The fragrances of Shanghai

During the short few weeks of spring – we have already moved onto summer with the temperature bouncing up to 35+ two weeks ago – we have had some very pleasant evenings which make exploration of the city on foot a much more enjoyable experience – 不太热,不太冷, bú tài rè,bú tài lěng – not too hot, not too cold.

On these walks one is entertained (or assaulted) by a miscellany of “fragrances”.

Let’s start with some of the more pleasing ones….

Magnolia blossoms – sweet, strong perfume, that intensifies as you walk closer to an area where many trees are clumped together.

Barbeque street food – this always awakens memories of a braai back at home, and really gets the taste buds muttering about bygone summer days gathered around the evening sacrifice.

The sweet donutty smell of fried breadsticks – 油条, yóutiáo – this is a real reminder of childhood delights of the infrequent treats of sugar-coated doughnuts.

As we walk along the street next  the river on the way to catch a taxi to the office in the morning, every so often, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, there’s one spot where for about 5 seconds you can smell the lovely salty tang of a fresh sea breeze (from 50 km away!) Oh, for those days of the sea air at Fishhoek and Llandudno.

The smell of rain on thirsty earth – reminds me of the Highveld storms, but in the two years that we have been here I’ve only been in one storm that was even vaguely in the same league.

Then there are the everyday smells – not particularly pleasant, but not totally nauseating. As they form an on-going part of our lives, and you can’t escape them, one just has to get used to living with them as a kind of “background” smell…gasoline & diesel exhaust fumes, pollution, wet markets, a sort of humid/“damp earth” aroma, wafting up from river or from the earth and after it has been raining for a few days.

Then there are the “woe are we”, “when can we stop holding our breath”, “get me outta here – quickly”, all-assaulting, weapons of mass destruction fragrance variety: fetid drains, rotting vegetables, leaky sewers and our personal favourite: stinky tofu!


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May 2011
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