A long trip to Happy Day
From China to Magalia—a story of good food, love and the American Dream
It’s been said that good food starts with love—love of the food itself, and love of the cooking of it. Perhaps the best food I know of on the Paradise Ridge is found at Happy Day Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in Magalia. It’s an enterprise run by Mr. and Mrs. David Qin. I’ve probably eaten there 40 or 50 times, and we make it a habit to take our out-of-town guests there. We’ve never been disappointed. Food great, service great, atmosphere friendly. A trip to Happy Day is always a happy experience.
The real story of Happy Day goes beyond the food on the plates. It starts with a love story, a tale of two people who might never have met except for the sense of adventure that took them from their widely separate homes in China—he from the south, she from the north—across the seas to the West Coast of the United States of America. It’s a story about a young man and a young woman taking on the challenges of a new culture and a confounding new language, then meeting in Sacramento in a class at City College, where both of them were engaged in trying to learn a language that was now so essential to whatever futures they might make for themselves in this place so different from all they’d known before.
Her name was Jianfeng, but she took the name Tracy; his name was Shenglin, but he took the name David. With the new names came new identities. No longer was she a graduate of a police academy, a woman engaged in enforcing the law in her native land. No longer was he a college graduate with a degree in business. They had transformed themselves into immigrants, coming to a place where what they once were no longer meant very much at all, but willing to do whatever was necessary to make this transition to their adopted land, and to do the hard work necessary to make it work.
So he began washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant, and she began waiting tables at her uncle’s restaurant—the Golden Dragon, in the capital city of the Golden State of California, a place so many of their ancestors had come to well over a hundred years before to work the mines and the railroads, spilling their blood to help build a new country in which they were, all too often, reviled and exploited.
How their love developed and ripened is not something they can talk about without embarrassment because their culture does not permit such outward displays of private feelings. Questions make them acutely and visibly uncomfortable, so one just must assume that nature took its course, that a host of things came together, including a shared experience as strangers in a strange land, and that not too long after enrolling in that Sacramento English class, a bond was formed, a connection made, a love engendered. Soon after, they were married, and not long after that there was little Celine, named for Celine Dion, and then, two years further on, Felicia, two new Chinese/American daughters, as cute as they come.
And now, 10 years after Tracy and David arrived on these shores, they own and operate two restaurants, one in Chico called Ginger’s, and one in Magalia called Happy Day. Theirs is a tale many immigrants before them have known, a tale of hard work, all of it done with eyes firmly fixed on the future they were making with that work.
When we talk about the benefits we draw as a nation from the diversity of our people, it is precisely these kinds of stories we mean, the infusion of new energy and determination that comes to us from people committed to doing whatever they must to make this place their home.
From all that effort—taking on a new culture, a new language, and a thousand confusing new laws—Tracy and David have made a fine testament of their devotion to their adopted country, their love for each other and their family, and the food they serve to their happy customers.
But, leaving all that aside, and returning to the more sensory world of gastronomy, the Happy Day walnut shrimp is, all by itself, worth the drive from the flatlands up to Magalia. They have an extensive menu, and the food they serve is modestly priced.
Best of all, that food is really good. It tastes a lot like love.