Late summer in Beijing I was saved from my loneliness by eating a watermelon every day. Alone and sticky when I woke up, I ran at the gym, bought a soda ( always too sweet) and bought a watermelon. The two men who ran the fruit stall in the adjacent apartment block came to know me, seemingly the only white girl that didn’t go home for summer, sweating and smiling and picking up a watermelon at random to be weighed.
The fruit stall sold whatever fruit was in season at bargain basement prices, perhaps because you would need to sort through half a box of brown peaches to find one worth taking home. In the winter I saw them fill an old bathtub with ice and fish to sell, and once even a crate of puppies. I often bought food to cook, but usually it was just watermelon. As we began to recognise each other, the three of us involved in the melon buying became more familiar, chatting about New Zealand, the heat, my Chinese studies and it goes without saying the ever popular topic of ‘are you going to marry a Chinese boy?’
One day, after my personal watermelon shoppers had slapped their produce to find the perfect fruit – a technique that apparently helps locate the best melon without opening them, I realised that these men, one fat and jolly, the other thin and sage, were my only source of social interaction and reason to leave the dorm. The majority of my friends had finished their studies or were out of town travelling, and I was somehow always too hot or too tired to make time for those who remained. I was almost completely isolated.
I wish I’d spent more time travelling in China, suddenly my summer was ending and I had no money or time to make use of it. If I wanted to break out of my bubble I had to do local, but I’ve spent 22 months in Beijing – I’ve seen a lot! What else is there to see? It turns out, there’s the Watermelon Museum.
Two hours to the end of the subway line, half an hour on the oldest bus the city has to offer and you arrive in Beijing’s outermost district, Panggezhuang. It’s an eerie township of empty apartment buildings ready for inevitable expansion, but it’s so far away that the locals thought I was lost. The area was, and is, a major producer of watermelons and it is so proud of this that the China Watermelon Museum was founded in 2002 as a celebration.
The museum is fantastic. The early 2000’s futuristic style both inside and out, with garish colours and siver UFO-shaped furniture clashes with the agricultural theme. There is a comprehensive history of watermelon in China and the world, housing ancient poems and artworks about the fruit, the Goddess of Watermelon, and scientists and farmers who made it so successful. A nod to the region, as well, with wax reproductions of the largest melons ever found and copies of the Watermelon Farmers Annual and calendar.
It is a ridiculous setting to find yourself, alone, in quiet outer Beijing on a roasting afternoon, trying to make sense of why there is a watermelon pictured on a Jetsons-esque rocket ship. However given my watermelon based existence that July, for that to be my baby step back into the world outside my dorm, it all somehow made sense.
featured photo credit: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/china-watermelon-museum