June 15, 2011

Durian 101

What, you may ask, is this?  

It's Durian on the stem.

It's fruit.  It's from Indonesia.

People from Malaysia and the Philippines will tell you it's native to their countries.  Botanists seem to agree that it's most likely native to Borneo (part of Indonesia).  Why anyone would want to fight over ownership of this fruit is beyond me, but we're going to give it to Indonesia FTW out of loyalty to our current home.

And it's the most controversial fruit we have ever come across.

Durian (der-ee-en).  They are about as big as your head, but they come in many sizes from baby heads to watermelon size.

They grow in trees, and people who work in Durian orchards wear hard hats.  The fruit is heavy and spiky and hard, and while a falling coconut will give you a headache and a lump, a falling Durian will probably send you to the hospital.

So anyway.  We live in a city nicknamed "The Big Durian" by the expats who have lived here since the 1600s.  The meaning concerns the love/hate relationship many have to this city and the fruit.

And there's the issue.  To begin with, Durian smells.  And I'm not talking about mild halitosis, or some whiffs of stinky feet.

I'm talking pervasive, rotten-sweet, sharp, thick fruit flavored toe jam.

It's really, really bad smelling.  Really.

Durian has a season, beginning in June.  And although we have seen it in stores all year, beginning in June it shows up in all the stores sitting on ice in styrofoam trays minus its thorny skin, wrapped in plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap does nothing to slow the spread of Durian smell.  So when you walk through the produce department of local stores right now, all you can smell is ...

... well, think about the gym socks you forgot in the bottom of your bag when you went away for the holidays, but now you're home and just opened the bag again. 

Some people say it's more like rotten onions.  Others claim it's like skunk spray.  Or vomit.

My son is of the vomit school of thought.  Actually he thinks it's more like vomit on rotten gym socks.  So you can imagine the drama when we go to the grocery store and spend more than two minutes in the produce department.

He is not a fan.

So, why, you may further ask, do people eat it?

Well, the local lore says that it tastes way better than it smells. That once you taste it, you will never believe you've lived this long without it.

This is one of those times when we wonder who was the first poor slob to try it?  Must have been one starving castaway with no ship mates to slay and BBQ, because I think I would have tried just about anything on my island before giving Durian a go.

But.  We love to go new places, see new things, try new foods, and it hardly seems sporting to move to a city called the Big Durian and never try the fruit because it smells bad.


Tell it to my kid.

We stopped at the ice table full of Durian fruit trays.  We poked them (they are squishy inside the hard thorny skin and we have seen people who know what they are doing poke them).  We found the smallest package they had for RPH42,000 (about $4.75).   It's expensive- think Avocadoes in Illinois in winter. If it costs a lot it MUST be good, right?

We put the Durian in our basket.

My kid says, "I'm not eating that."

He is behind me, and I just smile.

We finish our grocery shopping and wheel our cart to the checkout.  No one within 10 feet has any doubt we are buying Durian.

We load the groceries in the car, all camouflaged in their plastic sacks.  Our driver has no doubt we have bought Durian.

We start the 45 minute ride home.

After 15 minutes, Coop and I, being closest to the groceries, are holding little cans of car deoderant in Jasmine flavor just under our chins.  It's working.  Ted says, "I can smell it a little up here."

Too bad.  We are out of car deoderant cans.

Finally we arrive home.  I go into the pantry and grab a ziploc bag with a double zip and put the Durian package, wrapped in the plastic grocery sack, inside and seal it.  Phew!  It worked.

I put the Durian in the fridge, on the theory that old gym socks taste better very cold.

Next day, the fridge is starting to smell suspicious.  So I get out the Durian and tell my guys it's time.

My kid says, "I'm not eating that."

I smile again.

I open the package, get three dessert forks, and everyone loads up a healthy forkful.  Even my kid, to whom I have given The Look, something he is powerless to resist.

We agree to eat on three.

Now remember, Durian fruit is mushy.  You could think of it as rotten, but we prefer to think of it as pudding.  So I reminded everyone to think of it as pudding.  It's even the right color for vanilla custard.

We eat, we chew, we swallow.


Wait. It's not that bad.

Except it's most certainly not good.  Mostly it's just Not a Good Idea.

It certainly does taste better than it smells, but that's like saying a headache is better than brain surgery.  Why would you want either???

Our description: tastes like cantaloupe that was best three days ago, plus banana, plus (Ted) grass, (Cooper) tortilla, (me) egg, and a smidgen of toe jam.

We can see how some folks like it.  We can see why most folks don't.

But now we were stuck with most of a tray of Durian, a fruit you don't just toss in the trash. And we knew that Ziplocs were only a temporary solution.

So Ted and I troop out to the garage where Sanip (security) and Ivan (driver) are, telling them we tried Durian, are not big fans, and would either or both of them like some?

They both start laughing really hard and Ivan says, "Security likes Durian!" and then they crack up again.

