Okay, here’s my fucking fantasy. I would join up (or start up?) the Asian division of the ELF, and we would just obliterate every last motherfucking motorcycle on the entire landmass. Just fucking annihilating them, man. Just fucking…no prisoners, know what I’m saying? I’m talking “make a desert and call it peace” – only, it really would be peace. Think of it: no more motorcycles in Asia!
Shall we begin with Chiang Mai, or George Town? Maybe a spectacular simultaneous two-city event to announce our new campaign? We could leave behind some brochures.
Ah, well, probably I’m too cowardly (not to mention just plain lame) to actually be doing anything so righteous. But stay tuned: I may well snap.
For, George Town, much like its cousin-in-Heritage-status Luang Prabang, is an wholly intoxicating cultural/historical/architectural/sensory melange the likes of which to leave one’s head spinning ‘round and ‘round and ‘round again.
But the fucking motorcycles, brah (automobiles too, really). They’re stomping right to death this beautiful accident of space/time which is Penang Island. Deader even than Chiang Mai, maybe. And what can one cowardly farang do, save weep? If you think of something, let me know, ‘cause I’m almost running out of tears.
Be the foregoing as it may, it didn’t prevent me from on Wednesday, following a bracing noon-hour thunderstorm,…
…really digging in to the heart of George Town; just walking the streets of the historic district, and allowing the molecules gloriously to suffuse my concisouness.
In Little India can be found, exploding out of the many record/video shoppes in the neighbourhood, the most exhilarating music in a city with a lot of it. The lively street scene is punctuated by shoppe-owners so strikingly gorgeous and utterly friendly and charming that — when admixed with the aromas emanating from their restaurants’ kitchens – I came very close to cracking and eating a Veggie Buryani. So far I have been able to resist; but for how long…?
The visiting of the gaggle of temples populating the length of Cannon street began auspiciously enough with a most excellent omen with which to begin such a journey:
And the temples? Well, the temples…
It’s interesting: the Chinese temples in Thailand seem so cartoony as to make one believe they were designed for children rather than adults. Not so here in George Town, where the Chinese temples are exquisitely beautiful and peaceful – with just enough whimsy around the edges to keep farang grounded. The Hock Teik Cheng Sin has now been entrenched as one of my very favourites in all of Asia.
The architecture around town is of course evocative and inviting.
The people-watching is phenomenal. Hell, it’s probably the most entertaining people-watching scene I’ve ever encountered anywhere.
There’s plenty of weird shit what’ll cause doubles- triples- quadruples-take.
The shoppes and galleries are to the hilt. And there’s (from the looks of it) so much more to the city and island outside the main core historic area, not to mention the country at large, that it’s little wonder ninety-day visa-free entry is so willingly granted: given such licence, the visitor will surely wind up extending his or her stay much longer than originally intended.
And on top of all this is the Durian!
But first, on the way to Times Square, a stop in to see if we could spy on a little bit of Pooja action.
Okay, maybe it’s not quite Eyes Wide Shut territory – but it’s pretty close!
If one would be so kind as to recall, the plan for Wednesday evening was to eat a Red Prawn. But then, I showed up and noticed some OC on display. Had never heard of this variety, but it looked so inviting that once I’d given a little whiff, it was all over.
“This one,” warned Hassan, cradling it in his hands, “this one is quite expensive. Are you sure you want to try?” It’s the same price as the Musan King.
“Let’s do it.” I was trying to sound casual and collected, you know?
That’s not Hassan modeling the OC, but rather his gruff-yet-merry Leftenant. Not sure the spelling of his name; something like “Fuoeng”, I think.
This is it, right here. This is the Durian variety for which any and all would crawl the scorchingest desert or swim the vastest ocean to be granted only the smallest of tastes. This is the One Durian to rule them all, the One Durian to find them.
Take your thesaurus and burn it, folks; because there aren’t any words.
My world melted and mind eviscerated, I then opted to try a Siow Hong, and an un-named variety. Both excellent indeed…but, I should have eaten the OC last; because after having experienced that, nothing else was going to even register.
After, stopped and watched a bit of this outdoor performance. Kind of a goofy pop vibe; I couldn’t believe, given how much I love the music in town, that it didn’t do anything for me. Dude was kind of fun to watch, though.
Yesterday, Thursday, I walked down to the market to get me some Watermelon, and to my surprise bumped into (not almost literally this time) “Durian Darrick”. Darrick is, so far as I’m aware, the Godfather of the Durian vagabonding scene. He’s been blazing the trails for five or six years now; and Durian vendors throughout Asia know him by name.
It was his blog, The Vagabonding Vegan, which inspired me, even way back in 2008 or so, to get rid of all my crap and come to Asia to live life as a Durian fanatic. I had originally met him, briefly, in Hilo whilst he was – what else? – purchasing Durian at the Market. Recognised him, then, from the videos and pics of himself he’d posted in his blogs.
It was really great to be privilged to spend some time with him. Friendly and welcoming, yet soft-spoken and deliberate in his choice of words, he seems reluctant to accept the mantle as the progenitor of the Movement; preferring instead to inquisitively pry out little nuggets from those whose company he keeps. And, yes: we did manage to discuss subjects other than Durian.
