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Off the Beat: Ever heard of the rare and elusive kura kura durian?

Off the Beat: Ever heard of the rare and elusive kura kura durian?

I knew I had to see the kura kura durian as soon as I learned of the medium-sized, wild fruit’s near-extinct status.

After all, it has already been placed on the red list of threatened species by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Although endemic to Borneo, most Sabahans and Sarawakians I’ve met don’t know about these “tortoise durians” or, durio testudinarum. Likewise, the cluelessness on the Indonesian side of the island, Kalimantan.

Unlike regular durian, the kura kura durian hangs just about ground level from its tree when it fruits. It’s presumed that the fruit’s low-lying position gives credence to its name – even a tortoise can reach it.

Whenever I’ve shown friends pictures of these durians, they’ve always been fascinated by the existence of such a species. Of course, their enthusiasm couldn’t mirror my obsession, and soon, I was itching to “meet” this special durian tree.

Although I regard myself a durian lover, my elevated sugar levels have kept me away from this super delicious king of fruits the past two years.

A Borneo Post report indicated that I could find some kura kura durian trees in Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti, about 60km from Miri, Sarawak.

Thanks to my colleague, Stephen Then, who is based in this lovely and famous oil-producing city, the trip was made a little easier since he had mapped out our route into this village.

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You don’t many signboards like these in the city… Photos: Florence Teh

The two-hour drive wasn’t exactly scenic, but more monotonous with the endless oil palm plantations, although a few “beware of crocodiles” signboards at some river banks immediately caught the attention of this city dude.

Upon reaching the village, we had to stop several times to ask villagers if they knew where these special durian trees were located.

One makcik told me she had tasted the kura kura durian but wasn’t certain if it came from the top of the hill. The hill? Now that was certainly not encouraging.

Continuing our drive along the dusty trail, we once again resorted to stopping to ask for directions, this time from a group of teenagers who swore that no such durians existed in the village. Only regular durians, they said.

The intrepid durian hunter that I am, I wasn’t going to give up, especially since I had flown all the way from Kuala Lumpur to realise this “mission”. If I had to spend the night in a mosquito-infested village, then that’s what I was willing to do.

By this point in the day, Then began to look a little worried as daylight was fast fading, so we needed to find the trees soon.

Finally, we met someone who knew about the trees, and this kind soul was even prepared to lead us to them. We made a pitstop at the village head’s home for a courtesy call since he was the owner of these trees that had grown on his land.

We drove deeper into the jungle until we finally had to stop and continue the journey on foot. As we got closer, I began to feel more optimistic that we’d find these incredible trees, which may just disappear from the face of the Earth soon.

Amazingly, no other villages in Miri has this species of durian.

Kura kura durians grow at the base of its tree, very close to the ground. Photo: Cikgu Yus

According to a Borneo Post report, Kampung Selanyau JKKK deputy chairman Johnny Mungkil revealed, “visitors from Peninsular Malaysia and overseas come here to get a glimpse of the trees and fruit.”

He said villagers who own the kura kura durian trees include Taib Mawang (three), Sayah Mawan (two), Aspa Yahya (two big trees) and Midah Japar (three).

Apparently, some of the trees are over 50 years old. The tree is unique because it flowers and bears fruit at the lower portion of the trunk. This feature draws visitors in droves to Kampung Selanyau.

Thanks to Cikgu Yus, a teacher whose father owns a piece of land on which a few of these jungle trees stand, I finally saw what the kura kura durian trees looked like.

The trees were not cultivated – they just happened to grow on their land.

Unfortunately for me, by the time I saw them, the season was already almost over, and the fruits left hanging on the trees were still unripe. It was a classic case of so near, yet so far – I found these fruits but had no chance to taste them.

Cikgy Yus could sense my disappointment so, to cheer me up, she showed me some photographs of durians clustered like balls around the base of a tree.

One villager shared that this yellow-flesh durian isn’t as sweet as regular durian and is an acquired taste.

Durian expert Lindsay Gasik has a better description. She wrote: “… this durian has more in common, texture-wise, with a crunchy jackfruit than with durian. It’s brown-sugar sweet, almost like a chico sapote, and each rubbery sec of flesh peels away cleanly from the seed. And it has almost no aroma.”

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A rare kura kura durian tree at Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti in Miri.