We get the joke but we are desperate to get rid of this stuff- it's like the goo in The Cat in the Hat.

Thankfully, Ivan says he would, actually, like it.  And we gratefully put it on the table in the garage and beat a retreat into the house where we fill the air with Glade Fresh Linen scent.

We tried it, we lived to tell the tale, we will NOT be going to the Durian festival where they have Durian honey, Durian ice cream, Durian paste, and Durian crepes...

June 6, 2011

Sittin' Safari...

There is a Safari park south of Jakarta about 90 minutes away... we have looked at it repeatedly in our guide books and thought, 

"Really?  A safari park?  After actually being on safari?  After actually living in Africa for years?"

We went to the Houston Zoo once after returning from Africa and we were, to put it kindly, underwhelmed.  It was just anti-climactic and a little sad.  

Actually a lot sad, given that we had seen so many of the animals in the wild and knew how terribly different it was from their captive lives...

But, ultimately we couldn't resist, not having much opportunity to see wildlife in a city of 20 million and having an even bigger negative response to the idea of the Jakarta Zoo. 

Plus, Cooper is home for the summer and it's time to do goofy things!

So we loaded up the van and told Ivan, our driver, "Taman Safari, tolong!" and off we went into the countryside to be driven through a wildlife park where the animals would hang out and watch us as we drove slowly through their small Serengeti.  

And it was pretty cool.  

So nanny nanny boo boo on us and our safari pretensions.  

Not everything has to be 'authentic'- god knows huge chunks of our lives are not. 

The place is very large and they charge about 15 bucks to get in (as usual in Indonesia, they count the car, they count the people and they charge by nationality).  

All the way up the hill to the park we saw people selling veggies by the roadside, which isn't remarkable, 

but most of them were selling carrots by the bunch, which was.  

At one point Ivan asked if I wanted carrots. 

I said no, thinking that was a pretty dumb question, while wondering if the carrots of this area were somehow special.  I can get carrots (and everything else for sale on the roadside) in Jakarta, and that wasn't what we were on this trip for...

Then as we enter the park, I'm looking around for maybe some station that sells food for us to give the animals, and tell Ted and Coop to check too.  

They both burst out laughing and start mocking me for not buying carrots on the road- what did I think Ivan asked me if I wanted some for?  

Well, not for the animals!  Sheesh!  There were no signs, no indication that they were Safari carrots!  What am I a mind reader?  

Again they burst out laughing and mocked me worse.  What a dope!  Why on Earth did I think they had all those freakin' carrots every twenty feet?

Well, sez I, NOT for the animals.  You aren't even allowed to feed them, sez I, pointing to a sign that has just come into view:


And we glide quietly into the enclosed area behind a line of cars.

At that moment the windows of at least four cars ahead of us slide down and every one of them sprouts at least two arms waving bunches of carrots as we roll into an area full of giraffes and hippopatomusses just waiting for us and our bounty of veggies.  

Except we don't have any because I'm as dumb as a stump and my traveling companions are more interested in laughing at me than making sure we have goodies to offer our captive wild friends. 


We won't feed the animals.  

We will be the only car in the park following the rules.  So there.  

And we will fool as many animals as we can into thinking we actually have carrots so they will come close to the car.   

At one point, Coop rolled down his window to get a photo of a hippo in the water right next to the car.  

As the window went down, the hippo opened his mouth wide to accept the expected carrots.  


Hippo mouth closes, hippo gives us the hairy eyeball, and we tell Ivan to move along before we become a Jakarta Metro headline.  

The park has "airlocks" you drive through to separate the predators from the prey, and there are rules about not rolling down your window in the Prey area, for obvious reasons.  

But we have heavily tinted windows!

So I got yelled at (actually whistled at) by the guy in the zebra painted jeep stationed inside the killer animal airlock just for scofflaws like me (I wanted to tell him at least I wasn't FEEDING them!), but I still managed to snap a few good tint-less shots of the top of the food chain animals.  

It's not like the guy was gonna jump out of his jeep to come and ticket me.  There were maneaters on the loose!

Anyway, it was a hoot.  We had a good time- even at the part of the park that comes after the animals... the part where the junk stores and carnival food and carnival rides are. 

I had my scale model pose in mortal danger with a cement hippo to show you what would have happened to us if Ivan hadn't driven away after the No Carrot Episode...

What follows are representative pictures of the sorts of things we saw...

I was able to touch (probably foolishly) many of the animals.

As I took this, I hear from my brave boys: "Take it quick before he spits on us!"

Awwww. Note the smaller Indian elephant ears.
Kind of a lame picture except we were RIGHT THERE!

Tourists are boring.  But tasty.

South side of Westbound Rhino...keep moving folks...rely on his notoriously bad eyesight.

So that was the Taman Safari on Java, Indonesia.  

We aren't original, or even very special sometimes, but we do have fun!