Tomorrow we´re off to Siem Reap for the rest of the week. I am ecstatic. I have wanted to see Angkor Wat for as long as I can remember. Armed with my Rough Guide to Cambodia, suggestions from Noy, the company of Diva and Enigma, and my stash of American greenbacks, I feel more than ready. I can´t believe it. I can´t believe I´m finally going.
Anyway, I wanted to share an important discovery with you, because as it turns out, you (and I) are like Thai people in a way I only learned recently, when I learned about the homm. Noy first told me about homm (Thai kissing) and I´ve done a bit of online research. Here, in this interesting summation from thailandvoice.com:
“As I was growing up, the only kind of “kiss” I know is what Thai people called “Homm”. Homm literally means a pleasant smell. As a verb, it means to put your nose to the other person’s skin and inhale quickly, as if to take in the scent of the person, creating a brief vacuum on the skin, and let go.” (Read the article for more fun facts, including the scandal created by the first on-the-mouth-kiss on Thai TV in the 90s.)
To homm someone is an intimate act to take in their smell. Grandmothers homm their grandchildren. Couples on the beach homm one another. How great is that? All of you perfumistas reading this – hommies? hommslices? – know you do this. You breathe in and catalog the scents of those you love. And now you know the word for it.
I can call up, with no effort, the smell of those I love most closely – the Big Cheese, my children, my father. You could blindfold me and hold me close to the heads of my children and I could identify each of them instantly. There is Diva´s musky scent, Hecate´s almost peppery smell. There is Buckethead´s sweaty boy-smell, reminiscent of his father but still somehow babyish. And, most secret … there is Enigma´s smell. She knows my secret, and I am sharing it with you. Enigma has held onto her baby-head smell for ten years, and any of you with children know that the baby-head smell is the most addictive of all perfumes. I homm them all regularly, the twins without reservation or concealment, the older ones with more stealth, never in public. I inhale their warm perfume, the most beautiful on earth. Late at night, if I am lonely, or sad, it is most often to Enigma´s bedroom that I go. Her perfume is irresistible for me, blooming like night jasmine. She is my most private child, the sum of all her complicated feelings, and yet it is her smell that gives me extraordinary peace. She knows I homm her. She lets me do it, I suppose, because she loves me.
Close your eyes. Conjure, in your memory, the smell of those you love the most. If you have time, while they are still here on earth with you, lean in close and drink in their elixir.
No wonder some of the fragrances we lust after have the smell of something human. There’s the delicate perspiration of Worth Courtesan. The surreal milk-hairspray-skin of Gucci Rush. The glorious, gamey flop-sweat of Le Labo Vetiver. The strange, sweet funk of CB I Hate Perfume Musk Reinvention. I’m not sure why I don’t love the sweat-smell of cedar more — even the sublime Shiseido Feminite du Bois is almost too much for me — but perhaps it’s only a matter of time.
In Thai, a kiss on the mouth is a joop. So far as I can tell, Thai people don´t joop in public. I don´t know and can´t find out whether they joop in private. It seems like such a loaded question I can´t figure out the right way to ask. For all I know, it´s like asking about some intimate (or even deviant) sexual act. But I feel oddly comforted knowing my relentless sniffing of my nearest and dearest isn´t as oddball as it seems. And it´s nice to finally have a name for it.
PS: it occurs to me: is Joop! (the fragrance) named for kissing? I wonder. Also, by the time many of you read this I´ll be in bed, and we´re leaving for Siem Reap at 5 a.m. Tuesday, so I may not respond to comments right away.
image: Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, abiyoyo.com
what a lovely post! i love to homm my cats – and they let me do it – because they love me. they give me this knowing look when i’m doing it – i love how intelligent they are.
i know what you mean about knowing the smells of those you love. when my mom was in the hospital, and couldn’t wash for several days, i was blown away by her smell – it wasn’t b.o. or bad or dirty – it was just HER amplified to an incredible degree. it was both startling and amazing.
Off to homm my 9 month baby girl. 😡
wonderful post. so glad there is a name for this action
Very beautiful posts, everyone, thank you (wipes away tear). My husband is overseas for 6 months without me – I don’t miss his mess, but I sure do miss his scent.
Oh, honey, good luck. I hope you have many other comforts to tide you over. –Ellen
I know I’d miss my husband’s smell terribly if he were away. We live surrounded by families of armed forces personnel. We don’t know how they cope with the long absences.
Thanks Ellen and Maria, I’m pretty homm(e)sick, but we’ve managed this before and the homecomings are wonderful (not to mention the duty-frees)!
