I’m in Penang, my birthplace. When my friends invited me to a “Duran” party, I wondered why it would be at noon and not in the evening. They weren’t talking about the British band, a multiple Grammy winner and Brits winner, Duran Duran. In Asia, Duran Duran will have to move aside for the Durian, there can be only one King. The Durian is king of all the fruits here. It’s exotic, aromatic and some say even erotic. Smear it all over your lover’s hands, mouth and body, and you’ll have a devilish time. In recent years, planeloads of fans have flown into Penang from Hong Kong and China to snap up limited tickets to Durian farm tours. It’s not only Duran Duran that has lost out to Durian in this part of the world, you won’t find planeloads of tourists flying in for any other fruit. There just isn’t any comparison, the King sits alone at the apex.
I was privileged to be amongst the 12 A-list guests for today’s tour to a Sungei Ara farm. Only the elitist can be in such a list for one of these parties, I imagine. After all, I know the bloke who many adoringly call the Prez, short for President For Life of our committee that oversees our school reunion.
In a Duran Duran party I imagine I’d be dressed impeccably in a black turtle neck with long sleeves, drinking red wine. But this is a durian party, we just need to be in the shade, away from the scorching sun and drink lots of water. The wine industry is a lot more sophisticated. Wine has been so well described by connoisseurs you could almost imagine the taste from just reading their notes about the wine. But when it comes to Durian, many are lost for words when asked to describe what they are tasting. There is nothing subtle about the Durian. It is an explosion of smell, taste and texture that befuddles the brain. Some will die for it and others will die because of it. A university building in Canberra had to be evacuated yesterday because some students had smuggled durian into the campus. For many Aussies, the aroma was so vile to their senses that they senselessly ordered the evacuation and temporary closure of the building. Either you love it or you loathe it. When it comes to Durian there is no fence sitter.
When the Durian party is over, there isn’t a moment to harbour any regrets. It’s a very sweet food, my insulin spike would have skyrocketed. Never mind the high cholesterol, it’s ecstasy whilst it lasted. As I leave the farm, I think back of the camaraderie in the Durian group, it’s a happy moment in time when everyone is basking in the warmth of good friendship with sticky, stinky fingers and lips. They dismissed my suggestion of using disposal gloves to enjoy the fruit. No, the Durian tastes better when eaten with bare fingers, they assure me. But for me, the Durian fragrance is alluring and irresistible only before you eat it. After devouring it, its fragrance changes to a foul smell. It will take days before the stink leaves my body, via the privacy of my toilet, hopefully.
On the way back from the farm, I was stuck in a car full of A-list guests. Someone in the car decided he would be the random phantom who couldn’t control his bodily functions. We didn’t catch him. Maybe they? He was too clandestine with his random release of Durian infused gas from his butt hole. Random means there was no warning from him. Have you ever sat in a small Nissan full of big old men on a hot sweltering afternoon in Penang? And the air conditioning unit was struggling in vain to make it a pleasant ride? My ride was made so much worse by the incessant release of the pungent smell of durian by an irresponsible old man. I am sure I wasn’t the culprit but I’m over 60, there’s no absolute guarantee that I was in full control of my bodily functions. I reckon it was definitely one of the other guys. It is unfathomable how the once irresistible fragrance becomes a disgusting intolerable odour once we are bloated with durian.