Thursday, 7 February 2013

Death of a cat helped to avert the collapse of an agro-farm enterprise



The ambitious and far-sighted entrepreneur Xu Ji Yuan 徐纪元 now receives thousands of visitors to his famous landmark agro-farm resort village "Long Jia Le 农家乐 " everyday some 20 km from Chengdu City.


Back in the early 80s China began to open its door to the modern world for tourists’ influx in a large scaled manoeuvre. The ancient country decided to discard their out dated image as a socialist, Stalinist doctrine state when Xu Ji Yuan 徐纪元 was still a struggling middle-aged farmer trying to make both ends meet. Xu toiled hard on two acres of his farmland on fruit orchards, flowering plants and vegetables. In the early 80s he opened his orchard and farmland to the public for leisure visit without charging a fee. Visitors were impressed with the tastefully designed and well maintained agro-farm he ran with the scenic surrounding of his farmland just 20kms from Chengdu City, Szechwan Province. With the gradual increase of local and foreign tourists arriving every day, it seemed that something should be addressed urgently. Visitors to his “Long Jia Le - 农家乐” agro-farm needed to get back to the city for their meals as quickly as they arrived with curious eyes and anxiety to explore. The owner of one of the traveling agencies suggested to him that he should establish a restaurant at his farm to cater for hungry visitors. The agency owner would share with him the profit for providing meal for ten at RMB 300 per table, i.e. Xu would keep RMB 200. He was told that the local Chinese tourists wanted only simple but tasty home cooked meals. After calculating his cost, farm owner Xu still made RMB 100 of profit for keep per table and he usually served three tables of visitors per coach. During those difficult, pioneering years, it was rare to earn RMB 300 in a day, while an average civil workers earned less than RMB 20 per day.

Such serene cottage accommodation provides sheer living comfort in midst of bamboo trees.
A wooden directional map ensures tourists enjoy a leisure walking trail without being getting lost.

A hesitant but sanguine Xu Ji Yuan began his new found business adventure with one table on his maiden trial as a restaurateur. Visitors were seated in the open air on broken chairs and slanting tables. Very soon the numbers of arrivals of tourists expanded tremendously; there were many tour coaches dropping off hundreds of visitors everyday and all of them needed to be fed before departure. Xu erected new restaurant building on land he leased from the provincial government. It was some 40 acres of adjacent agricultural land to expand his agro-farm enterprise and to build home-stay dormitory hostels for student groups who came from far-away villages and cities. Xu also enlisted the help from his sister’s family members as well as his own – 3 hard-working sons and his wife’s to help running the restaurant, besides employing some villagers as restaurant hands.

Tour buses bring in thousands of visitors to Long Jia Le 农家乐Agro-farm resort everyday!
               
Lake and fish ponds, and pony rides etc. are attractions added to entice more tourist arrivals.

Xu Ji Yuan, now in his 60s, related an alarming, and yet a lesson-well-learned anecdote to the visiting CCTV channel recording and filming crew that he was alert enough to save his business from certain collapse when he saw his family cat vomited and died. It happened in the initial stage when he began to serve meals to visitors at his agro-farm. On that crucial day he had 5 tables of hungry mouths arriving at his restaurant after their brief visit to his agro-farm resort village. Xu had not had enough kitchen hands then that he doubled as one to process the cleaning of chicken, fish, and other meat ingredients. He was cleaning the internal parts of five slaughtered chickens before sending them to the cooking pot, just outside the kitchen. As he took out the heart and liver of the chicken he saw his family cat raised its head, meowing at him. Xu threw the liver part of the chicken to the waiting cat. The feline grabbed the liver and left to have its meal. Minutes later Xu while carrying the buckets containing the chicken meat to enter the kitchen; he saw his home cat lying on the ground, with foam around its mouth, dead.

A poor hungry cat paid for its life for eating poisoned chicken internal parts.

Xu attributed the death of his cat on the fact that one of the chickens he processed had eaten some rat-poison, or had fed itself on a dead mouse. The poor family cat had eaten and swallowed the liver of a chicken, thus paid its life for it. Had Xu served his visitors the poisoned chicken dish, some of them would definitely be stricken with illness and some might even lose their lives; and that could mean the certain collapse of his budding enterprise. He apologized profusely to his customers for the delay and replaced with sumptuous pork dish to the awaiting visitors. The incident taught Xu Ji Yuan a valuable lesson to be vigilant and cautious for his future endeavors.

Xu Ji Yuan demonstrated his cooking skill to a visiting CCTV host.
She was so curious about the soya bean grinding mill used in the early years. It is still functioning and the soya bean curd tastes even better. It could be used for rice grinding too.
Xu was interviewed by CCTV filming crew with his hotel shown in the background.

As China entered the new millennium, Xu introduced many attractions to his resort world of “Long Jia Le Agro-Farm”. Now tourists and visitors of all ages are able to enjoy themselves amidst scenic surrounding; they could go strolling, or just remain sitting and chatting. The younger set will go for pony-rides and have pictures taken with the multitude of fanciful colored flower beds. A man-dug mountain stream with a mini-water mill over it runs though the agro-farm, with some large fish ponds added so as to enhance the enchanting natural ambience. Ambitious Xu added two more hotel blocks to meet his ago-farm resort’s need for its accommodation facility. The hotel boasts of a large convention cum multi-purpose hall. Xu bought a 200 acre wide, gentle sloped land a short distance away from his farm to plant red-colored maple leaf-like low shrub plants as well as to plant trees for his conservation measures and project. It was particularly meaningful as his agro-farm resort “Long Jia Le” provided employment opportunities to many villagers of all ages, who otherwise would be idling or be leaving for distance cities to seek employment.

Xu and his family live in these two impressively majestic bungalows. Three of his sons are married with children of their own. His sons are great helpers in running his Agro-farm resort.

It was estimated that the farmer turned entrepreneur earned about RMB 80 million in gross income per year for the past three years after his undying effort of persistent diligence bore fruit of his success. The big break through came some 10 years ago when he first upgraded his ago-farm with RMB 2 million fund; till now he had already upgraded his resort attraction 4 times at a total cost of RMB 200 million. For his achievement since Xu began his business venture some 27 years ago, the China National Tourism Board awarded him on April 2006 as the winner of “The Pioneer and Originator of Agro-farm home stay-styled Resorts of China” in founding his “Long Jia Le 农家乐 Agro-Farm”. His resort now receives few thousand of visitors every day, and that is a remarkable feat. Villagers nearby began to emulate and imitate Xu to have their own agro-farms in various sizes so as to try their luck in venturing into the tourism trade. Now there are about 50 of them in the vicinity of Chengdu City, Szechwan Province. Xu Ji Yuan has never felt threatened as he is always No. 1 in his specialized field as a hardworking farmer, a learned environmental agriculturist, a hotelier and a far-sighted, successful entrepreneur.


Alan CY Kok           

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