Where I live is quite fragrant. Hong Kong, after all, translates to “Fragrant Harbor.” This can be a good thing, though more often than not, it is a bad thing. This is mostly because I have a very sensitive sense of smell. So sensitive in fact, that I cannot turn it off and I aggravate the problem by intentionally smelling everything and then proclaiming that it smells this way or that way. And the fragrances of a harbor can be, you know… GROSS. There are some things that really, really make me wretch: the red tide in the Aberdeen Harbor, Dried Fish Street in Central, the fermented tofu stands in Wan Chai, and the garbage trucks. Tobacco cigarettes go without saying, but fighting that is an exercise in complete futility around here. Oh, and there is also the pollution. On the 29th of January we set a new pollution record over here with 2,000,000 parts per liter (this lady tracks it on her Twitter feed.) Sweet. In the past Hong Kong has realigned the pollution index in order to avoid the smelly truth about the air.
So, anyhow, there are a lot of fragrances around this (shrinking) harbor.
However, in the vein of relative objectivity, it must be said that I live outside of the serious pollution situation on the north side of Lamma Island, and it is cleaner there, if for no other reason than abundant (vermin producing) foliage. [Though I do work in Causeway Bay, the consistent winner in the most polluted area of HK…] Anyhow, where I live is not so smelly (except for Po Wah Yuen – which I not-so-affectionately refer to as Poo Wah Yuen because of the amount of dog poop that is all over.) In fact, where I actually lay my head smells pretty nice. We have more than a dozen Frangiapani [Plumeria] trees around, a huge veggie and herb garden and tons of flowers around our lychee, papaya and mango trees. [I am very grateful that my landlord is into gardening, because even though I thought I kind of was – it turns out – – not so much.] And when it rains in the subtropics, as it did the other day, two things happen: 1) the air gets cleaner and 2) the smells on Lamma – the good ones – really come out in that wet, floral, earthy way. It is really pleasant and kind of makes you close your eyes and take a big ole breath.
As I was walking home from the ferry two nights ago I was totally immersed in that jungle flower smell – even through Poo Wah Yuen. And, as smells often do… it took me right back to the first time I remembered really identifying that part of Life on Lamma. I was walking from Tai Peng to Wang Long (haha – and you thought my living in Pak Kok was funny… ) to meet Ex #5. It was a beautiful morning. I was, well, I guess I was unemployed. I was heading out on the road for points and durations unknown within a matter of days and I was in high spirits. I felt really free. Now when I smell that smell I feel that way again – enough so that for a moment I almost get nostalgic for #5.
But as I recalled that moment, I started to think about the other smells I associate with boys. Not boys in general of course, but certain boys. Like for instance, I associate the salty smell of Pacific Beach combined with the smell of rental apartment paint and carpeting in my Emerald Street apartment with Ex #1. Oh and also Taco Salsa (now Taco Surf, but it was better back then when Pete L. and crew referred to it as T-Sals.) I associate several smells that will remain unnamed here with Ex #2, but the smell of Marin or a ski shop always brings him right back to me. And also the hoppy smell of a good micro-brewery. Ex #3 just smelled clean. Always. It was nice. Ex #4… well, he was obsessive about hygiene, something definitely for another blog, but he was very into products with too strong of a smell too. And too many of them. Super strong soap, shampoo, deodorant, cologne, Bounce dyer sheets. It was just a plethora of mid-range cosmetical fragrance that could sometimes make eyes burn. Ex #5 was earthy. Not smelly at all, in fact he mostly smelled good, but different (in a lot of ways.) He also liked very expensive cologne. He must have stolen it because I sure as shit did not buy it for him and he had zero dinero; but he smelled alright.
Some other smells that I catch olfactory glimpses of on occasion in totally out of context situations with equally powerful effects include:
- Fair food
- A certain kind of HK smog that reminds me of LA
- Jameson’s Irish Whiskey
- Public schools and the wax they use on high school gymnasium floors
- Sauteing garlic and onion
- Recycled airplane air
- Salt water
- Baking bread
- The stale smell of Vegas casinos at 4 a.m.
- Fine leather
- Clove cigarettes
Everything on that list reminds me of a very specific person or place. You may even be able to identify whom or which. I like that it doesn’t even have to be a good smell necessarily to have the intended effect. Like here. Though I suppose that could lead right into an entire discussion on the gag-reflex. Case in point: I got an email the other day that reminded me of another smell:
I know I have mentioned the smell thing before. And I have had some very entertaining questions with regard to smell-obsession. But I think the instant recall that smell can engender makes it very dear to me, especially as I wander further afield. When I teach sense of place in Geography, and now in Literature courses, I always do sensory activities that require students to identify smells with places and scenes and characters and scenarios. And even when they we there is no smell to identify – there always is. And really, it can make all the difference.