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Missing the Smells

My wife wanted to get a peppermint plant for our deck – she liked the smell of it and said that it would help to keep the mosquitoes away.  She decided that we would go to the “River Market” in Kansas City, Missouri – the city in which we have lived since 1979.  The Market has quite a history behind it – having been the original location where Kansas City was founded.  Over the years it has been known as “Westport Landing”, the “City Market”, and “River Quay.”  The actual “Market” name came from the large farmer’s market that was located in a public square in the mid 1800’s.  The “Quay” name was applied to the neighborhood in the 1970’s by a developer to capitalize on the neighborhood’s early French connections as a fur trading post. The plan was to make this neighborhood a destination for restaurants and retail shops. A local war developed and three establishments burned or were blown up and several gangsters were killed. The area then sat somewhat dormant while the dust settled – so to speak.  Today, the area is dotted with restaurants, retail shops, converted condos and apartments, and the “Farmers Market.”

We strolled through three rows of local vendors showing their wares.  My wife did find a peppermint plant and then we decided we were hungry.  Our daughter is a teacher and once took her students – and their families – to a Middle Eastern café known as the “Habashi House.”  We liked their gyros and decided to try them again – they were as wonderful as we remembered.  While we were waiting my wife took a candid photo of me.  She said that I looked like I was a million miles away.  I told her that the smells around here reminded me of how much I missed the smells of China during my ten years of visiting and doing business in that country – this is what was in my mind when she snapped the shot.

After lunch – and a stop at the “Bloom Baking Company” for a lemon bar – I said that I wanted to really go someplace where I could get just a “whiff” of “China Smells.”  Across the street – from the Market – is a grocery store named the “Chinatown Food Market.”  I told my wife – of 50 years – that I wanted to walk through the place.  When we went in the door – she wondered how I could stand the smell?  I said the odor was actually but a “tiny taste” of the real smells that I missed from China.  I can’t really explain it other than it is unique to what I experienced in China.  I have traveled to Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan – nothing there compares to the “smell memories” that I relate to China.

The business – which we developed in China – started quite small and grew to a 20+ personnel office in the city of Shenzhen.  I made numerous trips to China and traveled within the country to various factories and cities.  My only regret is that I did not take time to see more of the tourist sites; however, time always seemed to be too brief for the business that needed to be done.  One of the most memorable experiences is when we were asked to join the factory employees for lunch – that was “real” Chinese food!  I actually enjoyed most of what I ate; however, I felt it best that I not ask “what” I was eating.  After a few trips – the factories always seemed to have enough “cold beer” to make the meals “extra enjoyable.”

Our final location was in a newly constructed office building.  It was most convenient to where I liked to stay when I was in Shenzhen. We had a comfortable set of rooms with a panoramic view of the part of Shenzhen that we could view out of our windows.  Although we did not spend a lot of time there – when I came to China – it was nice to have it as our base of operation.

I truly miss the Chinese people whom I met during my business days there along with my fellow co-workers who were associated with our business.  I long to return, but at 71, I will probably never have another opportunity to do business there again.  Things have changed quite a bit since we dissolved our import business in 2008.  However, fond memories remain – and hopefully – will remain until the day that I die.  Every now and then something happens that reminds me of the wonderful times that I had in China – including the exclusive smells that I associate with this country and its people.








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Bob Grant
I am semi-retired and host a number of Wordpress content management system websites. I live in Kansas City, Missouri and my work history was primarily spent within the business community.

4 comments to Missing the Smells

  • Bob,

    Well written and illustrated! Takes me back in ways to my time in Vietnam and Thailand. Although my wife Dee being Filipino, I’m treated often to genuine oriental meals, those tastes and smells, right on our home table. Give us some more memories!


  • Bob Grant

    Thanks Mark – not certain what remains roaming around in my head?

  • Don Frankel


    This piece reminds me of a Hemingway quote and I’m surprised that I can’t find it via the internet. But it’s about how memory is essential to writing.

    If you’re ever in NYC don’t miss Chinatown.


  • Don,

    “Memory is hunger.” Ernest Hemingway


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