I like outings. I like the idea of a jaunty walk through whatever rolling hills Hebei can offer me. I used to romanticize the thought of riding the Beijing subway lines all the way to each terminus, and as the rail laid by the long arm of industry bore me farther from city center, the station names would become flavored with village twang, arboreal and sweet. Apple Orchard. The Paddy Fields.
“The next station is Biomedical Base. Please prepare for your arrival.”
The stop for the Watermelon Museum is past that idyll of chemical weapons, even, all the way to the southern tip of Line 4 at Tian Gong, and then three stops south on a country bus. What I am saying, seeker of seedlings, is that this place is in the ass-end of Daxing and this isn’t a casual Friday afternoon skip-dee-doo to the park.
You have to want this.
You have to feel a bone-deep need for high-fiber fruit and surrealism.
Hey. Don’t laugh. Don’t take something beautiful and tear it down. China produces more watermelons than any other country on earth, and Daxing County is one of the highest-yield regions. It makes sense to commemorate that achievement here. It makes sense to build a ginormous, wing-ed building saluting the nobility and natural dignity of the fruit flavor the captured the minds of every chewing gum manufacturer in America circa 1995.
Baidu tells me the museum was finished in 2002. Bear that in mind when you consider that the instrumental Titanic soundtrack has probably been on repeat in the lobby for the better part of 13 years.
“Twenty RMB,” said the ticket girl tentatively, trying to decide if I was going to acid-melt into a giant writhing vine of putrid gourdflesh, like most of her waking people-dreams. “The Western Hall is that way.” I never saw her again. I never saw another living soul. I guess she was in the back muttering to herself and scratching days off the wall calendar with her fingernails.
No wonder, man, she didn’t even have a baoan to talk to. I don’t know if this is just sloppy statesmanship or your basic lack of funding for vital public works, but I was surprised at the light hand of military presence on premises. Seems risky. Seems like the Japanese could theatrically repel through the domed opera house ceiling and read Chicken Watermelon Soup recipes any time they fucking felt like it. Just saying.
Part I: The Western Hall: Watermelons Discover America
The Western Hall takes us on an epic journey of watermeducation. A journey from seeds to seedlessness, a trek from the watermelon’s humble beginnings, cultivated in the cradle of civilization thousands of years ago, to its eventual rise into the very heavens. I think. I think that is the journey I was on. There’s no English description on any of the exhibits, so I may be a little off-base here:
Watermelons Circumnavigate the Earth
Watermelons were sailing the seas long when Chris Columbus was a still a white smear in his father’s nutsack.