Always hot

    Tropical climate minds its manners. It’s a climate of justice and decency -– it never gets hotter than +33 Co, never cooler than +27 Co. Relative humidity is always near 100%, so your shirt constantly clings to your back and your bottom is perpetually glued to whatever you happen to be sitting on. Not like the bad-mannered temperature swings in the Middle Eastern deserts -- unbearable dry heat at daytime and marrow-chilling frigidity at night.

    In tropical Southeast Asia you are just hot, always. We had refuelled our car for our trip from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands. The driver had first some shopping to do before we could climb into the air-conditioned coolness of our car again. When he returned he looked hotter than usual. But he didn’t get into the cool car straight away. Instead, he pulled out a small bottle, guzzling its contents in two gulps. “Cooling water,” he explained with a relieved smile, still standing in the blazing sun.

    I rushed back into the shop to get a bottle for myself. In one corner there was a shelf with hundreds of the small (200 ml) bottles, at RM (Malaysian Ringgit) 1.10 (~ 0.21 ) each. The label said, in Malay:


    A picture of a rhinoceros and a curious symbol, looking like a three-armed swastika, additionally adorned the bottle, as well as a string of Chinese characters. I could make out the character for “water”, but the others were way beyond my working knowledge of Chinese.

The reverse side

    I tried to decipher the Malay words: UBAT = medicine, AIR = water, BADAN = body. So PENYEJUK probably meant rhinoceros, or maybe it referred to the curious swastika-like symbol. But once I had hit on the superb idea of turning the bottle around in my hand, I could -- on the reverse side -- read in plain English:


    So it really was “cooling water” -- what a monstrous idea! I never touched the stuff then, nor later. As a Scandinavian I was perfectly happy being hot. But I still keep the bottle in my medicine cabinet. To a Scandinavian “cooling water” is an anathema. Cooling is hardly what we are after, in this most unfair of all frosty climates. More in demand are various types of “warming waters” -– Aquavit (aqua vitae), Eau de Vie (brandy) and similar firewaters.

Three cool legs from the Fine City

    The “Rhinoceros Brand Cooling Water” turned out to have been manufactured in Singapore. There it is marketed under its original name: “Thee Legs Cooling Water”. On closer inspection the three-armed swastika actually consisted of three sprawling trouser-clad legs, connected at the hips. What I had bought was the export version (for the Malaysian market) of a traditional Chinese remedy against overheating.

Casts for broken limbs

    According to the “Three Legs Cooling Water” manufacturer (Wen Ken Group, Singapore), the recipe is secret, but the main ingredient is 1 g/l (= 0.1 %) of “Gypsum Fibrosum”. This is the traditional Chinese pharmaceutical name for gypsum (plaster), i.e. for calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4, 2 H2O). In the traditional Yin-Yang-based Chinese medicine gypsum is “cold” by nature. Hence it is supposed to have a cooling effect on the body, restoring the Yin-Yang balance.

    In Western medicine calcium sulfate has no medicinal uses, except as plaster casts for broken limbs. It is not toxic, but in larger doses it acts as a mild laxative. The dosage can actually never be excessive, because the solubility of gypsum in water is quite limited, only 2.4 g/l (= 0.24 %).

Test of Time

    Is there any basis for assuming that Three Legs Cooling Water actually reduces body heat? Well, this depends on your outlook. Says Cheong Wing Kiat, one of the directors of the Singapore manufacturer, in an interview: "It's not like Western medicine where you can clinically try products and test them. Traditional medicines rely more on building up trust down the generations. Each generation continues to buy the preparation because ultimately they believe in the effectiveness of the product. … After 60 years in the markets, millions of consumers believe Three Legs Cooling Water has stood the test of time."

    One of these millions was obviously our driver, who felt cool and fit after imbibing his bottle of “Three Legs Cooling Water” (even if his particular bottle carried the Malay name “Rhinoceros Brand Cooling Water”). And I can never tell, because I have no need for cooling water. I’m rather in the market for firewater.

      spiregrain says: Three bent legs joined at the hip is part of the heraldic device of the Isle of Man, and a three-armed swastika is/was the symbol of Eugue Terblanche's mob in South Africa
      Apatrix says: The 'swastika' that you describe is called a triskelion.


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