To keep the author’s tone of voice, we have only corrected the strictly necessary.
A temple, but I don't recall its location.
1997–1998 in Singapore, and 2013–2014 in South Korea
Maternal grandparent's house; Singapore; Wooden buildings; Living utensils; Fermented smell; Temple; Wooden stairs
Donghoon Rhee
Born in 1991, Singapore
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
I remember the distinct smell that permeated my maternal grandparents' house during my childhood. It was an old general store in Singapore, and it had a unique blend of wooden structures and various household items, like it had been fermented at a certain emperature and humidity over time. The nostalgia of that scent resurfaced during my twenties when I encountered something similar on the wooden stairs of a temple in Korea. I wasn’t able to come across anything similar after that. It dawned on me that the scent was synonymous with wooden buildings.
Andong and Busan, South Korea
I took part in the Busan Biennale, We, On the Rising Wave. On this trip, I visited Andong Hahoe Folk Village because I was there to collect a plant sample of indigo from a farmer who had her fields close to there.
Born in 1974, Roskilde, Denmark
Lives in Copenhagen, Denmark
I find it hard to really remember scents, but I can recall the places of these smells. The air is both dusty and dry, and humid by the river of Andong. Yellowed grasses mix with burnt clay and dirt roads. A whiff of time standing still, of tranquility and long-gone powers. It is quaint and a bit faded, like a lived-in open-air museum. In contrast to this, the air of the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan is heavy with moisture, a mix of marshy ocean, muddy, dense, and rotting, with sharp notes from the fumes of the highway. It gets me thinking of the future and then of the past.
Andong, South Korea
Around 1995
Persimmon tree at my mother's family home; Scent of my maternal grandfather's persimmon; Sweet and delightful scent; Goodbye; Scent of fresh persimmon; Nostalgic memories
Eunjin Kwon
Born in 1990, Daegu, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
Behind our house, there were a few persimmon trees, and every year my grandfather would pick persimmons and braid them to dry. Being a picky eater, I could only have persimmons after finishing my rice, and I distinctly remember the sweet, fragrant smell of persimmons wafting into my nose amidst the scent of cooked rice. When I visited my maternal grandfather's empty house after he passed away, the fresh scent of persimmons evoked strong emotions within me. Now, the aroma of persimmons fills me with nostalgia.
Andong, South Korea
Aroma of roasted soybean powder; Grandmother
Sang Mi Lee
Born in 1986, Andong, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Ansan, South Korea
The rich aroma of roasted soybean powder. Memory of my grandmother who used to mix up well-cooked rice with roasted soybean power to feed her granddaughter who had small appetite.
Anju, North Korea
Last time in 2000
Smell of feces
Jumin Hong
Born in 1944, Anju, North Korea
Unlike in South Korea, toilets in North Korea are usually installed outside of buildings or in yards. The odor of poop would often permeate my house and spread throughout the yard, even though the toilet door was firmly shut. I still have a vivid memory of using newspapers to clean myself, as I didn't have toilet paper.
Ansan, Seoul and Busan, South Korea
My scent memories of my stay in South Korea are a mix of bitter and exaltation smells.
Christine Laquet
Born in 1975, France
Lives in Nantes, France
Daebudo Island was experiencing a fire just before I arrived, leaving a landscape with black petrified trees, burned hay and smoke smell. After 3 days there, the Fukushima nuclear accident happened, affecting all world, but by being so close it engendered a strong feeling of fear that you could smell in the air. This is also when I encountered the shaman Sul-Hwa Kim, who later invited me to become her "shaman daughter". I engaged an initiatory dialogue with her that opened up many “gates”: from the professional to the intimate sphere. Intense time period during which I also met a beautiful lover who was wearing a unisex perfume created by Mark Buxton. I very much loved this flagrance and its original concept behind the scent: of an imagery flower, an atypical, incandescent energizing rose, «the fragrance of a flower that reminds each person of a different smell but it is majestically indefinable». I am wearing it since then and still find it somehow magical. [Also, very strong delicious food scent (kimchi, bibimbap, stir-fried octopus and all seafood dishes) and the Busan fish market.]
