Soneva

Published on Friday, December 28, 2007

I smell something fishy in Tiong Bahru

by Yeoh Siew Hoon/Transit Cafe

It was one of those balmy evenings in Singapore. The rains had just ended and there was that slight earthy smell in the air.

Water on hot earth. Sizzling. Sensuous. Every now and then, the smell of incense wafted towards us. Spicy. Tangy.

Yeoh Siew HoonWe were seated at a new wine bar, Tbone Steakhouse Cafe, in Tiong Bahru, a new and up-and-coming neighbourhood for the BoBo (Bohemian Bourgeous) crowd.

My Scottish friend, who works in the area, tells me he likes it here because “here, I still feel like a foreigner. I still get someone trying to sell me a suit”.

Such is the evolution of Singapore as the urban sprawl spreads and we urban rats scurry for new haunts where there is still a lingering of the old – Tiong Bahru is like the forgotten suburb on the edge of town, known among locals for its great food (of course) and dilapidated shophouses and flats.

An old apartment block here has been converted into a hotel.

And a few advertising and Web design agencies, escaping escalating rentals in the city, have moved into the neighbourhood – it’s the beginning of cool for TB.

We inhaled the bouquet of our wine – a chardonnay from Australia. Fresh. Zesty. (I am sorry I cannot tell you what it is because I think I drank too much of it and we all know fermented grapes are bad for grey cells.)

Next to us was what we called “the magic door”. Every now and then, a stream of girls, all with pretty impressive chests, we noticed, would emerge and another stream would enter. It was like watching Betty Boop In Revolving Land.

We wondered.

And we chatted. Our conversation wafted to that of smells.

Perhaps it was the smell of the hot earth or the incense or the garbage truck parked nearby that inspired us but my friend, who owns a Web design agency, talked about the next wave in online – that of smells.

How we would soon be able to embed smells into our websites so we can engage our customers in all senses of the word.

I know. Hotels have also woken up to the sense of smell. Almost every deluxe hotel now has some kind of scent wafting through their lobbies and public areas.

For example, Westin has the “White Tea” scent. Shangri-La has “The Essence of Shangri-La” – it says the “scent’s bottom notes of vanilla, sandal and musk are highlighted by top notes of light bergamot and tea spiced with ginger”. There’s also the Sofitel scent.

But I feel there is something amiss in all this. How can one scent rule them all? Shouldn’t individual hotels in different destinations have different smells that are evocative of the place they are in?

I mean, I don’t want to walk into a hotel in New Delhi and be reminded of Beijing, for instance.

According to research, 70% of our emotions are based on smells so wouldn’t smells be a good way of giving us a sense of place instantly?

And so our conversation drifted to the notion of places and smells.

Can a destination be encapsulated in a scent? Just like the protagonist in Patrick Susskind’s “Perfume” who became so obsessed with a woman that he wanted to distill her into a bottle of perfume, can we do that with destinations?

And so we began our question and answer game.

What would Thailand smell of? Lemon grass *Malaysia? Tumeric and ginger*India? Masala*Vietnam? Fish sauce*Indonesia? Kretek (cloves)*Switzerland? Chocolates*England? Fish and chips*Germany? Beer or sauerkraut.

Interestingly, most of our answers were related to food (I was the only Asian at the table, okay) until we got to Singapore and one wise person quipped, “Dettol.”

Would you like to continue?

From all of us at The (Aromatic) Transit Cafe, here’s to an olfactory 2008.

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