What a wonderful post, March! I had no idea of kissing practices in Southeast Asia. I read once–maybe in the Washington Post?–that perhaps Western kissing with lips is an attempt to take in the other person’s scent. A loved one’s scent is indeed one of the greatest pleasures in the world.
You’ve started me thinking about the fact that my father had no sweat smell, even in the height of summer in super-humid Miami. He produced less perspiration than most humans. I did not inherit that quality, as my gardening clothes will attest.
My husband and I both miss the smell of our departed greyhound Celeste. She had the sweetest-smelling belly. And her feet smelled of clover and leather. Norbu is an old male with poor aim who lives in a windy area. Blow-back is a killer. He gets frequent baths. :d
March, I hope Angkor Wat is everything you hoped it would be–and more.
I just loved this post, March, for your sharing of the Thai hom custom and for speaking of the scent of loved ones. When you return to BKK, I’ll give you something fun to read about it from a book called Very Thai.
I could go on about the hom just about forever — I had a huge epiphany in college after a Vietnamese-American friend imitated her mother kissing her, and I realized that my mother was not a space alien for homming me the way she did. (I thought she kissed me that way to avoid smearing her lipstick.) A Lao-American friend shared the fact that her mother did the same thing, and Cambodian and Burmese friends subsequently ‘fessed up to their homtastic ways…totally a Southeast Asian phenomenon, and I’m dying to find out if it happens in other locales..
Thais kiss on the mouth, yes, but not so much in public. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, unless it is of the er, um, paid-friend variety. I actually ran around and asked my Thai friends about this when I first got here, and they said, Yes, you weirdo, we do kiss on the mouth in private. The older generation in their 50s and 60s might not have done it so much, however.
I’ve been dying to write a piece about the hom, actually, and how kissing customs have changed with an influx of Hollywood movies and other outside influences. My Cambodian friends are APPALLED at the idea of mouth kisses, and I have had to field many questions about this. They’re like “The mouth is for eating, or praying to the Buddha.” Or “I not kiss her because her TEETH NOT SO GOOD *huge laughter*.” Or “She doesn’t want to, she says it is a foreign custom.” Many Burmese friends are also sort of taken aback by it. More Westernized countries like Thailand just take it more as a matter of course…
My former boyfriend from Burma used to hom me, wasn’t so fond of the jooping — he just wasn’t used to it. He was also hom, smelled of tea and smoke, the bittersweet smell of melancholy itself. It was fitting…he was so compelling *and* complicated.
Have not had the good fortune of getting a hom or a joob/jub/joop from a boy here, or administering any, but…I’ll work on it! Ha! One of my dear female friends homs me, and I absolutely adore it, it’s so tender and loving… I do not really hom any of my friends, (although I do sniff them) because I am worried about my hom technique. Must practice!
Last thing — Thai is a very onomonopiea-heavy language. I always found it lovely the way that saying the word “joop” (low tone, unaspirated consonant ending, so the lips don’t come apart again) poses one’s lips for a kiss!
Happy homming and jooping!
Noy, that was wonderful! Thank you SO much for sharing your knowledge!!! –Ellen
Hear Hear! That was a precious read, Noy. Thank you! 🙂
Yes, Noy, thank you!
Just read the article that March linked to — it’s hilarious that the soap-opera scene that caused such a ruckus featured a kiss between P’Bird and a lady. P’Bird is now known as Pah Bird in many circles, meaning Auntie Bird. He came out as gay a few years ago, and is a major icon for the queer communities here. Imagine a smoochy scene between Elton John and a woman and you may get the idea…
Very happy to share even my limited hom/joob knowledge. Would be fun to get a story assignment so I can, ah, research this. If I ever wind up writing a piece on the hom/joob issue, I will certainly let you know — and I will have drawn inspiration from you all, too!
Love this blog,
What a lovely practice, homming. So refined, and yet so elemental. Any animal could tell you that the best way to recognize friend from foe is by their particular smell. When mother and baby animals are separated, the mother can find the baby by its scent from an inconceivable amount of miles away….and even after a lapse in time.
The best advice I ever got when I was a new mother was to ‘memorize’ my baby….his smell, his heft as I held him against my shoulder, even his taste as I kissed his cheek. I followed that advice and am so glad I did. To this day, I can close my eyes and conjure all of that back up again.
We all know scent memories are strong. It’s been scientifically proven that the majority of our earliest memories are related to scent. We who are in the know, can only be astonished it took them this long to figure that out!
Wow, I never would associate Joop the fragrance with the Thai joop. Interesting!
