Alan Linda

Freelance Writer

It was just before July 4, 1969, up by the DMZ in Vietnam, and Tex—a fellow draftee from, well—and I had just been assigned to sandbag duty.

You see, I had come up with a fairly undefined idea to make a rocket from gunpowder with which to celebrate the 4th. “Fairly undefined” covers it pretty well, because my first attempt nearly set my service van on fire.

The resulting smoke happened at the same time our warrant officer came around the corner. I had him buffaloed about the cause until a hillbilly draftee also came around the corner and exclaimed: “I smell gunpowder!”

And now Tex and I are filling sandbags with the Mamasans, who are older Vietnamese ladies who come onto the base each morning to perform some of the more undesirable tasks that pop up.

Such as filling sandbags when the temperature is in the 90’s and the humidity is even higher. A best description of what Vietnam’s air was like would be to, oh, say, sleep, eat, and work in a wet sauna. Filling sandbags was truly a penalty no one wanted.

The Mamasans didn’t seem to mind. They definitely set no speed records, but just kind of whiled away the day babbling their foreign language at one another, dressed in black silk pajamas and their conical rice straw hats, filling sandbags. Tex and I showing up provided them some fresh experience to add to their day. There was a lot of giggling and pointing. I don’t know what they were saying, but it most likely was not complimentary.

Lunch time came and out came several pineapple sized fruits that they, with what little English they had, best described as “breadfruit.”  There was a definite increase in the level of giggling as they cut these fruits open.

The language barrier slowed communication up, but they managed to convey to me that I would not be able to eat any of this whatever this stuff was. Not to be bluffed, I conveyed to them that I could indeed eat some of about anything.

This communication barrier and giggling and laughing amongst the Mamasans went on while they hacked one of these things open, and held it out to me to smell, before they divided it up into smaller pieces.

I bent down over this “fruit” as it was held out to me, and Lord God Above Me! The stench! The stench! The stench!

I quit breathing. That seemed to be the sensible thing to do. Tex was six feet away, and I saw his complexion pale from the smell.

I ate some. It actually tasted good, like sugary pineapple, kind of, as long as you held your nose.

Last week in Canberra, Australia, various fire departments and EMTs and police were called to a suburban neighborhood because of a gas smell reported by numerous occupants of the houses there.

After due diligence and a lot of sniffing with electronic gadgets, the conclusion was?

Some Asian residents were eating my odious breadfruit, which is called Durian, on their front lawn. The awful odor of it smelled like the stinky chemical they put in natural and propane gas, because those gases have no smell. The smell permeated the entire neighborhood. That’s how potent it is. 

I ate Durian in 1969 in Vietnam, although I didn’t know it at the time.

If you get the chance to have some?

Alert the local fire department, I guess.