Like me, she too had travelled to Borneo in search of the fabled fruit, narrating that “a few years ago, I rode a bus over 36 hours, slept on the floor without a mosquito net, contracted both intestinal parasites and some form of dengue, and got held hostage by a tribe upriver, just to find Durian Kura Kura.”

Eventually, she found them at a market in Limbang, a small town in Sarawak adjacent to Brunei.

“Finding durian kura kura in Limbang was annoyingly easy. It almost made me mad. It was just there, at the daily market, sold in a pile like every other random and equally rare fruit.

“Hey, it’s a special durian. So darn worth it because durian kura kura doesn’t taste like durian. It’s weird, and really unique, and finding it was one of the highlights of my durian life so far.”

Gasik, an American, who writes extensively on durians at www.yearofthedurian.com wrote: “I had never seen them being sold at a market before. Yet, there they were, just chilling like they’re not one of the most difficult to find durians. Locals have always told me they don’t like them, so they’re not worth going into the jungle to pick them.”

She blogged that her husband, Rob, and her, were lucky to find the kura kura durians twice in Borneo “as it is one of the rarest edible durian species. Many people don’t consider it edible because of the strong, musky odour it has when ripe.

“Yet, the flavour is sweet and juicy, a contrast to the usually heavy durian. That’s reason enough to appreciate this jungle durian.

“Where it gets its fame is that, instead of growing on the branches, these durians sprout from the trunk and roots of the tree.”

Yes, I desperately wanted to taste the fruits, but I wasn’t entirely let down. I was just thrilled that I managed to locate these jungle durian trees. I’ve had my fair share of adventures, but this must be one of the most unusual durian trails.

‘Cancer taught me to appreciate life’: Navi Indran inspires others through Instagram

‘Cancer taught me to appreciate life’: Navi Indran inspires others through Instagram

For someone who is confronting her own mortality, 28-year-old Vaishnavi Indran Pillai is exceptionally upbeat.

“I have cancer but it isn’t the end of the world. I am fighting for my life, yes, but I am still going to live my life to the fullest,” says Navi, as she is fondly known to family and friends.

Navi is undergoing chemotherapy to treat metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her liver and back bone. She’s completed her fourth course of chemo ­­– “just two more to go” – which, she admits, is “no fun at all”.

Although the effects of treatment are often debilitating – mood swings, lethargy, hair loss – Navi isn’t about to let her cancer bring her to her knees.

Instead, by candidly documenting her journey with the disease on Instagram (@naviindranpillai), she wants to inspire hope in other women, particularly young women, navigating cancer.

Her social media feed chronicles the emotional and physical toll of chemotherapy on her body. But it also showcases her indomitable spirit and zest for life. It is raw and personal, revealing her determined struggle not to allow the disease to rip her life apart. Using the hashtag #kissedbycancer, Navi wants to show the world that she is, in fact, one up on cancer.

“I am grateful for my cancer. Cancer has taught me to appreciate life and not take anything for granted. Whether we are sick or not, everyone has a limited time and I hope my story will inspire other young people to live their lives and do what makes them happy,” says the young woman from Shah Alam, Selangor.

The support from strangers who follow Navi on Instagram has been uplifting.

This is Navi’s second battle with cancer.

She was first dignosed with Stage Three breast cancer five years ago. At the time, she was 22, fresh out of university and eager to make her mark in the world. Instead, she found herself confronting a disease she knew next to nothing about.

“I was 22. You always think cancer is something that happens to older people but clearly, the disease does not discriminate. I didn’t know what cancer meant. Was I going to die?

“Could I just take the medicines and get back to life? I just wanted to get treated and get on with my life. I wanted to live a normal life like my friends,” she says.

Navi had to put her career plans on hold as she underwent a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, herceptin and hormone therapy. It was a tough period in her life and though she had the love and support of her family and close friends, Navi found herself floundering.

“I was lost and went through a period of depression. But somehow, I found the strength to fight. I think that in our darkest moments, we will find that inner strength that is within all of us,” she recounts.

In 2015, Navi was declared cancer-free. With her clean bill of health, she left for Melbourne, Australia, to pursue her Master’s degree in programme management and to start her life anew.

Things were looking good for Navi: she graduated in 2017, secured a job which she thoroughly enjoyed and was making new friends in the city she’d grown to love.

But an annual check-up while on holiday back home in July revealed nodules in her liver and back. Her cancer was back.

