Bao Sheng II: No Borders, No Fences, No Walls

“It is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it is telling the truth.”  — Terence McKenna

I am whimsically intrigued by McKenna’s notion that Mushrooms may be interstellar beings who found it in their hearts – by way of having sent out billions of spores which were able to remain viable whilst gliding through outer space for hundreds of millions of years – to travel ‘cross the galaxy and establish themselves here on Earth. Mushrooms, he posited, may be the aliens among us. Are they the only ones?

No, I’ve not while under the Durian’s hypnotic sway experienced hallucinogenic visions of little green Martian visitors. But for McKenna, that was kind of beside the point anyway. While of this Earth in ways the Mushroom might not be, the Durian is patently capable of revealing  the very “plant-induced ecstasies” which, McKenna believed, could help us-here wayward human persons both to confront the alien within and to curb our societies’ frighteningly destructive tendencies.

I can attest that Durian messes with your mind, ruptures your soul, haunts your being, drives your dreaming…and leaves you begging for more. Sure, all manner of natural and synthetic compounds are equally capable. But here’s the kicker: Unlike a hunting-centred dietary which McKenna championed, fruit — that shit is as nutritious as all get-out. What’s more, in Mr. Chang Teik Seng, AKA “Durian Seng” – whose acquaintance this blog previously made during Miss Lindsay’s twenty-fifth birthday bash — Durianism has even found its ultimate Shaman.

For one reason or another, I’d let slip past an entire month’s time since that previous visit. But earlier this week, I finally made my way back to the Bao Sheng Durian Farm, by the same route as before: Grabbing the bus from George Town to Teluk Bahang, and then making the two-hour walk from there to the Farm, arriving at about 10:15 in the AM. This time, thankfully, there wasn’t any kind of Motorcycle Armageddon to bring me down. Which is not however to say that the trip was not in any way fraught, as this fun-loving sign may perhaps serve to illustrate…

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Sheesh – looks like somebody needs to learn how to control their temper…

I wasn’t sure, so late in the season, how much would still be going on farmside; and so upon arrival tentatively inquired whether the Durian Tastings were still being offered? “Of course!” blurted Mr. Chang’s son (we’ll call him “Durian, Jr.”), relating that his father would be arriving within the hour, the Morning Harvest in tow. He then back-tracked somewhat, allowing that at this time of year, it depends upon luck whether the Level 3 tasting would on any given day be available. The Levels, priced accordingly, work out as follows:

  • Level 1 – Durian from trees younger than forty years.
  • Level 2 – Durian from trees older than forty years.
  • Level 3 – Durian from trees older than forty years and which have fallen no more than two hours from time of presentation.

Myself and nine Singaporeans – seven of whom had the previous night sacked out in one of the farm’s onsite Villas (as its quite charming bungalows are termed) – gathered ‘round, swapping tall tales while waiting for our D. Seng to arrive with with his most precious of cargoes…

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Which, he soon enough did do, the Singaporeans flocking about his motor-car as though he were a goddang Beatle inside there — or at the very least, the frickin’ Buddha. (There is, perhaps, some resemblance to the latter.)

The Family Durian unburdened the vehicle, and Durian, Jr. pointed out to his father which of us desired which Levels of plant-induced goodness. Mr. Chang then wasted no time in collecting our moneys – assuring us that we were in a good way, Durianwise, and that Level 3 would indeed be in effect on this day. Himself, Mrs. Durian, and Durian, Jr. then proceeded straight away into selecting and sorting the fruits for the upcoming Session.

Now, you may find yourself moaning that you don’t give a flying fuck about Durian, and that you’d rather spend your time cleaning up dogs’ and cats’ urine stains. It’s your right, of course. But I suspect that you’ll find yourself — should you choose to screen the footages to be hereunder set forth – quickly drawn in by Mr. Chang’s charisma (and also by the attendees’ unbridled enthusiasm and wonder). You will too, I do believe, find yourself fascinated by the arcane minutiae explored herein, and marveling at both the depth of knowledge and the force of passion wrought by Mr. Chang’s decades of practice in the Durianic Arts.

So set your humidifier to “Sauna”, bring a load of ants and bees into your house, slap on some jungle sounds, pull up a tree-stump stool, and revel in the profound enjoyment to be gained at witnessing a true Master of his craft at work — and at play.

Following some introductory remarks, Mr. Chang began by describing the Five Flavours of Durianism – Sweet, Bitter, Flower, Wine, and Numb – and how best to experience them. The varieties we would be sampling were: Green Skin 15, Hor Lor, Musang King, Ganja, Red Prawn, and even a kampung. (Kampung – or “Local” — Durian are un-domesticated fruits, whose trees grew from seed.)

Next, he laid out for us the order in which he proposed the Durian be eaten: those whose flavours exhibited the more overwhelming qualities would be eaten after those with the more subtle, lest the latter’s be washed out in the former’s wake.

