Gimme That Old Thai Voodoo!

Boy, am I ever thrilled that I ended up flying out of Bangkok. I love Penang, and I like KL pretty all right. But Thailand…Thailand is just the best (as this latest, briefest visit served to yet again remind). They call Thailand “The Land Of Smiles”, but as I’ve argued many a time previously, Land Of Weird And Surreal would be an epithet every bit as appropriate.

Take this goddam place I visited the other day, for example – Papaya Vintage Shop, up there at Lat Phrao. Oh, first of all, take this goddam 22-hour rail passage from Hat Yai, which lolled into Hua Lamphong a full six hours behind schedule – making it, I think, both the longest and furthest-behind-schedule train ride in all of my Thai rail experiences. A little fact-checking may be in order, here.


Economical – Yes, it is that, in spades. Seven bucks for the passage, including the overnight “accommodation”. Prices like those are impossible to resist.

Safe – In my experience, it is that, too; though I have on occasion read in the Post of trains having jumped their tracks.

Fast – Um…ah…er…I think…not.

Comfort – Ha ha.  At least in the Economical classes frequented by yours truly, comfort is about the thing it’s furthest from.

But, actually, the sign misses the best part of the third-class rail-ridin’ experience, viz., poking one’s head out the window, feeling the rush of the wind upon the face, listening to the clickety-clackety clickety-clack drone on for endless hundreds of kilmotres, and gogging at the beautiful Thai countryside rolling by. Nothing but nothing beats that! It’d be a bargain at ten times the price.



Anyways, back to this goddam Papaya Shop joint. Stopped by there on the way to attend the Muay Thai, and stayed so long I ended up arriving late for the Muay Thai. What it is, it’s a freakin’ temple o’ kitsch. Three huge floors covered right up to the gills in bric-a-brac.

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Factually, it’s not so different from the House Of Museums, which I visited three years ago — though Papaya, unlike the latter, is shockingly free of dust, cobwebs, and ankle-loving mosquitoes (all features so common to Southeast Asian museums one would think they were mandated by the contract). The music of choice, though, at the House Of Museums was old-thyme Thai traditionals, while at Papaya, it’s all Sinatra all day long. But also, whereas the former seems more ad hoc, the latter is a monument to OCD. Imagine a series of Jar Jar Binkses next to a wall of clocks, next to a room full of furniture arrangements, next to a mountain of suitcases, next to…next to…next to… But all of it very lovingly and carefully arranged, see?

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My favourite was the collection of old typewriters and adding machines…

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And there were plenty of other crazy shit besides. Here is a very small scratching of the surface. Yo, if there’s anybody can tell me what this “SMASH!” thing is for, I’d sure like to know. (And in re the nekkid mannequin: There were dozens, maybe even scores, of nekkid mannequins throughout the grounds. I don’t think I ever spied a one with its clothes on.)

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The oddnesses continued next afternoon, after I’d said my tearful adieus to the Good People of the one/only De Talak Hostel (centre of all that is righteous in humankind – though they were not the ones doing the crying, let me assure you), gathered up my luggage, and popped the subway to Bangkok’s tallest skyscrapah — the Baiyoke Sky Hotel — to meet up with my Thai sister-from-another-mister and to sample of the hotel’s fruit buffet, which had been recommended to me a few weeks before by arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell.

No sooner had we filled up our plates, sat our dimpled asses down, and smelled the first whiffs of the Durian which the staff had parsimoniously doled out from behind the wizzzard’s curtain…that in walks arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell – with his bags (and his cool/mellow son, name of Damien) in tow!  I’d known that we were to be flying out of BKK on the same night, but had not guessed I’d be seeing him here. Well…fuck it: Fruit party every body!

But, huhn, that’s not even the trippy part yet. Which, there we were having ourselves a gay old time scorfing down the restaurant’s Papayas and Pineapples and Grapes and Coconuts and Mangos and Longkongs (the Longkongs were very delish) and Dragonfruits and Honeydew and just you-fuckin’-name-it, and then we noticed, being projected in a video-loop upon the wall behind us, an interview being conducted with the very ringleader of the Durionic Hordes, the all-time Durian obsessive, the Queen Of The Thorns, Lindsay from the Year Of The Durian blog.

