I’m in Jakarta for work for the next few weeks.
The city is loud and busy, a constant stream of highways and cars and motorcycles. We sit in silence in the car, my colleague still chewing on today’s latest problems, the driver slowly, wearily pushing his way through the traffic.
Something catches my eye through the tinted glass, movement on the dirty grass between the two sides of the jalan, the boulevard. A tiny figure dressed in a greying pierrot costume rocks slowly back and forth on a rickety wooden horse. Its owner notices me looking, and tugs at the chain a few times. The monkey looks up at me with its uncomprehending face. We lock eyes, his are glassy like dead fish, and for a moment I feel the world has given up.
Then we drive away.
Last night was Durian night again. It’s become a regular thing. We egg each other on for days until one of us cracks, turning up at the flat with a carefully wrapped box of stinking fruit. Usually we wait for 8pm at Takashimaya, when the vendors give us hefty discounts on unsold boxes of Mountain King or D24. Around the table there’s a mixture of excitement, unbridled gluttony, resigned disgust, quiet enjoyment. Our fingers stroke and scoop the soft, silky flesh, and we eat until we start to feel sick. We discuss the butteriness of the fruit, whether or not it’s bitter, how it compares to previous tasting sessions.
Invariably, the discussion turns to heatiness. “I’m feeling heaty”, someone will say, and we all nod in agreement.
n. a characteristic of certain foods or stimulants said to cause emotional or physical reactions associated with temper, fever, passion, excess, or true heat.
Here in Singapore, heatiness is generally accepted as a sort of physical, almost medical, condition. It’s blamed for all sorts of ailments and discomforts, from ulcers to acne, to stomach upsets, but also seems to be something to look forward to, like a good sauna or a long hot bath. A few days ago I arrived at work a bit late because of a nose bleed, and my colleague asked, with a knowing look: “Heatiness?”
Is it a condition? An ailment? An existential state? The cure to heatiness is apparently to balance it out with cooling foods. We forgot, again, to buy mangosteens, the queen of fruits and a good anti-heaty food. And so we hobbled off to bed, clutching our stomachs and other excesses, wondering what crazy dreams the durian would bring.