Chinese balm, an alternative to tipping in Egypt?

Updated: 2016-10-13 14:41

By Wang Mengzhen(

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Chinese balm, an alternative to tipping in Egypt?

The tins of Dragon & Tiger balm, or known as "qing liang you" in Chinese. [Photo/IC]

Tipping the locals with Chinese balms has become a trend for Chinese travelers in Egypt. The tiny tins of ointment have been warmly welcomed by Egyptians, whether it is checkpoint staff or street vendors, as it cools them off in the African nation's scorching heat.

A Wall Street Journal report published on Monday has pushed the trend to the forefront of online debate, saying the mentholated balm is being used as a currency by Chinese traveling in Egypt.

According to the report, Chinese tourists bring dozens of red tins with them to hand out as tips from the Giza Pyramids to the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Egyptians sometimes request the balm from Chinese guests and rub it on their temples for headache.

This comes as the number of Chinese tourists to the ancient civilization doubled last year, reaching more than 130,000. The figure is expected to exceed 200,000 by the end of 2016.

Puzzled but pleased

Chinese balm, an alternative to tipping in Egypt?

Chinese visitors take pictures of the Giza pyramids in Egypt. [Photo by Du Du/China Daily]

In fact, neither do Chinese tourists have any idea how the trend has developed, nor the Egyptians understand why Chinese people enjoy giving them the essential balm rather than cash.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Waleed Koriem, a longtime Egyptian tour guide, attributes the practice back to the Chinese diplomatic missions in the 1980s when Chinese friends sent little gifts to the African nation as a custom.

Despite the mystery, both sides have reached a consensus: Chinese tourists bring tins of balms as a must, while Egyptians would love to put it in their wish list.

However, discussions on, a Chinese social network for travel information, indicate that the essential balm remedy is no long workable for all service staff in Egypt as tourism industry in the country is growing more mature.

"Nowadays, vendors in some Egyptian scenic spots still ask you for the balm, but they only accept it as a gift rather than real tips," a blogger named holasally commented in Mafengwo on Aug 8, 2016.

What's inside the "magical balm"?

Chinese balm, an alternative to tipping in Egypt?

A tin of Dragon & Tiger balm, or known as "qing liang you" in Chinese. [Photo/IC]

The so-called essential balm, or "qing liang you", could be traced back to Qing Dynasty ,when a Chinese herbalist produced it as traditional Chinese therapy and sold it in today's Myanmar. It was then developed as the well-known brand "Tiger Balm".

The balm contains many herbal formulas, such as menthol, camphor and mint oil to keep the skin cool. It still serves as a traditional solution for many Chinese to escape from summer heat and mosquito bite.

On, the "magical" ointment also is applied to help reduce shoulder pain, migraine and Sciatica. A user called "Liz Hart" praising the medicine said: "[It] has changed my life. It helps in Sciatica like nothing else."

Wall Street Journal has contributed to the story