I can’t see it but I know it’s there. The origin of the foul smell is far from a mystery. This particular smell, once smelled, is nearly impossible to forget; Durian. The entire metro reeks of the offensive fruit which can only be likened to a sweet rotting poisonous smell. Normally Hong Kongers treat the MTR like an overly crowded church: hushed tones, no eye contact, and certainly no eating or drinking. But today someone has gone against all that the MTR stands for with its cool clean interior and futuristic efficiency. Today someone has brought a Durian on the MTR and we can all smell it.
Irony being what it is, I had actually just given up a free seat and wandered into the Durian Area of the MTR because the man I had been sitting next to smelled familiar in a non-comforting way. His smell was very akin to that of a certain character on The Bus in Honolulu – a smell which turned out to be, among other things, a host of open leg sores.
It’s the smells that get me about a place. It’s not something that you can record or capture or share, but smells are integral to our experience of place. No two places or moments smell quite alike. Perhaps it’s the impermanent nature of smelling that ties it so closely to memory; it is something that can only be remembered in the mind.
None of the pictures of my travels can make me quite as nostalgic as a familiar smell. The smell of pikake blossoms will always remind me of my walk to the bus stop in Hawaii. Wet tropical street trash still makes me feel like a teenager after a long night out in Brazil. The sticky-sweet smell of drip trays in bars takes me right back to my years waiting tables and tending bar.
Hong Kong though – Hong Kong has smells all its own. From fish balls to Durian mixed with stale cigarettes and a hint of harbor humidity. Hong Kong’s is a many-layered smell, not all enjoyable, but all of them very much real.
Maybe one day when I smell the disgusting smell of Durian it will make me think of Hong Kong and I’ll smile. Or maybe not.