Have you had durian yet?
There’s a joke in India that the laws of gravity may have been radically different had Newton been seated under a jackfruit tree rather than one bearing apples.
If the same joke is told in Malaysia, I guess jackfruit will be swapped out for durian. It’s the one question nearly every tourist gets asked, particularly by way of casual conversation, in a cab: ‘Have you had durian yet? If so, what’s your opinion?’ Rumour has it that what most visitors think of the durian (in private) is unprintable.
It’s a fruit — despite its ‘King of Fruits’ label in those parts, that has divided opinion right down the middle, widely. You either like a durian or you abhor it. So, on a recent visit, when I ordered a cab and entered it, I was initially repelled by the strong odour inside.
I was really fortunate that I’d brought my laptop along. It helped quickly inform those closest to me. It also helped that I was able to log into iCloud, and, via its technology, locate my phone … travelling around the little island of Penang, as the cab made its way from customer to customer
‘What is that smell?’ I couldn’t help inquiring. The driver, a cheerful, smiley man, volleyed my question back with one of his own, ‘What smell, sir?’ As soon as he recognised me as a tourist, he added, ‘Oh, you must be smelling the durian!’ I was, indeed.
It was all up my nostrils, tearing its way up the sinuses and threatening to addle my brain. I’m certain the strong odour had affected my visage. I could feel the blood leave my face.
Had my prankster mate Barney been seated beside me, he’d have said, never missing the opportunity for a bad pun, ‘You look the picture of Durian Grey.’ Thankfully, Barney was back in Sydney and I, in the meantime, brain-fogged, was struggling to keep up with the cab driver’s running commentary on the merits and virtues of the durian. He had enough facts up his sleeve to take up an entire teaching lesson of forty minutes.
Carousel out of control
My mind spun like a carousel out of control, aided and abetted by the strongly redolent odour inside the vehicle. And it was in this state of mind that we eventually pulled up at my hotel.
I paid, he reminded me to sample the durian sometime, said ‘cheerio’, a term that I thought had long gone out of use, and drove off.
And it was as I entered the elevator, riding up to Level 28 that I realised I’d left my iPhone behind in the cab. That, at half an hour short of midnight, started a fresh round of mind-spinning. Everything — my travel details, contacts, mail — was on the phone. It’s one of the worst experiences ever for a traveller. Losing one’s phone.
There’s no way of even informing near ones of what’s happened. I think it’s easier these days to deal with losing a wallet. Anyhow, I got the hotel security involved and they — to their credit — worked every trick in the book to try and contact the driver — an impossibility, as it turned out because the invoice that I managed to get hold of only gave the driver’s name, not even the car number.
I was really fortunate that I’d brought my laptop along. It helped quickly inform those closest to me. It also helped that I was able to log into iCloud, and, via its technology, locate my phone … travelling around the little island of Penang, as the durian-fragranced cab made its way from customer to customer.
Four hours it took, by which time I’d been advised to lodge a police complaint and found myself, at around 3am in the company of four eager-to-assist front desk police personnel. When the phone was eventually returned and I was thanking the officers before leaving, one of them smiled and said, ‘I don’t need to ask you. I can tell you’ve been enjoying our durian. It has a very strong smell, eh?’ Eh, indeed.
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.