“The news hit me like a tonne of bricks … it hit me even harder this time. I was really disappointed. I mean, I’d gone through all the treatments. I was better already. I was eating healthy food and walking a lot, breathing in the clean air in Melbourne. I’d just build my life up again and so it felt like another bomb had dropped. Why did it come back? I started to blame myself. What did I do wrong? I cried … a lot,” she shares.

But having been through it all before, Navi picked herself up and made a conscious decision to not feel sorry for herself. She would take control of her life and help others like her.

“Maybe this was my purpose. I have always wanted to do something to help others and this was my opportunity. You don’t really understand what it’s like unless you’ve been through it and I have been through it. I can be that support for others. I was going to look at this positively and hopefully support others,” says Navi.

Since she started documenting her journey on Instagram in August, Navi has amassed more than 3,500 followers, most of whom are strangers who have been touched by her story and, the honesty and positivity of her posts.

“I started this to support others but honestly, the support I have received by people through social media has been amazing. The encouragement from people as I go through this has helped me stay positive

“Because, as much as I am determined to smile through this, it isn’t easy. There are days when I am really down and I want others who are going through this to know that it isn’t going to be easy.

“You can’t be strong overnight. But with support, you can grow strong,” shares Navi.

Losing her hair, she shares on one of her Instagram stories, was particularly hard.

“I’m still coming to terms with losing my hair but putting it out there has helped me deal with it,” says Navi who did a photo shoot showing her bald head and posted the photos on her feed. “The photo shoot was really for myself. I needed it.”

Also featured widely on her feed are her family and close friends whom, she says, are her support system.

Navi hopes to get back to classical indian dance, which is her passion, once shes done with cancer treatment.

“They are with me all the way. Can I please name them? My mum Shamala, my dad Indran Pillai, my sister Dena and her husband Aju Nambiar, our helper Kak Mun, my grandmother Navamany, godma Mala Nair and best friends Leo Rayan, Mala Kumaresan and Yamuna Sukumar.

“My chemotherapy sessions can last for six hours and they are often with me, cheering me on.

“One time, they played Monopoly with me while I was getting my chemo which helped take my mind off the treatment,” shares Navi.

Her godma and a friend also surprised her by getting one of her favourite Indian actors, Suriya, to record a message of support for her, even promising to meet her when he comes to Malaysia next.

“I mean it’s Suriya, lah. Technically, he has my photo on his phone and he wants to meet me and said I have a beautiful smile. I’m so excited. Suriya! It’s Suriya,” shared Navi who dreams of travelling the world, getting back to her passion of Indian classical dance and reaching out more to support cancer patients and survivors.

“I want to raise funds, I want to support those going through a similar journey as much as I can whether it is emotional, physical or financial support. At the moment, I’m doing this on my own, through my feed and by talking openly about my journey.

“Often people don’t want to talk about their cancer because they feel self-conscious. They don’t talk about their depression because often society expects you to snap out of it. But these feelings are real and I want to be that support for those who need it,” says Navi.

See life more clearly by choosing the right spectacles

See life more clearly by choosing the right spectacles

World Sight Day took place this month (Oct 11) and it’s a time we should think about our vision and our eyes. Often, we take our eyes for granted and this should not be the way.

An estimated 1.2 billion people don’t have access to glasses, according to one report and it is said that over 75% of the world’s vision-impaired are avoidably so.

So, this might be a good time to treat your eyes to the best pair of spectacle lenses available. The wrong diagnosis can make our vision worse. And with all of us and our children constantly working on computers and looking at the phone, it is really necessary to take good care of our eyes.

Talking about today’s Gen X, they have different vision habits and this is mainly true due to their digital-focused life. They constantly shift their near-vision view between their smartphone, laptop, tablet, hard copy print material and yes, sometimes still the television screen. However, one problem that seems to be arising and holding them back from their fast-paced lifestyle is their weakening sight. More and more people need glasses and yet while they will not hesitate to spend a good sum of money on the best mobile phones or laptops, when it comes to their spectacle lenses, they think they can compromise. Let’s try not to forget that your eyes are for a lifetime. Take care of them and they will last and serve you well until old age and seriously, this is what anyone should want. Impaired vision is not something to joke about.

