These days, it feels terribly hot in Macao. But we are only in the period of Siu Syu 鬼嵌 (Moderate Heat), of the 24 Solar Terms. According to the Chinese agricultural calendar, the period of Moderate Heat began on July 7 this year. Traditionally, the temperature should be just starting to increase and the two weeks of Siu Syu should be warm. On July 23, we would then begin the period of Dai Syu댕嵌 (Great Heat), which should be the two hottest weeks of the year. But it is hard to tell whether the current temperature in Macao is merely warm or if this is as hot as it will get.
There is a Chinese saying, “Beware of the East wind during Siu Syu. Beware of the red sky during Dai Syu”. This is based on ancient Chinese meteorology. It was believed that if the wind blew east or if the evening sky was red during the two weeks of Moderate Heat, a super typhoon was coming. So we should keep track of the wind and start watching the sky from next week. But the Solar Terms of Siu Syu and Dai Syu are not just about typhoons. There are other traditions which may be interesting for us to practice, especially those that are good for health.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have been practicing Sik San 稼劤, which directly translates to “eating new,” though this is mostly forgotten nowadays. The day after Siu Syu, people would cook newly harvested rice and drink new white wine (rice wine). They would also offer the new rice and wine to their ancestors and the agricultural gods for better harvests to come. Another reason for drinking rice wine during summer was that before the invention of air conditioning, the weather may have been too hot for one to feel like eating and rice wine is said help increase appetite. Moreover, the ingredients of rice wine and its high alcohol content were believed to help prevent one from getting fat and contribute to better sleep during the hot weather. So I am now looking at the glass of Portuguese white wine in front of me wondering if I should switch to Chinese white wine!
Aside from rice wine, Siu Syu is also the time for another health food – lotus roots. It is believed that lotus roots picked at this time are especially rich in fiber, calcium and other vitamins which are good for health, and can also calm nerves during the hot season. Finless eels are also at their prime time for consumption and are said to be good for relieving rheumatism, especially during this time when humidity is high.
Next week when the Great Heat arrives, the custom is to eat Chinese herbal jelly, also known as fairy grass jelly. The Chinese have a saying that “eating fairy grass jelly in summer, one will never get old like fairies,” probably because of its herbal properties. Also, although Dai Syu is supposed to be the hottest period of the year, it is recommended to drink hot water and ginger tea because in the hot and humid weather of South China, they are better for reducing the “internal humidity” in our bodies.
So on my to-do-list during these coming hot weeks: watch the wind and sky, eat lotus roots, drink ginger tea, and, in the case of a super typhoon, stock up on Chinese white wine because at least it will make hiding from typhoon more fun or will help me sleep through the storm.