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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The smell of home...

I can't believe that I've neglected this blog for so long. It seems that time just gets away from me and other things take the place of my musings. Well not today.

Indonesia, just like anywhere, invites you to use all of your senses for the complete experience. Touch is important in so much as it may actually be impolite to touch, for instance when greeting a Muslim woman. The gesture is to hold out your palms, pressed together with thumbs pointing upwards and then very nearly touch the outstretched hands of the person you're being introduced to. *If I have misunderstood this particular social interaction, feel free to correct me to ensure I don't feel like a complete pillock the next time I'm in a similar situation.

Sight and Hearing are of obvious importance. My first earthquake experience in Indonesia wasn't actually indicated directly by sound, rather my inner ear (of all things) received a message from my brain that my eyes had detected a slight swaying motion in the building. This then in turn connected with Taste as I knew I was about to vomit due to the previously unknown motion sickness. Fortunately my class of 8 year olds were vastly more experienced than I in these matters and got me to the relative safety of the front desk before I unloaded my breakfast.

But Smell, now there's a sense. I can only pity those souls born without it. To go through life and not experience the smells of mown grass, a freshly cut rose, cool rain on hot tarmac. That's unfortunate. What led me to think of this blog entry was the last of those three things I just mentioned. I have always associated those three smells with the UK, but I was to be pleasantly surprised.We're in the heart of the rainy season here in Jakarta which usually lasts from October until April. Unlike the UK where it usually lasts from September until July. Coming home the other day in brilliant sunshine, the clouds just burst. From a clear sky the rain fell and as it hit the hot road surface there it was. That smell. My olfactory organs engaged the on switch of my mind's time machine and I skipped back to my first, dulled memories of receiving this aromatic information. Having been here for nearly five years, A rainy season has come and gone before. But this was the first time I was aware of that smell. We don't have a great deal of grass that needs cutting around me so it's not like smelling a lawn getting mowed back home and as for roses, well there are more plastic ones than there are real ones it would seem.

In some people this smell, like other sensory examples, could cause homesickness but my point is that homesickness comes and goes, sometimes when you least expect it. I find these smells to be comfortable and go a long way towards easing it because they remind me that home is sometimes just a smell away. I don't regret my move to Indonesia in the slightest, but I think it'd be unusual if I didn't miss some things. The rain experience was a help, not a hindrance and it made me start thinking about other smells.

Indonesia is a land of smells, some good and some...less so. In the 'less so' category, I rank at number 1 the Indonesian fruit delicacy that is the Durian. I've written about this before so suffice to say the smell that once caused a pressurised International airliner to make an emergency landing isn't going to surprise many. If you don't believe me, buy one. I'm sure an Asian supermarket will have one. If not, try asking the local Masochists society for help. As a developing country with a hugely overpopulated capital city, pollution and waste disposal create an aroma that is understandably difficult to miss at certain times.

But there are so many more interesting smells. Indonesia is a coffee growing country and freshly brewed Indonesian coffee is as diverse as French wine. Keep your Starbucks, thanks. The recent food festival held outside the local shopping mall invited you to close your eyes and breathe in the subtle differences from the myriad regional dishes. Sure a lot of Indonesian food is fried but that smell of oils cooking in a pan also has the same effect here as walking past a Fish and Chip shop in the UK or a patisserie in France. Charcoal barbecues set up by the side of the road cook different types of meat and all meat eaters love a barbecue, don't they? I think it appeals to our ancestral instincts.

Sure, senses are best served when they are in harmony but Smell is my favourite.