This is usually a technical blog, but I’ll be taking a break from the usual programming of programming-related posts (hah, pun) to talk about my other closeted obsession: smells.

Here goes.

Every month or so, about two weeks before my period starts, my nose gets hypersensitive. I smell everything and anything. I get whiffs of jasmine oil from the freshly powdered middle-aged men walking past to board the train at Little India, the smell of fried tempura at the nearest kimbap roll place, lingering smell of cologne on my face from the last hug. But most of all, I smell people. I smell the smell of bodies and sweat and soap of the fast-moving people of Singapore.

It sounds like an incredibly useful superpower, right? Except for the fact that I smell literally everything and it doesn’t smell too good. At all. In fact, everything seems to incite a wave of unprecedented nausea. The cologne that I would appreciatively sniff on my partner’s neck a week ago? Transformed into a thin, acetone-like synthetic quality that makes the bile rise to my throat. The smell of sweaty crowds that isn’t the least alien to a native of Southeast Asia? Multiplied by a thousand, and my nose happens to be especially good at picking out the most rancid of body odors. I feel my mouth water with metallic saliva characteristic of a pre-vomiting episode. Which I then force myself to swallow.

I used to love wearing nail polish. Chunky glitter, french tips, various shades of shimmers, base coats, top coats – I had them all in my late teenage years. I went for weeks with no issues slapping on acetone-scented glittery paint on my nails. On one particular morning, after indulging in a deliciously Malaysian breakfast of nasi lemak, I decided to paint my nails a grey shimmer from a particularly cheap bottle of polish. Base coat. Let dry. First coat. Let dry. Second coat, let dry. Okay, so far so good.

Just then, I made the mistake of wiping my greasy mouth (from that delicious nasi lemak) and was struck by the whopping blow of eye-watering, paint-stripping nail polish. In. The. Face. If you’ve ever smelled nail polish up close, you know what I’m talking about. That chemical, sourish smell was usually awful but bearable. Please, I’ve lived through at least five coats of painstakingly painted on nail art in a confined room. On that day, however, it was unbearable. I felt my throat seize up, nausea rising. I retched and dashed for the kitchen sink. In a bid to damage control, I stupidly put my hand over my mouth, only to deliver a second blow of nausea-inducing nail polish fumes to my face. Needless to say, I promptly vomited my entire breakfast in two subsequent projectile streams. It was still chunky and undigested – you could see the rice grains and I could feel the spicy sambal burn in my throat.

You know how you usually can never enjoy foods that you’ve thrown up again? Malibu rum immediately came to mind. But that’s for another story, one also involving cold hummus sandwiches sprinkled with curry powder. Anyhow, my love for nasi lemak transcended all and I wasn’t the least put off by my favorite dish. Nail polish, however, has forever been banished from my living spaces and I have never worn it since. Every time I smell it, I am reminded of that vomiting episode.

Now, I’m not one usually averse to strong scents. I love perfume. In fact, I’m obsessed with it. I’ve never really spoken at length to anyone about it, save for a couple of people. This a perfumistas coming out story.

End of Part 1. Read Part 2.