April 13th, 2012

Smells and China

One of the things that I noticed about China when I first moved here is the smell. The mix of outside cooking, guys that urinate in public, a willingness among people to wear 2 tee-shirts, a sweater, cardigan, and coat (even when it's baking hot), and a public sanitation system that only just seems to cope, is... distinctive.

Being honest, however, you learn to tune it out. It's not that the smells have gone away I don't think. It's more you get used to it. You only really notice it in the height of summer, when it gets really warm and sunny here.

There is one smell that I'll never be able to ignore, however. It's "stinky tofu." I'm not kidding about the name either. The Chinese really do call it stinky tofu. Thinking that it might be just me, and that they might like the smell, I asked a kid why they called it that. To her credit, she didn't laugh when she explained "Because it's stinky." When asked "why do people eat it when it's stinky?", she added "Some Chinese are just crazy."

In case yo're wondering, stinky tofu is tofu fermented in vinegar. No matter how long I live here, it's disgusting smelling. They tell me that the literal translation for cheese is "stinky milk curd" but trust me when I say I think they're only saying that to explain why they eat this crud.