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, author, and travel documentarian
Here comes another story about durians but this does not mean I’m craving for the king of fruits.
In fact I had too much when I was young. This truth also ties up with a number of interesting experience and encounters. The hornet sting in Sebirung durian valley was one of them. I suffered for a week due to the stings.
In 1975 on my first Christmas eve in Penang, we were gathered at the residence of our social anthropology lecturer Prof Dr Clifford Sather.
Among those present was my late friend Benedict Sandin, who was doing his senior fellowship at Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Centre of Policy Research.
Sandin, a retired former curator of Sarawak Museum, was accompanied by his wife. I was introduced to Derek Freeman, a professor from Australian National University (ANU) – Freeman was during that time a mentor to James Jemut Masing, now a man who needs no introduction, who was then doing his post graduate in ANU.
Apart from meeting Freeman (an author of many books on the Ibans), it was the first time I had durians, turkey, beer and brandy — taken in that order — for Christmas.
Sather’s offer was Hennessey, a brandy of a very high order. I couldn’t help thinking about a late elder brother of my ex-school girlfriend who succumbed to a mixture of durians and Guinness Stout drink.
So I naturally declined the brandy as we already had some beer too. But Freeman was adamant that the Ibans normally would not “chicken out”, citing that he had taken durians and brandy together on various occasions while going on his field researches in Sarawak’s Baleh and Rejang basins years earlier.
As a great grandson of an Iban warrior who has no “chicken out” written in his dictionary, my adrenalin of “fight” barked inside me.
So I took the challenge and joined in the fun with Sather and Freeman while Sandin kept to his red port wine.
It was certainly a dangerous and heated but not fatal mixture as I experienced later throughout the night. I survived but certainly would not repeat such “stupid act of bravery”.
Several years later after graduating from USM, I was posted to head a rural secondary school with about 1,400 boarders. During one durian season, I was accompanied by three teachers — two Iban-speaking Chinese, thanks to their Iban spouses and one Iban — for a durian excursion to my hometown Saratok, some 150km away.
Our destination was our family durian orchard of sorts — these trees were planted many decades ago to mark a settlement called Bila Dua long abandoned — in the upper reaches of the Melupa river, my late father Salok Jembu’s birthplace.
Waiting for us at Munggu Embawang longhouse en route to Bila Dua were my father’s younger brother Nyiring Jembu, then in his mid-50s, my two cousins, my elder brother Jon and his two teenage sons.
We walked for about two hours 30 minutes through flat jungle trek crossing the knee-deep Melupa river and smaller streams numerous times, stopping for a few minutes to have a closer view of Letong Naga (Dragon’s Pool) where my late father once claimed to have seen what he thought was a dragon in a swift movement above the water.
My nephews were lucky as they shot one big mousedeer and caught a lot of fish and prawns during a short evening hunt. All were barbequed against the fictitious and mysterious jungle laws of angry spirits.
Strong mid-evening winds rocked the five or so durian trees and their fruits fell aplenty with heavy thuds near us.
Our camp was outside the drop zone. So we were a few metres away from danger.
I heard a few times in the past when Jon used to brag about having taken newly dropped durians washed down with locally brewed gin “chap langkau” that could contain alcohol as high as 60% without any impact.
That evening we all became witness to durians being taken together with chap langkau gin. Jon was not alone — my uncle Nyiring Jembu also joined him to be “men among equals”.
It was not about just taking the two items together nominally but each took no less than two medium sized durians and few packs of chap langkau. Both looked normal to me apart from upping their laughter and chatter some decibals up.
The rest of us enjoyed the barbequed fish and prawns as well as the mousedeer meat with coffee.
Uncle Nyiring died a natural death aged 75 many years later. May God bless his soul. My brother Jon, now 71, is still drinking and kicking.
One must be careful with durians is the moral of the story. Some years ago in Kuching, another friend died in his 60s while taking durians together with Coca-Cola drink — his kids joked that he reached his expiry date much earlier than the Cola’s. So durians and Cola are a fatal mixture.
Nevertheless, a retired Bidayuh “dresser” (medical assistant) that I met in Bau some months ago claimed he took Stout and durians together on various occasions without any negative impact.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.