We barely even had time to wonder How-in-the-fuck? before, in scenes from a Thai Durian Orchard, comes bounding onscreen everybody’s favourite human, the God of Chanthaburi fruit-hunting, Mr. Nong von Nongster.


And then finally, the coupe de god damn fuckin’ schweirdness, up on thee screen come footage of none other but arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell himself (!). Right while he was watching, too! That’s some weird crazy shit gone down over there in Bangkok town. And for those who don’t subscribe to the primacy of coincidence, well…you tell me what it all means?

I et my last pieces of Durian – Boo! Sob! – and, as nobody else’d ponied up the extra Baht to check out the O-Deck, shuffled up there by meself. I was serenaded, in the lift, by a three-piece band heading up to the top-floor restaurant to perform – and, ho hum, each member rocking a crazy-assed haircut. Then, the stairwell up to the revolving outdoor viewing stand smelt permanently of fart, was painted up in some kind of sci-fi narrative, and had a dude in a orange monkey suit walking around. Fuckin’…Thailand Weirdland! Who-could-ever-want-to-leave-this-place?-land.

After all that had gone, the view was frankly pretty anticlimactic. But, here it is, Bangkok from the top.

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Grant and Damien had waited for me downstairs, so the three of us hopped the link train out to Suvarnabhumi. My flight was just getting ready to check in when we arrived, and theirs was still some hours forthcoming. So, I bid them a fond farewell – Grant is going to be running in some damned-fool twenty-four-plus-hour marathon all the way across the United Kingdom in just a few days’ time – and made my way into the bowels of the airport.

There were a few tense minutes at Passport Control – three different personnel took it in turns to screw their faces up into confused-looking contortions when cross-checking my hard-copy with their computer’ screens’ records. When she finally did deign to administer the ever-precious “chop” (as the Malays delight in terming the applying of the stamp – if you ever travel in a van with Malays, you had better be prepared to discuss at great length your “chop” experience, or you ain’t gonna be discussing anything at all), I asked the clerk if there had been any problem. “No problem,” she merrily replied, “I check your data!” O-kay, do-kay.

I arrived to the gate with just about exactly enough time to listen to the new Sleater-Kinney rekkid before the boarding call, and that was that. Thailand Weirdland; that’s-a the place for me-land. Save some Durian for when I return, if you would be so kind. (By thee way, all of my pics from this year’s Thai Rodeo are shimmering themselves silly over at Flickrside.)

Oh, before I forget: One last pix, from Cambodia, which I’d (wrongfully) neglected until now to share. How cute is that shit?

I’ll see ya tomorrow.

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Penang Digest

[dc]F[/dc]or anybody who likes to read the blog, but prefers not to follow the timeline, here’s how it went down in Penang this year. The three fortnights were dominated by the following obsessions. The text is just copied from the timeline — more pics from each report can be learnt by following the links. Also, all my pics from Malaysia have been sent to the Flickr page, and may be observed there as well.

Obsession The First…

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(June 13)

Me: [Beating a hasty path toward the Esplanade, freshly procured Durian in hand.]
Park-Bench Sittah: So, you take Durian?
Me: Yeah!
Park-Bench Sittah: It’s good, eh?
Me: Yes! Number one!
Park-Bench Sittah: But I thought, uhhhh…Europeans don’t take Durian?
Me: I’m American. We take it!

In point of actual fact, I don’t guess that Americans are any more likely than are Europeans to “take” Durian. But, sometimes, it’s necessary to lie a little in order to get to the truth — ain’t that right?

At any rate, the season here is already in FULL swing. And if my initial forays are any indication, it is going to be a fucking barn-burner! Who wants to come join me here??? Raise your goddam hand up!

(June 16)

The year’s first venture to Bao Sheng Durian Farm: All the delights that Heaven allows (but say bye-bye to my flat tummy). Organic Penang Durian, freshly dropped, from sixty-year-old trees — accept no substitutes!

(June 22)

Listen up, party people! The goddam Penang Durians are of exceptional quality this year — just rolling strike after strike after strike after strike. (As much as I’d like to believe that my selection skillz have reached such rarefied heights, I think the reality is simply that it’s purt near impossible to pick out a bad one this year.)

If you’re a-reading these words, you’ve still time to get here and crest the wave — but don’t dilly-dally: there are only about five weeks remaining in the season. You don’t wanna look back and regret having missed out…do you?

