Oh the smells in Nanjing!

I could write all day about the smells in Nanjing. I am very sensitive to smells and it was definitely the first thing that hit me when I stepped off the plane. Nanjing definitely has its own unique…. Smell signature? Whether its the random wafts of sewerage that can catch you unaware at ANY time. Yes, even in the middle of a large Western style mall! Or the smell of unwashed dishes piled up in a plastic tub left sitting outside a restaurant from the night before. And its 11am! Or it could be the smell of putrid water and kitchen waste being carried through the restaurant and tipped out onto the street… But those smells (and more!) are gems that I will save for another blog!

Nanjing definitely has THOSE smells in truckloads! And yet, a week ago I stepped out of our apartment building and was met by a beautiful, light floral fragrance. It was too airy and soft to be anyone’s perfume. And besides, it hit me as I walked outside, instead of hanging in the air inside the building like a perfume would. I just stood there and sniffed the air. It was wonderful! It was pleasant! It was heaven for my poor assaulted nose!

“I TOLD YOU Autumn smelled nice here!” said my Mum behind me, as she laughed at me. “Write a blog on it” she said. Which at the moment is her answer to everything. And then later in the day I got a Wechat message from her saying, “Osmanthus frangras. Write a blog about it.” Ha! Yup, that’s my mother for you! Apparently, she had gone to class and asked all of her students what flower made the pretty smell in Autumn. And one of them actually knew! Hurrah!

A week later, and the smell has almost gone. It doesn’t hang around for long. I wish I could capture the wonderful fragrance and carry it with me as a coping mechanism for all the other Nanjing smells. And I can’t. So, I am writing a blog on it instead! Thanks for the bright idea Mum 😛


Known by plant geeks like my husband as Osmanthus frangras (Latin), the Chinese call it guìhuā (桂花and it is native to Asia, from the Himalayas down through to Southern China. Also called the sweet osmanthus, frangrant osmanthus or sweet olive, its not just a pretty smell. Apparently, it’s flowers are also used in traditional Chinese medicine as a medicinal tea (aptly named osmanthus tea!), and mixed with black tea to create a special fragranced tea that is common in Southern China. Its flower is the “city flower” of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guilin, China. And the fragrance that I was stopped in my tracks by is said to be a mark of the Mid Autumn Festival, a very important festival to the Chinese people, and a festival that was celebrated this weekend just gone. The Chinese also apparently make an osmanthus sauce, osmanthus cakes and sweets, and even osmanthus wine! The possibilities are endless!!!

Such a simple flower that has made such an important impression on me. And on the Chinese people in general it would seem. It is amazing the difference that a little flower can make when you’re in a new place, bombarded with new smells.


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