Ansan, South Korea
February–March; Beginning of my college years; Other places; Rain; Humidity; Gray; Youthfulness; Unfamiliarity and loneliness
J Bae
Born in 1989, Changwon, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
Even now, in February and March, when I left my parents' arms for the first time and arrived in an unfamiliar land to start college, I can still smell it. It's the aroma of rainy, damp air, the kind of scent that, when you encounter something similar later in life, reminds you of your youthful exuberance and makes you feel good, but it also evokes a curiously unfamiliar and lonely grayness.
Ansan, South Korea
I have been passing by the same pathway for many years, but It wasn's until 2022 that I started to recognize it.
The way home; Air of dawn and phytoncides smell; Comfort; Security; Fatigue; Joy
Juhye Song
Born in 2001, Ansan, South Korea
Lives in Ansan, South Korea
The smell of early morning air, plus phytoncides, as I walk home from the last ride of the subway is very relaxing and calming. I smell this all the time, usually when I'm tired after a day’s work or when I've had a few drinks and am tired, and I love the joy of being almost home and the calmness of the moment.
Ansan, South Korea
Mother; Scent of soap
Yoonju Kang
Born in 1995, Seoul, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
For a moment in my youth, I lived in a small town in Canada. As the sun began to set and sunset started, the whole neighborhood emanated the scent of firewood, giving me a complete sense of comfort and happiness. Every night before dinnertime, under the setting sun, I would ride my bike with my family in the neighborhood, one round around, absorbing the scent on my body. I have a beautiful and fond memory of when the sun had completely set. We would be in the backyard, sitting in a circle, watching the stars, and we lit a firewood fire.
Anseong, South Korea
The smell of ripe chili peppers – earthy, sweet, and spicy – in the hot midday rain
Yolanta C. Siu
Born in 1992, California, U.S.
Lives in Chungju, South Korea
In the middle of August, I accompanied an associate on a field trip to Anseong. I was there as a photographer. After lunch, we arrived at the small village, where residents had just finished weeding their rice fields and pepper fields and were relaxing under the jeongja. We talked and talked all while the air pressure was building up, threatening to suffocate us. As we were about to leave, the sky darkened and big droplets started to rain down. We made a run for the car. The pepper fields to the right stood there waving goodbye to us the whole way – not with their tender leaves but with their ripe organs. The combination of the stifling summer heat and the moistened atmosphere suffused the air with the scent of ripe chilis: a heady combination of sweet and spicy but also mustiness from the inundated soil below. It reminded me of the time I broke the seal on a bag of dried chilis that had accidentally sat in the sun for too long, but the moist and earth added a bitterness I didn’t know I craved all along. Looking back, I wish I had stopped running to stick my head between the rows. If only for a moment.
Anyang and Seoul, South Korea
Around 1989
Apartment basement smell; Wet cement smell; Wet soil smell
Jangyeun Jun
Born in 1981, Gwacheon, South Korea
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
The smell of the basement of an apartment (wet cement, similar to that of moist soil).
Anyang, South Korea
Dampness; Sunset
Born in 1994, Uiwang, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Anyang, South Korea
It feels damp. It was at sunset.
Anyang, South Korea
Sugary scent of candies
Born in 1980, Seoul, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Suwon, South Korea
The sugary scent of candies.
Anyang, South Korea
Rotten water musty odor; Stream
Seung Bum Hong
Born in 1981, Anyang, South Korea
Freelancer, Other
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
It might not directly align with the question, but I have a memory of a smell that holds more significance than a mere scent. I recall the stench of rotten water from a neighborhood called Deokcheon Village in Anyang-si, Gyeonggi-do, where I lived for 19 years. Back then, numerous factory complexes surrounded my house, and the nearby river had a Class 5 rating, infamous for having the worst water quality in the country due to direct wastewater discharge. The water seemed uninhabitable, yet if you looked closely, you could spot red thread-like creatures squirming around. I also remember seeing deformed fish and frogs with bent backs occasionally. One day, I accidentally fell into the stream but was fortunate enough to be rescued by an old tire. My entire body reeked of rotten water, and although it wasn't pleasant, this smell memory from my childhood is something I still reminisce about occasionally.
Boseong, South Korea
The scent of freshly drank green tea combines with the salty breeze of the beach.
Boliang Shen
Born in 1984, Qinhuangdao, China
Lives in Shanghai, China
I drank green tea and ate green tea cold noodles and ice cream at a seaside restaurant. When the fragrance of the green tea lingered, I walked to the beach and felt the fragrance mixed with the salty scent of the sea breeze. More than ten years have passed, but that peculiar scent still remains vivid. I can still recall holding a tiny crab in the palm of my hand, with each of its legs seemingly coated with pulsating molecules of scent.
