Reporters on the Job

Rural Generosity: Correspondent Simon Montlake says that the families he and his assistant interviewed for today's story about the desert encroaching on Chinese farmland were hospitable and quite open when it came to discussing their hardships and the government's relocation scheme (see story). "I was surprised at how little suspicion was directed at us – in rural China, talking to journalists is often seen as risky or reckless," Simon says.

The hospitality extended to offering food – in this case, a yellow-skinned melon that western China is famous for. "As soon as we sat down, it seemed, the women were slicing up melon for us. After a few slices, we had to beg them not to slice more as we were getting too full."

Later, they visited the first village that's due to be relocated by the end of August. As they spoke to one farmer, out came more melon. "We protested that we were full and thanked him, but he insisted. During the interview, it emerged that this village had been unable to plant crops this year because the government didn't want to give them an excuse to stay for the harvest. So the man had given us a melon that he'd bought. That made his gesture even kinder, and his complaints of government stinginess even more resonant."

Still, says Simon, no more melons for a bit.

– Amelia Newcomb
Assistant World editor

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