The King Fruit
The durian, a peculiar yellowish fruit native to Southeast Asia, is a local delicacy to the Southeast Asian peoples, but is more often infamously noted for its putrid smell by both locals and foreigners. Alien in its appearance, the fruit is covered in terrifying spikes, smells of rotting flesh, and has the texture of fleshy fibrous mucous; basically, it is not the most appealing of fruits.
For example, last week, I stepped into a small department office in Nethery Hall for my daily cup of tea and looked over a poster board hanging above the refreshments. In the few short minutes I spent reading a collection of mini student profiles, I felt a sense of camaraderie with a select few. We had similar interests in books, hobbies, cultural backgrounds, and even fictional characters; these people were, in the oddest sense, my homies—just from what I could read on paper.
And then I saw it.
On the bottom of some of these same profiles were a set of incredibly shocking words: “Weirdest Food You’ve Eaten: Durian.” Friends, I cannot begin to tell you about the level of disrespect I felt just from reading this phrase. To speak colloquially, I was triggered. I was shook.
What started out as a comedic self-induced offense started becoming more real. My shock and subsequent disgruntlement went from 0 to 100 real quick and I began placing negative labels on these students because they didn’t share my penchant for durian.
In the brief instance of glancing over those student profiles, their words felt like a personal attack. The durian was my mom’s comfort food, my dad’s favorite shake flavor and my first step into reconnecting with my cousin back in the Philippines whom I had not seen in nine years. To me, durian is not weird—just misunderstood. Unsurprisingly enough, this newfound fondness for durian had me seeing red; I was embittered and immediately put those people on my mental blacklist of “unfriendlies.”
And there was my error. My overwhelming endearment to the durian (aka the King Fruit), almost blinded me to the fact that I once hated durian too. It wasn’t until recently that I learned to love the fruit as a result of an initial effort to embrace my culture more. And these students had every right to their opinion on the fruit.
For one, the durian’s infamous reputation isn’t unwarranted. It does stink. It looks gross. The texture in your mouth is so alien that there’s really no good way to describe it unless you try it. But therein lies my point: you have to try it.
In my youth, growing up in the Philippines and later in Texas, I found durian to be a terrifying presence in the home. As a kid, I hated it. I, along with my American cousins, actively avoided the kitchen when my parents, aunts and uncles would feast on the strange imported fruit. To young me, durian was a tragic mutation of the much sweeter jackfruit, an embarrassment to culinary fruits everywhere and, most importantly, one of the few mistakes God made when he created the world. But at 21 years, my entire perception of the fruit has changed.
Rewind to the summer of 2017 and you’ll find Facebook posts of my mom and me, going out to the street markets of the Philippines, buying bundles of durian to enjoy in her sister’s kitchen. Peer through the catalog in my mind and you’ll uncover my mom’s secrets for finding the best and sweetest durian (the Golden Puyat) as opposed to the potential bitterness of its unripe counterpart. Look into the snack drawer of my dorm room and you’ll discover durian flavored candies stashed amongst my collection of potato chips, granola bars and nuts. Or imagine me staying up at 3AM writing a piece about a fruit that I once hated as kid because it apparently holds some valuable moral lesson (and I argue it does) that needs to be shared with a good amount of people who have probably never tasted, seen or smelled the fruit before, much less heard of it.
My impression changed and with that shift in perspective, I have found myself echoing the roles of my aunts and uncles, hoping to pass this love of the durian to my Western/American peers. To be completely honest, I began writing this piece as a flaming reaction to some comments I read a few students make on the durian being the weirdest food they’ve ever eaten. A little petty on my part? Maybe, but this comedic moment taught me something about myself.
Primarily, it made me question who I thought I was to start making these judgement calls based on a line of innocent words hung up on a poster board. In a moment of frivolous anger I looked at complete strangers and already made assumptions about their character despite having never interacted with them. I was prepared to cut them off, without even knowing who they were. I looked at a metaphorical rough exterior and preemptively decided that these were people who wouldn’t appreciate where I came from. This, of course, was all conjecture. Like the me before, the me in that instance almost ran away from something or in this case someone(s) because I thought they were a presence I would not enjoy.
And how often do we find ourselves making this kind of choice every day? In a school like ours, we are privileged and cursed to have a student body population that is less than 5,000. This number allows us to meet a large amount of people who make up our community. We are exposed to foreign cultures, regional differences and quirky idiosyncrasies on the daily, and we make the decision to embrace those people or simply overlook them.
They say that at Andrews and as Adventists we live in a bubble; we generally share similar goals, beliefs and values, but we aren’t a monolithic identity. Each person comes with their own unique backgrounds and stories. Yet when we choose to close off our interactions with certain groups for fear of not fitting in or being too different, we ultimately lose a chance to appreciate the beauty in our differences, move beyond our personal bubbles, overcome our biases and enhance our ability to understand people and cultures outside of our own.
In the lightest and most common of cases, we ignore people we label as unlikeable or different, never thinking twice about them. In the most extreme, a lack of understanding of certain groups can lead to their disenfranchisement, incarceration and in the worst circumstances, their genocide.
The “Adventist bubble” we live in is a perfect opportunity to meet others outside of our comfort zones and comfort groups. Here exists an opportunity to grow and understand a world outside of ourselves. That doesn’t mean we won’t come across people we disagree with or even dislike, but that shouldn’t stop us from reaching out, searching for and making connections with others.
In both my tryst with durian and my experience here at Andrews, I have come a long way. I’ve encountered some incredibly bitter durian, but when a new encounter ended up sweet it made the search for a good one worth it.