Your senses trigger memories so that every stimuli you receive is not perceived as new and leaves you perpetually confused. You see something with four wheels and moving fast past, your memory helps inform you that it’s a car. The olfactory bulb is activated by smell and triggers your memory. Smells are a powerful sense. When I started writing about smell I wanted to give a thorough list of the delicious and distracting smells I encounter in Hong Kong. But every time I tried to capture the sensation of a scent I was reminded of a memory, time traveling without leaving my shoes.
Hong Kong is made up of smells of people. Seeing animals is a welcome anomaly. You smell people’s sweat, smell people’s food, the oil from fried food, savoury deliciousness mixed with sweet custards remnants of Hong Kong’s European colonised past. Smells like these make sense in such a populated city, smells move quickly and never linger for longer than it takes to trigger a memory.
Hong Kong smells like five spice. This spice is sweet but salty like soy sauce and has an almost indescribable but unavoidable smell. I first encountered this smell on a school trip to Taiwan. The smell of five spice is strongest in 7/11. In Taiwan it was the sale of Thousand Year eggs, in Hong Kong it’s the sale of fish balls on a stick, both bobbing in brown liquid.
The staff room at my room smells like every staff room. A mix of coffee, Tupperware soaked lunches and exhaustion. My work is right by the ocean and the whiff of salted fish sometimes crawls up and surprising me. It reminds me of the supermarkets fish section I avoided as a kid afraid of the smell and the carcasses. There are a pack of cattle acting like loitering youth causing you to change your route and taking up way more space than they should.
Senses are only activated by new sensations. I’m in my third week in Hong Kong, into my first full week at work. Sensations are becoming less novel and just becoming life. It can feel deadening not realizing new sensations. The smells are less distinct, falling into familiarity the way a smelly room no longer becomes noticeable. During moments like these I look for new sensations to make me feel alive. The heat feels familiar, a recent rain making me feel chilled. The bus and metro of my commute feeling longer and shorter at the same time. I have my seat on the bus, I have my routine. I started coaching again, following that up with practice at a sport I know nothing about. I’m going to a ska show tonight having been invited by my co-coach. I’m going to play in a soccer tournament. When I take a moment I realize I am experiencing new sensations.
Familiarity becomes memories and after comes expertise. I’m excited for my experiences, my new sensations, to become memories and to become an expert in living this life.