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It takes a lot for me to lose my cool. I’ve managed 34-hour bus rides with locals lying in the aisles and smoking cigarettes. I’ve managed beds full of ants and squat toilets covered with cockroaches. I’ve managed scams, strep throat, and sleep deprivation.
So when I finally lost my cool and freaked out, what was it about?
Durian is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia. The fruit itself is sweet, but the skin smells horrible – like rotting flesh mixed with Windex. It’s an unmistakable odor that you will recognize anywhere.
But most importantly, durian is banned from hotels and public transportation in several Asian countries. That’s how you know I’m not freaking out over something inconsequential!
My hate affair with this fruit started on my first day of the trip.
I was visiting Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, and in a moment of insanity – probably due to the fact that I hadn’t slept a wink the night before – I decided to try a durian popsicle.
I took a lick and nearly spat it out. It tasted like a foot covered with onions! How could any Thai person stand durian, let alone request it as a popsicle flavor?!
Fast forward a few months later to the present. My friends and I were sitting down to dinner in Mui Ne when the telltale aroma hit my nostrils.
“Durian,” I muttered. “Where is it coming from?” Then I saw that the Vietnamese family sitting next to us had put a bag filled with durian on top of their table.
“Oh, hell no.” I sprang up and grabbed the nearest waitress. “Excuse me? Do you see that table?” I asked, smiling politely. “They have durian right there. Could you please ask them to put it away?”
The waitress shook her head. “No.”
I blinked. “The smell is awful. I can’t eat when I smell durian.”
The waitress giggled nervously.
“Maybe you can tell them to leave it on their motorbike?” I asked. “I don’t want to smell it while I eat!”
The waitress went to grab another waitress.
(Meanwhile, as this was all going on, the boys couldn’t care less. Some of them minded the smell, but not enough to complain.)
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the next waitress. “I don’t mean to be rude. But that family has durian on their table. Can you please ask them to move it to their motorbike?”
“No, we will not do that,” the waitress told me. “I am sorry.”
“But the whole restaurant smells like durian now!” It’s not like we were at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. The place was called Joe’s and they served burgers, for crying out loud. “I don’t think people here want to smell durian while they eat.”
“I am sorry,” the waitress repeated.
I went back to the table and continued to vent to the boys. “Did you know that they actually BAN durian on the subway in Bangkok and KL? And this is a restaurant! You think they’d be stricter about it in places where smell is of the utmost importance!”
Our food arrived and I tried my best to inhale it as I ate it. And you know what I found out? If I stuck my nose into my food, the durian smell wasn’t an issue. (It wasn’t my most attractive moment.)
The family with the durian had only come for drinks, and they left as we were finishing our meal. Instantly, the air cleared and all was back to normal.
Am I proud of my outburst? Not at all. It’s probably the closest I’ve been to the Ugly American stereotype in all of my travels. That’s embarrassing.
But seriously, I’m glad I made it through nearly four months without any major issues.
Honestly, give me the cockroach-covered squat toilet – I’ll gladly take that instead of durian.