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Thread: Now he is the Durian King

  1. #1
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    Dzm xuống đi Now he is the Durian King

    Decades ago, he stole a tree branch. Now he is the Durian King

    By David Pierson
    Jul 04, 2019 | 3:00 AM
    | PENANG, Malaysia

    Tan Eow Chong's workers harvest durians on a farm as his son, Tan Chee Keat, center, checks the quality of the harvest in Bayan Lepas, Malaysia. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times)

    Long before he was the Durian King, Tan Eow Chong was canvassing rural Malaysia for plants he could farm when he stumbled on a roadside stand selling a curiously golden-fleshed variety of the fruit.

    The seller, an elderly woman, urged Tan to have a taste, boasting that her durians were the same color as the local sultans palace.

    Tan took one bite and was transfixed. Apart from the notorious aroma, which is often compared to rotting meat, it was nothing like the fibrous durians with large pits that he grew at home 200 miles away on Penang Island. This one was meatier, creamier and bittersweet everything a durian connoisseur would want.

    The flesh melted in my mouth, said Tan, who decided then that he had to grow the durian himself.

    The fruit came from a nearby orchard. Tan asked whether he could have a branch to graft onto one of his trees, but the woman shooed away the idea. So that evening he returned with a villager armed with a rifle. At Tans instructions, and for pay, the man pruned a footlong branch with a well-placed shot.

    Thirty-five years after his heist, Tan is reaping the rewards.

    The tree limb provided the genetics for an award-winning durian known as the Musang King, which has become Malaysias next cash crop and made Tans family durian royalty.

    Above, a customer, in green shirt, orders durians at a roadside stall during the Durian Festival in Georgetown, Malaysia. At right, a worker opens a durian for customers at a roadside fruit stall. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times)
    His success, however, came only recently thanks to his perseverance through hard economic times and a magnate who happened to spark a Musang King obsession in China, a country whose 1.4 billion stomachs have the power to move markets.

    (Los Angeles Times) The durian is no ordinary fruit. Its thorny cantaloupe-sized husk looks like a hedgehog crossed with an avocado. Locked inside are lobes of fruit that have the look and texture of foie gras and are usually eaten raw, but can also be mixed with rice or added to pastries.

    What defines durian fruit, however, is its overpowering sulfuric scent, which has led to bans from public transportation and the occasional evacuation of buildings. The odor is strong enough to penetrate the fruits thick shell. When the shell is cracked open, the scent can buckle a neophytes knees. But for the fruits admirers, the stench is part of the allure.

    If it doesnt stink, its not durian, Tan said.

    A group of tourists from Hong Kong feast on a Musang King durian on their annual trip to Malaysia to eat durians at Durian Kaki, a roadside fruit stall owned by Tan Eow Chong and his family in Bayan Lepas, Malaysia. Suzanne Lee / For The Times The worlds biggest emerging consumer market appears firmly in favor of the smell. Chinas massive unmet demand for durian is the prime reason the Hong Kong consulting firm Plantations International predicts that the global market for raw durian will reach $25 billion by 2030 up from $15 billion in 2016.

    A growing share of that is expected to come from Malaysia, where the fruit is thought to have originated and the average person eats 24 pounds of it each year far more than anywhere else in world.

    Tan, 58, has seen his revenue grow tenfold in the six years since he began exporting durians to China.

    Now, among locals on this lush island west of the Malay peninsula, Tan is the Durian King.

    Clockwise from top, at a farm owned by Tan Eow Chong, his son Tan Chee Keat climbs a tree to tie a Musang King durian and keep the fruit from dropping prematurely; a freshly dropped durian, whose thorny cantaloupe-sized husk looks like a hedgehog crossed with an avocado; Tan Chee Keat looks up at an award-winning 29-year-old Musang King durian tree on his father's farm. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times)
    The story of how Tan earned his crown begins with his father, a pig farmer from Chinas coastal Fujian province. Before migrating to Malaysia in the 1940s, the elder Tan had never seen a durian.

    He noticed the fruit growing wild on his property in Balik Pulau, a bucolic corner of Penang, and decided to farm it.

    Back then, there was mostly one variety of durian, the Kampung, the Malay word for village. Though still sought after, it is unremarkable compared with todays hybrid varieties.

    Tan Eow Chong at Durian Kaki, his roadside durian stall, in Bayan Lepas, Malaysia. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times) Tan learned to farm as a boy in the early 1970s alongside his father. But he didnt particularly like it and as a young man became a self-described gangster a dai goh, or big brother in Cantonese parlance overseeing a band of hoodlums.

    By his early 20s, though, he began taking farming seriously after his father explained how he planned to bequeath his farmland one day. Tans two brothers would split the familys coffee plantings and hog farm.

    Tan would inherit the durian plantation, a nod to his passion for the Frankenstein science of grafting. The skill allowed him to improve on the Kampung by cross-breeding it with richer and meatier durians hed occasionally find.

    If it doesnt stink, its not durian.
    Tan Eow Chong
    It was the technique he used when he brought back his prized limb from behind the roadside stand in the northeastern state of Kelantan and joined it to a mature tree.

    It took Tan three years for the grafting to bear fruit and two more years of plantings to come up with a durian he was willing to sell.

    He called it Rajah Kunyit, Malay for Turmeric King, on account of the meats bright yellow hue. Growers on the Malaysian mainland developed an identical hybrid, but called it the Musang King, which means Mountain Cat King. The latter name stuck.

    The new variety brought Tan a modicum of fame, but at only $1 for about 2 pounds, no fortune.