I already regret not having at least asked the price of this fricking behemoth, here. Just look at the sumbitch dwarfing its neighbours — about the size of a basketball, it was. Hopefully, one of its siblings will turn up soon.


(June 25)

My favourite grower from last year (apart from the almighty Bao Sheng, natch) was a little later than everybody else on the giddyup this season — only began trading in the Good Stuff at the middle part of last week. I’m able to report, however that as of to-day, they have officially hit their stride. For the next weeks, lo do I worship at their altar!

Though, they don’t necessarily know the power of their own produce: They were loathe to permit me to purchase a particular fruit this very morning on the grounds that it was, they told me, shite. I stuck to my guns, insisting that it smelt quite heavenly to me. Finally, they threw it in for free, along with an admonition to not come crying to them and cetera and cetera. Can’t deny having felt a little intimidated, being dressed down in front of a big crowd and all. But we Ang Mo aren’t quite as stoopid, Durianically speaking, as the Malaysians delight in believing us to be. It turned out to be one of the best Durians of this already-legendary season.

So there’s your Durian Tip o’ the day: When your nose is recording signals of deliciousity, don’t let an authority figure frighten you into believing otherwise. The nose knows! (This tip is much easier to follow, of course, when the fruit in question may be obtained free of charge…)

(July 7)

Just another day on the Island. First, the World Durian Team here spent the morning and afternoon powering through about five hundred and eleventy billion metric tonnes of Bao Sheng Durian Farm goodness. Later, I made it back to George Town in time to catch — as part of the city’s annual Heritage Days festivities celebrating its 2008 UNESCO listing — one of the more athletic Lion Dance performances to which I’ve ever made witness.

It’s Penang ass-kickery, 24/7


(July 10)

Another great day on the Durian trail — this time courtesy Penang Green Acres.

As proprietors Kim and Eric explained, many of Penang’s oldest farms are finding themselves unable to turn a profit, and so are being sold off and the trees liquidated. Green Acres isn’t profitable, either, but it’s all organic, and they’re willing to subsidise the project in order to save the trees from the neighbouring farms’ trees’ fates. Plus which, their Durian-wood eco-home is a truly gorgeous sight to behold.

Put this on your very, very short-list of must-visit Durian locations. Listening to them tell the farm’s story whilst supping of their magnificent fruit (including my first-ever taste of the very rare Graveolens Durian) — truly an I’m-not-worthy experience.

Ten million thank-yous Eric and Kim — and big ups, as always, to the ever-intrepid Year of the Durian for the tip-off.

(July 12)

Three words (arrange ’em in any order you prefer): “Penang”, “Motherfucking”, “Durian”. Are you receiving me?

(July 14)

There is only Durian; there is only Penang. All else is illusion.

(July 16)

The year’s final visit to Bao Sheng Durian Farm; so sad. The season began late, and is wrapping up early — but for three or four weeks there, it was the most dazzling rush of flavour/texture/aroma I’ve ever experienced. May we one day see its like again…

(July 19)

It all crumbled away so quickly. The Kampung situation in George Town is now in such a sorry state that I hopped a bus to Balik Pulau, where…the situation is equally as dire. I did manage to scrounge up this little fuss-budget, at least. Though very tiny — I’m not even sure whether the dude charged me for it — it turned out to be one of the two or three most numbing Durians I’ve ever eaten. Incroyable!


Back in George Town, I swallowed my pride and went cruising the stalls out on Jalan Macalister; where, taking into account Commander Eric Rosales‘ proddings, I ordered up a representative of the XO variety. Gotta say, it was quite delicious — though at twenty Ringgit the kilo, decidedly out of my price range. But being it’s the end of the season and all…

Two good shots to go out with. And now, one is left to ponder the imponderable: Is there life after Penang Durian season-ending?

Obsession The Second…





(June 17)

The George Town Helmet Project is back in thee saddle! Oh, gawd, how I do love this town. For more info, check out my report from last year.

(June 18)

Yet more helmets. How I fucking love this town! I do feel bad for the poor Penangites, though — they already think me satanic for my barefoot; my shaking of the picturetaker at them all over town can’t but add to their distress. But the results…oh, the freakin’ results! (And I’ve tried to transplant the project to other cities — but it only works in Penang.

