16 November 2018


My olfactory sense is the easiest to excite. The scent stimulus of something could carry me back to the distant land of memories and emotions.

I remember the greyness of the atmosphere, standing in front of the canteen counter, queueing up to buy food. There was something in the smell that is utterly unrecognizable to me. My family never ate out, we couldn’t afford restaurant trips. My mother cooked exclusively. This whole new concept of buying food where it is mass produced in a building perplexes me, even more so when the smell is so overwhelming. 

The canteen reeks of oil, of fried foods, of sambals, and the floor detergent’s smell roll into one distinct aroma that is so strong it had etched into my memories as the point of reference for a food court. I even knew whenever they cooked a different menu, like the occasional chicken rice during Teacher’s Day, because the overall accumulated smell would be slightly different. 

The canteen’s smell sometimes did seep again into my nose some other time in the future, awakening the memories of the canteen. 

Growing up, I remember the musky smell of Dashing talc in my hostel almost as if it is one of the default settings of the block. Its omnipresence was overbearing, and mysterious in a sense that nobody knows whose Dashing talc is the one that originated all the smell, and the scent was particularly strong when the hostel was empty. It’s almost as if the walls absorb all the smell and they would release it once nobody was around.

I always hated the smell. It reminds me of the emptiness and loneliness of life, and as a part of the boarding school, I associated the smell as something negative. 

I never knew how much smells affect me, until the time came for me and my roommate to part.
I was trying to make sense of my sadness by writing everything down, and the first question that I asked myself was, what do I remember?

And it was the smell of his clothes detergent that I remember upmost, like an inescapable guilt. So the first line that I wrote about him were about how the scent of his detergent suffocates the very life out of me, yet it was a striking, fond memory that I would remember first about him.

Since then, I view life from a new dimension. 

I remember watching a character in One Tree Hill whose mother left her when she was small, and the only thing that she could remember about her mother was her smell. She bought every different detergent just to smell her mother again, to no avail. 

I understood then, how important smells are for people.

Be it the oceanic scent of Polo, the Gucci Flora piercing yet lulling aroma, the elegant zest of Paris Hilton’s Heiress, or the simple stuff like detergent, soap, or even the smell of the rain, you know that smells make up an integral part of our memories.

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