suited to life in Phuket: the rose apple
– chomphuu in Thai.
Rose Apple by any other name
Things are different now. Not the most incisive
observation, you may say, but back in the days of my
youth, our lives were a lot more innocent.
We didn’t have any drugs or other such illegalities at
my school, for example. Unless tobacco counts, of
course – sneaking out of the school grounds for a sly
fag was about as errant as our behavior got.
Before any transatlantic types start to wonder why I
would have thought that having a sly fag between
classes was a good idea, it has a lot more to do with
the inhalation of tobacco smoke than something
significantly more unsavory.
We got into huge trouble if a teacher heard us
swearing, even from a distance. Thinking about it now,
they probably just guessed. And got it right. Today,
it’s nothing for a teacher to be told to “**** off” to
his face; there’s nothing he can do, as the child is
simply “expressing himself”. A child does, of course,
have the absolute right to express his individuality
in today’s world; perish the thought that some may
consider his attitude to be rude.
The hands of the police are equally tied. Any
misdemeanors by the youth of the more “developed”
nations are dealt with nowadays by do-gooder
counselors who talk through the transgressors’
problems in an effort to modify future inappropriate
behavior. What utter twaddle.
Not that many years ago, if the police caught you
red-handed doing something you really shouldn’t have
been doing, then you knew you were in trouble, mainly
due to the fact that the policeman gave you a severe
clip around the ear, leaving you in no doubt that your
behavior was “inappropriate”. It didn’t need talking
through or analyzing; your physical pain and ringing
ears did the job very well. Behavior modified on the
Next was the long walk home, and the handover to your
father. He’s not a happy man at this stage – after all
there’s a policeman at the door with an errant son in
tow. You’re now officially in trouble again, and
punishment number two ensues – more clips around the
ear. This time it’s doubled – one clip for the daft
behavior and another for getting caught. It was a
system that worked.
I have a romantic fondness for apple trees. We didn’t
have much in the way of sweets; my treat was my
grandmother giving me a penny all to myself to spend
on sweets. So we had to improvise. Apple trees were
always a favorite target, but there was a problem –
the best trees were always in somebody else’s garden.
This was where “scrumping” came in. It was usually a
two-lad affair. One would keep watch for that grumpy
old Mr Jones bloke, while the other would hop over the
fence, climb the tree and grab all the Granny Smiths
they could carry. This was the stage at which Mr Jones
would inevitably appear out of nowhere, waving his
stick and screaming at the top of his lungs about “you
bloody kids”, as we scampered down the back lane – we
knew that if he ever caught us that stick would be put
to effective use. And we knew we would have deserved
We don’t have much in the way of apple trees in the
traditional sense here in Thailand. They do grow a few
varieties further north where it’s a little cooler,
but in our neck of the woods we have to make do with
what are known in these parts as water apples or rose
apples. Thais know it as chomphuu-saaraek. The easiest
way I know to remember this particular Thai name is to
say it exactly as it sounds: “shampoo”. Scientific
types refer to it as the eugenia aquea.
They have very little to do with their more
traditional cousins, the ones more associated with the
temptation of Adam and Eve or inflicting cranial
damage on dead physicists with big hair. I digress.
The rose apple is, not to put too fine a point on it,
a bit boring. It tastes of exactly what it most
consists of – water.
It looks a bit like a kind of small, waxy pear,
between five and eight cm long. It is created by an
evergreen tree which will grow up to about eight
meters tall. More often the trees have a short,
crooked trunk branching close to the ground, and a
non-symmetrical, open crown.
The leathery, light-green, short-pointed leaves are
about 20 centimeters long, and almost hide the
faintly-fragrant flowers, which appear in clusters of
three to seven. Thin-skinned and shining, the fruit
varies from white to various shades of red. There may
be a few small seeds in the fruit, but generally
they’re seedless. At least you’re not likely to be
spitting out seeds every few seconds.
The trees are happiest in “moist tropical lowlands” –
Phuket fits the bill perfectly. In theory, it grows
best in any area with a fairly long dry season. It’s
not particularly drought-resistant though, and
requires a reliable water supply. The best way to
cheat this is to plant them along the sides of streams
or ponds, spaced five to seven meters apart.
The species presumably originated in Southeast Asia,
but nowadays it appears from India through southeast
Asia to the Pacific islands. It even features in
There are definite flowering seasons for the water
apple; often two, sometimes three in a year, but the
timing varies from year to year. They commonly flower
early or late in the dry season, and the fruit ripens
30 to 40 days after the flowers first make an
Propagation is usually by seeds, but if you’re an
adventurous type, or even a gardener who, unlike
myself, actually knows what he’s doing, the water can
be air-layered or even grafted onto some of its close
relatives, such as the java apple.
I’m reliably informed that it even has medicinal uses
for a number of maladies – apparently a decoction of
the astringent bark is a local application on certain
fungal complaints. Unfortunately I haven’t the
faintest idea what that actually means.
The water apple, or rose apple, or shampoo, whatever
you want to call it, is perfectly suited to life in
Phuket. The trees do a great job of filling large
chunks of your garden, but I just wish their fruit
tasted a little more interesting. Had these things
existed in my Yorkshire youth, I doubt we’d have
bothered scrumping them. Not really worth a clip round
the ear from the local bobby for this one.
Time for a sly smoke.