Lovely post, March. It made the think – it is true we cherish the scent of those we love. I have heard that it is pheromones and odor play a huge part in attraction. Scent is how many animals distinguish their children from others. It is helpful for animals with poor sight and poor hearing.
On a more depressing note, I have noticed the scent of those who are dying. I work in a hospital, in an outpatient clinic. Other coworkers and I have noted that those who are seriously sick emanate a distinct odor. This odor does not go away after the patient is bathed. I believe this scent goes far back to our beginnings. Like animals, dominant and submissive, signs of illness (including a distinct scent) would lower the person’s status and dominance in the clan.
Over the years, our genetics have bred out some of that ability to distinguish some scents. Still, we all possess some of this ability, in differing amounts. Ever notice how a pregnant woman’s/new mother’s sense of scent is heightened? That happens so the mother can protect the child against poisonous food. It is part of the survival instinct.
Actually, if I know someone well enough & can get physically close enough, I can tell when they are about to get a cold. Then they can get extra fluids & rest to head it off. But it has to be someone I know pretty well. Alas, not the kind of talent one can list in a personal ad. –Ellen
That’s a wonderful thing to have!
A particularly beautiful post, March. And on a day when I came here hoping for something like that… Thank you.
And as I said above, I think our love for the full spectrum of scents would make us…hommnivores!
What a sweet post! So I’m a hommer, then? Too bad I can’t seem to get any distinctive smell on me now that I’m homming myself (well, perhaps a whiff of tobacco). Would hate the idea of me being scentless like Grenouille. I love homming my peke’s head because it has such a comforting, blankety scent. He’s no stranger to homming either and, much like Ellen’s Johnny, has that ritual of sniffing your nose and mouth/breath, which is just adorable.
Sharpen all of your senses for tomorrow’s trip – we’re expecting a comprehensive audio-visual-olfactory report. Have a blast!
Cats often do the same thing – mine loves to pick up the scent of me and my DH. She gently inhales and then goes into a purring frenzy. Somehow the whole world is alright with her after she knows we are okay.
OMG…..I will never forget this article…..I’m much older than most of you,and people really dear to me(my son,my father,my grandmother,my aunt, have passed away…but after reading this,were instantly by my side again)….I was in instant bliss,and immediately crying at the same time…to be honest,it was heaven…..thank you.:x
Annie, thanks for your kind words. I am sorry for all your losses. I am glad you can still call them close to you. That is one of the saddest parts for me of losing my mother — I have wished for years we’d made some sort of recording of her, we knew she was dying. I would love to hear her voice again. I hear it in my dreams, but when I wake up I can never decide if it’s really her voice. But I have felt her with me, on a few occasions.
Lovely, March. Has anyone talked with C. Brosius re baby head smell? I wonder what you will smell in the next phase of your journey?
Mia the Akita mix smells extra delicious to me — right depth of fur, perhaps, so that the outer layer retains fresh air, overlaying a more usual warm mammal smell. Dogs are such good friends for a smell-oriented person — they think you’re normal. My pit bull boy homms me all the time. Most dogs don’t understand that humans don’t want dog noses in their sweaty spots, but Johnny seems to. He comes over, sticks his nose near my face, and waits for me to exhale for him. When I do, he takes a big lungful, pauses a moment to analyze, then walks off, satisfied. Such a polite exchange, and I appreciate his interest. –Ellen
Love a polilte pup!
What a great story! I’ve always had the sort of dogs who … well, you know. With the one exception, who was my first dog-child. We had his portrait painted. I still miss him. He was about as close as a dog can get to a human. I was his, and he loved me. Wow, what a dog he was.
The CB Baby Head scent — funny you should ask. I read in an interview once that CB said it’s one of his most requested scents. My recollection is that he expressed polite curiosity/surprise and some vague interest, but no go. I think (I am totally guessing here) that now he pretty much only makes scents that interest him in some personal way, and that just doesn’t.
Polite pups are such fun. Our greyhound Celeste was very discreet about catching a whiff of human butt. She would stand nearby with her face partly averted as if, “Who, me, no, I just happen to be standing here.” :-” Norbu does not do any overt sniffing, but he likes to curl up close to our butts in bed. It’s comforting for him.
Maria, Celeste just sounds like the dog of a lifetime! Your memories of her are always so delightful. How appropriate that such a polite girl have such an ethereal name! –Ellen
What a great post and what a great trip you must be having! Lord how I wish I were there and not here studying. Grr.
I’m a homm-er myself, but I guess we all are to some extent, even the non-perfume obsessed. My sister informed me years ago before I got into this whole obsession that I always smelled cinnamon-y to her. It made me crazy happy.
