Of all the things that make up Bangkok, pleasant smells aren’t a very prevalent element.
If I based my travels solely on scent, I probably would have never stepped foot in Bangkok (or most other places I’ve been…) but that said, under the same principle, if you were to drop me in certain spots, usually in front of busy temples where the street vendors are selling Phuang malai, garlands of sewn jasmine, marigold, and lotus flowers, I’d never want to leave!
If you’ve never experienced their scent before, there’s no words to describe it. The closest I can come would be to say its like short moments of wafting bliss in an otherwise hectic existence.
The first time I went to a temple with May, my Thai friend, and she lead me through her customs, my eyes (and nostrils) opened wide when I saw we were each getting a small loop of jasmine to offer the Buddha. I immediately raised mine to my nose and inhaled slowly, but intensely, as the smell intoxicated my senses.
May quickly but compassionately reprimanded me, “No! That not for you. Only for Buddha. You smew, nekx life you no have smew!”
I pretty much brushed it off as superstition, it was difficult to accept that by smelling a ring of jasmine flowers, I’d be reborn without a sense of smell. I did, however, restrain myself from then on. When I passed a place selling these forbidden garlands, I wouldn’t veer or turn my head toward them, but I would breathe in as much of the sent that was on my path as I could, considering it as a small, karmic gift.
Ever since that day, though, I haven’t stopped thinking about her admonition not to smell that garland, like the scent of Avalokiteśvara’s clothes after a full days effort of saving us infinite beings from suffering. I still haven’t uncovered the depths of the meaning behind it.
From another point of view, I have one student who came to class everyday with both nostrils oozing, thick and green. Everyday, I handed him some tissue when he came in, until I realized too many days had passed for it to be a cold. One day his sister told me that he and their mother both have “nose die” sickness. The word she showed me on her cellphone Eng/Kor dictionary was ‘splenitis’ but I really don’t know about what connection there is between the spleen and the nose…
It did make me think twice about chasing vedanā in this life, though!