(July 14)

I’m still shooting motorcycle helmets like a madman. Have now compiled about 8,500 pics in all — and I estimate that I delete about 50%, so I’ve actually *taken* about 17,000. Crazy. To think that I sometimes get pissed off at my poor, mistreated camera when it doesn’t do exactly what I want it to. That thing should be awarded the fuckin’ medal!

Anyhow, I sometimes wonder, “Okay, you’ve probably got enough pictures, now, innit?” But then, each new day, the results are just so fantastic — every George Town motorcycle helmet is a beautiful snowflake — that I can’t bring myself to stop. I think I’ve found my life’s calling, in fact. Whenever I am in George Town, the helmet-photographin’ mania will and must ensue.

And — just ever once in a while — I manage to capture a shot so (if I may humbly submit) epic, so culturally defining, so completely on-the-nose, that it belongs in the goddam time-capsule. Here, from just yesterday, is such a one. (If anybody needs me, I’ll be sitting here, ever so patiently, waiting for the time-capsule people to call…)


(July 23)

Stir in a few more helmet pics, along with a small selection of amusing signs, and Penang is a wrap. Oh, where does the time go?

Obsession The Third…

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(June 14)

It’s kid-in-a-candy-store time when I arrive in Penang. I’m like, “Oh, snap! I wanna go to The Esplanade! I wanna go to Little India! I wanna go get some Durian! I wanna go to Batu Ferringhi! I wanna see what’s new at the galleries and museums! I wanna drink another Coconut! I wanna go listen to the prayer call! I wanna go befriend weirdos! I wanna go take pictures of motorcycle helmets! I wanna go look at the street art! I wanna see a Shadow Puppet performance!” And on and on.

Here only two days, though, and I can already feel the gravitational tug of time’s ineluctable whirlpool. This month is gonna fly by faster than a bat outta Hell. But while it does last…

(July 2)

The ocean was in top form to-day — in ways the camera will never know (not that that’ll stop us from trying). Ten thousand shades of stunning; beginning with the roiling, wind-blown daytime greens then giving way to the sinfully gorgeous evening blues. It all added up to the best maritime performance I’ve seen since I left Bau-Bau.

And these god damned ravens…first of all, they filched a piece of Durian from me the other day when I weren’t looking. Not a very big piece — but certainly one that I was looking forward to devouring. Anyhow, to-day, they kept plucking fish out of the sea, carrying them toward the shore a ways, then dropping them back in. What was that all about? Must be the full Moon, or some shit.

(July 9)

George Town takin’ it easy for all us sinners.

(July 13)

It’s a G-Town git-down.

Not An Obsession – More Like An Enthusiasm…

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(June 24)

They’re still putting new street art — keeps the repeat visitor all up on his/her toes.

(July 3)

Some more G-Town street art-istry.

(July 22)

Anybody in George Town wishing to see some cool shit, head over to the Fergana Art space at the Whiteways Arcade. Current show features some great collage pieces from artist Samsudin Wahab.

(July 23)

Last batch of murals from George Town (dig the SAMO reference in the second pic).

[dc]I[/dc]n addition to all the motorcycle pics, I did also manage to capture a few shots of people on bicycle or foot. Not as many as in years past, but they’re still looking very stylish indeed whilst employing these human-powered modes of transport.

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Just as in Big India, George Town’s Little India’s citizens’ penchant for requesting to have their photos taken is all too charming. Gotta give ‘em their day in the sun!

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And finally, a couple of clips. The first one proving, yet again, that no matter how corny it sounds, mother nature’s artistry is the most beautiful and compelling of all. The second, a quintessentially Asian experience: A morning stroll through George Town’s Chowrasta Market, the ultimate Lynchian fever-dream for the masses.

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Kampung Krash Kourse

Though there are, at this writing, only three or four weeks left to play in this year’s Penang Durian Season, if you’re reading these words from somewhere – anywhere – in the world, it’d be worth your effort to get your dimpled ass down here to experience the utterly sinful delights of this year’s crop. When you arrive, you can use this little guide to help find the most wickedly delish fruits the city has to offer.

First up, a word to the wise. There are Durian being sold everywhere – usually hanging daintily by strings — as though their contents were of the same import as those of  the Pulp Fiction briefcase (or what) — from stalls with big banners advertising “Balik Pulau #1 Best” or similar, and listing off the world-famous varieties on offer.

