Are You A Hothouse Flower?

We have all heard of the expression “A Hothouse Flower,” (温室里面的花儿), we all dread being called one.

Who wants to be perceived as a flower that grows up in a heated greenhouse – exquisite and delicate – but so fragile that it will crack or crumble as soon as it is exposed to the cold or the wild outside?

Certainly, I don’t.

But believe it or not, I felt exactly like a hothouse flower last Friday morning as soon as I tiptoed down the steps into a swimming pool indoor.

“Ouch…geez…it’s cold!

I exclaimed to myself – the only swimmer in a small recreational pool at 7:30 a.m.  As early as that may sound, there were serious swimmers already doing their laps up and down the Olympic-size swimming pool next to me long before I took the plunge.

“Okay…with the water this cold, I will only do 5 minutes of lap swimming. It’s quality not quantity that counts. ” 

I tried to convince myself that I should listen to my body especially because I had already warmed up after working up a sweat during an earlier Ashtanga yoga class at 6 a.m.

“Think warm, move your body, think warm, breathe. Inhale. Exhale.”

Before I knew it, I started coaching myself, counting and synchronizing every breath to my frog-stroke and frog-kick. Within minutes, the water began to feel warm.

What’s happened? The water was the same, but I felt different. I had gotten used to the water temperature quicker than I thought. Feeling at ease, I kept going for fifteen more minutes – three times as long as I thought I could handle.

Overcoming chilly water may seem trivial, but it’s a milestone to me. The truth is, I have had paralyzing fear of the water since I was a little girl.

Overcoming Fear

I almost drowned one summer when I was 9 years old while swimming at a beach with my family.  Although I was fitted inside a float while learning how to swim next to my aunt, neither of us was prepared for a sudden onslaught of waves. I was knocked head-on and swept over by what appeared to be a riptide. I inhaled volumes of gushing water in a matter of seconds. I also felt my body sinking in a whirlpool of freezing water without anyone knowing.  Miraculously, my aunt did notice. She dived under, reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me up as hard as she could before I disappeared. That near-drowning accident left a traumatic mark on my psyche.

As much as I love the water, I had developed an irrational debilitating fear that I would drown, or run out of breath whenever I swim. But I also know I need to overcome my fear.

We all have our own set of fears – real or imagined – arising from shadows of our past. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that my biggest fear is perhaps the tendency to choose ease and comfort. But I’m also relieved to discover that if I were a hothouse flower, I could also survive the cold.

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is