Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reflections of Sarawak, and Oud by Josh Lee

I had never heard of Sarawak before my family went to live there in the early 1990's. Malaysia is divided into two parts. West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia, which is what most people are referring to when they speak of the country, is attached to the landmass of Southeast Asia. East Malaysia is on the island of Borneo and consists of the states of Sarawak, Sabah, and the Federal Territory of Lebuan. Indonesia claims the rest of the island of Borneo, other than a small portion under the control of Brunei.

Twenty years ago Sarawak was still a pretty wild place. Our town of Miri butted up to the South China Sea and jungle enclosed the land perimeters. Eco tourism was in its infancy. We were surrounded by the grandeur of nature but one never forgot that Mother Nature had a bite. One night we were at the Boat Club (the only place in town for expats to gather, meet and drink) and mingling with a group of Brits, laughing and drinking as we swatted at the mosquitoes. The next morning the news spread that one of the fellows there the previous night was deathly ill, and by the day's end he had been medevaced to Singapore. By nightfall he was dead, leaving behind a young family. Mosquito bite. Encephalitis.

Our town was on a beautiful beach with magnificent sunsets but we never put a toe in the water the two years we were there. A brother and sister who ventured in for a swim were stung by a huge box jellyfish and died almost instantly.

A friend washing dishes in front of her kitchen window looked out to see her two-year-old son being shoved around the yard by an orangutan. The Iban helper who babysat my three young children was descended from a tribe of  headhunters just a few generations back.

Magnificent two hundred year old trees stood sentry in the nearby rainforest. We woke up one Sunday to hear that a particularly large old tree in a nearby national park we often visited had fallen and flattened a table where five Japanese tourists were having a picnic. All of them dead. Danger sometimes seemed to quiver in the very air around us.

And yet...on weekends my husband and I would take our three young children hiking in the nearby Lambir Hills National Park, crossing streams on sketchy rope bridges, the air humming with the sound of prehistoric insects, and colorful tropical birds flashing through the overhead branches. Our destination was a swimming hole about a mile into the forest. The pool had been carved out of solid rock, drip by drip, and now was bordered on three sides by 100 foot rock walls. In the middle a waterfall cascaded down, providing a great shower or vigorous shoulder massage, depending how you positioned yourself. Butterflies were thick in the air, especially amazingly large blue butterflies which I had never seen before and are unique to Borneo.  My four-year-olds swung on vine branches like baby Tarzans and splashed down in the cool dark water. The air hummed with life and beauty like I had never experienced before. It was literally paradise.

Lambir Hills, though small in size, is considered to be one of the world's most diverse forest ecosystems, and some experts think it may have the greatest level of plant biodiversity in the world. In addition it hosts more than 200 species of birds, flying squirrels, gibbons, odd insects, and multiple other species. The rainforest provided shelter for so many animal species. We were the visitors in the forest; they were the inhabitants. It belonged to them and we were the interlopers. (The situation in Borneo has changed drastically in the last twenty years due to Indonesian oil palm plantations cutting and burning the trees to plant crops. They are decimating the rain forest. I'm not going into it here. It literally breaks my heart, which is all the more reason that Malaysia's protection of these parks is so important.)

The trees are the home to this amazing natural world, and they were also the inspiration for Josh Lee when creating one of his perfumes.  Josh of Josh Lee Fragrances has made it his mission to preserve Malaysia's heritage through scents, and he has given his interpretation of the Malaysian rainforests with his perfume Oud by Josh Lee. In Josh's words, "This woody oriental fragrance captures the rich biodiversity of the Malaysian rainforests. It opens with fresh notes of dawn break and follows by a medley note of indigenous spices, herbs and floras before unfurling the elegant yet exotic oud accord of its precious trees."

Oud has a bright opening, slightly sweet in the aromatic way common to oriental perfumes. Notes of bitter orange and bergamot provide the brightness in the opening, which Josh describes as the break of dawn, but on my skin this is not a citrus opening. The notes are there to provide that moment of light, but very quickly we walk into the deepness of the rainforest. Clove is used to provide the merest hint of spice as the wood notes begin to make their appearance. Josh also uses a note of hibiscus in the scent and says hibiscus flower is his signature ingredient in his perfumes as it is the national flower of Malaysia. Most of the hibiscus I have smelled are scentless but Josh says this variety has a subtle sweet and musky aroma.

The base notes are agarwood, sandalwood, cedarwood, and patchouli. I would call this a woody oriental as the wood notes are what the perfume is all about. Sandalwood lends soft sweet woody notes and patchouli gives an earthy bittersweet flavor to the perfume. Oud, also called agarwood, is a resinous hard wood that forms in the middle of the aquilaria tree after it becomes infected with a parasitic mold. I will confess I often have a hard time with oud perfumes, which can present as murky and dirty on my skin,  but I really like this one. It is lighter and more transparent than many other oud perfumes I have tried. I asked Josh if this was intentional. "Yes, it is purposely not too overpowering or else it will be like Arabian Oud and not resemble the tropical Malaysian rainforests," Josh said. "It is of course inspired by the rainforests in Sarawak's National Park."

Oud by Josh Lee is eau de parfum strength and it lasts for several hours on my skin. As it fades it turns into a very sexy skin scent. Wood scents wear very well on my skin chemistry, and I enjoy the slightly sweet and resinous tones of this perfume.  When walking in the rainforests in Asia I am always trying to define what I am smelling. There are no strong florals and in fact no strong scents at all, normally, yet the air does have a smell which I think of as a "feel good aroma". Maybe it's an oxygen high from all the pure air molecules the trees are releasing! Oud by Josh Lee perfume is an amped up version of the smells to be found in the rainforest, and one that had me sniffing my wrists over and over throughtout its wear.

Josh Lee Fragrances website has an info link where you can request information on obtaining samples.  Worldwide mailing of samples starts this month. Please read my other review of Josh Lee Fragrances here and here.

Top photo from Google. Butterfly photo from Bottle photo from Other photos my own. Sample provided by Josh Lee.

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