STEPHANIE CHAN #1: Durians on A Train

Artwork by Priya Vunaki
Artwork by Priya Vunaki

(quotes taken from the essay ‘The Pettiest Tree’ by Wong Yoon Wah)



When the durian appears, off comes the sarong


I am reading a book called Durians Are Not the Only Fruit

on a train from Bristol to your flat in Leicester. You say

you know what durians look like: you had an ex in a play

who had to hack one open onstage, naked and dripping

the lover of a British soldier in World War Two. You can’t

remember what country it was but I think I have an idea.


only those who came to love eating durians remained in Nanyang, putting down roots, whereas neither the colonisers, nor those merely passing through could stand the distinctive smell.’


The first time I took mushrooms, I watched an American roommate

take an hour to peel a grape fruit.  When he was finished he said

‘I wish we had a durian right now.’ Two years before I put up a
‘NO DURIANS’ sign in our living room. We lived in rural Ohio.

I had never actually eaten a durian, but he knew what they smelt like,
had seen a real one in his Botany class. His professor was half-Filipino.
He said it smelt like a dead porcupine’s vagina.


‘many Chinese people in Singapore and Malaysia… especially love the durian… and when travelling will persist in their obsession with the fruit…’  


Another time, we were in Granada, we looked for durians

in tessellations on walls of the Alhambra Mosque.

Devised a theory about the role durians played in the conquest

of Southern Spain by the Moors. I told him about the time

my parents tried to smuggle two durians into their hotel

room in Penang by putting them in my sister’s pram. They got caught.


‘As colonial-era hotels were run by white people, durians were naturally forbidden from entering their doors…’  


Maybe this impulse to involve durians in places

where they are not supposed to be was inherited.

Or maybe it’s just me trying to impress another boy.

You said you didn’t like her poems last night:

too middle-class, comfortable: how was it ok

to speak for twenty minutes about goldfish and men

she had slept with when we lived in a country

that had been at war in Afghanistan for 11 years?


‘Even when eaten, the aroma of durian flesh continues to linger, never mind how many times you rinse your mouth…’  


Tonight I will lie on top of you on a mattress in a land that has invaded every country in the world except twenty-two. For now, I will squeeze your thigh; memorize the weight and number of buttons on your favourite pair of jeans, feel your lips quick wet against my forehead, look back to my book, because this is not a poem about men I’ve slept with, and read about how another lasting scar of colonisation in Southeast Asia is the continuing ban on durians in luxury hotels.