Fragrant Foul

My little brother used to throw up whenever he got into taxis. It was either the 'new car small' or the blatantly artificial air fresheners. I wonder if the pine tree ones you see in American movies actually smell that good and whether or not they could have been the ail to my little brother's predicament – apparently a hundred or so of them are enough to mask the smell of a decaying body, so they must smell quite divine.

This thought comes up as I ride the bus to my next destination. I like this faux leather smell – reminds me of my childhood, sitting in the back of the family saloon, driving around the winding roads of the Hong Kong hills. But as the seats fill up I'm brought back to the present, quite forcefully. In the midst of a Hong Kong summer no one can be blamed for seeking safety from stroke in the moving ice box. But along with their sticky appendages caressing your shoulder as they shuffle to the back they bring onboard a sickeningly savoury smell. There's no wonder why I always go with chocolate or caramel and stay away from the butter flavoured popcorn.

It occurred to me that smell is really the only sense that you have no control over. You can close your eyes. You can say 'no' when people want to touch you. You can wear overpriced noise-cancelling headphones.  You can shut your mouth and refrain from licking most things. But you smell everything. You have no nostril-lids. Smells don't understand the word 'no'. Dr Dre doesn't deem smell an important sense for the creative process. And there are things you simply have to take a sniff of, even when you know it's going to be bad, like your socks after a long day, the lunchbox you forgot to clean or your best friend's farts. Smells will waft their way up your nose whether you like it or not.

I try to be considerate. Regular showers, deodorant, cologne. I like to think I smell lovely… most of the time… in winter. So do people just not care or are they unaware? Or do they just not have a heightened sense of smell like me? Everybody knows appearance matters. But I just think if you can care enough to shave, comb your hair, iron your clothes, you might as well spray yourself with a little something and have a tic-tac too.

Then again, some people need to prioritise appearance, or hygiene in general. The one sitting in front of me right now looks like he's wearing a mop dipped in WD-40. I'm going to be staying away from sesame oil flavoured instant noodles for a while.


Author: bunwritten

A British-born-Chinese English teacher teaching in Hong Kong.

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