Bucheon, South Korea
Scent of kindergarten classroom.
Born in 2001, Seoul, South Korea
Lives in Bucheon, South Korea
On days when I arrived at kindergarten a little earlier than my classmates,I spent time playing with the few friends who were also early, surrounded by an array of educational toys and materials. As I waited for my friends, a familiar scent enveloped the classroom, its memory long forgotten. Last year, by chance, a similar fragrance found its way to me, instantly transporting me back to that cherished place in my mind.
Rain and thunder.
Zita V
Born in 1991, Croatia
Lives in Budapest
I think Koreans have a weird relationship with rain, taking out umbrellas the very instant a drop falls from the sky. Nevertheless, my "Korean" memory is that of a rainy spring day in Budapest. I was walking down a windy street on a late afternoon, worrying about this and that, things now long forgotten. I was listening to music on my phone – a K-POP song called Thunderous playing in my earphones, and all of a sudden it starts raining. I could have hidden somewhere and I could have taken out my umbrella from my bag, but in that moment I felt energised and thrilled by all the sensations happening around me. The heavy raindrops hitting the dusty pavement, the wind carrying leaves and paper, and the thunder being louder than the music in my ears – I was afraid and I was ecstatic. The smells changed from one moment to another – from the smell of fresh rain on the pavement (dusty, oily, heavy, petroleum) to freshness (water, ozone, electricity, cold, fresh) and finally to wet (hair, skin, clothes, remains of my jasmine perfume, wet leaves and grass). The whole time the same song was playing in my ears, and although I didn't know much about the meaning of the lyrics (I didn't speak any Korean at the time), reading them after coming home somehow fit and completed my experience. I still find it amazing how I could feel and smell and experience the things from the song, while not having a clue about the lyrics. So this is why my Korean scent memory is that of rain and thunder.
Busan and Incheon, South Korea
Dampness; Humid air; Fishery smell; Salty sea breeze
Kyunghee Lee
Born in 1961, Busan, South Korea
Office worker
Lives in Busan, South Korea
The salty sea breeze in the moist and damp air that hits me at Busan station.
Busan and Seoul, South Korea
Both in 2019 and 2022 1. Busan, 2. Seoul
Two distinct experiences. 1. A mix of forest (hilly trees) and ocean breeze (seaside and portside) at Busan 2. A mix of food smell/human/rubber(or plastic)+grease in contrast to the scent of water from riverstream (Cheonggyecheon) in Seoul
Saubin Yap
Born in 1974, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1. In my first trip to Busan in 2019, I didn't go to the shorelines, but only at the hillside at night. It was after rain in spring time. So the air of freshness from the hillside areas was very distinct, looking out at the Busan port area from afar. During the second trip in 2022 Autumn, my companion was driving around the hilly roads (not the expressways) of Busan in the morning with the car windows winded down, and caught lots of fresh air, mixed of trees and leafs etc. But when we reached the port area (Yeongdo-gu), the smells changes, nearby the port where tugboats docked, the scent is a mix of petrol fume, stale fishy smell; whereas at the different seaside (Gamji Haebyeon at Dongsam-dong), it was smell of saline seawater, seaweed... 2. I was staying on a rooftoop of a light commercial distribution center at Dongdaemun-gu in 2019, there were alot of clothing and tailors, seamstress, shoes retailers, distributors, so the smells of fresh ironing press, steam from clothing/washing when walking pass the clothing fabricators area and the DDM Shoes Market, was a mix of both, rubber and clothes. Another distinct experience is the smell of street food in Seoul (esp Gwangjang market nearby DDM) – I guess the higher concentration of people and movement enclosed under the roof, just intensifies that experience (not that we don't get such with other places). This is rather different as I visited Anseong to one of the studio of RiceBrewingSistersClub, which is besides farming area, the scent of soil and grass is something I dont get in downtown Seoul.
Busan and Uljin, South Korea
The smell of dried herbal Korean medicine.
Virginia Kang
Born in 1982, Busan, South Korea
Lives in Seoul, South Korea
Memories of playing in the medicinal storage in a corner of my father's oriental medicine clinic.