And finally, we set about to our respective businesses: Durian Seng in cracking open the day’s first viand – a Green Skin 15 – and the rest of us in attempting to make the Guinness record for most photos snapped in a brief hot moment. The way we were carrying on, you’d have thought that Old Faithful was embarking his very last and final throes, or like that. But, holy poop! what a wonderful sight it was we beheld – really, you could hardly hold against us our manic behaviours…

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So camera-happy were the Singaporeans, that one of them even grabbed mine from me and snapped me chowing down.

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Though this was a much more intimate session than the shambolic, raucous affair that had been Lindsay’s B-Day Party, it still at times veered toward the chaotic, as Mrs. Durian and Durian, Jr. made frequent interruptions to add a newfound Level 3 fruit to the kitty…

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…or to deliver some or other whispered message to Durian Seng’s waiting ear. But for the most part, Mr. Chang was dialed in, delivering his Teaching with an unquenchable glee and a gilt-hewn panache.

Then, whilst eating of our second Green Skin, and listening to him explain a point to me, it happened: “Ah! This one is Numb!” I exclaimed as the sensation crept over my lips and tongue.

“Yeah, that’s a Numb,” he casually agreed with a quick glance — as if he were checking the time of day – before returning to the point he’d been in the midst of making.

But though he had told us that we would on this day be experiencing the Numb, he had not warned us that it would be this fruit which would bring the whammy. So although the feeling was not all that pronounced, it took me completely by surprise, causing me to squirm and flail in shocked/amazed delight.

Later, while eating a Red Prawn, it happened again. And, again, Durian Seng had failed to warn us. So while this one’s Numb properties were even more subtle than the Green Skin’s had been, I still, right in the middle of asking a question, squealed, “Oh! Another Numb!” I was excited to experience the Wine/Alcohol flavour (also for the first time) as well – again, courtesy the mighty Red Prawn.

And (laugh if you must) I swear to gosh I eated a Red Prawn tasting just like buttered popcorn. This is actually the second time this has happened – both with Red Prawn, and both while seated at Bao Sheng’s Durian. The first time, during the birthday party, the Fruit Peeps reacted to my discovery by regarding me a damned-fool nitwit (at best). This time, I kept it to myself…but I ain’t messin’ you, folks: About one in fifteen Bao Sheng Red Prawns tastes like buttered fucking popcorn!

But we’re putting carts before horses, here. Returning now to the matter at hand: While still wending our way toward the Red Prawn eatdown, Durian Seng had occasion to demonstrate two notable characteristics of Durian from very old trees. The first, which he has dubbed “Durian In Black”, is the expression of blue/black colouration in the Durian’s flesh.

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The second is the lovely wrinkling effect which appears in the flesh of older trees. The more wrinkles, the older the tree.

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After having plowed our way through the warm-up varieties, it was time to get on to the final two. Musang King is currently Malaysia’s most highly-decorated variety – with a whopping price tag to match. (Remember, though, that in order to reach Level 3, a Durian must have fallen from a tree at least forty years old. In other words, the varieties now beginning to fill up trophy cases were all initially planted about half a century ago. That’s some kind of impressive patience and foresight!) Here, Mr. Chang explains the difference between the Musangs grown in Penang and those grown on the mainland, then moves into a discussion of Penang’s best varieties.

Though Mr. Chang officially Teaches only the five canonical flavours noted above, when you get him good and liquored up, he tells of the nebulous sixth flavour. Let’s listen!

After explaining why he’d saved the cache of Red Prawn (also commonly referred to by its Chinese name, “Ang He”) ‘til last…

…it was finally time to get down to brass tacks. Bao Sheng’s Level 3 Red Prawn fruits are, quite simply, captured perfection. The sine qua non of the Bao Sheng experience, their exquisite combination of flavour and texture quakes the earth under the pilgrim’s feet and leaves the poor sap grasping futilely for meaning. Hella delish.

Heh, I now realise that I didn’t really take any photos of the Red Prawn kine that day. So, instead, some shots taken during yesterday’s subsequent visit (oy, my billfold can’t handle much more of this), of two that nearly brought tears to my eyes. Here I am with the first; this is the entirety of the edible portion. A one-seeded Durian – but oh what a seed it was!

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Photos courtesy Durian Seng. (Ha!, the son of a bitch takes better pictures sight-unseen with my camera than I could ever dream of doing even having owned it for now three years’ time.) Next, Durian, Jr. models the second of the two humdinger fruits.

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He charitably remarked that my having rescued these two beauties from out of the bins now qualifies me as a “Durian Expert”. Shit, my own personal estimation is that I’m about two steps along a (delicious, to be sure) path of 10,000 stones. But let’s get back to our narrative…

While we made our way through his inimitable quarry, Mr. Chang continued the Lessons, here explaining the effects upon flavour of the shining down of sunlight and of the passage of time.

