People used to say that cities had a vibe or feel. New York was one of those that everyone said feels different from anywhere else. London, Paris and Rome – all iconic world cities that were supposed to have their own character and feel. But to me, it’s not a “feel”, but a smell. When I get off a plane in Beijing, as soon as I smell the air in the airport, I know I’m in Beijing (very similar smell to Hong Kong, but more “mainland”). Its a certain something in the air that you never sense anywhere else. I associate it with a mix of Chinese spices and preserved food (like those mushrooms!) and humanity.
I recently was in Vancouver, the city I grew up in, and of course, I always associate it with the mountains and water, but as I was walking around the city and what I really remember is the musty smell in the air mixed with the fresh sea air. It’s a combination of the slight tang in the air with the damp that is captured and held in the wood of the buildings and the vegetation.
I used to think that I just didn’t “get” the vibe, but for me, it’s the smell.