I’m still getting used to living across the street from a mall. It’s weird to be walking distance away from a Burger King, a Uniqlo, and a Tesla dealership, to name a few modern Chinese shopping must-haves. I guess the mall picked up the vibe that I’m having trouble adjusting to city life versus life in rural China, so they decided to do something to make me feel at home.
Hence, Happy Farm!
Yes, a little “farm” right there in the mall.
If you aren’t aware, 开心农场 Happy Farm is a massively mulitplayer online game, owned by Tencent, the same company that owns WeChat and secretly wishes it was a 90s rapper. The game was included in Wired‘s list of 15 most influential games of the decade, and was the inspiration behind FarmVille.
Anyway, apparently this mall display is some cool promotional thing for the game. But it’s not just ads and banners, there are real live plants and animals here for mall patrons to enjoy in between taking their kids ice skating and buying a Gucci purse.
There are raised beds of corn, peppers, lettuce, and more, with signs explaining each crop. Because.
There are also pens for live baby animals: bunnies, chicks, ducklings, and piglets. No informational signs. Because.
But seriously, piglets!
Everything is cute and fun, and we had a great time running around petting all the animalkins. There were a few other local families doing the same. It made me happy to see farm life. For a little bit.
I was struck, though, at how different it was from the real thing. First of all, it’s all cartoonified and clean and decent-smelling, not like real rural life at all. I mean, of course it’s clean and cute – it’s in a shopping mall, for corn’s sake.
But it’s not just that. Crops and animals are people’s livelihood out in the country, not just cute things to look at. Wouldn’t this be considered a waste? Really, how long can these plants last here with fakey planters and fluorescent lights? For that matter, how long will the animals last with all these city slickers poking them? The mall did a Plants Vs. Zombies promotion a couple months ago and they just used college students dressed up as plants and zombies. As far as I know, none of them were harmed in the making of that production.
As we walked around the display, my son observed, “If this was in Jingxi, none of it would be left.” True dat, and he wasn’t thinking of the reasons mentioned above. The country mouse mall patrons would probably walk in and immediately have a different reaction from their city mouse cousins upon seeing pens of baby animals and rows of edible plants. “The mall is giving out free chickens and lettuce!” they’d WeChat to their friends and family. The corn and peppers would get picked, and patrons would undoubtedly swipe a duckling or two to take home to raise for an upcoming dinner.
But here we are in the city, where no one is trying to hide a chick in their bag to take home. I started thinking about these city folk as they diligently pulled out the hand wipes to clean hands after feeding the piglets. Do they still xiaxiang for New Year’s? Is Grandma’s house still over the river and through the woods, on a farm in rural Yunnan somewhere, where the kids will get to help Grandpa feed the ducks? Or does Grandpa drive a Benz and live in a gentrified condo a couple miles from here? Is this the only taste of farm life these kids will get?
Sometimes, I think I think too much, friends.
Anyway, we took our photos with the cuteness, washed our hands, ate our food court jiaozi and went on our merry way. I guess I can always go back in a few days if I’m getting nostalgic for country life again. (Plus, I can also check if city slickers have been tempted to take free duckling samples, too.)