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Soap Memories

I have lots of little everyday shopping adventures in Shanghai. I never know whether the grocery item I just bought is actually what I thought it was, until I get it home. So there are a lot of random grocery surprises to keep me on my toes, like the time I poured natural yoghurt (from what appeared to be a blue and white milk carton) into my cup of tea. 


Yesterday I stocked up on soap, but the local store had run out of Hazeline, the brand I usually get, and these brightly coloured boxes caught my eye. I’ve always been a sucker for good packaging. Even better,the brand was called Shanghai Yaozao – local! At only 2.2 yuan each (30cents) I bought four.

When I took it out of the box this morning though, two things struck me. Firstly, the rather alarming fluorescent pink colour, and secondly the unmistakeable smell of carbolic. That strong, tarry, medicinal smell took me straight back to my great-grandmother’s laundry in the tiny town of Warwick, Australia, and the big cake of yellow soap she used to wash her hands with after gardening or tending to the chickens. Or, apparently, to wash my mother’s mouth out with, after she had said something really terrible like ‘bugger’. She died many years ago at the age of 103 and I haven’t thought about that laundry in more than 20 years.

Isn’t it funny how smells can be so evocative of something so far away in time and place?