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August 22, 2020 4 min read

Burning lotus leaves

It was a hot summer afternoon in Inala, a Brisbane suburban, my friend Rex and I passed a street, and we both smelled burning leaves.

Suddenly, Rex told me to make  U-turn, to go to the local market place.

"What happened?"

"I needed to buy a free-range chicken?"

"Why, all of a sudden?" I asked

"Did you smell the burning leaves before?" Rex responded with a question.


"That smell is the smell of lotus leaves.  I have not smelled it for years. I remembered my friends and relatives in China. Back then, we were having Beggar Chicken." (叫花鸡). I will tell you more about that."

So Rex bought the chicken in one shop and dried lotus leaves in another. We headed back to his place after that.

"Have dinner with me tonight. My treat to you, Beggar chicken."

Rex then introduced me a story about this dish.

"It was a dish invented by a beggar who possessed little things. Every day, this beggar sang and entertained people on the street to beg for food. One day, by chance he got a chicken but did not know how to cook it. He did not have any cooking utensils.

He looked around and found some lotus leaves in the nearby lake which he used to wrap the chicken. He then used soil to cover the lotus-leaves-wrapped chicken.

After all the hard work, he put the wrapped chicken in a makeshift fire pit for three hours."

"Interesting, so is it what you are going to do?"


Rex walked me through the preparation, which I gave him a hand. It is not 100% like how the beggar cooked, but we tried to imitate it. For example, we marinated the chicken, and we didn't use a fire pit open fire because we were afraid someone might file a complain and ring the police. In the Brisbane area, burning stuff in your backyard is illegal.   

Instead, we put the mud and leaves wrapped chicken inside a tray and put the whole tray into the oven.

Because his oven has the top and bottom heating, so within 2 hours, it dried the mud. 

Rex cracked it open with a knife, and a unique aroma filled the whole kitchen.

"Come closer" Rex pointed to one of the leaves poking out from the cracked mud.

"Smell this."

"Similar to the smell in the afternoon?"


Let's eat

Food was great. We had a great feast.

I told Rex

"Now I know why you made a U-turn in the afternoon." 

"You got it. This smell reminded me of the good old time with my friends and relatives."

Later on, I found out that there was a name for what happened to my friend's sudden memory. The whole thing was known as the Proust phenomenon.

The moment Rex smelled the  burnt leaves, his memory recalled

He was not able to stop his memory. The smell is like a light switch in a dark room. All of a sudden, when he flicked that switch, the light-filled the place and he could see everything in the room. It was an instant experience that he was unable to stop. The scent triggered his brain the moment he smelled it. It was like a time machine, brought him back to the good old time.

Why I am telling you this

Sense of smell - a time travel machine

Source: Pixabay

If you are from the Middle East countries, oud is part of your culture and it associates with your daily life. You may visit your friend and they burn oud. You go to your Mosque and you feel the scent in there. Your father uses oud to smoke his clothes on special occasions. 

So smelling oud could instantly remind you these experiences if you had them in the past.

In Vietnam, some businesses celebrate their grand opening by burning agarwood chips. They believe the smoke will attract positive energy and fortune. You may or may not believe in this ritual but if you attended one of these ceremonies, you would remember the smell and every time, you smell this burning oud, you will re-live this experience. 

In a wedding, as parents of the bride and the groom, along with all guests will perform some rituals in the bride and the groom's houses. Agarwood chips are used to "smudge" the venue to create a sacred atmosphere.

If you are one of the guests who have experienced this aroma, you will remember the warm atmosphere whenever you smell heated agarwood chips.

Because of the positive experience, this divine aroma will instantly remind a person the experience they have been through.


If you are a marketer,  why don't you ask your manager to give this ritual of heating agarwood chip ago, so your customer remember you in their subconscious mind?

This will work for wedding, religious talk, praying sessions, grand opening ceremony.

In 2016

We had a booth in the Mind Body Spirit Expo in Brisbane Convention Centre.

We burn some agarwood chips for some visitors to try

One elder approached me and said "I could smell this meters away but it took me a while to find you"

She continued

"My husband and I loved camping so we used to the smell of burnt wood, but we have never smelled this type of wood before. We are old now and we have not gone camping for many years. The smell from whatever you are burning now reminds me of the good time I was on the road with my husband.  I will get one of this for him"

I was glad and realised that surely the oud aroma made her happy. However, she bought this oud chip because she became emotional. The aroma evoked her memory. She re-lived the good time spent with her husband when they were camping.

So what about you? What scents do you love and what experience does it remind you? 

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