scent of a kabayan


DANGEROUS COMMUTE Unmindful of the danger, commuters take an improvised trolley using the railroad tracks to cross the Padre Zamora Bridge linking Pandacan and Sta. Mesa in Manila on Tuesday. Grateful thanks to photographer RAFFY LERMA and inquirer.net.

[Note : gracias, many thanks and maraming salamat po for all your kind thoughts, prayers and contributions to Jerome and Lady Jalbuena.  woohoo! Happy birthdays to Jack Soliman (28th August), Danny Lua (3rd Sept), Michael Tan (4th Sept) and Raul de los Santos (5th Sept) ! ]

AMONG OURSELVES, we take smells identified with Pinoys for granted, until the inevitable happens and others notice it.  I discovered this once not in New Zealand but from a kabayan friend when she worked in Dubai.  There, her co-worker was the subject of small talk because of how he smelled of either fried fish (pritong isda) or dried fish (daing) that was causing consternation at the very least and his prospects for dates among the female staff (the co-worker was a Pinoy male), at worst.

Lost in the hullabaloo were two minor issues : it was up to another Pinoy (preferably my friend, who eventually had to do it) to tell him to modify or at least vary his diet, and second to enlighten the non-Pinoys around them that it wasn’t so much the food content that was bothering them (fish and other seafood) but the method of preparation, and the condiments (fish sauce, soy sauce, bagoong and the use of salt to preserve fish) that was bothering them, not that it mattered to their sensory sensitivities in a small office perpetually enclosed by central air-conditioning.  Just get rid of the smell please.

I recalled this when there appeared in our small workplace a strapping young temp from one of the island nations in Polynesia to do shift work on the flour packer.  I say appeared because you could smell him a mile away, I’m not being mean.  You could actually perceive it was him, because he was gaining quite a reputation for his funky aura, and among males who aren’t that sensitive about smell, that’s saying quite a lot.  He was friendly enough and did his work quietly and efficiently, but someone needed to take him aside and give him a little advice on using a decent deodorant.  The trouble was, who was going to place the bell on the cat?

With either or both anecdotes you could probably relate even tangentially, because to be brutally honest, smelling cleanly or decently is a big deal for most Filipinos, male or female, rich or poor, king or slave.  We don’t just want to smell good, we want to smell great, and take time to take showers and baths far beyond what usual hygiene demands.  We take pains to select the perfume or cologne that matches our personality, and the slightest odor gone awry causes or noses to wrinkle up in disapproval and olfactory outrage.

In contrast, our brown brothers in the subcontinent channel the most pungent varieties of vegetables one can think of, some of our less sensitive Kiwi colleagues smell of yesterday’s mince pie and onion soup, and it’s a bit precious of us to say it, but the workmates who both smoke frequently and don’t bother to use either breath mints or mouthwash are the hardest to bear, as the day progresses.

This is why Filipinos are, most of the time (see first paragraph pls) the most neutral-smelling or make the most effort to be smell-wise, acceptable to our peers.  We are both sensitive to how our unguarded odors might impact on other nationalities and we see (smell) first-hand how the common smells of other races can cause negative consequences on the rest of us in the workplace, the gathering or the public area.

We use anti-perspirants liberally, even though we hardly break a sweat in single-digit Celsius.  We replenish our Blue Water or Bulgari on a whim, so enamored are we with what we perceive as the understated scent of elegance.  Can we thus blame ourselves when someone who didn’t even bother to shower before coming to work has now breached tolerable levels of body odor for the second time today, and doesn’t even seem to be aware of such faux pas?

That’s why we appreciate it so much when our hosts take the time to smell good, when they not only take time to observe proper hygiene but also banish any chance of offending smells with Axe, adidas sports cologne and Eclipse after those big meals.  Those cool, multi-colored bottles don’t come cheap, but they go a long way.

We’re not the classic supermodel type, we won’t break Olympic records anytime soon, and we’re not the strongest kid in the bunch, but anytime we break a sweat, you won’t see anyone else gagging and running away.  Pinoy confidence is not just the way we smile, but also the way we smell.  Up close !

7 thoughts on “scent of a kabayan

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