Dung gua. It's been the centerpiece of William Fong's garden and the envy of Chinese ladies walking past his house for the past forty years. The Chinese winter melon can pack on five pounds a week. Its vines can grow 25 feet in one month. A single plant can feed hundreds. It's an agricultural superstar, and some experts have dubbed it the eighth wonder of the world.
But we still underestimate dung gua's enormous powers. The drama that unfolded over Labor Day weekend highlighted the continuing struggle between man, vegetable, and gravity. On September 3 at 10:38
AM, the horizontal wire mesh holding up the Fong's crop collapsed under its own weight, sending melons to the ground and stranding some in midair, hanging by their stems. This happened shortly after the picture shown above was taken. A panicked Fong ran into the house shouting, "The dung gua structure collapsed! Teddy, Jamie, come out here quick and fix it!" The two sons ran out immediately and assessed the damage. It did not look good.
The first thing they noticed was how poorly the vertical and horizontal wire mesh was supported. "Wire mesh has incredible tensile strength, but is not designed to withstand buckling or bending moments," said Ted Fong who has his degree in engineering from U.C. Berkeley.
"Indeed," added James Fong, "this structure is not built to code. It's also a gross violation of OSHA standards. What if there had been an earthquake? Someone could have been severely injured standing under this house of dung gua."
Yet despite their educational pedigrees, the Fongs could not offer a practical solution to this most serious problem. An indignant William Fong shot back, "I sent you boys to university, and all you can tell me is that I might go to jail for negligence. Go get Dr. Nakano. He can fix anything."
Within minutes Russell Nakano arrived on the scene with a rescue plan. "Rule number one," said Nakano, "don't panic." He then explained that the melons were better off in a "lower orbit." The vertical mesh was tilted 45 degrees. It wouldn't do any good to upright it, since raising the 20-pound melons would only put them into a higher, more unstable energy state. "What happened is actually a good thing. Besides, E = mgh is not just a good idea, it's the law," Nakano concluded.
With that, the rescue mission began. Three melons were harvested immediately because their stems were damaged beyond repair. The crew then planted steel bars into the ground to prop up the compromised dung gua superstructure. Individual melons were supported by flat boards suspended by the mesh in a cantilever fashion. In the end, it wasn't a pretty sight - a heap of steel, wood, string, plastic ties and dung gua. But, the mission was a success.
"We almost lost our bumper crop," said William Fong. In the future I will not underestimate the power of the dung gua."