And for the jooping, the next time I speak to my Thai-American cousin-in-law, I’ll have him ask his mother for me. Although I imagine that even if jooping were more acceptable now, it may not have been 30 years ago when they moved over? Hmm…
Oh, I wish I smelled like cinnamon! What a wonderful compliment. To be honest with you, I feel like for a woman I’m on the rank end of things. But I guess whether that’s bad would depend on who you’re asking, and I like to think my family likes my dis-tink-tive smell.
They pretty much are NOT kissing on the mouth. Period. Maybe it’s less shocking, but the whole PDA thing isn’t going on.
Beautiful post !
My memories of love are so mixed with my memories of smell of those who I love most !
Enjoy your trip !
Thanks — I’m looking forward to some new smell adventures!
Oh, March, what a lovely and evocative post! I will think of this often, thank you, and have a wonderful time!
Thanks! I’m just jamming the sunscreen in my bag — I should be getting ready for bed but I’m too dang excited!!!
Thank you for an amazing post. Made me close my eyes and breathe in a world of smile-filled memories. This will stay with me.
Thanks. It was fun learning about it.
A lovely post about your love; I truly loved it.
I still smell of graham crackers / digestives / hobnobs – and for some reason, this post-viral fatigue rubbish I am suffering means I also sweat profusely. It’s like a cookie factory explosion down my way… tmi?
Do sweaty digestives become Saltines? You’re still delish, I’m sure.
Hobnobs! You can be as sweaty as you want if you smell like Hobnobs. What do they put into those absurd things? Crack cocaine? There is nothing like them here. I really miss them.
I hope you feel better soon.
March, this is an exquisite post. Thank you. When I think of scents that move me, there are whiffs of friends and lovers past, my son’s beautiful young man wet-puppiness, but especially of my late father. I lost him, as you know, just over a year ago. I always knew there was a “dad” smell, and my sibs and I even spoke of it when younger. Mom had one, too, of course, but it wasn’t nearly as salient to us.
Dad was Maury-spice. Mostly cinnamon, which oddly enough is a spice I don’t love to eat or smell much, but was beautiful as his own. And it was his own-I even tried at one point to find out if it was his shaving cream or cologne, but those changed over the years, and he didn’t.
When he died, the scent lingered a bit in his home, and stayed a while on a polartech of his I brought home. And oddly, there was one day on which I was distraught with grief, and his scent just filled the room. A visit perhaps, or a limbic re-construction of his memory? I don’t choose to choose on that.
I love to homm and joop both, and am very curious about Thai jooping-surely you can discretely ask?
Your side-trip sounds incredible. Don’t bother with us-go immerse yourself!
That dad-smell. Do you think we girls just treasure that uber-man smell, no matter how old we get? And you’re right, it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing (my dad’s an Old Spice guy) or whether it changes. That smell remains the same.
I think if they’re there with you, the scent pours in as well. One woman’s opinion.
Haven’t given up on the homm-joop question, so far I just get shy giggles though. I need to email Noy. Did you read the article? After the one actress jooped on TV there were serious questions as to whether her honor was so tarnished she could never be a leading lady in a chaste role again.:o
I love this post, thank you March. I “homm” frequently and obsessively!
Aha! See, I had this visual of my fellow hommers, homming away stealthily. Now we’re legit!
I just love that there’s a name for it. I told my boyfriend/bitch/toy (ha) about it and he says “oh you do that because you’re a pervert.” Sweet.
What a beautiful post, and a pretty thought. Of course, those of us who like to change our scents on a daily if not hourly basis would be what, Hommwhores?
But I do know the idea- my ex had a wonderful peppery scent to him. My godchild still has that “child” scent to her. I don’t know if there is a Hamm to me what with my serious devotion to eradicating any natural scent I might posess…
Yes, Lee I am American. 🙂
My guess is anyone on an intimate level with you (define that any way you choose) would say you have your own smell. And that they love it.:x It’s unerasable, no matter how much CB Musk you wear.
I’d make that hommnivores… 😉
What a fantastic message, March. Homm-ing is such an important part of being a mom — and a grandmother. You said it all, friend. Have a wonderful time at Angkor Wat. That photo is amazing. Tree roots as water, tree roots as essence of elephant. Makes me think of “Spring” in Thoreau’s Walden, where he compares the thawing mud of spring to leaf-shapes, sounds, letters, etc.
Thanks — we’ll be there for sunset at the main temple tomorrow night, and then hitting it hard on Wednesday. I understand the heat is relentless, we’ll have to pace ourselves.
Now you can homm without shame. Assuming you had any.:)