The chinese have a theory that if you allow yourself to get cold, you will get sick. No matter how much I try to explain about transmission of disease and germs, they hold fast to this thinking. The chinese term for it is "jiao liang". They believe that if you have diarrhea, then it is because you allowed yourself to get cold. In particular, they believe that you should never show any skin during cold weather. In connection with this, they believe that you shouldn't change your body temperature from the inside either. They believe that you should never drink ice water, especially in the winter. Women who have just given birth are told to not shower for the first month. They also are told not to drink anything cold. This way of thinking is so ingrained in to their culture that you can not tell them differently.
When we lived in China about 18 years ago, when the weather started to turn cool, people began to wear several layers. Everyone looked like little snowmen walking around in their several layers of padding. Personally, I think I would get sick from being over heated! But they were so afraid of "catching cold", that they would overdress, rather than under dress.
One of the things that takes some adjustment during the winter is that here in Wuhan, the heat isn't turned on until Dec. 1. I think in northern provinces they turn it on sooner. So for a few weeks you just have to bundle up and try to stay warm the best you can. The heating in our apartment complex comes through radiators. The water is heated in a central plant located in our complex, and then runs throughout the entire neighborhood. It is plenty warm now! I actually really like that even the floor gets warm where the pipes run underneath. But the problem is that it is difficult to control the temperature. You just have to basically fiddle around with the knobs trying to find a temperature that is tolerable. Before the heat was turned on, I was wearing long sleeved shirts with a sweater over them. And then I often kept a blanket nearby. Now I am wearing short sleeved shirts with no sweater. We have actually had to turn off the heat in some rooms because it was too warm!
Yesterday my daughter and I went shopping, and she wore a denim skirt with a pair of leggings underneath. The leggings weren't very long, and only came to just below her knees. Almost every person who passed us on the street STARED at her bare legs. They couldn't believe she would show skin in the winter! Never mind that she was wearing a heavy coat. Finally we stopped at a little shop and bought some leg warmers for her. The stares stopped. :)
Here is my question about this "catching cold" issue: If it is dangerous to drink ice water, and if you must keep your skin covered at all times, then why is it okay to eat ice cream in the winter in China?