Image credit:

These prize-winning varieties don’t come cheap, however, and like as not you’ll be underwhelmed with the quality – not to mention that sitting by the side of the road with traffic roaring by at top volume is not exactly the most scintillating of dining experiences. Moreover, without getting in to the various means and methods by which shysterism pervades the Durian trades, let’s just say that it’s not uncommon for tourists to be taken advantage of.

If you want to try out the primo varieties, I bid you make your way, instead, to Bao Sheng farm, where you’ll be able to enjoy freshly-harvested, organically grown Durian from sixty-year-old trees, in all the important varieties the island has to offer, served up by a master of the trade in a beautiful, peaceful, and congenial on-farm setting. I’ve written previously about the wonders of Bao Sheng – here, here, and here. The prices have risen a bit this year; but just go ahead and — at least once — pony up the 165 RM for the full-day all-you-can-guzzle pass to all of the farm’s fruit (there are less gluttonous packages available as well). You’ll be very glad you did.

But there’s another side to the Penang Durian experience – the so-called Kampung Durian. These are fruits have fallen from un-domesticated trees, grown directly from seed without human meddling. There are tonnes of them on the island, and they can usually be had for very cheap. The rub is that the flesh-to-seed ratio is often quite small, and that you never know what you’re going to taste – could be complete rubbish, or could be a new portal into a previously undreamt-of headspace…or something in-between.

For only a few ringgits per each, it’s quite worth it to roll the dice and see what you get. This year, however, there’s much less uncertainty, as the Kampungs have gone wild with flavour. It’s almost impossible to find a bad one: In three weeks here, I’ve cracked open something on the order of one hundred of them, and have only thrown out maybe two or three. Everything else has been great to excellent to special to mind-blowing.

Here are my four favourite George Town purveyors, arranged chronologically. There are likely to be very many more quality players throughout the city and the island — my daily haunts have not yet extended to so wide a radius. A good bet is to look for sellers that are so mobbed by customers that they’ve not had time to even brush the leaves and other debris off the fruit yet. (But don’t worry – the other customers always get a kick out of seeing a white mofo shopping for Durians, and will be very friendly indeed.)


Location: The intersection of Carnarvon and Campbell streets, kitty-corner from the market building.
Timing: 6:00 AM.  By 6:30, the pickings are already slim.

I’ve limited experience with this seller – pre-dawn is just a little too early for me to be getting my Durian on – but the prices are very cheap, the quality is very good, and, at 6:00 in the AM you know it’s about as fresh as it fuckin’ gets.


Location: Chowrasta Market. Heading down Kangsar from Campbell street, they’re on the left, just past the market building.
Timing: At daybreak, they’re still getting set up. At 7:30, there’ll be lots. By 8:30, you’ll be sifting through the dregs.

In my estimation, the go-to Durian seller in the city. Expect to pay a little bit more than at the other places listed here (say, six to eight Ringgit per biji, rather than two to four – or even more if you spring for a premium variety), but the Durian here is of extremely high quality. Honestly, I’d say they even rival Bao Sheng’s. Check it out:



It’s kind of a madhouse there; but just be polite, be patient, and have fun looking for those hidden gems!

There are five or six other outfits set up on both Kangsar and Chowrasta streets – but they’re all pretty mediocre quality at inflated prices. Except, there are a couple of good ones right at the intersection of Campbell and Kangsar; but they operate so irregularly that it seems pointless to even list them here. But never fear — if you arrive to Chowrasta too late, simply turn around and head back over to…


Location: Just down Carnarvon from Chulia street; right next to the fruit shoppe.
Timing: They’ll arrive between 9:30 and 10:00.

A very nice husband-and-wife team. Last year, he was selling Kampungs for one or two Ringgit per biji, this year they’re three or four – but the quality is much more consistently outstanding this year than last. There’re usually three piles: One of freshly harvested fruit, one of day-old leftovers, and one of premium varieties. Sometimes, he manages to put little signs showing the pricing structure; but usually he’s too swamped to get around to it. Arrive early if you want to get in on the fresh pile — and be prepared to field some freely-offered advice from the patrons of the cafe located right behind.


