26th November 2021 Mrs Annie R Teo
December is back and here I am, on a regular thirty something degrees Celsius pre-Christmas day, standing in my neighbor’s chili-peppers field. I came here specifically to shoot a Durio zibethinus (a Durian tree) with my camera and capture a new picture for my blog. Standing near me and my very useful tripod is Ah Chai, a chili-peppers grower who is frankly disappointed with the scarce number of oblong golden fruits which we can see, hanging from the huge tree ahead of us. “This season is not good” he laments. As I recall, the previous one, half a year ago, was not any better.” Climate changes? I seldom have the opportunity to talk to my neighbours; they are all farmers and our family is of the urban kind yet “wannabe” hobby farmers. We commute in and out of the small country drive, we wave a hand, we give way to motorcyclists, sometimes to a van, yet we rarely stop. The only friendship we have developed is with Ah Peck, which by the way is not his real name, it really means “grand-father” or “old man” in local Chinese. We don’t know his real name; he’s never told us and he seems to enjoy us calling him Ah Peck. It was easy for us to become good neighbours simply because he and his family are the only planters here who actually live on their land; the others are daily farmers.
As it happens, today seems to be a busy field day for most of them, a fortunate coincidence, and a chance for me to finally meet them on my walk to that large durian tree down the drive where Ah Chai, and by now three other men, have gathered around my strategic photo-shoot spot. Right now, with them by my side, I can witness the legendary and amazing power of the durian: it is said to attract and unite people. This is exactly what is happening here, in the midst of chilli-pepper plants for two Hakka men, one Bidayuh men and I, a French woman. The powerful spell of the durian spreads through South East Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, southern Thailand and Malaysia. No other fruit I know of can get people together to enjoy a splendid time like this one does. Who would fuss so much over a pineapple, a bunch of bananas or even a jack fruit?
Despite its thorny nature (“duri” in Malay means “thorn”) the durian actually creates bonds, at least between locals. As a general rule though, sharing a durian with a non-Asian person and without any prior briefing may result in the end of a beautiful friendship. Although there seems to be a growing number of Caucasians who claim to love the custard-like pulp that covers the large seeds encased in the inner compartments of the spiky shell, even for those it is still an acquired taste; most of them react by running off, literally, or like my friend Elsa did, by diving head first into a river! As controversial as a durian can sometimes be, and as much as it can test East meets West friendships to the brink, here in Sarawak, as everywhere else in the region, it is, truly, a diplomatic fruit which has been unanimously crowned KING of FRUITS, by both genders of all ethnic groups and regardless of their religious faith. Call a few friends to join a durian hunt all the way to some remote kampong (village) and you will find yourself leading a caravan!
Yes, it’s almost Christmas and back on the French Riviera, my brother and the whole family are probably feasting on tiny and cute looking, irresistibly flagrant Corsican Clementines (a winter fruit), while I am ready to bet with my husband that the almost 30 centimetres long, 15 centimetres in diameter and well above 2.5 kilos orangey durian that dropped from one of our trees during, is going to taste like the perfect KING of FRUITS, and tomorrow morning, I’ll walk down the drive again, to talk about it with Ah Chai and may be with a few other neighbours too.
Have a splendid festive season!