The sweet smell of hanok

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The sweet smell of hanok

The author, an American, has appeared on the JTBC show “Non-Summit.”


As a foreigner living in a traditional Korean house, I often think about hanok and write about it. In the winter, I write about the home’s unique warmth, but in the summer, the heat and humidity of the rainy season makes me realize that the essence of hanok in the summer is not tangible or visible. The essence of hanok in the summer is the aroma.

The olfactory sense is said to hold the most memories. When you smell a familiar scent from the past, long-forgotten memories vividly come back to life.

Many Americans are reminded of the old house from their childhood, grassy fields, baseball and summer picnics from the smell of wet, freshly mown grass.

In a hanok, summer awakes the smells that had been dormant for a long time. Old memories return. The first smell of summer reminds me of the day that I first visited a hanok three years ago. The scent remains the same.

The first impression I had upon entering a hanok in the summer was the unforgettable scent of wood. While the scent is not completely gone in the winter, the woody fragrance is more intense and vivid on a hot and humid day. The smell of the floor covered with traditional paper lingers. Hints of soybean and perilla oils fill the house.

Inside the hanok, one can also detect cinnamon and jujube. The scent of the lacquer on old furniture and cabinets intensifies in the summer weather.

The most memorable smell may be that of summer rain. Sitting on the floor under the roof, the wet earth and wood mixed with the hot and humid air generate unique aromas.

Once the rain stops and the sun sets, I feel safe and warm. This clear, beautiful feeling can only be enjoyed during jangma, the rainy season.

No matter where I go and how old I get, I will be reminded of hanok when I smell this scent, just as freshly mown grass brings back memories of summer picnics and baseball.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 5, Page 28
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