No matter how modern a city you are in, or how developed the surroundings appear to be, when you are within the sales bubble of a durian seller, there’s a very good chance that you are within the domain of a magician who has a huge arsenal of techniques meant to make you pay way more than what a durian is worth.
This is no exaggeration.
If durians are also native in the west, durian salespeople would share the same revered status as used car salesmen, snake oil salesmen, and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Yet no matter how much durian newbies get warned about the situation they would be walking into when buying durians themselves, many still get suckered into the scam in varying degrees.
It’s one thing to read about it, but a totally different thing to experience it yourself.
Even today, I still get into pressure situations sometimes where I have to “allow” myself to be scammed in some way so as to walk away from a deal feeling safe.
The biggest reason rookies get scammed by durian sellers is that they underestimate the skills of sellers or overestimate their own personal resolve.
Remember that the adversaries you are dealing with have honed their skills from years of real life experience… with dozens of practice sessions on a daily basis.
You are nothing compared to them… unless you are another durian seller.
So if you run into a shady durian stall and intends to walk away with your wallet, dignity and marbles intact, make it a point to identify the following tricks of the trade in durian cheating.
At least knowing what to look out for puts you in a better position compared to not even knowing what to look for, and at a lesser risk of becoming a durian fraud victim.
1) The switch
The is one of the oldest tricks in the book. And Houdini himself would be impressed by how competently durian con-artist can consistently pull this off without arousing any suspicion.
Again, the biggest reason why they are able to rip off customers this way is because most people don’t expect to be scammed in broad daylight. And foreigners being a little unsure of the local culture of things are the most common victims.
The switch is the classic showing of a genuinely valuable item to a customer, getting him or her to agree to the price, then switch the item to a less valuable one when he or she is not looking.
This tactic works so well partly because the durian people choose to buy are usually whole durians still in their husks, and the durians they end up with are unhusked with the fruitlets already extracted from the fruit by the sellers.
The before and after visual picture of what you buy are totally different.
For example in a typical durian stall, patrons can select a good durian from the selling space. Once picked and price agreed, the seller might usher the customers to a table to await the feast as he processes the fruit for them by cutting it open and extracting the beautiful pulps behind the counter. Little did you know that just a matter of a few seconds is all a fraudulent seller needs to switch your $25/kg musang king to a $2 one.
Durian newbies and tourists are most vulnerable to this play as they have no idea how a high quality durian looks, smells and taste like.
The counter-terrorist thing to do is to follow the seller and not let your durian out of your sight at any moment.
2) The weak link
This is a strategy of identifying the most gullible member in a group, strike a deal with him or her when everyone else is not paying attention, and opening the durians immediately to seal the deal.
There’s little you can do to back off once a durian has been pried open just for you.
It’s like… once you open a can of Coca Cola at 7-Eleven, you’d be fully expected to pay for it… if you are fair person.
This is why the weak link strategy can be such a potent weapon scammers use on you.
You might feel that you are knowledgeable enough to avoid fraudulent behaviour, but your friends are not. And when you are away at another fruit stand inspecting and choosing your durians, you friends might be closed by the beefy tattooed salesman who has opened the fruit for them. Are you going to say no and risk being smashed in the face by a tekka?
The most recent occurrence that I remember being played by sellers was with this tactic in Singapore. My friend was unknowingly cajoled into opening a few “super old tree” mao shan wang which we ended up paying $35/kg for.
The silver lining with being the victim in this scammy well-rehearsed practice is that you still end up with a good durian. Just that you pay a higher price…
… unless you get doubled-down with the switch 😀
The simple solution to this is to pre-empt your friends and remind them not to make any deals with the sellers themselves, and never ask for durians to be opened without the supervision of someone in the know.
3) The pretender
If you ask a durian expert, he or she would tell you all varieties of durians look so different that it is impossible to mistake one cultivar for another.
However, most people find that they all look the same. They are the silent majority who just eats what is served.
If you don’t know your durians, it is so easy to be duped by an unscrupulous seller who claims that a particular durian is a black thorn when it is in fact a $2 piece of trash.
To protect yourself from crap that pretends to be gold, visit a store where there are already a lot of patrons.
It would really take some outrageous balls for a durian vendor to use this trick in front of everybody around.
4) The artist
The stem of a durian reveals some very important information about it.
It can show signs of how ripe a durian is and tell person whether the fruit naturally detached itself from the mother tree or was prematurely cut from it.
If you don’t already know, durians fall from the tree themselves when ripe. This is why it is often said that the best time to consume fresh durians is within the magical 5-hour window after it has fell organically from the tree.
To artificially create the perception of a durian that fell naturally, seller can do what can be only described as art on the stem.
This is to create the false impression that it is still fresh, or to tamper with whatever evidence that indicates an unnatural harvest.
