I arrived in Chengdu last night, after 20 plus hours on three different flights from Canada. And now my senses are full of the China experience.
What I love about traveling is not the extremes or ‘wow’ moments. What I love is the simple, subtle and biologically impactful ways that travel takes me out of my comfort zone. The six senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and mind) all get to meet with unexpected differences from the norm. What stands out most is all the little things I stop noticing when I’m at home in my normal surroundings.
The Sense of Smell
There is the smell of what I can only describe as undertones of pungent ripe organic sewerage…not awful necessarily…but certainly different.
The Sense of Touch
And then there is the experience of humidity. I’m in the south west of China. My body feels ‘thick’! The air feels like a warm blanket made of tiny particles of moisture. It’s not a ‘sweat profusely’ feeling like during the summer in Canada. Instead it’s like the humid air outside is meeting this human body’s moist interior and there is confusion about which direction fluids should flow. So they just face off and hold each other in suspension.
The Sense of Sight
Visually…. wow – the trees are large, leafy and abundant…as if the moisture of this humid climate demands and allows all forms to grow to size, to meet it. Canadian trees by comparison have a dry crackly feeling to them. I keep staring at the ‘different’ looking trees. It’s interesting where the mind goes when one arrives in a new environment.
The Sense of Hearing
And there is the sound of honking cars… probably 80% of the sound is from the little bumper car like taxis that swoon, swipe and wind through the streets (those taxi driver dudes really own the roads).
And the sound of birds (loud!). And sometimes there is the sound of people shouting or communicating relatively loudly. My unsubstantiated yet extremely scientific theory is that Chinese here need to speak very loudly to get through the buffering thick humidity. In the driest cities of Canada, you barely need to speak at all. Bad joke. Awful.
The Sense of Taste
The food is alive and spicy! It tingles on the tongue (is that MSG?). The rice is smooth and comforting. The chili peppers are intense, and the oil smooths out the overall experience. My mouth waters with enjoyment at the newfound food diversity and strong flavours here.
The Mind Sense
The Buddhist study of consciousness considers that there are six senses, and that the sixth sense is the mind sense door. In other words, we have thoughts in our mind, and we can sense these, just as we can sense smells, or sounds or images. Arriving in China, my mind sense door is full of new thoughts about perspective, who I am, what I’m going to be doing here, as well as all of the above interesting thoughts about new sense experiences I just described above.
If ‘we are what we eat’, then sense wise, I would say that ‘we are what we meet’ in all the places we are in! Going to a new place just helps us pay more attention because it is new and fresh. I feel grateful for this!