Skip to content


Ever since I’ve been in Malaysia, I've heard people talking about foods being 'heaty' – e.g. someone will say 'Don't eat [insert type of food here] when you have the flu because it's heaty', or something like that. Recently, I finally discovered what 'heatiness' really is – I was out in the sun for a bit too long one day, and got some sunburn: then, after a few days, I noticed that I kept feeling a bit uncomfortable - overheated, an unpleasant feeling in my stomach, and a bit tired. But even if I turned the aircon on and had a nap, for example, I still felt too much 'internal heat'. Suddenly it dawned on me - I was suffering from 'heatiness'! (Another symptom was an itchy neck. I didn't connect to it at the time, but later someone told me it was typical of heatiness - apparently you can even end up with boils on the neck).

Anyway, so WW got some herbs from the Chinese herbalist - I boiled it all up and drunk a big glass or two every day for a week or so, and felt better.

Some time before that, I had received a free bottle of Cool Rhino which is meant to be a cooling drink (apparently it's rebranded 'Three Legs Cooling Water'). I was curious about the main ingredients Gypsum fibrosum, and 'calcitum', and on what basis they are meant to be 'cooling'.
Cool Rhino cooling drink with Gypsum fibrosum

Gypsum fibrosum, is known as a 'stone drug' - i.e. it is a mineral (it's also used in building!) which has beneficial health properties. Investigation of the use of minerals in medicine was particularly common amongst Taoist alchemists who sought immortality, and knowledge of its use goes as far back as Ge Hong's (281 -341 AD), book Bao Pu Zi's Inner Treatise ("Discovering Chinese Mineral Drugs")
"Raw gypsum (Gypsum Fibrosum) has been shown to have an antipyretic effect, that is, it can be used to reduce fever. However, pure manufactured gypsum does not display this property. This suggests that the antipyretic effect is produced by one or more of the impurities normally associated with gypsum in its raw state (Guo et al, 1958)." ("Discovering Chinese Mineral Drugs")

In its prepared form it is known as Gypsum Fibrosum Preparata or Duan Shi Gao.

I noticed dosages "9-30 grams, up to 90 grams for very high fever", or "10-50 grams"; in the bottle there is 90mg, so I can't imagine there is much chance of overdosing, even if you take 4 times a day as they recommend.

As study on rats shows that it "can accelerate the formation of collagenoblast and micrangium in wounds, and the proliferation of granulation tissues, thus promoting the skin wounds to healing" (Source) (whatever that means :-S)

Calcitum, or Han Shui Shi, is also apparently good for relieving heat. The recommended dosages are also well above the 45mg in each bottle of Cool Rhino ( "9-30 grams" and "3-10 qian" – 1 'qian' is 5 grams). I think 'calcitum' is basically the same as calcium, which is also a mineral.

Basically – it seems that traditional Chinese medicine does support the use of these ingredients for heatiness, but at much higher doses than there is in Cool Rhino. As for me, unfortunately I did not have it at the time I had heatiness, but I had previously got round to testing it one day when I was feeling hot after working in the garden. It was not chilled, but I can’t say I felt any different… My advice is, if you want relief from heatiness – go to a herbalist and chuck down the bitter stuff!

Here are some resources on Chinese medicine
The Essentials of Chinese Medicine
• A detailed explanation of different “Herbs that clear Heat”
• What looks like an authoritative Introduction to Chinese Herbology

Merry Christmas - The unseasonal Malaysian season

Just to continue in my reflections on life in Malaysia, I was struck yesterday by how few people were in the supermarket – in Europe the shops on Christmas Eve afternoon are a nightmare, with hordes of feverish shoppers desperately buying the last necessaries for food and presents. In Giant yesterday there were in fact less people than usual, and less aisles open too; at the pasar malam, there were less people too, as well as less stalls.

I’m feeling distinctly un-Christmassy this year; we didn’t even put up decorations – been busy with other things and so on. Christmas always takes me a bit by surprise a bit here; in Europe there is always a long build up – the lights start appearing in the streets, peoples’ decorations peek out from their windows and adorn their doors

at the office decorations drape the filing cabinets and you start wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ when you calculate that it’s the last time you’re seeing them before the date, an office party is organised, and a few lucky people tell you of their skiing plans or trips to the sun. In the bars, you can get special warming Christmas Ale, a good excuse for a tipple. At school, you may already have had Santa visit, and accumulated a few presents already.