In today’s world, all that matters to us happens within arm’s reach

A lens to check out is Essilor’s latest innovation, the Varilux X series. It’s a new premium progressive lens designed to reinvent near vision and deliver extended near vision within arm’s reach. Talk to someone who is still trying to find the perfect pair of lenses that doesn’t give them headaches or makes them tired by the end of the day or give them compromised vision, and they will tell you that what the Varilux X series can do is impressive. According to Essilor, with these lenses, presbyopes can now swap between screens comfortably and seamlessly capture every detail within arm’s reach with high precision, extending their sharp vision by 100%, in width and length. Those who have tried the lenses are willing to vouch for this. Shares one user, “I couldn’t find the right spectacle lenses and had almost given up, resigning myself to the fact that I would have to compromise my lifestyle a bit after developing both shortsightedness and longsightedness due to the advent of age. However, having been persuaded to try the Varilux X series, I now enjoy sharp, continuous vision and fluidity from near to far. I don’t have to keep adjusting my arms or head anymore to see close objects sharply and then those further away.”

The secret is Xtend, a new revolutionary technology. This proves an impressive 75% match with wearers’ visual needs and there is a significant 59% improvement on average compared to other premium progressive lenses. The main limit of other progressive lenses is the need to adjust heads or arms to have clear and sharp multiple near-distance views.

The store that you go to for getting your lenses fitted makes a difference too. Head into Vision Space Optometrist and you may wonder why your usual optician never did all the many things needed to get you that perfect pair of glasses. They check for various things including your eye pressure and how best a lens should be fitted specially for you. They even look into your eye to tell you a bit about your eye health to do some checking and tell you how to better take care of your peepers. Here, and at some other major optical shops in Malaysia, Varilux X series customers can opt for further personalisation via Near Vision Behaviour (NVB), a new in-store personalisation tool to get patient’s measurements. NVB is a simple measure that takes into account a wearer’s behaviour and posture while replicating key and familiar activities, so their own vision area is positioned and shaped where and how they need it. This new first level of personalisation is said to provide reliable and robust measurements of the wearer’s near vision. “With its breakthrough technology, today’s presbyopes can have a clearer near vision and we want them to see all the things worth seeing through the best lens — the Varilux X series. We want to encourage presbyopes and make them realise that their age and vision does not need to hinder them from living their lifestyle. They can still see their best at any age,” says Soh Wei Zhi, Professional Services and Business Development Manager, Essilor.

Molsion eyewear give a good fit

Another new thing learnt was that choosing the right frame size is important. Molsion was the brand looked at and this eyewear brand has many fashionable and stylish options to choose from.The right size is important, as they will share with you. Choosing the right size is like choosing the right shirt size. What you want is for the frame to sit perfectly on the face, regardless of progressive lenses or single vision ones. Ideally, the frame PD should coincide with the customer’s PD. The PD is the pupilary distance (distance between the pupils of both eyes). A small face will usually have a smaller PD and a wider face a bigger one. If you’re wondering why, it’s because wearing frames that are too big may cause unwanted distortions. The frame size also affects lens thickness. For instance, if the frame is too big, then the lens thickness on the sides (temporally), will be thicker. On the other hand, if the frame size is too small, it will affect the stability of the vision, as well as the narrowing of the visual field.

Let’s not forget that all of us will want to look good when wearing our spectacles. Aesthetically, if the frame PD is much bigger than the person’s PD, it will make the person’s eyes look a bit squinted. Now, we would not want that, would we?

Choose the right lens and the right frames for your eyes. Seriously, we don’t think twice about spending thousands on a new television just because the colours are more vibrant or sharper. Let’s not forget that however wonderful the TV or computer screen is, if our eyes can’t see the images as clearly or as brightly or as beautifully as we should, then we are shortchanging ourselves. With the right lenses for your eyes, you will see everything clearly, right up to the little butterfly that just landed on your favourite flower in your garden.

6 beautiful parks in Klang Valley that will rejuvenate your soul

6 beautiful parks in Klang Valley that will rejuvenate your soul

When I was on a prolonged medical leave recently, I took the chance to explore the parks in Klang Valley. My wife and I had been to some in the past, but though we have lived in Petaling Jaya for over 30 years, we were unaware of the other gardens. So here is a list of our favourites.

Denai Alam Lake, Shah Alam

Tasik Denai Alam fronts the Denai Alam township. The lake is moderate in size, and has a lot of lotus plant and flowers. Well-paved walking and jogging paths surround the lake. Visitors can climb a tall wooden lookout constructed near the lake for a view of the surroundings.

Shah Alam National Botanical Park

The facilities and cleanliness of the garden are impressive. You can walk or cycle along the wide paved roads, though the incline is quite steep in some parts. Motorised bicycles are available for rent at RM40 an hour.

