My life in olfaction

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.




After 15 years

She picked a table at the far corner of the café. From there she had a full view of the entrance while hiding herself away under the dim light. She sat slightly hunched over the small square wooden table, one hand trapped between her knees, the other restlessly tapping the table with her bare fingers. They hurt a little from nail biting, and the pain actually helped her to ease some panic and anxiety.

The waiter approached with a warm smile. “What would you like today, Mia? Long black or chai?”

“Long black. Thanks, Joe. Uhm… maybe not now. I am still waiting for someone, a bit rude to order first, I suppose?”

“No worries, I’ll come back when you are ready.” He winked, giving his usual million-dollar grin. However, for once she didn’t watch him as he moved off.

“Aiyaya, sorry, sir. I didn’t see you there. My apologies.”

She followed Joe’s voice and saw him. Pins and needles were piling up on the top of her skull. Blood was rushing to her brain. She had to hold on to the edge of the table with both hands to steady herself.

“Mia, sorry I am a bit late, was stuck in a meeting and I left my phone somewhere.” He reached for a kiss but then realised she was still sitting down. He sat opposite her. His hand slid towards hers but she didn’t stop gripping the corner of the table.  She looked up and their eyes met. His were aqua blue when he was happy, slate when he was in deep thought. Now they were almost hazel under the warm café lighting.

He smiled, showing his front teeth; there was a gap between the middle two. She used to think it lightened up his serious demeanour. “Mia, are you there?” he teased.

“Hey, you! I’m…I am glad you agreed to meet. And you haven’t changed a bit.” She relaxed a little into her chair having finally greeted him. Her fingers tried to tug her lose curls behind her ears.

“Would you like a Mocha? They make it just right here. You will be surprised.”

“As long as you are having a long black to keep me company.”

“Sure. I will call Joe over.” She was about to get up.

He grabbed both her hands and held them up to his nose. He smelled the ginger and cinnamon on her bare fingers and started to laugh uncontrollably. He used to call her badly bitten nails the circumcised fingers. When she flavoured the meat in curry cooking, she would swear her head off because the stinging sensation on her broken skin was unbearable. And yet being Mia, she would not wear gloves.

She knew exactly what he was laughing about but couldn’t pull away from his firm grip. She bellowed a laugh instead.

The scene

The golf course had already filled up with carts and players before the sun heated up. Dawn was dragging her steps on the last leg of her daily brisk walk along the outskirts of the golf course. It was a humid Saturday morning, late Spring, and she was already drenched in big fat sweat stains. They felt like ill-formed targets for the self-hatred she’d always had towards her block of lard body. Lately though she’d been turning her anger into motivation to exercise; however she could do without the smell of pollens, especially from the scarlet bottlebrush. The sound of her labouring breaths drew the attention of other walkers on the path. Just before they could work out where the wheezing noise was coming from, they saw Dawn’s legs turning into jelly, then heard a loud thud…


Why didn’t I call

Arash is the son of Persian immigrants from Iran. He is a Mechanical Engineer from Sydney. Since the 2014 Martin Place terrorist attack, he has become the subject of high security alert during his work travels. His backyard backs on to the national park where the body was discovered.

“Detective, uhm… I didn’t want to be the one to report a body near the vicinity of my backyard. I checked to make sure she was dead. If she had any sign of life, I would have called an ambulance straight away. I thought someone else would find her and report to the police. I ah…look at me! I just didn’t want to be an Arab to report a murder. I am over being stopped and searched at the customs because of my appearance. I am an Australian you know. Anyway..maybe I just watched too many crime series. I am sorry. I should have called you guys. My God the poor woman.”



She walks straight into the industrial loft showroom, searching for the rustic vintage teak study desk. The dark shaded timber furniture on display blend in with the red and burgundy floor rugs. They float on the dark metallic painted floor. It makes her feel claustrophobic and reminds her of the wake room at the funeral. Halfway into the showroom, she spots her desk standing next to a red Victorian Tiffany-Style floor lamp.

She races towards it ignoring the other shoppers and the enticing aroma from the coffee cart two metres to her right. The long drape of her moss skirt brushes the heels of her bare feet. She leans on the short edge of the desk, closes her eyes and breathes in slowly, then out. She tries to block the chattering customers, the professional tone of the friendly salespeople and the whining of coffee grinder. She lays her slender tanned hands on the rough surface of the rustic teak. Her half-moon shaped fingers are tracing the grains in delicate circles. She smells the sandalwood incense and hears the trickles of the Feng Shui water fountain. Then the void hits her and brings a lump to her throat.


I have enroled in an online creative writing course. The first thing I have done for myself in 13 years.

I have just read through the intro of my coursemates. I have found myself to be deflated for the simple fact that others are better writers than I. They have done some serious writings from journalism, academic research articles, professional journals and book reviews. Here I am, struggling to get English spelling and grammar in check. And this is only a basic writing course. WTH?!?

Being Chinese, I grew up in a highly competitive academic culture. I was one of those students who failed in prepared exams while topped the class in spontaneous assessments. I failed to perform in high school entry exam and university entry exam. I struggled almost all subjects except chinese literature, English language and physical education. Jokes aside, I am truely one of the rare chinese who fails in mathematics.

My performance anxiety has been carried throughout adulthood although I have been mostly managing and coping relative well. It is in times like this I feel myself starting to buckle under pressure.

My brain is having a debate when I am writing this. It is not noisy, instead, rather frustrating.

I want to quit before the first assignment so nobody gets to read my dodgy writing.

Don’t quit! Readers’ comments help you to be a better writer. That’s the whole point for coursemate interaction.

How do you deal with the lukewarm comments? You know those too polite to tell you that your writing sucks? Or the perfectionists keep picking on your poorly constructed sentences? Or just heartless ‘good effort’ ones?

You are completely overthinking and freaking yourself out. Remember how to deal with overthinking?

I know! I know it may not happen (and as if it really gonna happen and people actually will be that mean) and I should dismiss the thought and not let it consume my energy. I may have great characters and plot to write. But I know they are just better writers who write stuff that makes sense to the reader.

Fear is a fucking liar and you are making no sense whatsoever…

Did you just stomp off on me? Hey….hey… I am all alone now to do this hefty thinking. I need my Pup…😔

Shining bright

There is nothing more rewarding than to see a constantly failing person succeed.

The first time we met, I still remember clearly how she came wearing defeat.

I asked an open ended question ‘What can you tell me about yourself?’
She told me she was an academic failure, extremely anxious and a snail learner.
Then I asked her ‘Who are you deep down?’
She had a long awkward pause, then…’I am a kind person always willing to help.’
I saw a sparkle in her blue eyes framed by an alabaster heart shaped face.
I probed ‘What do you think it’s standing between you and your success?’
The words fell out before she could even catch them. ‘Only if people see me instead of my disabilities.’

I shared with her my observation.
We all came with gifts and talents.
One’s disability in a different environment is a unique ability.
We are mostly ignorant to things which we don’t quite understand.
Therefore when people don’t know how to cater for your unique abilities,
they tend to reject you.
The key is to search for an environment where your gifts and talents are valued,
your ability will be seen and you will be a star.

Today I received an email from her.
She told me she has been busy using her gifts and talents
in a place everyone sees her ability to be kind and helpful.
I opened the attachment. It’s her selfie. Her blue eyes are shining bright like twinkling stars.