Sunday, 23 November 2014

Unusual smells

Unusual smells

The most common smells in Bangkok are cigarette smoke, piss, rotting food waste, fumes from hot cooking oil or overheated fat (often lachrymatory) and exhaust fumes. But sometimes there is an unusual smell. 

I had cardamom flavored tea at a friend's place, and days later I noticed the same smell in the air, in several places. After several unsuccessful attempts to locate the source, I finally found it: the flowers of a tree Alstonia scholaris (in Thai พญาสัตบรรณ or สัตบรรณ or ตีนเป็ด). Thanks to a Thai friend helping me to locate the source and and naming the tree.

The flowers open and exude smell mainly at night. 

Lumpini park (children's playground with sand):

Another one in Thappraya road ถนนทัพพระยา in Jomtien, about opposite Pan Pan Italian restaurant. I could smell it across the street. At night you see the white flowers, during day they are closed and the tree looks like other trees.

There must be one opposite Marina Inn hotel (across Soi Yensabai ซอยเย็นสบาย) behind the houses, not visible from Soi Yensabai. I could smell it, but not see it, so I checked all shrubs in front of Marina Inn, until a Thai person told me it's behind the houses (and gave the Thai name).
Another unusual smell is the breath of people who sniff glue (Thai: ดมทินเนอร์ or ดมกาว). A money boy whom I have known for a while's* breath had this smell that is neither from cigarettes nor from alcohol. Recently, another money boy had a similar smell, and suddenly I recognized this smell from yet another boy whom I have seen sniffing glue, and finally everything fell into place.

*Language note: I took the liberty to apply 's (which marks genitive) to a full subordinate sentence, brackets make it more clear: (A money boy whom I have known for a while)'s breath...

A perk of being a synthetic organic chemist is that you can sniff all organic solvents and chemicals you work with, as part of your duty, which I did, and there are some treats!
My bathroom's drain has a siphon which hinders drain. I sometimes have to remove it to allow water to drain quicker. Then it smells like urinal deodorizer block (chemically 1,4-Dichlorobenzene; naphthalene smells similar but is not used for this purpose, moth balls can contain any of these two). I don't know where this smell comes from, other people's urinal deodorizer block is far fetched.

General note on deodorizer and freshener: it's a misnomer, it doesn't deodorize, it just overpowers. The foul smell will still be there, but overpowered by a pleasant smell (or just a masking smell). Same with stars: they are there and they shine during day, but the sun shines so much stronger that we can't see them.

When you smell deodorizer in a toilet, that's not a sign of good hygiene; on the contrary, it's a sign for poor hygiene (lack of ventilation). I have been in toilets in Thailand where you can smell neither piss nor freshener, that's how it should be.

Copyright 2014 ChristianPFC


  1. When do we get the list of those toilets?

  2. Hendrik,
    first sniff the tree Christina is talking about

  3. sorry , if should be Christian , not Christina in my previous post

  4. For someone who isn't English I see you are now making up words.
    A money boy who I have know for a while. That is it. It is not A money boy who I have know for a while's. No such saying.

    A money boy who I have known for a while had breath that stunk of this.

    You cannot know someone for a while's.

  5. A money boy I have known for a while who's breath...

  6. The tree seems to be in flower only for a short time, about two weeks, now it's over.
    It might not be standard English, but I like this construction where you put 's on whichever word is last in a subordinate sentence:

    The boy I spent the night with's skin is brown.
    The girl I married's family is greedy.

    There is precedence from an educated native speaker with a sense of humor:
    "she who must be obeyed’s phone shatters the morning idyll"

  7. Update 06.12.2014 Still several Alstonia Scholaris in bloom with accompanying scent outside Wat Pho towards Royal Palace.

  8. Update 31.01.2015 Alstonia Scholaris in bloom along all the way from Victory Monument (Koh Phaya Thai) to Sathorn on bus 74 (e.g. diagonally across from Erawan shrine).


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