Of sceptics and tasty durian
By:Valentine Tawie Salok

It smelled like you’d buried somebody holding a big wheel of Stilton in his arms, then dug him up a few weeks later.

— Anthony Bourdain, American celebrity chef and travel documentarian

IN 1987, the husband of a SMK Serian colleague told a few of us that many people were very cynical when he planted durian trees around his house.

That was about five years earlier than our rendezvous that year at his compound by the roadside on the way to Kuching near the Serian roundabout. His compound was then housing about 10 durian trees that were all bearing fruits — just five years after he planted them.

“When I planted the trees about five years ago, many envious neighbours said only my grandchildren would enjoy the fruits as they said it would take decades for durian trees to reach fruition stage,” the lanky man told us, adding that he had the last laugh as it only took about five years for him to enjoy his venture and that he was not a grandfather yet then — at that time even his children were only in their teens.

Joining me were a few other teachers from our school — I was then acting SMK Serian principal — and we really had a feast of high class durians (free of charge) but perhaps not Musang King, a name not known yet at that time. I heard the man is now deceased but every time I pass by the area, I usually steal a glance at the majestic durian trees.

In my childhood and teenage years, I spent many good times rendezvousing in durian valleys. From the Sebirung durian valleys of Saratok, Sarawak to the Universiti Sains Malaysia durian valley in Penang, I have conquered them all.

Sebirung durian valleys were once divided into four spots, namely Rian Lemayung, Rian Rajang, Rian Lusing and Rian Ili. I have been to all these four oblivious to the croaks of frogs and whining mosquitoes. These trips to the valleys of Sebirung were made between the year 1965 and 1972.

For readers’ information, Sebirung was formerly about almost three hours on foot via jungle treks from most longhouses in Melupa and Assam river basins but is now accessible easily by motorbike, thanks to SALCRA that has entered into joint venture planting oil palm in the area.

Sebirung area is a community ‘pemakai menua’ owned by the Melupa and Assam dwellers.

The last time when the few longhouses in Melupa and Assam cleared the land for hill padi planting was in 1965. In that year, 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 durians on the first morning at Rian Ili. However, on the second morning, tragedy struck when I got stung above my right eye by the second most poisonous hornet, meaning of the red and yellow stripes.

It was very painful that I cried so loudly and abandoned the plan to look for more durians at the valley. We returned to camp at Rian Lusing where I continued to cry. Alarmed by my crying noise, a distant relative Manjan came over from a nearby farm — then, the durian valleys were surrounded by hill padi farms — and offered to carry me on his back to our farm house about 40 minutes on foot.

In 1972, aged 18 and studying in Form Five, I joined a group of relatives and stayed for two days at Rian Rajang valley. When being called by SMK Saratok school principal Encharang Agas to explain my two-day absence, I had to do my best to maintain a smiling face as I felt it was necessary to lubricate the wheels of bureaucracy.

“Sir, I was with a few others staying overnight at a durian valley as I need money from the sale of durians,” I respectfully told him.

Being an Iban who understood students’ monetary problem, he let go. So when I became the school’s principal 13 years later, I recalled Encharang’s kindness and applied it when necessary.

At Penang’s USM durian valley in between 1975 and 1978, the Sarawak and Sabah boys were kings. The groups from the West had no chance at all when we were around.

Our main hero was Makibin Bodok (now deceased) from Sabah. Before any falling 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 we became good friends. So the king of fruits was a unifying factor.

Now a number of friends in Kuching, Kanowit and Saratok are eagerly waiting for their Musang King trees to start bearing fruits. I wish them success.

New Sarawak Tribune e-Paper


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