Or not really smell, but not scent either. More like an olfactory sensation. The moment when you open the door or window, a wave of hot air rolling in (which is something that seldom happens in Finland) when the external temperature exceeds the internal one, you take a whiff and in your mind there is an immediate sense of “foreign”. Distant lands actually smell distant — you get the feeling of being very, very far from your physical home. This might sound intimidating, but the effect is enlivening. The smell is not a bad one, but not really good either. There is humidity raising from the vegetation, spices wafting through the air from the streets of the city, incense smoke rising from the inner gardens of a nearby temple. The smell varies from culture to culture. Arab countries have a different smell from sub-Saharan African and Asian ones. Only Western countries tend to smell similar. Even the natural smell of people is different. My friends and I — although it’s possible that I’m the original culprit — have a hobby someone would call strange. When we travel, we like to smell people. This goes in the same category as memorising or recording people’s laughs or sneezes. Walking in the street, the smell can tell you a lot about a person: what they like to do, where they come from, what they do for a living, even if they are spiritual. You have to do this discreetly, though. People are easily startled if an alien-looking foreign woman (or several, for that matter) randomly sneaks up to them from behind, sniffing the air around them. “Perfume” much? 😀
On my way back from Shanghai I was reading a book about mindfulness. There were two men in their twenties sitting in the compartment next to mine, and I could tell that one of them would have some use of the book, because he kept standing up, walking along the aisle, and sitting back down again at ten-minute intervals. His friend tried to calm him down, to which he replied that “don’t worry, I’m fine, the presence just makes me nervous”. (Don’t worry, he wasn’t out of his mind, and I told him that presences seldom mean any harm. He calmed down a bit, and we started talking about music instead.) They both are avid guitar players, and were carrying notes with them. They told me that they were going to play at their friend’s wedding later that weekend. TUBE is a Japanese band which was popular in the 90’s, and they have some good acoustic rock songs and ballads. I’m grateful of the ability to play notes in my head, as it wasn’t possible to play any videos since there was no WiFi on board. We sang some tunes and improvised small carols, so the train trip just flew by. I’m not so sure about the other passengers enjoying our little jamming session, though. 😀
I have been attending a course in strategy management. The lecturer is from Nova Scotia, and I’m the only Western student in his class. At first he seemed a bit unsure of how to approach the class, and he talked to me a lot, which is unusual for foreign professors to do. On the 1.5 hour lunch break the class – about 40 people — decided to have lunch together to welcome and accommodate him. We went to one of the canteens, and ate in small groups upstairs, where the cooks brought big plates of food. He seemed to relax instantly, and we had a really good time. We talked about northern lights, PhD possibilities, and differences between all kinds of small practical things in our respective home countries. Since today, there are about 20 Chinese people in Wuhan wanting to come to Finland just to experience the everyman’s rights in practice, and the sauna-ice hole swimming combination in -15 ‘C weather.