After lunch down by the sea, he took me to see his favoured Durian vendor. Upon his recommendation, I purchased a Green Skin 15 (have yet to eat it). Darrick hadn’t tried OC before, so I asked the vendor if he had any. He said that he might be able to get one for tomorrow (i.e., to-day), but that it wouldn’t be cheap. I noted that the price was the same for which I’d paid; and that in my opinion it was worth twice that price. So he reserved his OC to pick up this afternoon…
After that, he showed me his hotel. Note the bare feet – he says he’s been too self-conscious to walk around barefoot in Asia, not liking the attention drawn by the doing of same. But seeing myself prance around sans shoes, he felt liberated to do so as well. Here’s hoping his flip-flops have been forevermore retired!
He’s been staying at the same place for four years now (i.e., when Durian are in season); and he introduced me to an Australian expat who’s been in the same joint continuously for seven years. Name of “Rick”, he’s now fruitarian for three or four of those seven years.
Darrick busted out and shared with us a Kapili he’d had stored in his room. The same price as the Musan and the OC, the one segment I had was enough to know what I’d be purchasing at Times Square in a few hours hence. Darrick said he’d had better of the same variety, however.
On the way to Times Square, I showed him a few of the temples I particularly like; and couldn’t help snapping even some more photos while so doing. (Yep, that’s the Moon there in the middle photo.)
Darrick had sat down to eat yet another Durian (the man is truly possessed); an un-named one which he’d brought along with. Alas, the temple was closing up shop for the evening, and we did must go on outside the grounds instead – where he attempted to share the Durian with any and all comers. But I turned out to be the only one who would take him up on the offer.
He then realised that he had got way too many ripe Durian back in his room to be picking up even still more of them in Times Square; so he took my leave, and I put it on the heel and toe to meet my dinner.
This gentleman, on the left there…
…stopped me and demanded to know just what in Holy Hell a farang was doing toting a Durian all around town? “Durian is my favourite!” I screamed to his surprise and delight.
He opined that, “When you taste Durian, you are in Heaven.” No truer words ever were spoke.
Arriving to Times Square, I made a beeline for Hassan’s stall, failing to notice that finally the buffet was in session. Kenneth, a staffer at my hostel, happened to be there partaking, and came over to steer me back in that direction. “If you want to try the buffet, then you should try the buffet,” Hassan graciously demurred.
“But…” I protested to Kenneth’s confused reaction, “this man is my hero!”
They were all sold out of Kapili; and I instead chowed down, at Hassan’s suggestion, on a D17.
“Do you think you can finish it?” mused Hassan playfully.
“I’ll finish it or die trying.” I was too focused on the task at hand to think up anything urbane — or even half-assed-witty. But somehow, Hassan busted a gut laughing. It didn’t seem like a courtesy laugh; but, I dunno, maybe it was.
Possibly the smoothest/creamiest Durian I’ve yet tasted, and subtly delicious; the D17’s flavour was in fact a little too subtle to rank among my faves.
After this, I ordered up a Hor Lor. I’d tasted just a little bit a few days before, and was anxious to dig in to an entire fruit.
And…another Penang Durian for which to seek to the ends of one’s very faculties. Oh, yes, the rumours are true: Penang is Miracle Island.
While I was eating my Hor Lor, Faisal told me that he wanted to “take me around Penang” to show me his dad’s stall. This is, I think, the “Durian Paradise” about which Hassan had told me before. Turns out that Hassan is not actually Faisal’s Uncle by blood; but instead a long-time very close friend of the family — with whom I get the feeling Faisal may even have lived for a time.
I’ve been interested to observe Faisal during this week. Mostly, he seems to just languidly laze it around on one or other of the wicker chairs deployed ’round and about the festival tent, smoking clove cigarettes and perhaps goofing off with his mobile device. But every once in a while I’ve caught glimpse of even Hassan himself asking Faisal’s help in putting the ID to a given fruit.
And when the stall gets busy and Faisal gets up to help out, he takes his craft very seriously.
As an aside, Hassan doesn’t allow photography of his person. But that’s him on the far left in the first pic; and with his back to Faisal’s in the second and third pics. Don’t tell him, okay?
Eighteen years old, Faisal has been working for his father for six years. He puts as much careful consideration into negotiating Penang’s insanely busy traffic corridors as he does carving up his father’s prized delicacies. He says the shop will be closed for a few days next week, so that the family can deliver 2,000 Durian to KL for some kind of corporate staff-appreciation party. Uh…wow; 2,000 Durian! He assured me they’ll all fit onto one truck.
I told him of my intention to return to Penang next year for Durian season, and he gave me his card and told me to call him when I arrived. I told him that we had a deal; and he begged me to not forget. Perish the thought, I admonished him.
Well, maybe the shop isn’t quite the Durian overload which I’d from Hassan’s description imagined.
But it feels like home all the same. From my brief gleanings, it was clear that the shop’s customers are intensely loyal – not to mention keenly knowledgeable about and appreciative of the King Of Fruit.
