Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Korea, I no longer smell you

Sensory adaptation is crucial for your sanity. Imagine if you were unable to get used to sensory input-- blaring horns, crying babies, rowdy neighbors, annoying coworkers, suck-ass cafeteria food, hard park benches, your woman's tongue flicking ever so gently against your balls, etc. You'd quickly overheat and your head would explode like the Death Star in the revised version of "Star Wars." (NB: Click that link and scroll to the bottom of the trivia section to read about "the Praxis Effect.")

While people most often rely on sight to navigate the world, the world also presents itself to our other senses, smell being prominent among them.* When I enter a foreign country for the first time, one of the things I notice after my first eyeful is how the place smells. I don't have the language to describe those olfactory experiences eloquently, but I can say that a place's foreignness is reinforced by the odors I come across. This includes not only food, but also things like the way the air smells when I walk under a bridge, or the way a parking garage smells from one country to the next (Korea, by the way, has some of the best parking garages I've ever seen or smelled; perhaps I should write about this later). Basically, when I'm in a foreign country, my nose is quick to tell me I'm not home.

But I've been in Korea for seven years, and the place has become a second home to me. Just the other day, I had one of those metacognitive moments where I noticed I hadn't noticed anything in a while, and that's when I knew: I've stopped actively perceiving Korea's many, many interesting smells.

It's a bit sad, I suppose, but it's also only natural. We get used to our surroundings. I'm not saying the magic has worn off: quite the contrary, I still enjoy living in Korea, and think I'll probably be back here after my long walk next year.

But I don't smell Korea anymore. Not really. Let that be a lesson to you: take some time out to refresh your mind, to regain an awareness of where you are, to appreciate the sights, the sounds, the smells of here and now. Flare those nostrils and really smell your surroundings, be they foreign or familiar.

But don't take my advice if you're the hypothetical lady mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

*Then again, we've got only five senses, so I guess they're all prominent.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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