The smell of the fruit almost caused the evacuation of guests at a hotel in London recently. FILE PIC

GUESTS at a local hotel recently were nearly evacuated when residents reported the smell of gas.

The fear was that there was a gas leak — the consequences of which could be disastrous. Health and safety engineers were summoned and the first place that they looked was the kitchen.

But everything seemed to be fine. However, the smell persisted and it was becoming worrying, as memories of the Grenfell Tower fire were still fresh in some people’s minds.

The culprit and source of the offensive smell was discovered only the next day. The stench wafted from one of the rooms. It took a Malaysian to discover that the smell, although alarming to the uninitiated, was indeed from our much loved king of fruits, the durian!

The “king” was hibernating in a suitcase to be delivered to a friend, and although the noses of the Customs officers at Heathrow Airport had missed the “foul smelling fruit”, its pungent aroma, which has been associated with smelly socks and rotten cheese (and these are from people being kind), had made itself forcefully known to all and sundry at the hotel.

What is it about our beloved fruit that has been known to cause almost a worldwide panic?

Sydney officials had to evacuate a whole floor of an office building after reports of a gas leak. Nearby, in a warehouse, Malaysian agricultural staff were unloading a shipment of the pungent fruit and the smell had wafted up the ventilation system and reached the 15th floor of the building! Such is the power of the smell and the might of the Musang King!

According to reports, “The staff in the adjoining office, all Caucasians, panicked because they thought there was a gas leak ... they summoned the emergency services. The whole floor was evacuated within minutes.”

In China, whose population is reported to be the biggest consumption of durian, a bus driver in the province of Shandong ordered everybody out of her vehicle when she smelt what she suspected was gas.

A passenger was later discovered enjoying the fruit at the back of the vehicle.

The fruit’s offensive smell, whose genetic makeup and DNA blueprint has become an area of study, had moved some hotels, public places and modes of transportation to post signs stating: “No firearms, no explosives, no durians.”

A video clip from the University of Manchester recently showed students being evacuated and emergency officers inspecting the place. The culprit was later identified as a durian, and no prizes for guessing who brought it in as there are many Malaysian students at the university. An officer was heard to have warned harshly: “Do not bring durians into this building!”

Firefighters were called to a private hospital in Melbourne amid concerns there had been a gas leak in one of the wards.

Six patients were evacuated before it was found that the smell was from a durian brought in by a patient’s well-meaning visitor.

Well, stories of the stench of the durian can be told until the cows come home. Even video clips are made to see the shock and horror registered on faces of people not used to this fruit that we would kill and die for.

The king of fruits has long made its presence felt in the United Kingdom, much to the delight of Malaysians, and they are not unfamiliar to the locals.

Thanks to Matrade, the Musang King had been heralded into supermarkets, albeit with a hefty price tag, that some would and could pay for.

The fruit has a reputation to have caused quite a divide. In our own family, some would rather have us have the offending fruit outside the house. So, it is not only the nostrils of Caucasians that find the smell dreadful.

I have also met with some locals who would do anything to have a taste of durian. At a dining table among dons and academics in their robes at one of the colleges at Cambridge University recently, the conversation strangely turned to durians.

It was with much delight that I discovered not one or two dons unabashedly admitting to being obsessed with the fruit. One even admitted to having a mandatory stopover in Malaysia for his durian fix, before travelling on to his destination for a conference.

Yes, we die-hard fans of the thorny fruit would do anything to have the velvety feel of the flesh that would then release the heaven-like taste and send you off to nirvana. The hotel guest who brought in the durian in his or her suitcase for a friend must be lauded for being such a faithful friend!

Personally, I must admit to doing something unthinkable where durian is concerned. Some years ago, when durian was a rare and precious item which could only be found in Oriental supermarkets, in my moments of weakness, I gave in and bought a carefully-packed durian.

There were only six pieces which I knew wouldn’t have been enough to share with the children.

So, with an accomplice, we sat in her car parked under a tree outside Malaysia Hall. There we were left on our own to enjoy this almost heaven-like experience, naïve in the belief that no one would know.

Suffice to say, the smell, which gave the secret away, is now long gone, but the memory remains and it took years for the children to forgive us.

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