it's my tenth night in malaysiaand my first with an aphrodisiac that works. The evening streets are flooded with spiky, lime-green fruits shaped like footballs. The sarong-clad men of this sticky port town, Mersing, smell, prod and shake this fruit they call durian before selecting the perfect one.Durian is a nasty fruit. Not only does its porcupine exterior make it hard to handle, but it emits the smell of hot, fermenting sewage. Signs on the entrances to local hotels show the offensive edible in a circle with a bold stripe slashing through its centre. Fearful hotel owners are wary of its penetrating odour seeping into every dingy corner of their steamy hotel chambers.
But curiosity moves my travelling partner, Fred. He explains to the vendor that he would like to buy one of these expensive fruits. All those close enough to witness the transaction offer Fred a series of knowing nods; suggestive smiles are leered my way.
Laden with our three-dollar, five-pound burden, we trudge toward our hostel. Teenage boys smoking clove cigarettes heckle and whistle as we walk by. "What's so hot about two tourists and a fruit?" I ask Fred.
Omar, the hostel owner, is sipping his evening coffee in an open-air restaurant. He sees the durian. Sitting back and folding his arms, he lowers his eyes and with a tight-lipped grin sends us a slow nod of consent. Soon he pulls a pocket knife from his pocket and begins to dissect the slimy fruit. Inside, it's the colour and texture of custard. The odour intensifies, sending Fred to our room with a sudden feeling of nausea.
Omar pulls out large chunks and demonstrates how to eat durian. I'm instructed to suck. The taste of sour combines with vanilla pudding, tangy and comforting. We pass the fruit between us, Omar sucking on each section until all that's left at its centre is a beautiful seed the colour of a chestnut.
It will leave me, he says, with a warm tummy. "A warm tummy?" I repeat, confused.
"You'll see," he says.
As I suck away at the last seed, Omar looks like he's going to give me a standing ovation. I've conquered the durian, I think to myself, suppressing bouts of queasiness. With my warming tummy and a serious case of inexplicable tingles, I quickly say good night and climb the hostel's stairs.
I find Fred sprawled on the bed, the fan cranked to high speed above him. He's laughing out loud, reading the not normally so amusing Lonely Planet Guide To Malaysia. It discloses the secret the men of Mersing have been keeping from me. In this Muslim country, not one man would confide that durian's banned from the hotels not only because of its smell but also because of its power to heat up the libido.
The potency of the aphrodisiac begins to overwhelm my inhibitions as I join Fred on a bed of laughter in our liberal hostel and let the whirl of the fan drown our durian giggles.