My childhood school holidays were mostly spent on my maternal grandparent’s farm. My grandfather and uncles were farmers. They smoked home grown tobacco from handmade bamboo water pines. I loved the fresh tobacco sweet burning aroma on rainy Spring days. Children often sat on door threshold and listened to the elders’ conversation while eating seasonal fruits. Summer was hot and humid. Farmers laid out fresh cow manures on house front to dry them, then use them for household burning fuel. We, children got into trouble for throwing cow manures at each other playing war games. The simple, layback and carefree farm life set the tone for my adult life.
When school holidays finished, I returned to the overpopulated city living. Our nano flat was filled with a mix odour of beehive briquettes exhaust, stale cigarettes and cooking grease. I visited my grands town house on weekends. It had a completely different smell. The lounge room smelled grandpa’s Hongmei cigarette and roasted peanuts. In the courtyard, the kitchen was infused with Cantonese cooking spices – ginger, garlic and coriander. If I was lucky, great grandma would cook her signature dish – Steamed pork and grapefruit peel stir fry in dark soy. Its fragrance companying the boiled jasmine rice formed a cloud hovering in the kitchen to bring on my belly rumbles. The love for cooking ran in my father’s family. We learned cooking from helping out in the kitchen from a young age. Family meals brought the four generations together.
School years smelled paper pulp and ink print. Faded yellow books with jet black characters, it smelled wisdom and brighter future. I received floral scented letters from a not so secret admirer. He often included a pencil sketch of my backside with ponytail up high. But most passing notes between classmates had no smell unless was handed by an after lunch greasy hand, which would have smelled like peanut oil deep fried tofu. School years gave me the resilience to cope with changes in friendship, authority and routine, to overcome disappointment and failure.
Love smelled like drugs and crimson blood from broken skin. I crawled back to the same destructive hurt over and over again like a lamb willingly fed itself to the slaughter. Although the scream remained silent, the brokenness was visible. There were momentarily scents of bouquet and intoxicating pleasure. The crashing was a vomit of putrid. Love made me blind and vulnerable. However, I would still give it all and love again anyway.
Work always smelled like strong coffee and fast burning cigarettes. It was probably more for social acceptance than productivity promotion. There was constantly compromise of quantity and quality. So, I adapted ways to get to an acceptable standard with least time input. Over my working life, I was blessed with variety of careers where I got to be with people from all walks of life. It reminds me of tasting pizzas in an authentic Italian family owned restaurant.
Baby smelled like blossom and life itself. Measuring his little feet in my palms was my favourite moment of all time. Lifting his chubby feet to my nose, I inhaled deep and images of lively moment flooded my mind, from new shoots on bare tree branches, freshly hatched chooks to blowing bubbles in a bright sunny day. He brought wholeness and joy to me. I grew into a selfless and forgiving person from motherhood.
Marriage smelled like fresh citrus at the beginning and turned into a bottle of sour wine at the end of the journey. We drank the portion when it was fresh and new, too impatient to wait for it to age properly and become extraordinary taste. It could have been ageless if we preserved it well at each stage of the development. We took for granted what we had and left it carelessly in malnourishment. When patience ran its course, I no longer could swallow its bitter bile, walked out all deflated with mouthful of tasteless disappointment. No matter how I tried to savour the crisp beginning, my taste buds were numb and coated in tar.
A new beginning smells like ocean mist and fresh cut grass. It is rejuvenating and invigorating. The image of a new home is like farm life where unvarnished timber furniture giving out a scent of nature; burning fireplace; spices infused home cooking; lilac, lavender sage and sandalwood permeated sleeping chamber. It takes me back to the wonderful childhood memory of a close-knit family with children running around the farmhouse.