) is much better understood. Soda is required to be served cold (unless it comes from Wal-Mart and it’s sold by the box).

    Don’t hesistate to buy water outside a restaurant and bring it in. In China, there are very few rules about bringing outside food/drink into another establishment. In fact, some restaurants don’t sell drinks for the very reason of the energy and money it takes to keep them cold. You’ll generally be okay in China but in some nearby S.E. Asian countriess, water scams, where bottles are refilled with tap water, are common.

  • warm lemon water in the morning is really hard on tooth enamel because of the acidity–especially if you brush your teeth directly afterwards. Good for the digestive juices, bad for the pearly whites. Warm lemon water is a common component of many trendy diets out there, and it makes dentists go bananas.

  • Hi there, Since today while I was searching for a weblog of a traveller who had visited Ireland I found your weblog. I am using some phrases for a presentation at Uni. Hope you don’t mind. Love reading you logs! Good luck with travelling!
    Greetings Michelle from Holland

  • In China..I would be very careful where I drank water..including tea. I have traveled extensively in China..and unless I can get bottled water I recognize..I order a Coca Cola..(definately not the healthiest choice either) but I save myself the problem with dysentary later. Everyone understood coca is almost a universal word.

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