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Childhood smells

A friend recently posted a status update on fb sharing about how the smell washing her cast iron pan suddenly evoked strong memories of her mum washing her old wok in the kitchen.

Studies have shown that smells have a strangely strong link to memories from our distant past… more so than sight and sound.

It got me thinking about what familiar smells I sometimes come across that immediately transport me back to a specific place or time from my childhood.

Here are five which I randomly thought of…

1. The smell of chlorine – this is one of the most distinct childhood-memory-evoking smells I have. Even just thinking about the smell of chlorine now brings up a mental image of my brothers and I splashing around in the pool a the club, followed by the scent of pisang goreng… for me the smell of chlorine is always inevitably linked to the scent of pisang goreng.

2. The smell of burning joss sticks – whenever I catch a whiff of joss sticks, I always think of my grandmother’s house in Sri Gading/Batu Pahat and memories of Chinese New Year festivities spent there with truckloads of cousins, aunties and uncles all squished around the tables at the reunion dinner.

3. The smell of freshly cut grass – no matter where I am, the smell always makes me think of those masked men wielding whipper-snippers trimming down all the overgrown lalang around the neighbourhood where I grew up. Somehow it always made me happy to see those tangle of weeds chopped down so we can run freely through the field to play without fear of getting itchy legs.

4. The smell of new notes – makes me think of bright red ang pows and Chinese New Year celebrations. There is just an air about the fresh crisp smell of new notes that feels so festive to me.

5. The smell of old books – the musty smell of books immediately makes me picture the old Sabah State Library… and walking through those dim corridors lined to the ceiling with books. The whole place had a certain ‘booky’ smell which makes me recall the many happy excursions there, trawling through dusty shelves and checking out another supply of books for the coming week.

I think these smells are just a few of the ones that are distinct on their own. However there are so many other smells which are just inexplicably linked to specific people and places which are impossible to encapsulate in an object. I close my eyes, think of those familiar places and breath in those smells in my mind. Places like the old Sunday School hall, my school, my home, even homes of friends I have sleepovers at… I remember and remember and just let the waves of nostalgia flood over me.


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