Eating the hand that feeds me

This morning I woke up to weak sunlight, thick socks and cold fingers. A perfect time for imagining tropical warmth.

Instead, I chose frozen tropical fruit. Judiciously chosen, at 8 cents a gram. Where do I start on the political economy of durian? A friend bought a “fresh” durian from Preston markets for $20. (It was probably a frozen import from Thailand). In Malaysia, fresh durian costs around $5 per piece (50 ringgit?). The farmers who sell it – usually get about 10% of this (5 ringgit – or 50 cents). The workers who harvest it live outside of this economy altogether. The durian plantation is a refuge of sorts; where those on the run from genocidal buddhists in Burma or Sri Lanka, and those on the run from corrupt police in KL, and those seeking shelter from the infinity of horrors that drives people from their homes and cultures and papers and identities and languages and safety, run to the jungle, and spend their days running up hills and sliding down them. Hoping the local coppers are as happy with the durian plantation as the local jungle pigs. Hoping the local cops will accept excess fruit in lieu of bribes so they don’t ask to see the papers of the workers. Hoping that they can survive another season of backbreaking work on a payment diet of rice and blachan, hoping that their clothes and shoes don’t completely fall apart. Hoping that this hell will end with their escape to something better, rather than a violent death, a silent burial and their own destiny as compost for the next crop.

So… durian is a guilty pleasure.

I consumed mine with more guilty pleasures: pancakes made with cow milk and “free range” eggs, and fried in butter. I like cows and chickens and don’t like what agribusiness does to their bodies in order to provide me with food – so the pancakes were an attempt to use up what was already in the fridge – bought by my flatmates…..

I had woken up before dawn, to place the box of durian on the bench to defrost. The pancake mix had been sitting in the fridge since Sunday….

This morning as my coffee bubbled, I smeared freshly defrosted creamy sweet pulp across the hot buttery surface of a pancake. And it was heaven. Again and again and again.

How can fruit taste so creamy?

The sticky sweet mucous intensity of durian reminded me of the taste of breast milk (tasted as an adult). My early gwailo girl orientalist forays always included the cashier’s performance of surprise that I would want to eat durian and wasn’t repelled by the smell. I still can’t quite believe that people could be repelled by the smell of durian. It is strong: it fills the house, enters into my clothes, and adds a tropical tinge to the Melbourne winter. However, I guess that in this mucilagous sweetness, the  slippery sop of sucking the pips, I came come close to Kristeva’s milk skin abjection…. After devouring a whole box of defrosted pulps, I felt I had my fill. I felt guilty that I hadn’t shared the box with anyone – but then I didn’t know how to time the 3 hour defrosting and the pancake frying with inviting someone over.

I will be teaching Kristeva this semester. I am not a fan for lots of reasons, and relieved I can sandwich her in between intertextual derivations, and some more solid critical derivations of Mary Douglas’s work than the psychoanalytic spiral of Kristeva’s work.

I am also so relieved to be teaching. So glad to resume my wafer thin link to the university. So glad to have students to share ideas with. So relieved.

The university itself is as dismaying as it is horrifying. I had a wretched experience walking into the customer service experiment formerly known as a library. It was complete with upbeat branded youf projecting all their corporate retail skills at me and an ipad at the exit asking me to pick an emoji that reflected my customer service experience. I nearly cried. I nearly screamed. I just wanted books, and books to be held and handled by earnest quiet librarians, handing them to me; our eyes meeting over words mussed by mutual digits.

Instead I got on a bus and resumed my convivial correspondence with the wonderful subject librarian that allows students to read books on their phones, without ever having to lose themselves in a Dewey defined corridor, or put finger to page.

Today – post Durian – I read some idealistic protest sign on facebook, and felt compelled to tap a response. Instead I have memed it into the images below. I have been in higher education either as a student, a casual worker, or an academic for almost 3 decades. I still wrangle with a profound ambivalence: dismay, disgust, delight and hope.




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