“Hey Youssef! I’m going to have a big steak barbeque next weekend. I know you’re missing home – so, don’t worry – it will be TEXAS STYLE!

(Actually, I’m not homesick, and I’ve never been to Texas. But I played along)

“Awesome, thanks! Where will it be?!”

Jason thought for a few seconds. Then his face lit up

“we’re going to a Happy Farm!

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one interpretation of a happy farm

The 农家乐 (nong jia le, which pretty much translates into… Happy Farm) is a weekend getaway that probably became popular some 20 years ago. As hundreds of millions of Chinese moved into sprawling urban centers, there became a renewed craving for the simpler, rural life. Farmers on the outskirts of major cities realized they could generate additional income by carving out a small piece of their property to use for visitors on weekends and holidays.

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in the summer, this happy farm would be full of ripe pears, ready to eat

This area generally includes a large patio, and perhaps a communal kitchen, or several guest bedrooms and bathrooms. Surrounding it are vegetable patches and fruit trees, and sometimes even fishing ponds, so guests can come and pick vegetables, and cook them for lunch or dinner.

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So this is where Jason had his big Texas Style BBQ. He invited over a dozen friends and we drove to the outskirts of Lanzhou to a Happy Farm. He came well prepared with two portable gas grills, a small wood cutting board, some expensive looking knives, salt and pepper grinders, six bottles of (Chilean!!) wine, steak, and an impressive wedge of imported parmesan cheese.

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Zhao Chen flipping steaks

We finished all the steak (served well done, as these were cows reared in China after all…), mashed potatoes (whipped to perfection by me, Old Country Buffet style) and Jason made a killer pasta with cream and parmesan cheese. It was very much a happy afternoon at a happy farm.

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My second outing to a Happy Farm was a little less happy, due to inclement weather. My relatives planned a fun afternoon an hour drive outside of Lanzhou to pick strawberries, and go boating in some artificial ponds. This was over QingMing festival weekend, so the traffic was horrendous getting out of the city.

We arrived several hours late to the Happy Farm of choice, and the strawberries had already been pre-picked for us… and it was too cold to boat in the wind with a one year old baby. So we just ate dinner instead, and then went back home afterwards

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a mountain of strawberries

I hope our fish didn’t come from this backyard fish holding tank (right next to the CLOGGED AND LEAKING squat toilets)

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48 hours later I went to my third Happy Farm! This time it was with Fox and Monica, and we picked a Happy Farm that was very close to Lanzhou. After Monica called the cops on our shady taxi driver who attempted to pick up NINE passengers in his minivan, we paid 30 RMB total to get to the top of a hill, where there were a lot of greenhouses and farms.

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The happy farm provided outdoor seating and a grill, and we brought with us cheeseburgers, chicken wings, and lamb kebab.


Fox skewered and ate a lot of roasted cocoons/ pupa (he’s from a farming community in Shandong and grew up eating crickets and cicadas).

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After our meal we walked into the greenhouses to check out the produce: the cucumber and tomatoes plants drape from artificial vines, and the mushrooms were grown in a darker, humid section of the greenhouse. contrary to popular belief and little falsehoods spread by my former manager in new york, a mushroom farm does *not* smell like poop! (how many people can say they’ve visited a mushroom farm?)

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cucumber farm
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mushroom farm

There were fluffy little sheep in a pen, and I was about to reach over and pet them, but the farmers freaked out because the territorial goose guarding the pen was quacking and ruffling its feathers and ready to take a nasty bite out of my leg. (google “goose teeth” – TERRIFYING)

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angry patrol goose on duty!

To avoid getting ripped off on our way down, we refused the cabs and took a 45 minute hike back to the city, in glorious spring sun. This was by far the happiest of my three Happy Farm outings.

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