It was Christmas Eve in Bangkok when the Skytrain policeman strode up to me and pointed to the plastic bag I held.
“NO,” he commanded.
So it was true! It IS illegal to carry durian fruit on the train!
After some protesting on my part, the policeman finally took four plastic bags and wrapped them tightly around the already saran-wrapped carton of durian.
Yet… the smell still reeked on. The cop glared at me and stalked off as the train slid into the station.
Durian is known as the “King of Fruits,” and my friend Kathy had dared me to buy it from one of the many street vendors and put a piece of the gold flesh into my mouth.
Spiky, giant, scary King Fruit durian is indeed! Look at the terrifying photo, above, with the fruit’s spines nearly stabbing the camera lens! Wikipedia states: “Wearing a hard hat is recommended when collecting the fruit.”
I got on the Skytrain towards Chong Nonsi station, shielding the quintuple-wrapped stench-monster under my arm. Alas, people noticed the odor immediately. Garlic, cheese, sharpness, fire, mustard, rotten pumpkin… The schoolboys with their blue and white little suits scooted away towards the far side of the train car and giggled while they gagged.
“I’m a bad person!” I sobbed inside. “Shh!” I wanted to hiss to the durian, moving into a dream world where you can shush a scent. The eight stops from Kathy’s neighborhood to mine crept by interminably.
“No I cannot eat durian now,” said sweet Ngor, of the Lub-d staff when I arrived at the hostel and begged her to take the fruit from me. “I have just drunk coffee. In Chinese medicine, there is hot and cold, yin and yang. So in Thailand, too, we believe that both durian and caffeine represent hot, and therefore it is unhealthy to mix them.”
“What represents cold, then?” I asked, desperately offering my plate of durian to every other soul who walked in the lobby door. Ninety percent of the people literally ran away.
“The fruit mangosteen represents cold,” Ngor explained. “Durian is the King and mangosteen is the Queen.”
People either worship the taste of King Durian, or they abhor it.
Nineteenth century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace reverently described the durian’s flavor thus:
“A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes.”
Culinary writer Richard Sterling explains the durian a bit differently: “… its odor is best described as pig-s***, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”
“Don’t smell while you eat! Hold your nose!” hollered Ngor as I tried to choke down the fruit for Ping’s camera.
How I would describe the taste of durian: chicken-garlic soup, done wrong.
I left the Lub-d Hostel staff the rest of the fruit and went off to re-book my flight to Ghana on an airline whose engines have fewer instances of catching fire. Shout-out to STA travel for G-chatting my flight permutation requests for over two hours!
So that was my Christmas Eve, 2009: I spent some of it with Kathy eating Japanese food and talking girl talk, some of it joking around with the Lub-d staff, and some of it getting stopped by the Bangkok police for eating a fruit too stinky for the subway.
And you know what? This day has actually been lovely! Part of why we travel so far and so long is to shake up the ways we’ve always lived, worked, thought, and celebrated. It feels invigorating to be changing things up. It also feels delicious to be able to use this modern technology to holler to you all, with my durian-smelling breath: “May your holidays be happy, healthy, safe, and fun!”
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!