The season prepares you for it too – the days have been getting darker and the home cosier; you know it’s winter and winter means Christmas, you start to wonder whether there will be snow…

Continue reading "Merry Christmas - The unseasonal Malaysian season"

Malaysian phone etiquette

Part of the task of the anthropologist is to ‘unpick’ the culture they are studying in order to lay bare the cultural and social mechanisms that underlie the daily functioning of the people within that culture. This is kind of like taking apart a clock and showing how all the different parts come together in a unique way to make the clock tick. Of course, a culture is nothing like a clock really – you can’t easily say where it begins and ends, and with a clock taking out one piece is enough to make it stop functioning completely, whereas cultures are endlessly malleable and dynamic. Take out one piece (a monarch, for example), and there will be adaptations, derivations and replacements that immediately come to play.

In the classical anthropologist situation, the anthropologist arrives as a stranger in a new place, and starts to observe how things happen. Although she has the disadvantage of not knowing what to do, how to speak the language, and so on – this is also an advantage, because everything that people around her take for granted stands out to her and she may be able to spot patterns and connections that those who are embedded in the system cannot.

As my supervisor has pointed out, I have both the advantage and disadvantage of having been here in Malaysia for a while now, and being involved with blogging for a while too. The advantage is that I know more, the disadvantage is that I may take things for granted now that would stand out to a newcomer; I'm going to try to remedy this by doing a series of posts on my blog that reflect upon how Malaysia felt to me when I first got here, and how blogging first seemed to me.

So, I’m going to start a series of posts in which I try to recall how both Malaysia and blogs seemed to me at first – they will be in new subcategories of the ‘Anthropology’ category: I’ll call the Malaysia ones ‘Malaysianisms’, and the blog one I’ll call… hmm… ‘Blogisms’ I guess.

So, here goes for my first trip down memory lane – Malaysian telephone etiquette.

When I was brought up, I was taught that you always have to introduce yourself on the phone. This is obviously not the case for many in Malaysia – when I first arrived I was staying with my in-laws (to be) and because I was not working, often was by myself in the house. This was when I was introduced to Malaysian telephone etiquette – or what seemed to be the lack of, to me.

The phone would ring and I pick it up –
‘Hello? Julian speaking.’
‘Mrs Wong ah?’
‘No, this is Julian. Mrs Wong is not in for the moment.’
‘Where is she ah?’
‘I don’t know, she had to go out.’
‘What’s her handphone?’
[I’m already a bit flustered at the lack of introduction, and the rapid fire questions. The request for the number is the last straw to me – why should I give someone’s number to a complete stranger?]
‘If you would like to leave your name and number and a message, I’ll ask her to call you.’
‘Say Ah Chong called.’
‘Mr Ah Chong… and does she have your number?’
‘Ya ya, got got. OK’ -He hangs up-

What things were very different for me here?
• Not introducing oneself at the beginning of the call.
• Asking for personal information – what was ‘Mrs Wong’ doing, what’s her handphone number.
• The lack of polite niceties, such as ‘Hello’, ‘please’ and – in particular – putting down the phone without saying goodbye! That one took a lot of getting used to :-O I eventually learnt that conversations usually end with the end of the matter in hand, and a word such as ‘OK’, or ‘Thanks’.

Initially, I would find myself being distinctly disgruntled at such calls, in particular the perceived rudeness of (for me) cutting off a conversation without proper disengagement. I learnt to deal with it, and now often don’t say goodbye, depending on who I’m talking to – I’m more likely to take this approach when speaking to my in-laws, friends or trades people such as my mechanic or plumber, but less likely when I’m speaking to colleagues or people I need to deal with for work. I also learnt to use the call ID function more – so when ‘Joe’ calls, I’ll answer the phone with ‘Hello Joe, wassup?’ or something, in a way doing the introduction part myself rather than waiting for the caller to do it.

I've found that very often my 'western style' is too formal and there are too many words - sometimes people will have trouble understanding me because - I suppose - I use a lot of words that serve no apparent purpose :-)

OK, that’s it for the first of the Malaysianisms posts – any comments?