Observations on ‘New China’: Part II – Smells

March 27, 2011 in China, Social/Political Commentary, Travel by pacejmiller

A typical old Shanghai street. This one didn't smell at all. Surprisingly.

One thing that immediately struck me about China as soon as I stepped onto the street is that smells can hit you out of nowhere. And I’m not talking about the smell of cigarettes or garbage, which many countries around the world cannot hide from.

You can be minding your own business…and then bam!  An overwhelming urine or fecal odour can smash you right up the nostrils.  It’s the sewerage system, which for some reason is still rather problematic in China.  Despite all the advancements over the last decade or so, the old pipes and drains still can’t seem to keep out the smells.

I’m not talking about those legendary public toilets in the countryside where it’s just you and a hole — often the smell can hit you in the strangest of places, including high class hotels, popular tourist attractions, department stores and even restaurants.  In fact, most of the toilets themselves in these places are extremely clean and don’t smell at all — but the corridor or alleyway adjacent to it can stink to high heaven.

Of course, China is not the only country with a smell problem.  I have experienced similar odour issues in Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bangkok, London and Florence (just to name a few), and even in good old Chinatown in Sydney.  But China is the only place where the problem seems to be everywhere.  And it’s so prevalent that locals don’t appear to notice it.  They certainly don’t even flinch.  I was very impressed.