Egyptians and Chinese bewildered by mysterious tipping custom

Egyptians and Chinese bewildered by mysterious tipping custom

It’s long been a rumor among Chinese holidaymakers that when traveling in Egypt, a tiny tin of traditional Chinese cooling ointment is an “equivalent” to cash as tip.

A Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report has confirmed the existence of the formality, but leaves open a more mysterious question: why?
Egyptians and Chinese bewildered by mysterious tipping custom

According to the report, although many Chinese tourists do hand out red tins of the balm as tips and locals accept them, neither party seems entirely clear as to the reason behind the custom.
On Chinese traveling-themed websites, it’s not rare that perspective travelers inquire about the “norm” of tipping the balm.
“I just got back from Egypt and it is genuine that they really do it there”, a traveler nicknamed Yun Yun shared on, a Chinese website for backpackers.
“Some staff at tourist attractions would even ask for the balm in Chinese.”
“Before I came to Egypt, the tourism agency told me repeatedly to bring cooling balm as a gift to make the trip easier,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Ye, a 25-year-old Chinese online shop owner, as saying.
And the recipients - the Egyptian people - are no less bewildered.
“Chinese tourists like to give this to me, but I really do not know why,” said Younes Mohamed, 34, a cleaner at Serenity Beach resort in Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast, according to the WSJ.
The cooling ointment (清凉油 in Chinese) is also known as Tiger Balm. Tale has it that the inventor of the traditional brand, used to soothe the itch caused by an insect sting or slight headache, was a Hu Wenhu in the Qing Dynasty, whose name can be literally translated as “tiger.”
The balm is a must-have household medicine in China, especially during summer time. Due to its cooling effect, people often rub it on their foreheads or temples to stay awake. The balm contains menthol, which gives it the cooling effect.
Its popularity among Chinese people may partly stem from its low price. A tin of Tiger balm, roughly the size of a one British pound coin, but around no more than three times thicker, costs just 0.35 yuan (about 5 US cents) on China’s e-commerce platform.
The WSJ report laid out two theories about the origin. One suggested that the formality might date back to the early days after China’s economic opening-up in the 1980s when “tokens of Chinese culture were offered as gifts.”
The second explanation concerns Egypt’s hot weather which potentially makes the goods popular.
Regardless of the true reason, the revelation has bemused Chinese netizens on social networks.
“The mysterious power comes from the mysterious east,” commented @CZF, a Weibo user.
The dry remarks aside, some Chinese people came to find the second theory more convincing, drawing on their own experiences of traveling in hotter and more mosquito-ridden countries.
“My mother once went on a business trip to an African country and she found a tin of ointment was sold at a price almost 30 times as much as it was domestically”, said @Kaierwenxing, another Weibo user.


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