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Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 17:26
New breed of health nuts
By Xu Haoyu
Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 17:26 By Xu Haoyu

More young Chinese are seeking out solutions to trade off the risks of indulging in unhealthy habits, Xu Haoyu reports.


In the 16-square-meter room, with the closed window locking all the cigarette smoke inside, Zhao Yingzi, the 25-year-old Hangzhou native, barely moved her body - except her fingers and arms - for five hours.

Mahjong tiles, discarded by the game's four players, are scattered across the center of the green, square table, face up with the Chinese characters.

One day last year, after she returned home from playing mahjong, Zhao was browsing the internet and one breaking news story caught her attention. It said that a mahjong player from Jiangsu province almost had his legs amputated due to deep vein thrombosis, caused by sitting still and playing for four hours without drinking any water.

Zhao immediately reposted the news to her mahjong buddies. All sorts of feelings welled up in her mind, mostly shock, fear and regret.

Since then, she frequently visits a massage health club.

Everyone pursues sensual pleasures derived from numerous forms of entertainment, that’s human nature. However, the act of self-discipline has to be cultivated through practice, and that’s what people lack

Xie Xiaofei, psychology professor at Peking University

She goes at least once a week to have her painful shoulders and numb legs massaged, the former for periarthritis and the latter to relieve the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

"Bad habits and behaviors might not trigger illness right away, but they are like ticking time bombs without a clear countdown," Zhao says.

Zhao sees her addiction to mahjong as a stubborn disease, for which she has no confidence or determination to eradicate. Equally, she does not want to be killed or badly harmed by it, so she employs preventative remedies, such as massage.

"I'm unaware of how unhealthy I could be," she admits. "All I can sense is tiredness.

"So, when I'm trying to make up for it, I can only tell if my tiredness is relieved, but I do feel better. It's a comfort, physically and psychologically."

Zhao's lifestyle is not alone among Chinese youth. For example, many young people watch videos or play games on their smartphones for many hours without a break, but to relieve the inevitable eyestrain, they apply expensive eyedrops. Zhao and her peers have a new name - the health-preserving punk - coined online and being used a lot of late.

Freedom or discipline

According to an article on the website, Sohu, the nickname developed from a post on the micro blogging site, Sina Weibo. Internet user, Memehan, posted a status saying, "I and my sister smoked a cigarette and had a lozenge right away, killing ourselves and trying to keep healthy at the same time." Another user links such an attitude toward life with the rebellious spirit and indifference of punk culture, and commented that their behavior is "preserving health in a punk way". Such a cool statement soon spread around.

Xie Xiaofei, a psychology professor at Peking University, claims that the pleasure is too strong for youngsters to resist.

"Everyone pursues sensual pleasures derived from numerous forms of entertainment, that's human nature. However, the act of self-discipline has to be cultivated through practice, and that's what people lack," Xie says.

Running a clothing distribution business with two partners, Zhao gets up at 7 am and sometimes spends over 11 hours working.

The trip to the clothing factory in the city's Yuhang district is a half-hour drive, which does not bother her that much. She also travels to Japan and South Korea, where she picks up samples from local markets and a 14-member designer team.

She gets to take a break when the clothes are in the process of production. It's then she calls on her friends to play mahjong.

Together with a large kettle, her cup of chrysanthemum tea is placed on a table that's close at hand, but, as a fan of the energy drink, Red Bull, the cup does not get drained and refilled much. Instead, the table always ends up crowded with Red Bull cans.

"I want to feel more energetic and excited while I'm playing mahjong. It helps me to win and enjoy the game," Zhao explains.

Excitement, or a good rest, after work is considered to be necessary as an easy escape from the pressures of daily life.

Ning Nanke, 26 years old, was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Because of the humid climate, like many local residents, Ning also has an awareness to eat healthily, and for instance, developed a habit of eating chillies to "clear inner dampness".

The attention she pays to her health, however, does not stop her from smoking. She lit up her first cigarette one year ago - on a day she found herself stressed out by a lot of writing assignments - and she soon became addicted, finding the habit relaxing.

"Smoking is my personal sustenance," she says, "just like I'm obsessed with chillies." She also shares a secret: "I met a guy I had a crush on, a colleague, when a bunch of us were smoking together," she admits furtively. "So, if I keep smoking, I always have a good excuse to meet up and spend time with him."

Ning considers mental stress as the biggest reason for her nicotine habit. "The problems and challenges in life don't give me a headache as long as I'm in a healthy mood. I choose to eliminate the pressure that puts me in a bad mood by smoking."

However, while it's easy to enjoy the pleasure, it can be very difficult to put an end to it once it becomes excessive.

Ning has taken to smoking every half an hour, even at work, finishing a packet a day.

Solutions at hand

Despite over indulging themselves, many young people are paying attention to their health, taking note of the harm that some of their habits can bring, and taking steps to reduce the risks, while still enjoying their vices.

Chi Zhijie, 22 years old, from Fujian province, is a fitness fanatic. He goes to the gym at least five times a week to keep fit and confident, but also for his health, as he was born with a weak immune system.

However, he does not say no to drinking at parties, even when he knows that the alcohol absorbs the water in his body and weakens the muscle.

Chi says: "I work hard to accumulate some capital of health, so I can exchange it for the enjoyment of drinking with friends sometimes."

Ning did the phone interview while she was smoking and drinking nutritious white fungus soup.

She also mentions that she decided to get inoculated against HPV in Hong Kong, which costs over 7,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$893), after she found that smoking raises the risk of contracting it. She signed up for vaccination in March, and her reservation is booked for August.

"I know that some of my habits are harmful, so in order to avoid murdering myself, I have to make up for it in some other way," she concludes, vocalizing the mantra of many other health-preserving punks.

Contact the writer at xuhaoyu@chinadaily.com.cn

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