What does Singapore smell of?

May 31, 2010
*Special to asia!
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Perfumers around the world laud China's osmanthus but why has no one captured the scent of Singapore's tembusu?

Come April every year, tembusu and angsana trees perfume the air in Singapore. And I, olfactory vampire that I am, devour these scents when they waft in through my bedroom window.


Tembusu's scientific name fagraea fragrans is a nod to its intoxicating scent.

Tembusu's scientific name fagraea fragrans is a nod to its intoxicating scent.


Angsana trees are massive and when they are in bloom, whole neighbourhoods are scented with their sweetness. It is the smell of All Soul's Day for me because as a child I would visit graves with my parents to pay my respects to the dead and be accompanied everywhere by this haunting fragrance. When the delicate yellow petals float in swirls to the ground, I am reminded of snowfall. And of sakura petals raining down in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.

Tembusu, for me, is the smell of romance. It reminds me of a visit to Club Med Cherating. One breezy night, a group of us walking through some secondary forest towards the turtle beach were assailed by an intoxicating perfume. Familiar with it from my schooldays at a particular Grange Road campus, I made out a towering tembusu tree standing sentinel along the path. Singaporeans are so fond of tembusus that they can be spotted all over the island on university campuses and along the roads of leafy residential areas.

So why haven't perfumers capitalised on these local floral notes?

vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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