Location: Across the street from the evening flea market, right at the corner of Armenian and Acheh.
Timing: They’ll be set up and selling by 3:00, but a motorcycle bearing freshly harvested fruits usually arrives at about 4:00.

The cheapest Durian of all.  I once picked out seven very nice-looking fruits, and was so scandalised when they asked for ten ringgit that I gave them fifteen instead. Excellent quality Durian here, usually incredibly creamy. Also, taking an afternoon meal can be a nice change-of-pace from all the early-morning options.

I’ve perused about a million stalls in George Town, and those are my four faves. If there are some must-try places I’ve missed, lemme know, and I’ll add ‘em to the list! Here are some additional tips…

Selection: The more recently fallen from the tree, the better. Look for fruits whose stems are nice and full and still green, with some stickiness, on the top (or, at least, some stickiness remaining when using your fingernail to chip away at the side of the stem). Then, smell all around the fruit – especially nearer the top than the bottom. The more fragrant and aromatic it smells, the better. This is a learn-from-experience kind of deal. Luckily though, as I say, it’s very tough to go wrong this year. Just remember that if the stems are all brown and shriveled up and/or the fruits are being held together with rubber bands, you’re almost certainly looking at day-old (or older) specimens. If that’s all that’s regionally available, then the awful truth is that it’s either too early or too late in the season to be eating Durian, and you should be looking for other, in-season, fruits to eat instead.

As far as worms go, one might be inclined to be a bit squeamish when noting a hole of just the right size…


But the reality of it is, dem worms have pretty good taste! Usually, only one or two seeds will turn out to be inedible-like. Just eat around the compromised areas, and give the rest to the crows (see below). Not saying that one should necessarily go seeking out fruits with wormholes in them; but if you find one that otherwise seems like it could be a keeper, neither should one be scared off by the presence of same. One could ask the seller for a markdown – but the prices are already so cheap, it hardly seems worth the bother.

About two-thirds of the flesh here was edible -- and incredible.

About two-thirds of the flesh here was edible — and incredible!

I wouldn’t, personally, ever argue with the seller over prices. But, don’t let them talk you out of a particular fruit that you want to eat, ‘cause they won’t necessarily know what they’re on about. Here’s a little anecdote I shared a few weeks ago, to give an idea of what I mean:

My favourite grower from last year (apart from the almighty Bao Sheng, natch) was a little later than everybody else on the giddyup this season — only began trading in the Good Stuff at the middle part of last week. I’m able to report, however that as of to-day, they have officially hit their stride. For the next weeks, lo do I worship at their altar!

Though, they don’t necessarily know the power of their own produce: They were loathe to permit me to purchase a particular fruit this very morning (not the one pictured here) on the grounds that it was, they told me, shite. I stuck to my guns, insisting that it smelt quite heavenly to me. Finally, they threw it in for free, along with an admonition to not come crying to them and cetera and cetera. Can’t deny having felt a little intimidated, being dressed down in front of a big crowd and all. But we Ang Mo aren’t quite as stoopid, Durianically speaking, as the Malaysians delight in believing us to be. It turned out to be one of the best Durians of this already-legendary season.

So there’s your Durian Tip o’ the day: When your nose is recording signals of deliciousity, don’t let an authority figure frighten you into believing otherwise. The nose knows! (This tip is much easier to follow, of course, when the fruit in question may be obtained free of charge…)

Also, you must not allow them to package your Durians up in a plastic fucking bag. Just do not give in to the Asians’ plastic mania. Simply throw a couple of t-shirts into your carry bag, wrap the shirts around the Durians, place them inside the bag, and away you go.

When To Eat: Immediatement! Durian are best et as soon as possible after harvest. As time passes, the flavours gradually lose their potency and nuance. So, put it on the gallop directly from the market to the below-mentioned Esplanade seaside wall, and make your meal straight away.

Where To Eat: Sitting on the seawall at the Esplanade, enjoying the peace and almost-motorcycle-less quiet, surveying the ocean’s wondrous and always-changing moods, basking in the perfectness of the cooling sea-breeze, imbibing the finest Durian on the planet…that’s the fuckin’ great life in Penang!! Any flesh which is too underripe or too overripe or too wormy for your liking may be shared with the ever-present Ravens, whom will be pestering you throughout your meal. It’s all in good fun, but keep attention – ‘cause those fucking little bastards will steal your Durian from you if you let your mind to wandering.

