I am a happier person because of durian. I don’t mean the immediate endorphin glow of a particularly good Kun Poh variety — durian lovers you know what I’m talking about. I mean my life these days is generally better than Life Before Durian (LBD).
I’ve been trying to think about why, and I think it boils down to these 9 Lessons Learned From Eating Durian that have, over the past five years, fundamentally changed who I am and how I interact with the world, and ultimately made me happier.
Think there’s nothing to be learned from a fruit? Read on, and see if I change your mind.
1. Even the hardest things don’t require a big knife.
The first time I tried to open a durian, it was really hard. Durians are huge and spiky and since this was the pre-smartphone era (2009) I didn’t bother asking Google what to do. I just grabbed the biggest knife we had and start hacking somewhere. Blood was shed, it took forever, and I walked away believing eating durian was too much effort.
These days, I regularly open durians with a ballpoint pen (another reason I’m @durianwriter?).
The moral of the story is that there is always another way, and usually a smarter, easier, better way to do things. You just need to take the time to learn or, better yet, ask for help from someone with more experience. Once I learned about those five-seams and the right way to cut them, I was all set for exploring the myriad of possibilities (Car keys? Colored pencil? Hotel swiping key card? Done and done).
2. Say “no” to durians you don’t really, really like
The very first time I went to Bao Sheng Durian Farm, I wanted to try all the varieties. All of them. There’s like 30 varieties, guys. It was crazy.
I threw up, no surprise there.
I’m one of those people who wants to do all the things. I’ve had a hard time in the past prioritizing and saying “no.” I felt like I was supposed to enjoy parties when really I wanted to be home reading my Durian Library. Or I would eat a Capri even though I don’t really like them, and then be too full when the Lin Feng Jiao finally fell.
The reality is that there is only so much time in the day and so much space in our bellies, so we better prioritize the stuff we really like and say “no” to the stuff we don’t.
3. Be Patient and wait for opportunities.
Part of the reason I would eat that meh Capri is because I didn’t know how to have the patience and trust to wait for the durian I really wanted.
It’s impossible to tell when that super bitter, mouth-tingling numb durian is going to fall. It could happen at 11AM, or 3PM, or at midnight when I’ve just brushed my teeth and am getting ready for bed.
So you have to be prepared at any time. Mr. Chang always says to eat until you’re 80% full, so you’re always 20% hungry and ready to pounce on that super-super tasty durian whenever it along.
It might take awhile, days sometimes, but the waiting makes it so much better.
4. It takes misadventure and sometimes failure
Reading this blog, you might have the impression that every durian adventure I go on ends in happiness and gluttonous durian-induced glee.
The reality is that I go on a lot of wild goose chases. When I’m looking for a certain durian, it might take me two or three or more attempts to find it and eat it. Finding the Thornless Durian took going back to the same stall three times. Getting Durio pinangianus took two days crawling through jungle before we finally found it behind the women’s bathroom (see #1, there’s usually an easier way to do things).
These days, I plan to fail at whatever I do the first two or three times. And expecting the failure makes it seem not really like a failure, but just part of the journey.
5. Money can buy durian, which is basically the same as happiness.
I used to believe that money can’t buy happiness. I was wrong. Money lets you see more, do more, and eat more durian.
Let me back up: I’ve traveled on a very small budget for most of my travel blogging career. I would do things like walk 15 minutes in either directions to save 2RM (0.50 USD) on a bottle of water. I only bought the cheapest kampung or D24 durian, even though the Tekka I really wanted that’s just $2 US more per kilo.
These days I’m still what most would consider a “budget” traveler, but I’ve started spending more money on the things I know improve both my quality of life and satisfaction, like my own internet plan, or the kind of durian I’m craving, or the slightly overpriced bottle of water in the hotel lobby.
The result is I’m more content, less stressed, I have a more positive attitude, which makes me happier because:
6. You can’t enjoy anything without a positive attitude.
I’ve seen a lot of people taste durian for the first time now, and I can usually predict whether or not they will like it their first time based on their attitude going into the experience.
Anxious and suspicious? They’re going to hate it before a single fingerlick hits their tongue.
Relaxed and mildly curious? They’ll take a small bite and go “hmmm, that’s interesting.” Don’t worry, by the third tasting they’ll be fans.
Enthusiastically curious? They’re going to love durian. Every time.
Now that I’ve been traveling for 5 years, I’ve noticed that my attitude colors every experience of my life from uncomfortable stints in buses or planes to how many new friends I make.
7. Good people are the most important ingredient.
Speaking of people, we often think that the quality of the durian is what’s important, but really it’s the people.
People make durian what it is. They fertilize and water and care for the trees. They take time and effort to select the good ones for you.
When you think about your favorite durian stall, it’s not the quality of the durians that make the difference. It’s the quality of the person who owns the stall. The person you buy your durian from makes or breaks whether or not you have a good experience.
Likewise, when you think about the best ever durian you ever ate, who were you eating it with? It was probably with someone you really like. And to have and keep these kinds of durian-forward relationships, you definitely need:
8. Communication skills are the key.
It’s not about learning languages, although just a smattering of Thai or Malayu goes a long, long way.
I’ve realized that in my Life Before Durian (LBD), I was not that great at communicating even with people who speak English.
It sounds small, but realizing that I needed to smile more, use body language more, look people in the eye more (and sometimes not look them in the eye) and be really, really clear with my choice of words and tone are all skills as equally important to getting good durian as playing well with others.
But all that takes confidence, which also means:
9. Being okay with the weird that you are.
I love that durian is weird. It’s sheer uniqueness is what captivated my attention, before I’d even tasted it. I like that it’s unusual and not quite conventional but really lovely once you get to know it.
I think we all feel like durians, except some of us worry that we need to somehow pass for normal.
Over time, I’ve realized that not only do I like durian for being unique, I like the people in my life for being unique too. I don’t want any of them to change to pass for normal. I like them for them, thorns and funny looks and all. And they like me for me.
If you’re still reading, you must like me a little bit too.
When I started this durian project five years ago, I hoped that it would change my life. I didn’t know how, but I knew something needed to change.
My quest to understand durian forced me to learn, and travel, and meet people, and make a lot of friends, and come to terms with my own uniqueness. Durian made me a happier person.
And I fully believe that Life After Durian (LAD) is only going to keep getting better. Happy Thanksgiving!