For durians, they dare

Pictures by: 
Jeremy Long
Report by: 
Zachary Soh

A heavy thud broke through the thick forest at Mandai Road.
 
 It caught the attention of carpenter Lee Tian Xing, 65, who immediately darted in the direction of the sound on Monday. 
 
He reached the spot, brushed some leaves away and smiled gleefully. He got what he was after: A durian. 
 
“It will not be as good as D24 (a better grade of the fruit),” he said, “but it should taste good enough.” 
 
Mr Lee said he picked up about 10 durians that day from his four-hour stakeout. He said: “Some of the durians were too small and had little flesh. “I would try them first before throwing them away.” 
 
By the time he left the area, he had taken home six durians to share with his family. He was accompanied by two friends, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim and Mr Soo. 
 
But it is not all sweet for the group. Their pursuit, while mostly fruitful, is illegal. Fellow durian hunter, Mr Lim, 63, unemployed, is aware of this. 
 
“We are not supposed to be here because this is a protected zone.”
 
Protected areas are built-up areas in Singapore which do not allow unauthorised entry. 
 
Still he takes the risk, all for the king of fruit. He enjoys the adrenaline rush of finding durians. 
 
“When I finally find the durian and hold it in my hand, I feel so happy,” Mr Lim said. 
 
Durians that fall off the tree are considered to taste more bitter than durians that are cut off. 
 
But the trees at Mandai Road were too tall for climbing and the trio resorted to waiting for the wind for help.  
 
The three friends did not have to worry about rushing for the fruit. Mr Soo, a 74-year-old retiree, said: “We came to the protected zone because there is no one here, which means the durians that drop here are ours.” 
 
He once saw two people fighting over a durian at a non-protected area. “Two men were grabbing for a durian. It got very violent.” 
 
Mr Soo, Mr Lee and Mr Lim, who had been there since 2pm, came prepared. 
 
They wore black rain boots and navigated the muddy jungle with tree branches they used for support. 
 
Their heads, however, were unprotected. 
 
Said Mr Soo: “There is no need for a helmet. You will be safe as long as you do not stand underneath a durian tree when the wind blows.” 
 
Still, he said, there is always fear that one of the spiky fruit would fall on his head. 
 
“When I was in Malaysia, I saw a durian drop on someone’s eye. He passed away shortly after being taken to the hospital.” 
 
When The New Paper asked Mr Lee why he was there risking life and limb and possible arrest, he said: “I am doing this for fun.” 
 
He was not the only one. Two days later, other durian hunters like Mr Handi Tan ventured deep into the jungle even though a downpour created slippery terrain. 
 
He used sticks to help cross the little river and walk along the wet and narrow footpaths.
 

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on November 29, 2013.