This is an extended version of a Project 2 speech I delivered on April 14, 2016 at Malang Toastmasters Club. Originally titled Durians and Southeast Asians, I decided to rename this post The Metaphorical Durians so as not to confuse with my older piece in January, which by the way is what influenced me to discuss about a similar topic, this time delivered as a speech before fellow Southeast Asians.
Being a Filipino and a foreigner in another Southeast Asian country is not a joke. Think of it like a durian in a pile of other durians. At a glance, it is difficult to distinguish the difference between one variety from another.
Ladies and gentlemen, Madam Chair, fellow Toastmasters, and guests, if there is one thing that could represent Southeast Asians, it would be the king of all fruits…the Durian.
Now you might wonder, of all the fruits out there, why must it be Durian, that formidable, spiky fruit which emits an odour that evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust?
Well, for one, this mystical fruit is endemic in Southeast Asia. So, if you’re going to ask another Southeast Asian if he has tried eating one, c’mon! We have it.
The other Durian
And it upsets me that many of the people who ask me that do not believe that my country has its own varieties of durian. I was born from a city named after durian, because we produce the best tasting durians in the Philippines, and whenever I tell that, I would often have to exert an effort to defend myself that I’m not bluffing.
Which reminds me at times when I’m introduced to strangers.
Everywhere I go in Indonesia, I get two sets of reaction.
First, whenever my friends would introduce me to their friends. Hey, I’d like you to know my friend Mick. I get a normal hello and a handshake. Done. That’s all. It’s like nothing happened.
However, when I’m introduced as a foreigner, I get a totally different treatment. Oh hi, how are you? Where are you from? Oh, from Filipin. (By the way it’s Filipina in Bahasa Indonesia and the Philippines in English). Oh ya…Filipin…We thought that you’re just from here.
Wait a minute….just from here?
I always need to defend my Filipino-ness. To the extent of having the need to show my passport and identity card.
Our blindness towards other Durians
You see, ladies and gentlemen, being a Filipino and a foreigner in another Southeast Asian country is complicated. Many people I encounter here are aghast to discover that an Indonesian-looking man may not necessarily be an Indonesian. And probably because we have a different concept of what’s foreign.
A foreigner, perhaps, would be someone who’s fair skinned, blue eyes, and someone whose hair is blonde.
On the other hand, my skin is brown, and so are my eyes….and I don’t have a hair.
But seriously, I’m Filipino. And what makes me one is some of the things I do. I like sitting at a coffee shop alone – rather than hanging out with crowds. And, by the way, a Filipino definition of a crowd is anything that involves more than 3 people. Also, for Filipinos, there is a time limit for hanging out with friends. Once they’re drunk, that’s the time they need to call a taxi and ask a driver if he knows where on earth his house is.
Of course, acquiring that skill of distinguishing Southeast Asians from another takes time….and it’s not like we Filipinos can do better.
Three years ago, my friend from Myanmar who came to Manila would always run into trouble because people would attempt to speak to him in Tagalog. Oh I’m sorry…he does not look like a foreigner. That’s why.
Maybe it’s time that we expand our understanding of the concept foreign. And how do we do it? Think of a pile of durians, and how each of these fruits could be a country of its own.
Some varieties would have a creamy yellowish sweet flesh.
Some, light yellow and bitter.
And others, red and strong tasting.
Similarly, there would be Southeast Asians who eat with their hands, some with chopsticks, some with fork and spoon. Some cannot live without music, and others cannot live without rice.
Filipinos greet their friends by turning their heads to the right to kiss as to the left.
Thais place their hands together in a prayer-like position.
A better world of Durians
And what a beautiful Southeast Asian world would it be, if apart from being so knowledgeable about our nations, we know neighbours so well. That we can speak a bit of our neighbours’ language, like Jasmin who is from Singapore, but can also speak Indonesian and Bahasa Jawa.
My dear friends, the key to build a better world is by building a good neighbourhood.
And to do that, we ought to know our neighbours well…
…because we are Southeast Asians, the metaphorical durians, the king of all fruits, each a king of its own kingdom.
And the only way to appreciate our diversity is by going beyond what our eyes can see.
My dear durians, (and yes, Thea you are one of us), let us celebrate our diversity by getting to know each other, like what we do with that smelly fruit. Different nationalities in one basket. Singaporeans, Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians. We may look the same – yet beautifully different – inside.
In photo: Durian sculpture by Davao’s very own Kublai Millan (Credits: Samal Bahay Kubo)