Have you eaten? (吃饱了吗?)

by Patrick Liew on February 22, 2015

Mark, a good friend of mine told me recently that his mother was suffering from dementia. She had repeatedly asked him, “Have you eaten?”

She would ask the question again and again, and sometimes a few times even during a short meeting. My friend would patiently reply her, knowing that it was one of the symptoms of dementia, a debilitating sickness.

As a much older person and a good friend, I decided to take upon myself to share with him the underlying meaning of “Have you eaten?”

This is a common greeting, mainly among older Chinese and I have heard it literally all over the world. It’s mostly the first few words I hear even when I meet a total Chinese stranger.

This greeting is not an invitation for a meal. There’s a deeper significance and purpose for it.

The Chinese people have  a relatively tragic past.

Throughout about 5000 years of their history, they have gone through many crises. They have survived them, but oftentimes after going through untold amount of pain and sorrow.

In many cases, many of them had to go through hunger and malnourishment. It is not usual to hear stories about how they had to eat everything that seemed to be edible so as to fill their stomach.

As a result, the Chinese people, especially among the older ones never take food for granted. They have learned to be grateful and to value every meal.

There are jokes that say the Chinese eat everything with four legs, except the table; and everything that flies except the aeroplane. If they see anything that moves, they’ll create a recipe for it.

Hence, Adam and Eve cannot be Chinese because they would have eaten the snake.

In many Chinese homes, it is not unusual for parents to insist that their children finish every morsel of food during mealtimes. There are even superstitions created about not finishing every drop of food on the plate.

For example, my parents would tell me, “If you don’t clean up the food on your plate, you’ll marry an ugly wife. If you leave more food on it, there’ll be more pimples, acne, and pockmarks on her face.”

Fortunately, I made sure my plate was squeaky clean after every meal. That was why I was able to marry a beautiful wife.

My wife on the other hand must have left quite a lot of food on her plate.

Therefore, there must be some truth to this belief. (Are you listening carefully to me, my children?)

On a serious note, when the Chinese greet someone “Have you eaten?” It’s a wish that the other party’s needs are met and it is an expression of concern for his wellbeing.

So I told my friend that if his mother forgot everything, she would never forget her love for him. She deeply cared for him.

The more she repeated those words, the more she is manifesting her love for him. Her
feelings would in turn grow deeper and stronger.

My friend, the next time I ask you, “Have you eaten?” it means I am asking you for a treat.

Just kidding.

I am saying that I love you, and I want you to do well in life.

So, have you eaten? (吃饱了吗?)

I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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Please read my reflection and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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