Faisal was excited for me to take a photo of the shop’s brand-new banner, which has not yet even been hung. That’s his father on the right.
“Cap” is Malay for “shop”; while “Landak”, I believe, is the Malay word for “porcupine”. Durian-loving (and all-around Penang-wise) older gentleman who owns the hostel here says that porcupines are prized for their supposed aphrodisiacal and cancer-curing properties.
I wanted to purchase a Kapili, but Faisal’s father opened one up for me and insisted that it was on the house. I protested to no avail, and finally got down to the business experiencing the ripping from my feet of the ground on which I stood.
Another stunner, the Kapili moves to near the head of the class. If we would return to the Lord Of The Rings analogy, it might shake out like this:
The One Durian: OC
The Three: Ang Bak Kia, Hor Lor, Kapili
Faisal then took me to meet his mother and brother. When we arrived, his mom – who’d not been expecting visitors – began to freak the fuck out over the unfolded laundry resting in a comfy chair in the family’s living room. I couldn’t enter the house until she’d got them all hidden away.
But when she finally did permit my entrance, a more warm and friendly host one could never imagine. She says I’m the first American ever to have visited her home; and it only took a little bit of prodding for her to talk my ear off for so long that Faisal at last had to protest that we needed to get back to Times Square.
His mom was in despair at my dietetic protestations against her offers of something to eat; so much so that I finally accepted a glass of Tang. She insisted that next time I visit, I must stay the night; and, after a round of picture-taking and the meeting of Faisal’s cousin and his aunties living next door, we were off; his brother deciding to come along with.
(Please, try not to notice the “Durian Belly” protruding over top of my belt there.)
On the way back into town, Faisal gave me a small tour of Penang-by-night, and when we arrived back to the festival, Hassan and co. were just getting ready to close up for the evening. (When Durian are in season, the family’s stand is open from 8:00 in the AM until 2:00 in the AM.)
Hassan promised to save a Red Prawn for me for tomorrow (i.e., to-day), and I set out to return to the hostel.
A little more than half-way along, I was accosted by a manically charming Indian tourist incredulous at my barefoot. “But it is against all scientific reasoning!” he thundered.
I made the case that in fact it is just the opposite. Barely managing to keep quiet long enough for me to play out an argument, he continued, “Okay, maybe I can accept this during the daytime. But at night? This is…this is…” He began tripping over his words, so instead led me to a darkened corner of the sidewalk, demanding to know how I could possibly negotiate such a stretch in full confidence of the safety of the ground underfoot?
Instead of noting that the ground upon which I’d been treading was much more well lit than was this particular corner, I agreed with him that I probably shouldn’t be walking barefoot at night.
I was so enchanted with his manner that I offered to share with him the Green Skin 15 which I’d all afternoon and evening been hauling around town. This sent him off into another paroxysmic jeremiad, this one concerning the evils of the Durian’s aroma (though admitting that the taste is enjoyable).
As he was raging against the stench which needs must emanate from all who consume the fruit; I asked him if I were possessed of this wickedness? Indeed not, he assured me, standing very close. Informed that I had eaten four Durian this day, the most recent within an hour-and-a-half, he grew entirely bewildered. “But…but…but…how long does does it take, the smell, to…to…to…to…”
“Dissipate?” I offered.
“Dissipate! How long to dissipate?” A word he used again and again over the next few hours, after he led me over to a bench to sit down and chat more in depth. It’s a pretty wack worldview he’s got, but he was so entertaining, I couldn’t possibly protest at its having been time for me to go sleep my Durian dreams.
In the end, we did find quite a few points of common ideological ground. But more than that, it was a hoot engaging in a pointed back-and-forth with such a learned-yet-insane gentleman as this.
His manifesto, to put a word to it, seems to be that the great principled men of history were those – Sadat, Rabin, and Gandhi were his examples – who acted on principle even assured in the knowledge that they would be assassinated for so doing. Lincoln, meanwhile, was a “rascal” who acted not on principle but had instead been fed by a power-mad monomania.
He’s surprisingly obsessed with the American Civil War. After listening to his repeated defense of the “institution of slavery”, on logical grounds that if the slaves had been starved and mistreated, the slave-owners would had to have purchased new ones, I protested that the logical conclusion of his argument is that Africans should have been volunteering to become slaves. He accused me of muddling the argument, to which, as I say, he returned again and again.
Meanwhile, as he was trying to convince me the validity of the concept of Karma, I finally had to counter that the execution of Karmic vengeance didn’t undo the injustice for which it had been invoked. “But that is not for us to understand!! I used to think like you, a long time ago. But men are clay! Karma is not clay! Men are clay!”
On and on he went with his mad and brilliant theories; until finally, when he was beginning to get a might too repetitive, I begged off and made tracks for a bed in which to sleep.
He hadn’t, earlier, allowed me to take his picture, and had wondered if I’d wanted to know why? When I’d said that I did, he’d promised to tell me later on; but then we both forgot about it. If I see him around town again, I’ll try to steal a shot.
A long, weird, fascinating day in Malaysia!