Summer in London is unbearable in an opposite way from Taipei. In Taipei, one can’t wait to find indoor shelters from the poisoned sun, because air conditioners are life savers. However in London, one can’t wait to walk out from the indoors, whether it’s the underground stations, classrooms, or even one’s own house, since there is no air conditioning in most indoor space in London.
I lived in a poorly designed room in London, with summer sun shooting directly into my window and leaving the heat trapped inside the room. One day I ran into my neighbour, who suffered from the same heat condition as I did, and he offered me a clever advice: “If you don't have a fan, at least turn on the range hood fan. It will help removing the trapped heat in the room.” What a simple idea! But one I would never have come up with it on my own.
I went home in the late afternoon, turned on the kitchen hood fan and let it do its new job. It actually worked! My room gradually cooled down a bit. With the comfort from a satisfying experiment, I sat by the edge of my bed and lied down, closed my eyes and soon fell asleep.
And then I experienced one of the strangest sensations. In the early evening around dinner time, as I began to wake up, having the sound of the range hood fan from a distance, with the smell of the fan running (it actually produced some kind of specific smell), and possibly also with the smell of my neighbours cooking dinner…with eyes still closed, my half-awakened mind sensed my surroundings from the sound and smell that leaked into my dream. For a moment I had lost where I was, or when it was. I had an illusion (and was deeply convinced by this illusion) that I had fallen asleep in my grandma’s house in Taipei and was waking up to the familiar sound and smell of my grandma preparing food for dinner.
I visited my grandma’s house for dinner every day after school before entering university. My mom was a modern woman who rarely cooked. The kitchen in my house was just a kitchen, but the kitchen in my grandma’s house was the smell of home. Sometimes when I arrived at my grandma’s house early, I would get to see a glimpse of her final preparation for dinner. And I would approach her to ask if there was anything I could help with, which she would kindly reply, “Don’t worry. It’s hot in the kitchen, go to the living room and turn on the air conditioner.”
I would arrange the dinner table with chopsticks, spoons and those small, delicate Chinese porcelain bowls, and then go to the living room. The dinner table and the living room were in the same open space, where I could look into the kitchen through a wooden door frame. The door to the kitchen was always open when my grandma prepared for dinner. I would occasionally look into the door frame and see the back of my grandma preparing food, with the familiar smell of beef noodles, dumplings…coming out from the kitchen. And of course, with the background sound of the range hood fan, which I never really paid much attention to. In this peaceful surrounding, sometimes I would lay down on the couch in the living room and quietly take a nap, with the expectation for dinner, and for the arrival of my mother and others.
I would never have thought of how the summer heat in London, the random encounter with my neighbour, the idea of the range hood fan, and the sound and smell of it…would lead to bringing back this distant memory many years later as I lied in my room alone in a foreign country. Dreams, memory, and imagination really work in such unexpected ways.
"The door lining that frames a familiar scene."