This trick is done by either cutting the stem at the stem’s joint or right below it. Then whittling it to look like a natural detachment.
Sometimes, coloured masking tape is also used on the top of the stem so that this particular area cannot be observed.
In this case, you will have to avoid these durians and go for those that are safer.
No point taking the risk when you are paying good money for good durians.
5) The spray
Veteran durian connoisseurs would find that the best way to check a durian’s ripeness is to smell it at the top and bottom.
It takes some experience to learn what to smell for.
But vendors can sometimes use a clever counter-attack as a defensive strategy against such capabilities.
The counter is to spray or paint self-made durian juice on the exterior husks of durians so that one would only be met with the seductive aroma of durians whichever part is being smelled.
It is why sometimes sellers can look like they are doing graffiti art or indulging in calligraphy from a distance.
This trick can only be described as despicable.
There is no way to tackle this aromatic fortress which a seller has erected around the durian.
You can only depend on the other ways of selecting durians to take your pick.
Shake it, drum it, and inspect it.
Painters and calligraphers are more commonly found in tourists spots in Thailand and Indonesia.
6) The sleight of hand
Another old but proven trick in the black book.
You might or might not know that the value of a durian drops by at least half once the seam creaks open. This is explained in the durian business costing guide.
Anyway, now you know.
Righteous durian sellers would often sell these cracked durians at a heavily discounted price or extract the fruitlets and sell them in a packaged air-tight box.
But the evil ones would have no qualms with selling them to unsuspecting victims with a little sleight of hand.
They do this by carefully handling the fruit in a way where a hand covers up the crack from being exposed.
This is usually the bottom part as it’s the area most prone to cracks, and there will almost always be a supporting hand under the durian to hold it’s weight.
So they hold the durian this way as if presenting a trophy to a customers.
Once the customer gives to green light, he quickly flips the fruit and makes the first slash right into the opened seam in one fluid movement. Making it look like the crack was done by him.
The hand is faster than the eye. You are warned.
You can sidestep this curve ball be holding the durian yourself to inspect it.
Remember to wear gloves… especially when you are going to grab onto an IOI.
7) The magic scale
I must admit. When I was first exposed to this fraud when I was a kid at a vegetable store in the market, it really opened my eyes to the world of deception.
And somehow I’m not surprised at all that this scandalous trick is still used widely by durian sellers today.
This basically refers to a rigged scaling machine that does not show the real weight of the stuff being weighed.
Unlike slimming centers with such scales that show a lower weight than the actual weight, durian stalls used scales that show a heavier weight than actual weight.
Because premium durians are priced by weight, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that one would be paying for thin air if a magic scale is used for his order.
A simple way to counter this secret weapon is to test the machine.
Just put something you have on hand on the scale to see if the weight indicated makes sense. A bottle of water indicating the volume would be a good weapon of choice.
This is your equalizer.
8) The bold bid
This is more like a test that sellers throw at prospects rather than a scam. But I find it appropriate enough to include on this list.
It is particularly widespread in parts of Indonesia and Thailand.
In markets and street stalls that serve tourists, stall owners often don’t list the prices of their products openly.
They only quote their prices when customers inquire about them.
And it is common practice to quote prices as much as 10 times the lowest amount the seller is willing to let the product go for.
Sellers fully expect tourists to haggle and drive a hard bargain. So bold opening bids set the stage for them to profit even if they offer an 80% discount.
The buyer walks away feeling good about a successful negotiation, and the seller books in money in the bank.
It’s win-win… except when the buyer don’t hustle hard enough or at all.
The problem is that tourist can often think that quoted prices are fair prices and don’t want to take advantage of locals who are just trying to make a living.
This is really a catch 22 here.
If you find the amount that you are being quoted very affordable, and you are willing to pay multiple times the cost to contribute towards someone’s livelihood, then go for it.
It might still be cheap to you if you make your income in US dollars, EUROs or British Pounds.
But if you would feel disgusted at yourself for being fleeced, then match aggression with aggression by responding with 75% off the quoted price.
You might be amazed at how easily durians lose their value when you refuse to be pushed around.
Saying that, I’ve noticed that the Thais have become quite resolute in standing their ground in recent years.
9) The Doctor
Rumours and gossips are circulated all the time about how foodstuff are doctored by farmers and retailers to present their products in better light than what their true conditions reveal.
Durians are no different.
One of the most shocking revelations that I have heard about was about how some sellers are injecting substances into durians to get them to ripe faster and prolong shelf life.
I have not seen this with my own eyes. But received this information from a durian insider.
This must take a very skillful set of hands as one would need to be surgically precise at these injections. Failing which the substance being injected might escape and flow out or onto the fruitlets.
In any case, you probably won’t be able to tell when this is done to your durian unless there is an unusual bulge that cannot be explained.
The solution? Buy from the box.