Coming back to campus late afternoon today, I was suddenly made aware of a strong, familiar fragrance. Yes, it was osmanthus fragrans, also known as sweet olive. In Chinese, 桂花. The flower is very small, no more than 1 cm across. But it has a powerful, sweet fragrance.
Often we see it in the form of 桂花糕. To me, it recalls an image of my grandmother’s house. There was a couplet 對聯 on the door of my uncle’s room in my grandmother’s house. It was written by my uncle in very neat Chinese inkbrush calligraphy: 天上桂香飄月殿, 人間瑞氣靄籣房. When we were very young, my grandmother would make fried dumplings (油角, 角仔) for Chinese New Year. There was one year when I discovered that my grandmother stored those dumplings in a big jar in my uncle’s room. I hid in the room and ate so many dumplings that I couldn’t eat dinner. But I cannot remember whether or how I was punished. Perhaps I blocked it out subconsciously. At that time, I did not know what 桂花 looked or smelled like. But it made such a strong impression on me that it is still with me to this day.