    Clockwise from top left, durians in baskets at a roadside stall; Tan Chee Wei, center, chooses durians for his customers at a roadside stall owned by his family; a customer holds a piece of Musang King durian at Durian Kaki, a roadside stall owned by Tan Eow Chong; and Teoh Nai Aun opens a durian at his roadside stall during the Durian Festival in Georgetown, Malaysia. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times)
    The market for Malaysian durian was mostly domestic, providing little opportunity for major growth. It was difficult to compete with Thailand, the worlds biggest exporter of durians, mostly its ubiquitous Monthong, or Golden Pillow.

    Tan took full control of his familys durian business after his father died in 1998, just as the market for the fruit was about to enter a deep, multi-year slump.

    Meanwhile, another crop was taking off: the palm oil plant.

    Used in everyday products such as candy bars and cosmetics, it accounts for half the agricultural economic output of Malaysia, the worlds No. 2 producer behind Indonesia. Viewed from above, the cylindrical trees organized in equidistant rows can make great swaths of the country look like its made of Legos.

    Combined with government incentives, the crop has lifted millions of rural dwellers out of poverty and become a significant contributor to climate change as the countrys dense rain forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, were cleared to create palm plantations.

    In 2005, Tan seriously considered ripping out his durian trees and joining the trend.

    But he had no experience growing palm or passion for the plant and decided to stick with what he knew best.

    My life has always been with durians, he said.

    Tan Eow Chong, center, talks on the phone as people sort through baskets full of durian at Durian Kaki, his roadside durian stall in Bayan Lepas, Malaysia. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times) Luckily for Tan, Stanley Ho, a legendary casino tycoon from the Chinese territory of Macao, also happens to be a durian devotee.

    In 2010, he sent a private jet to Singapore to pick up 88 Musang Kings from a seller there. He wanted 98, but stock was low.

    Ho reportedly gave away 10 of his beloved fruits to an even richer billionaire, Hong Kong developer and investor Li Ka-shing.

    The story, which was originally reported by a Chinese-language newspaper in Malaysia called China Press, quickly reached China.

    Los Angeles Times Soon 4.5-pound Musang Kings were selling for up to $60 each on Chinese e-commerce sites such as Taobao.

    Durians are prized in China, not only for their unique flavor as sweet as ripe banana and simultaneously as bitter as raw garlic but also supposed health properties. Nursing mothers are encouraged to eat the fruit. And its believed to keep you warm during winter.

    No variety is more prized than the one Tan pioneered.

    The Musang King is my favorite, said Teh Bin Tean, a Singaporean researcher who has studied the durian genome. Dont try it first because the rest is all downhill.

    Clockwise from top left, workers check the quality of durians and prepare them for flash-freezing and export; durians are flash-frozen at the plant using nitrogen gas before they are exported to countries such as China; Tan Chee Wei wraps a section of durian to be vacuum-packed for a customer to take on a flight. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times)
    Tan seized on Chinese demand in 2013 by finding a distributor in China and ways to flash freeze the freshly picked fruit with nitrogen for shipping.

    Since then, the familys durian plantings have increased to 1,000 acres from 80. Last year, the business exported 1,000 tons of the fruit to China.

    We couldnt dream business would go so high, said one of Tans sons, Tan Chee Keat, who has been learning the business.

    Now corporations are looking to cash in on Chinas latest culinary fixation.

    Major Malaysian palm oil interests such as the publicly traded IOI Group and the state-owned Federal Land Development Authority are exploring durian planting, according to an industry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose his talks with the organizations. Neither responded to requests for comment.

    Their interest comes at a time when global palm oil prices have declined steadily because of new regulations and boycotts.

    Environmental groups hope any durian boom doesnt repeat the mistakes of the palm oil industry andexacerbate the depletion of forests.

    Durian has always been one of our favorite crops, but weve got to have a balance, said Sophine Tann of the Malaysian environmental protection group PEKA. With rising demand from China were worried theyll say Lets get rid of all our forests for durian. Do we need to be the worlds supermarket?

    In 2002, when Chee Keat was 11 and the family farm was struggling, his father made him stand in the center of a plantation to get used to the mosquitoes, which are often so numerous they can be confused for pollen.

    I was a blood donor, joked the younger Tan, who wanted no part of the farming life and wanted to be a paleontologist.

    Years later, the mosquitoes no longer bother him. All that time on the hilly farms has inured him to boars, monkeys, eagles, flying squirrels, deadly snakes and other critters that live there.

    Dont worry, he told a Times reporter when a crimson and black snake appeared a few feet away. That one is only a little bit poisonous. It will make you pass out for a day. You get to rest.

    Customers eat durian at a roadside stall during the Durian Festival in Georgetown, Malaysia. (Suzanne Lee / For The Times) Tan Chee Keat came to relish durian farming after discovering a passion for grafting, much like his dad did. If all goes as planned, the younger Tan will share the family business with his two brothers.

    On the cusp of the peak durian harvest, which starts each June, he often sleeps in a hammock on the family plantations, guarding ripening fruits from thieves. Durian farming is a cutthroat business. Rivals are suspected of poisoning some of his experimental durian trees.

    His biggest fear, however, is that someone steals a branch from one of his new hybrid trees, just like his father did so many years earlier. Tan Chee Keat is developing a durian that has an even smoother texture than his fathers Musang King. He hasnt named it yet, but he suspects it could result in change on the family throne.

    With this, he said, a new king will be born.
    Ở Đời Thiếu Bạn Tri m, Như Cy Thiếu Nắng, Như Trầm Thiếu Hương.
    Trầm Kia Nếu Chẵng Cht Hương, Khc Chi Gỗ Mục Bn Đường Lẽ Loi.

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  2. #2
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