Opening The Durian: The proprietor of the aforementioned Bao Sheng farm offers a quick tutorial near the end of this clip. Basically, the trick is to find the seams running from the bottom of the fruit, begin to unzip them by twisting with a knife or other sharp object, and then pull the fruit apart into two halves. If your hands are sensitive to the thorns’ twang, it’s perfectly acceptable to use one of the t-shirts in which you wrapped your Durian for transporting from the market as a bit of cushioning.

Where To Drink Purified Water: There are at least four water kiosks in downtown: One at Chulia and Chulia, one at Chulia and Pintal Tali, one on Muntri a bit west of Love Lane, and one on Ah Quee a bit east of Kapitan Keling mosque. At twenty cents for a litre-and-a-half, it’s a little more expensive than Thailand’s kiosks; but very great value nonetheless.

Where To Drink Coconut Water: The best and cheapest operator is right at the corner of Carnarvon and Chulia.  Usually sets up around Noon, but seems to take Mondays and Fridays off. There’s also a stall in Little India, on Lebuh Pasar, as well as two or three at the Queen Street Ramadan Bazaar (I believe Ramadan extends through the sixteenth of July this year). Also, the guy running the burger stall on Chulia sells them in the evenings.

Where To Sleep: Hotel Noble — also located on Lebuh Pasar, but on the other side of Jalan Kapitan Keling — is known as a Durian-friendly hotel. It seems to be a little bit less Durian-friendly this year than years past, when there were a handful of fruitarians living there. They seem to have all flown the coop, though the hotel is still largely populated by European expats. Very friendly staff, very clean premises, spacious and shockingly quiet fan (or air-con) rooms, perfect location, good value. The only downsides are that the Internet connection is very slow (though also very reliable), and there are no screens on the windows, so if the mosquitoes are very active, it can make for some itchy evenings. (Knock wood, they’re not a major nuisance at the current time.)

Shit, this write-up is a lot longer than I expected it to be. Hopefully somebody will find it helpful – if not this year, then possibly next. Just make sure to, by-hook-or-by-crook, get your dimpled ass to Penang and enjoy those motherfuckin’ Durians!

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Paradise Accost

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Walking along Kampot’s riverfront promenade, one could easily get the feeling that it’s among the most beautiful locations in all of Southeast Asia – and when the afternoon breeze kicks in, so much the better. Hop up onto that little seawall pictured in the foreground here and peer down to water’s edge, however, and…

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And these images are really quite tame examples of the situation throughout Cambodia – but I was too crestfallen looking at it all to want to get any more photos. It’s even worse along other stretches of the river, as well as around town; and it’s much worse in the countryside. A Cambodian inter-city bus trip, or a bicycle ride through the rural areas, is as depressing an experience as it’s possible for a living being to undergo. In addition to this unsightliness is the waft: The odor of burning plastic which, in the evening, becomes nearly inescapable.

If this all sounds like your idea of a good fun time, then, by all means, do pay a visit. There are lots of expats, lodging is shockingly inexpensive, the locals are friendly, the scenery (when viewed from carefully selected angles) is mouth-dropping gorgeous, the vibe is laid-back, and the city’s Coconuts — as well as its birds — are much too phenomenal.

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Besides, all the foregoing having been said, Kampot’s ills still are not as shocking as are the situations in India and Indonesia. Moreover, truth be told Cambodia is, by various measures, quite close to the very bottom of the list of ecological scofflaws. (Though the residents do seem to take an especial glee in the act of littering. In Kampot, for example, I watched two teens walking down the path suddenly veer over to the river, throw in their plastic drinking cups, and then walk back over toward the street, right past a garbage bin, and purchase yet more liquid served inside yet more plastic containers.)

Which brings us to our driving point, here. I’ve written about the untold mountains of plastic before now – here, here, and here, for example – and I’m not sure I’ve anything to add to what I’d written before. I’m well aware that nobody wants to read about my fucking existential angst – and why on Earth should they? I’ve nothing worthwhile or insightful to say…unless you consider uber-morose hippie blubbering to be of interest.

Instead, go have a look at the greatest/most important blog post my eyes have ever seen, penned a few years ago now by the incomparable Dmitry Orlov. In it, he covers the effects of plastic in the environment, the fate of the species, and other topics worthy of our attentions.

