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So near, yet so feared: the melons of Xinjiang

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

There it is again - the pull of the desert. Around this time every year I get the urge to jump on a train and go north, following the Silk Road far into the Gobi Desert, the Turpan Basin (the hottest place in China) and then farther and farther west to the borders of several countries with names ending in "stan".

You may think I am driven north, deep into Central Asia where it rains for about half an hour a year, by Hong Kong's sauna-like conditions, the fungus growing lustily up walls, the typhoons and rainstorms of varying degrees of blackness and the general ennui of having almost nothing to do when all my clients are out of town.

Well, there is something to be said for only needing to shower once a day (if that) and never sweating because the perspiration evaporates before it even leaves the pores. It's also nice to walk around with a completely dry, non-shiny face from morning to night. And Xinjiang is two theoretical time zones from Beijing, so it's light until almost 10pm.

These are all sound reasons. As is the desire to see huge open spaces, burning blue skies and those alluring deserts with their phlegmatic camels and what not.

But in Wellcome the other day, in the fruit section to be precise, it struck me: the annual urge I get to head to Xinjiang is due to the melon season. Sure, you can get melons in Wellcome, too. But eating one of those after having tasted one in Xinjiang, in season and straight from the branch, is like putting on a ravishing gown to go to the most spectacular champagne party in the universe only to step out of your limousine to find the venue is a tool shed, and the only other guest is the boy you hated most at school, disco dancing under fluorescent lights.

The melons of Xinjiang in season, the hami variety in particular, are mouth-meltingly wonderful. Like yellow torpedoes they explode from every street corner, sweeter than the first kiss of sun after a Norwegian winter, more succulent than true love and cheaper than, well, dirt.

And not only melons. Grapes are also out in force in that desiccated and sun-baked land, bursting from every vine, beckoning to every passer-by: come and eat me.

And as if the above reasons aren't enough to send me speeding to Xinjiang year after year, the extreme dryness of the place makes everyone look 20 years older than they are. Xinjiang: a paradise for the middle-aged woman.

 

 

 

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