The Smells of Shanghai


Shanghai is a full-on assault of smells. The wide variety of different odors mix together on the average bike ride or walk down the street. Some are good; most are bad.

The natural scents are tolerable, but the synthetics serve as a constant reminder of eventual cancer. I’m surprised people aren’t walking around with visible tumors and having miscarriages on the street after a lifetime of living here. The chemicals smell deadly.

Here are two lists of smells on an average day:



You know it’s a bad sign of workplace health when there’s a big spray can of formaldehyde sitting out next to the smoking area in the stairwell, across from a panel glued to the wall with epoxy. It’s also unsettling to notice that the area around your desk smells like flea collars and there’s a fine layer of concrete dust over everything.

If you have any other Shanghai smells you want to add, mention them in the comments.


nik, this post cracked me up! i always loved the parts of the world i’d travel too where one of the “souvenirs” i picked up was snot that turned black! ewww… another “highlight” of my visit to shanghai was our [organized] trip to a local hospital and seeing the spitoons throughout the hallway. ok, maybe the didn’t smell all that much, but it sure made me want to vomit which would smell bad!


I don’t know if to laugh or cry for you.

Haha that is so true, also one of the reasons to why I always hang out nanjing xi lu. 100% chance to NOT smell shit.


Gross, I can can imagine the sights and sounds of those spitoons.

You’ll still see pee on Nanjing, though. The little kids drop trou and pee wherever they feel like it.


Hey hi,

It is true that Shanghai has a very typical smell, that you smell as soon as you land there.

I went there 12 times.

And I’ve never smelled anything similar.

I was in love with a girl there, so for me, this bad smell was something pleasant to smell.

But I do agree, it might be very unhealthy.


I visited Shanghai many times, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I could smell cooking oil. That smell is forever associated with Shanghai for me. I wish I knew what kind of oil it is. I don’t recall every smelling it in the U.S. where I live.


There is a distinct smell you can smell on the clothes here. To me it smells like an industrial/manufacturing/coal type smell. I’ve had my clothes taken to the dry cleaner and returned with that smell on it. Not very pleasant.

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April 15th, 2009. Categories / China, Shanghai

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