The Musang King was
registered in 1993 in Tanah Merah, a district in the far north of
Malaysia near Kota Bahru. At the time, it was given the code name D197
and the local name Raja Kunyit (Turmeric King), referring to the
durian’s bright yellow flesh. Raja Kunyit was already a popular
variety, and in the early 1990’s when Tina was planting her durian
orchard, it was the variety she favored.
Local legend has it that the reason Raja Kunyit does so well in
Tina’s orchard is that the original Musang King tree was discovered only
a few miles away, in what is now an palm oil plantation called Chinteck
Estate. A very long time ago, someone took a cutting from the tree to
Tanah Merah, where it was widely cultivated and finally registered with
the government in 1993, under the code name D197. Tina is responsible
for bringing the Musang King back home. Unfortunately, the original tree
was cut down to make way for oil palm, so no one will ever get to taste
the original Musang King.
from Gua Musang, or the Musang King. The durian received its name from its birth place, not because it’s the favorite durian of the musang animal. Yet there is an indirect connection. Gua Musang
translates as “Musang’s Cave,” referring to a local legend about a large
cave that may be haunted by a pack of ghostly civet cats.
Tina told us she started her durian orchard because she loves durian. When she was a child, she got in trouble for stealing durian and decided that when she grew up she would own a lot of durian trees. She worked as a hair stylist in Singapore and Johor Bahru until she saved enough to buy her 18 acres of virgin rainforest an hour outside of Gua Musang. There she has planted around 700 trees, 400 of which are currently old enough to bear fruit. Eighty percent are Musang King. The rest are a mix of D24 and old kampung durian trees that she is slowly converting to her favorite variety by grafting.
unpaved road leading into the mountains. I had never been on a road so
rough and was very impressed by her driving skills. She makes the drive
four times a day, ferrying durians out of the orchard in the back of her
truck. As the truck crawled over ponderous rocks and waded through
mountain streams, I imagined the catastrophe this road would be in my
little Toyota Corolla back home. I finally understand the purpose of
While Tina cooked dinner, we enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the orchard. Already the durians were beginning to drop and we heard the distinct thunks and thuds through the quiet hum of evening insects, and the louder hum of the generator. When it was thoroughly dark and we had finished eating, Tina led us on a night-time tour of the orchard. I was secretly hoping to see the Musang animal, but we didn’t. Instead we enjoyed the company of Tina’s entourage of dogs, who follow her everywhere.
Tina’s lucky dogs eat Musang King on a regular basis, wolfing down the seeds as well. She generously shared several pieces with them, demonstrating their preference for Musang King by offering them two varieties at once. Even more hilarious was the dog’s reaction to the fruit that had fallen from her one Thai durian tree. Not only did the dogs choose Musang King over the Thai durian every time, they refused to eat it when it was the only fruit offered. Not satisfied with this display, Tina placed the Thai durian on one dog’s tongue, closing its muzzle around it. The dog spat the seed out and sniffed it apprehensively while we just about died of laughter.
It was still dark while she used a bristle brush to clean the durians of leaves and debris and sorted them into piles by variety. Rob and I took a turn brushing the durians, although we were so slow at the task I don’t know if we were much help. I certainly wasn’t. I was too focused on trying to get a few good pictures. I don’t have much experience taking shots in the dark, and had to fumble and experiment with my flash. Tina was a really good sport and let me take about a million shots of her brushing, sorting, and packing the durians.
On an average day Tina sells around 1,000 kilos of durian. That morning we collected only 300 kilos. She looked slightly disappointed as she surveyed the night’s catch. We went to Raub with the durians piled high in the back of only one truck, instead of the usual two. I got a kick out of the way the durian thorns screeched and squeaked on the window just behind my head as the truck bounced down the mountain. I’ll cover the distribution in a future post, where Rob and I trace the
durians sold at 818 Durian Stall in Singapore back to the supplier in
Raub. Raub turned out to be a treasure trove of durian information!
Around 11 AM, we waved goodbye to the durians, now on their way to Singapore. We were sad at the thought that it was also time to say goodbye to Tina and Mr. A. But Tina had more surprises
up her sleeve. Our sleepover and morning outing with her turned out to
be just the beginning of a long and very interesting day in Raub.
Thank you Tina!