The trees and ferns are beautiful, and there are no mosquitoes in spite of the vegetation. We saw signs indicating the presence of porcupines, but did not see any. A small horse farm is in one corner of the park, but we were not sure whether horses were available to ride.

There is also a canteen that serves local food.

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Coiling ferns by the walking path, at the Shah Alam National Botanical Park.

Kepong Metropolitan Lake Garden, Kuala Lumpur

This beautiful park is part of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. Many jungle trees, flowering plants and shrubs border the large central lake. Well-paved walking and cycling tracks also skirt the lake. These are generally flat, but can get moderately steep in some areas.

An observation tower provides a good view of the surroundings. You can the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower from a distance.

The pond teems with fishes, so angling is allowed. We even saw one bird swoop into the lake and make off with its lunch! This garden is also a favourite with kite enthusiasts.

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Birds fishing at the Kepong Metropolitan Park lake.

Permaisuri Lake Garden, Kuala Lumpur

This beautiful recreational park near Cheras has a huge lake in the centre. A large wooden platform extends into the lake near the garden entrance – it is a favourite spot for visitors to do tai chi and yoga exercises.

A broad, well-paved and flat track for walking and jogging surrounds the park. For those who want a more vigorous exercise, there are trails leading to the adjacent hill. But the slope is very steep in some places.

Storks have made the lake their home, and I was surprised they could fly right up and sit on the tall trees that fringe the lake.

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Storks perched on tree tops at Permaisuri Lake Garden.

Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur

Also known as Lake Gardens, this is one of the oldest and most popular parks in KL. It is situated in the heart of the city, in a heritage part of Kuala Lumpur. Commissioned in 1888, it is the brainchild of Alfred Venning who was the British State Treasurer.

This lovely park with its well laid out walking and cycling paths, bordered by many trees and plants, also includes a large deer park. Most of the walking paths are flat but some adjacent to the deer park are very steep and may be slippery after the rain.

A large lake, a central feature of the park, was created by damming the Sungei Bras Bras. The lake teems with various types of fish and a family of resident ducks, and has several fountains. Visitors, especially children, have a great time feeding the voracious fish which swarm to the surface when bread is thrown into the lake.

At night, the park grounds and its trees are beautifully lit up by multi-coloured spotlights.

Taman Tugu and the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park are nearby.

The park is open from 7am to 8pm daily.

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A section of the lotus pond at Perdana Botanical Gardens.

Taman Jaya Lake, Petaling Jaya

We have been going to Taman Jaya as a family to exercise for over 40 years as it is near our home.

The grounds are well kept but, unfortunately, the large pond smells bad. It is, however, popular with anglers. I think the type of fish commonly caught here is the ikan sepat (gourami).

The park was recently upgraded. New plants, including a bamboo grove, have been planted.

The walking paths are flat throughout, easy for senior citizens to negotiate. There is also a nice, winding, paved cycling path shaded by huge trees.

A large concrete stage has been built jutting into the pond – this is popular with those who practise qigong and yoga. The children’s playground is well maintained, and all the equipment is new and safe.

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Taman Jaya has a large lake that is popular with anglers.

Hugs may help protect against a bad mood after conflict with others

Hugs may help protect against a bad mood after conflict with others

New US research has found that being hugged may help reduce an increase in negative emotions that usually follows after experiencing conflict with others.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recruited 404 adult men and women and interviewed them every night for 14 consecutive days, asking about their daily conflicts, daily hugs, and their positive and negative moods.

Most individuals reported experiencing conflict on at least one day of the study and receiving a hug on at least one day during the study.

The findings, published online in the journal PLOS ONE, suggested that receiving a hug on a day when a participant also experienced conflict with someone was associated with a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions.

The effect of receiving a hug also appeared to last, with those who were hugged still showing a smaller increase in negative emotions the next day. However, a hug was not associated with an increase in positive emotions the next day.

The researchers commented that although the results are correlational, they suggest that hugs may buffer against the negative changes in mood that can be brought on by conflict and may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing distress as a result of conflict.

Previous research has already suggested that those who engage more frequently in interpersonal touch, such as hugging or holding hands, may benefit from improved relationships with others as well as a boost in individual well-being.

However, past studies on this topic are limited as they have mainly focused on the role of touch in romantic relationships.

“This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful. However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict,” commented lead author Michael Murphy. – AFP Relaxnews

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