Love it or loathe it but durian is king

A lorry loaded with durians.

It does not matter if you have never been to a durian valley or even a durian orchard. What does is that you get to taste the king of fruits, even if it means you have to buy it. You will not regret it.

Serian, which lies about 65km from the city of Kuching, has over the years become reputed for its succulent durian varieties, especially at Seroban and Kampung Kakai.

Sometime ago, a colleague told us about a man from Kampung Kakai who owns a durian orchard of about 80 trees.

“I can guarantee his orchard at Kampung Kakai produces very good durian, including the ‘durian tembaga’, arguably a close cousin to the Musang King variety, but you have to book earlier,” said our buddy who is from Kuap.

Tembaga Durian

Durian is not in season yet but all those who crave for the king of fruits are probably praying the trees are already flowering.

I had my share of good durian from Serian while serving as acting principal of SMK Serian in 1987.

A colleague very kindly invited a few of us to her home along the road to Kuching, just about a kilometre from the Serian roundabout.
Her lanky husband — I heard he passed on years ago — brought us to his durian orchard, a walking distance from their residence. The durian season that year was just starting so the fruits were aplenty, much to our delight. We really enjoyed their durian, even more so because it was free of charge!

Durians of various sizes and shapes offered for sale.

Her businessman husband told us that many of his neighbours were sceptical when he started planting the trees slightly more than five years earlier, with some even mocking that only his grandchildren would enjoy the king of fruits planted by him.

“They said it would take a decade or more for durian trees to bear fruits and that by then I would be gone or too old to enjoy the fruit,” he told us, pointing out that his eldest son was just a teenager at the time.

“So now I have the last laugh as slightly a few months after five years, my trees were already producing good fruits you are enjoying now,” he said with a big smile.

The durian trees — numbering about ten — were of a special species that could bear fruits within five or six years.

But my dalliance with the durian goes way back, from my childhood, teenage, right up to my adult years, there was many a rendezvous in durian valleys.

From our local Sebirung durian valleys of Melupa Saratok, to the Universiti Sains Malaysia durian valley in Penang, I have conquered them all.

The Sebirung durian valleys were once divided into four, namely Rian Lemayung, Rian Rajang, Rian Lusing and Rian Ili. I have been to all, in pursuit of the durian, oblivious to the croaks of frogs and annoying mosquitoes.

These trips to the valleys of Sebirung were made between the year 1963 and 1972.

For readers’ information, Sebirung was only reachable after about almost three hours on foot along jungle treks from most longhouses in the Melupa and Assam river basins at one time, but is now accessible easily by motorcycle, thanks to SALCRA that has entered into joint venture planting of oil palm in the area.

The Sebirung area is a community pemakai menua owned by the Melupa and Assam community.

The last time when the few longhouses in Melupa and Assam cleared the land for hill padi planting was in 1963.

I can still recall when I and my late uncle and another cousin spent two nights at Rian Lusing at the hilltop in between Rian Rajang and Rian Ili. My cousin and I collected a good number of durian on the first morning at Rian Ili.

However, on the second morning, I got stung above my right eye by the second most poisonous wasp (menaning) of the red and yellow stripes. It was so very painful that I cried and abandoned plans to look for more durian in the valley.

We returned to camp at Rian Lusing where I continued to wail. Probably alarmed by my loud cries, a distant relative Manjan — I heard he passed on a long time ago — who was also my primary schoolmate but much older and bigger, came over and offered to carry me on his back to our farm house about half-an-hour by foot. Luckily, the durian valleys were surrounded by hill paddy farms then. I was aged nine.

In 1972, at 18 and in Form Five I joined a group of relatives and stayed for two days at the Rian Rajang valley, thus ending up being summoned by the SMK Saratok principal Encharang Agas to explain my two-day absence.

I told him about our rendezvous in the durian valley as I needed the money from the sale of durian. Being an Iban who understood students’ monetary problem, he let me off the hook. So when I became the school’s principal thirteen years later I made sure to emulate Encharang’s kindness and applied it when necessary.

At the USM durian valley in between the years of 1975 and 1978 the Sarawak and Sabah boys were kings.

The students from Malaya had no chance at all when the East Malaysian boys were around.

Our main hero was the late Makibin bin Bodok from Sabah. Before any durian would reach the ground he was there doing a flying tackle using his gloves.

In the end, most of them teamed up with our Sarawak/Sabah group and became good friends.

Even our student union president Francisco De Menezes of Portuguese parentage from Melaka made sure he befriended yours truly who was then a self-styled leader of the Sarawak-Sabah group.

Fast forward to the 90s, while heading SMK Julau in Julau, I led a durian excursion to Saratok, namely to my family’s orchard at Bila Dua in the upper Melupa basin.

Using three cars, our group comprised three couples (all teachers). After driving for about three hours we stopped at my longhouse, Kedap, and fetched my brother Jon and two of our first cousins. We parked our vehicles at Nanga Assam and from there we went on foot for about two hours to reach Bila Dua.

At Bila Dua we camped and everyone enjoyed the durian there as well as two mousedeer shot by Jon, who daringly took durian together with locally brewed chap langkau — not the first time he did it but none of my colleagues dared to join him. He is now a healthy 74-year-old.

Lately, many people in Saratok have been given courses on durian planting and most of the tree saplings handed over to them by the Agriculture Department were of the Musang King variety.

Even my nephew-in-law, who is a retired banker, also made a trip to Saratok — my niece’s original longhouse is at Kawit, Saratok — to join the course.

In Kuching, he started a durian orchard decades ago and this course has enabled him to add the Musang King variety to his orchard.

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