Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Olfacto-memory


Aun mentioned in his weirdness posting that scents had a tendency to evoke memories. Well, that's true for me too. Y'know, in this so-called "multimedia" IT age, we're actually shortchanging our experience of our existence here on Planet Earth by overemphasizing the visual and auditory senses, and downplaying smell, taste and touch. But that is inevitable, since smell and taste cannot be realistically captured, stored, transmitted nor reproduced electronically. There are some motion-based mechanisms that can replicate the sense of touch to a certain extent, e.g. remote-controlled surgery or robotic arms. But it's nowhere near the real thing.

But I would just like to list down here some scents and smells that trigger a deja vu or instant recall to past events and places...

1. Smoky 2-stroke outboard engine exhaust (the nauseating kind) will bring me back to my younger days in the 80's when I tagged along with my dad and his Bible college students into
the interiors of Sarawak for their mission trips. We would head up the Baram River by boat to the longhouses and remote villages where the students would do their ministry practicals and my dad would often preach. Nowadays I get the exhaust smells during boat trips to East Coast islands for holiday.

2. Diesel engine exhaust reminds me of the days in Sarawak (again) where we travelled in those massive express boats that plied the major rivers like the Baram and Rejang. Those boats had huge inboard Caterpillar engines that roared with an incredibly loud din. Those were carefree days for me. The biggest danger was probably falling off the roof of the express boats as they skimmed across the brown river water. The boats are still in operation today, although their role is somewhat reduced as more and more road connections are built, thus reducing the dependence on river transport. But for some interior regions the river is often still the only transport route.

3. Wood fire smoke from campfires or old wood-fired stoves remind me of Sarawak days (again!) where my family and I would often visit the longhouses in the upriver regions. There, where gas stoves were unavailable, the local folk would cook their meals over wood-fired stoves in the smoky kitchens at the back. The entire kitchen would emanate a distinctive woody and smoky scent even when there was no fire. It's a warm inviting smell with a promise of yummy food to fill the tummy. The waft of wood smoke also nicely complemented the fresh air from the surrounding forest. Hopefully the smoke won't cause lung cancer though...

4. Naphthalene urinal deodorizers in hotel and public washrooms take me back to the gym changing room at Bannockburn School, Illinois, USA, where I studied in Grade 6 and 7 way back in 1985-87. The gym changing room had this lingering smell of naphthalene, like mothballs everywhere. In addition to smell, temperature also accentuates the memory. The changing room had an unpleasantly cold and dank atmosphere during winter, which helped seal in the memory even deeper. So today, any hotel washroom with cold air-conditioning and naphthalene-scented deodorizer will kinda make me wonder... hmmm, haven't I been here before...?

5. The smell of the sea and sea spray brings back good memories, anytime, always, and promises more good memories to come. :)

6. I'm sure there are some more but I just can't remember at the moment. That's the thing about these type of memories. When you get it, you get it. Otherwise, it's hidden somewhere in the recesses of your brain.


1 comment:

nicole said...

ditto no.5!