DURIAN after durian they opened.They asked many times if we had enough and could they open another one for us.
I fingered each golden, moist aril out of its husk, telling myself, “OK. Last one,” again and again till my tastebuds went numb with pungent ecstasy.
That was in 2015 at a Penang durian promotion carnival by Tourism Malaysia in Penang National Park, Teluk Bahang.
The park’s monkey population attended too. They sat on tree limbs by the forest fringe and watched the humans jealously.
The brave ones grabbed our discarded husks and licked away the remaining morsels.
Last month, my editor sent me again to a durian promotion carnival by Tourism and Culture Ministry.
Oh, my colleagues were as jealous as those monkeys.
I went with a mission to write a bombastic piece to hail Penang’s thorny varieties of ang heh, hor lor, orr chee (D200), XO, D11, D604, D600, et cetera.
But this time, each table was served with just a single tray of extracted arils, varieties not specified.
The press table got two extra fruits, shared by 10 journalists.
Curious about the shrunken scale of the usual feast, I poked around and the answers came in whispers: prices are too high this year, up to RM120 per kilo for the premium ones.
Being the most widely read English daily in Penang, The Star dutifully keeps track of the performance of our orchards for our readers’ benefit just before the fruiting season.
We had a paltry harvest in 2014, which was incredibly wet.
In 2015, it was hot and dry in the early months and orchard owners had a bumper harvest.
It was bad in 2016, no thanks to El Nino’s blazing heat.
The harvest was so small that thieves were reported roaming around orchards on motorcycles, pilfering fallen fruits before owners could find them.
This year has been rather wet and cool. We learned that durian trees need to be agitated by balmy, dry weather to flower.
So the flowering season was late this year and when they did bloom, the wetness gave rise to fungus that wilted many flowers before they could be pollinated.
On Facebook recently, someone posted a picture of three orr chee durians and a receipt showing he bought them for RM882.90.
Assuming that prices would be lower on the mainland, I went to Tasek Gelugor recently and bought two small kampung durians for my family. RM50.
I felt it was still a bit pricey but did not regret buying them as they tasted so good! Cloned varieties can be a bit too overpowering sometimes.
Back to the recent event, Tourism and Culture Ministry state director Jonathan Freddy Bagang, in his speech, said the ministry wanted to make the durian a signature fruit of Penang.
The state government also frequently sings to a similar tune when promoting the fruit.
So now, on top of weather tantrums, we can expect even more tourists armed with stronger foreign currency to boss over the sellers.
My point is that the average Penangite cannot afford to enjoy our durians anymore.
It’s a case of ‘See, no touch; smell, no eat’.
It is not easy to start a durian orchard from scratch. Nearly a decade of patient tending is needed before the trees bear fruit.
So expanding the durian supply happens at a snail’s pace while foreign tourists flock in and de-husk our fruits as we watch like jealous monkeys from the forest fringes.
Maybe durians should become a controlled price item but we know that is not possible.
The elementary law of supply and demand has robbed many Penangites of enjoying the state fruit.
How about an affordable durian carnival for Penangites for a change?