And then? Please, please, pretty fuckin’ please with a cherry: Don’t buy anything that comes wrapped in plastic and/or styrofoam packaging. That shit is truly satanic.

By way of postscript, flipping through a copy of the ticket agency’s Cambodia guidebook while waiting for a bus in Kampot, I did chance to read the following, a desription of the scene here as it was some nine hundred years in the past. O, but the more they stay the same, ain’t it?

Angkor was the epicentre of an incredible empire that held sway over much of the Mekong region, but like all empires, the sun was to eventually set.

A number of scholars have argued that decline was already on the hori­zon at the time Angkor Wat was built, when the Angkorian empire was at the height of its remarkable productivity. There are indications that the irrigation network was overworked and slowly starting to silt up due to the massive deforestation that had taken place in the heavily populated areas to the north and east of Angkor. Massive construction projects such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom no doubt put an enormous strain on the royal coffers and on thousands of slaves and common people who subsidised them in hard labour and taxes. Following the reign of Jayavarman VII, temple construction effectively ground to a halt, in large part because Jayavarman VII’s public works quarried local sandstone into oblivion and had left the population exhausted.

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Kool Kong

One might be tempted to dismiss Koh Kong, Cambodia as simply another same-same dusty-border-town astride that long and lonesome trail and, when passing through, therefore hole it up inside of one’s hotel room all the day long in a bid to escape the overwhelmingly oppressive heat. Better had watch where you point that thing, though, ‘cause Koh Kong’s denizens are stone-cold, down-right, lock-it-up, ass-bumpin’ cool. They’re the kind of cool that don’t know they’re cool, don’t have a clue in the world what cool even is, and wouldn’t give a flyin’ fuck if you explained it to them. In other words, they’re the badass kind of cool. (Or perhaps there is no other kind?)

Maybe it’s the proximity to the frontier, allowing enough of the Thais’ too-weird-for-words voodoo to admix with the inherent Cambodian laid-back disposition to create just that perfect, syncretistic, the-fuck-you-lookin’-at? blend. Koh Kong: The goddam swirl cone of Southeast Asia. Mostly, the cool people are riding bicycles.

It’s reminiscent, in that way, of Bhairawa, Nepal — another favoured-by-me dusty border town whose bicycle-ridin’ inhabitants elevate it to near legendary memory-bank status. (And indeed, much as does Thailand’s in Koh Kong, the influence of Nepal’s inescapable southern neighbour in Bhairawa is surely most palpable — yet in the end cannot, thank the maker, be said to completely overwhelm the indigenous Nepali vibe.)

See below a few hastily cobbled photographic examples. But in case the evidence makes it appear that I’m overstating the case, please know that it’s near impossible to get good best shots of the coolest scenes – even with camera at the ready, by the time you realise that you’re in the presence of cool, the moment has already passed.

I humbly and ashamedly do report that I missed one of the very, very best all-time photo opportunities – an eight- or nine-year-old boy ferrying Durians to the family’s Market stall in a rickety wooden cart. ‘twas not (as fate would have it) in this instance the case that it all played out too quickly to capture on film; but rather that my hands were full of produce, and it would’ve made retrieving camera from pocket such a pain in the asshole. (Guess that’s the difference between myself and a real artist: The latter would be willing to suffer any indignity, to take on any burden — even if it meant rustling their bags of fruit to and fro’ – to reel in the shot they wanted.)

Oddly enough, the Kong also appears (to top it off) to be some sort of furniture hub. Walk around town, and every five minutes or so, you’ll see somebody transporting a massive piece of same from shoppe to home —  atop their motorcycle, no less. From the Buddha’s arse to my lips, I promise you’ll get a giggle out of it. Heh, there’s even a local cafe whose sign boasts of its prowess in dealing “every kind of furniture” in addition to its culinary offerings.

So Koh Kong deserves a day or two of your attentions, sez I. If you stay at 99 Guesthouse, you can even score a free bicycle to go and check out the local surrounds – or, simply to ride around town pretending that you’re a goddam citizen of the Kong, secure in the knowledge that this fact alone makes you one of the coolest peeps now-or-ever alive on this-here planet of the Earths. (Just don’t arrive on the fucking king’s birthday, or you’ll be shit-out-of-luck attempting to suss out an inexpensive bed for the evening…)

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