They say smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. If I could make your screen scratch-n-sniff, I would, and you’d be instantly transported back to the Middle Kingdom.
- Chou doufu
- Mosquito coils
- Getting caught in a cloud of bus exhaust at an intersection while on your bike or scooter in the winter
- Boiling hot tea in little glass cups that are too hot to pick up
- Hair salons
- Walking into an elevator where someone has been smoking
- Walking into a conference room or banquet hall where everyone is smoking
- Good rice
- A traditional pharmacy
- The tea they prescribed for you there
- A packed bus without a/c on a hot summer afternoon where half the passengers are reaching up to hold onto the handles
- The dried sausage section of the supermarket
- The seafood section of the supermarket
- The tea section of the supermarket
- The pickled vegetable section of the supermarket
- The entire wet market
- The overnight train when everyone has taken off their shoes and is making instant noodles for dinner
- Tea eggs in convenience stores
- Pomelo lanterns
- Osmanthus trees in bloom
- Freshly cooked zhenzhu at milk tea shops
- Flooded sewers
- Steaming pots of zongzi, corn, and eggs at long-distance bus stations
- Open trough squatties
- Lines of watermelon trucks, each with one melon sliced open for samples
- Lines of fresh flower stalls at the bird & flower market
- Incense and red candles at temples
- Chili smoke from hot woks that makes you cough
- Lanzhou lamian
- A rowdy group that has been drinking too much baijiu
- Calligraphy ink
- Sticky red ink for official chops
- The cypress trees at Temple of Heaven
- Five spice
- Fake vanilla, fake butter, fake cream, and real yeast in bakeries
- Little pots of rice paste glue at the post office
- Over-chlorinated swimming pools that still manage to have musty changing rooms
- Chestnuts roasting in giant woks
- Quail eggs roasting in giant woks
- Paint, asphalt, dust, and everything else at a construction site
- Cheap kids’ shoe stores
- Hot pot
- Staircases inside apartment blocks that have just been mopped
- Rice fields burning
- Freshly made doujiang and corn juice next to steaming baskets of baozi
- The food they sell to feed koi at the park
- 1.3 billion people setting off fireworks all at once
Which was your favorite? What would you add to this list?
46 Signs China is Permeating Your Soul
50 Signs You’re an American Expat in China
November 15, 2017 at 6:43 am
One of my new “favorites” is the downstairs neighbor that burns something daily or more that smells like pot. It might be called Chinese medicine here . . .
When our xiao qu waters the landscape with sewer water
November 15, 2017 at 9:55 am
“Chinese medicine.” 😀 Well, it’s considered medicinal in a lot of the U.S., so it’s possible! Those are great additions. 🙂
November 15, 2017 at 11:41 am
Is stinky tofu in that list?
November 15, 2017 at 6:47 pm
It’s #1 on the list! 😉
November 16, 2017 at 9:35 am
A majority of those “aromas” could be attributed to Thailand as well. At least Chiang Mai, where we lived. Makes me homesick, interestingly enough. I mean, some of those smells were really rank!
November 16, 2017 at 2:43 pm
Ha, yes, even the bad ones are enough to make a person homesick! Now you have me thinking of Chiang Mai smells like khao soi, floral-scented soaps, and being in the back of a songthaew with 7 or 8 other hot & sweaty passengers. Mmmmmmm… 🙂
November 16, 2017 at 7:19 pm
It really goes with the construction smells one, but it’s a really strong, almost sweet, headache-inducing adhesive smell that I don’t think I ever smelled before coming here. Also there’s an adhesive that’s used in tape and children’s bubbles here that is apparently banned in other countries. But I’m sure you’ve smelled the bubbles and know what I’m talking about. And the agony of smelling amazing food cooking at a restaurant but having no idea what it is or how to get some yourself. It kind of goes with the neighbor cooking smells that come through my stove vent and make me want to go knocking on doors to hire the person to cook for me. Unless it’s the choking chili smell coming through the vent. Oh, and apartment bathroom drains! And the smell of air pollution! And jasmine bushes in bloom!
November 17, 2017 at 10:42 am
I know those adhesive smells all too well. You have good scents coming through the kitchen exhaust? Lucky! No matter where we lived, we almost always had really awful smells from the neighbors cooking, like they were using sewer oil to fry fish that was on the verge of going bad. The bathroom drains. UGH. How did I leave that off the list? These are all good additions, April!
November 23, 2017 at 5:09 am
Yes…bathroom drains! I was missing China this week…that thought…and your list and I’m not any more!!
November 17, 2017 at 11:47 am
Ah yes – the neighbor’s cooking odors. We knew we have acclimated to life in Thailand when we woke up to the smell of frying garlic next door and it made us hungry.
November 20, 2017 at 7:50 pm
Ha! That’s great. 🙂
November 23, 2017 at 5:08 am
Haha! Well done!
November 23, 2017 at 5:04 am
Number 46 definitely! The mopped staircase smell! Urgh!
November 23, 2017 at 5:05 am
Oh, and I didn’t see.. Outrageously strong smell of garlic comibgbup from downstairs neighbour neatly every evening!
November 23, 2017 at 5:07 am
Just read the other comments…cooking smells…that’s the everyday non escapable part of living in China!
Loved your list! Nailed it!
November 23, 2017 at 9:29 am
Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it.
November 23, 2017 at 9:30 am
I LOVE garlic, but it’s different when it’s not your own cooking that is making your apartment smell like garlic.
November 23, 2017 at 9:28 am
Dank, musty cave smell right in your own stairwell! 😉
February 7, 2018 at 11:20 am
Rape seed oil being made and then being cooked with. Sichuan peppercorn. Noodle broth soup. Sesame seed oil being made (I can’t stand that smell even though I like the oil, go figure.)
We were in the States and my 4 year old smelled cigarette smoke and happily said, “it smells like China!”
When we’re in the States I love going into an Asian market. The smells make me homesick.
February 9, 2018 at 9:11 am
I’m cracking up about cigarette smoke giving your child fond memories. So true! The smells you listed are good additions.