Not long ago, I was walking back to my room after class one day when I pass this Korean restaurant specializing in Bulgogi and Kalbi—two popular Korean meat dishes—and when I catch a whiff of the meat cooking inside (it’s the kind of restaurant where customers grill the meat at their tables) I swear it smells like a burger frying on a grill.
My mouth begins to water. My gut begins to churn.
And just like that, my mind is transported back in time and space and I could be walking somewhere back home and having a similar olfactory experience if I happened to catch a whiff of some burgers sizzling on a grill at an outdoor barbecue or picnic.
It’s funny how the sense of smell can trigger something in your life and make you feel a little nostalgic when you are halfway around the world and years away from everything now tucked away in your memory bank.
Sure, I can have my burgers here, but for that second or two when I smelled that meat grilling, it wasn’t that I was craving a burger; maybe it was something much more.
Last month, when I was in Seoul for the night before I flew off to Bangkok for the weekend, my best friend Kyle and I were walking through Youido looking for the airport limousine bus stop. I suddenly stopped and turned to Kyle, “ Do you smell that?”
“It smells like someone just cut the grass.”
Sure enough, someone had mowed some patch of grass somewhere and on that warm, spring night I could have been walking back home in La Salle or having just finished cutting my grandparent’s lawn and ready to quench my thirst with a tall glass of iced tea.
Just a whiff of the sweet, fresh smell of cut grass (thank God I don’t have allergies!) was enough to open up that memory bank and for a split-second—for as long as it took for that smell to register—to feel a little nostalgic.
As much as I love being overseas and traveling on the path I have been on for as long as I have, there are times when feeling a little nostalgic (and not homesick) is a good thing. It’s a bit of reality check I guess. When we need to open up that memory bank from time to time.