October 12, 2010

At least noses don't need a translator to smell

The diversity of smells in this country is outstanding.

We’ve resorted to rubbing orange peels on our couch, table and windowsills. It’s the one fresh thing that makes the smell in our apartment be more appealing.

Each day is something new. This afternoon, the spicy smell of marijuana was drifting through our kitchen window, presumably from the neighbors downstairs. It was strong enough in the kitchen that we probably could have gotten a second-hand high if we stood in their long enough. Each morning our bathroom smells like it was belching all night long.

The real gem was two nights ago when we had convinced ourselves that there was a gas leak somewhere in our flat. We double-checked the gas stove – it was off. Our hot water heater was off too. The sour, onion-esque smell was spreading from our kitchen to the living room. Alex was getting a bad headache from sitting in it for more than an hour.

We didn’t know what to do, so we called someone from the university. She told us to go downstairs to the security guard and hand him the phone, she would explain the problem to him.  Of course, the security guard spoke zero English. Not knowing what words to tell him, I shoved my phone at his face and hoped that Yu was on the other end of the line.

She was and explained the problem. He followed us up to our place with a flashlight. He sniffed around and shown the flashlight in strange, well-lit spots like the refrigerator, the bathroom sink, and along the wall of the kitchen. It was like the flashlight was his magic gas-detecting wand.

He kept saying things in Chinese. I stupidly replied with, “si, si!” and gave him thumbs up. He finally gave us a thumb up back and made a motion to sleep, so we assumed all was well.

I seem to be collecting gas leak experiences in different countries that I visit. A similar thing happened while I was in Guatemala, except I actually saw vapors there. After a frantic discussion with our Guatemalan roommate, in which the use of si actually made sense, I learned that our hot water heater was overheating and smelling bad.

Two close calls, one horrible mismanagement of the language (uhh, Chinese is NOT Spanish), and thankfully no explosions.

I’ve caught myself rocking si more today as well. The brain is a tricky little thing when presented with extraordinary circumstances.

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