Though I regard the Family’s method of priming their Durian up for max enjoyment…

…with a bemused skepticism, I gotta admit that it’s also pretty damned entertaining. Is it truly the vibrations set off by the fruits’ impacting with the ground which bring to the fore their remarkable flavours? I dunno…might could. But Mr. Chang’s antics certainly don’t negatively affect their flavour; so if he wants to dribble them around his Dining Shack like so many thorned-over basketballs, then more power to him (sez I)!

Mr. Chang finished the Session with an enumeration of those varieties which can, and cannot, bring the Numb — followed by a brief discussion of the economics of the farm.

Half the Singaporeans had given themselves the heave-ho, and the remainder were fixing to do the same (I had purchased a Day Pass, unlocking access to all the farm’s fruits for so long as the stomach had remaining some space with which to accommodate them), when Mrs. Durian surreptitiously delivered to our table a Level 3 Green Skin 15 which had fallen only half-an-hour before. Uh, uh-oh.

We dug in and learnt…oh, my word maximum fucking numbness. Kuh-razee fucking Numb. Insane-in-the-membrane fucking Numb. This-is-become-the-greatest-day-in-history fucking Numb. What’s more, the Singaporeans were already bursting at the seams, so despite my continued prodding, they actually ate very little of this astounding, mind-melting specimen – leaving me, well, ecstatically to perform the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Maybe my whole face was buzzing by the time I’d finished it off. Despite Mr. Chang’s instruction that the Numb sensation dissipates after ten or fifteen seconds’ time, this fruit’s effect stayed with me for a good half-hour, also affecting the flavour of the subsequent Durians I consumed during that period. Though the sensation eventually did fade away, I think the experience has left my brain permanently warped. Here’s how that behemoth looked like…

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After the last of the Singaporeans departed, I had five or so minutes inside the eye of the hurricane – alone with Durianmaster Seng – before a group of about ten Hong Kongers showed up itching for a Durianical git-up/throw-down of their own. Huhn, I guess it was Former British Colonial Holding Turned Megalopoloid Island City-State day at Bao Sheng’s – thanks god they saw fit to let my dimpled white Gringo ass in as well!

Come to find out, these Hong Kongers happened to be raw-food enthusiasts, too. Cool enough. Two of them (I think) are one hundred percent raw, the rest are somewhere along the path toward same. Some of them have combined forces to open and operate a raw-food restaurant, which is where they-all have their meet-ups and get-togethers and shit like that. They were a super-nice and super-cool crew (as had been the Singaporeans, let me stress).

Despite there weren’t any Level 3 Durian remaining, another Lesson was begun, and still more fruit voraciously devoured.

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Though the Hong Kongers all seemed to me quite adept in their English-language skillz, this Session was largely conducted in Cantonese. (Mr. Chang told me he also speaks Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, and of course English – now that’s what you can call a “Renaissance Mofo”!) Here, though, is an inspirational Teaching in which Mr. Chang enthuses over some of the qualities resident only in the King Of Fruit.

And if you do speak Chinese, you’re in luck! I took some Cantonese footage as well, and have released it to the online Wilds — let’s hope the Chinese government don’t chase me down and smack me upside the skull.

After dropping a little bit of Science (n.b., I took the liberty of proofreading and reformatting the essay referenced in this clip, and have posted it hereabouts — pretty fun read, though there are some conclusions with which I rather disagree)…

…Mr. Chang fielded a couple of questions from yours truly, the first to do with the habits of wild animals, and the second with composting.

He then brought out some other fruits. See how excited he is to give this Papaya – and how excited the fruitistas to receive.

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As he said that it was an exceptionally fresh fruit, I was interested to give it a try and see whether I could actually get an Asian Papaya worth eating? No dice, alas. My opinion remains that when it comes to Papayas, if it ain’t Big Island Hawaiian, then it ain’t shit.

Mr. Chang also dropped one each absolutely gorgeous-looking Chempedak and Jakfruit.

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Which, I was especially keen to give the former a try, as on the last day I saw him before he went back home, my Norwegian bro’ Mads told me that he’d once et a red-fleshed Chempedak which had tasted like (wait for it)…spaghetti sauce. But, turns out, this one was just a plain ol’ bubblegummy variety. Normally, I’d have been all over that shizzit any old way; but on this day, all else (including even the handful of Mangosteens I lit into) utterly paled in comparison to the one and only…

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What is Durian? I can’t claim to know.

Is it a god, or an alien race? Can we be sure that the emotions it conjures, the stories it unfolds, can be trusted? Could it be used to usher in a new Dawn of human consciousness – one that permits us to accept, rather than destroy, Mother Nature’s gifts?

Valid questions all. I feel that it will require the consumption of hundreds or perhaps even thousands more to begin to be able to formulate something approaching a coherent response. Here’s to that journey — and to the Durian friends/fiends with whom it shall hopefully be shared!

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One Response to Bao Sheng II: No Borders, No Fences, No Walls

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