Flowers talking

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A truck driver waits for customers at the Ho Thi Ky flower market

Located in a shallow alley off Ly Thai To Street, Ho Thi Ky Flower Market is one of the biggest flower markets in Ho Chi Minh City.

Entering the market in early morning, I was amazed by the sight of roses, lotuses, lilies, daisies and orchids being unloaded from trucks and motorbikes from all over Vietnam and beyond. I was overwhelmed by the pleasant fragrances of hundreds of varieties of fresh cut flowers dominating the air, which gave the place the feeling of eternal springtime.

A few hours later, I returned, but was unbothered by the summer heat of high noon, cooled by the good energy of people shopping for flowers, whose minds I could only assume were full of pleasant thoughts. Despite the heat, I found the atmosphere relaxed with shopkeepers who were happily willing to let me taking photos and interview them.

Flower trading is a tough job. The market's shops open early and many do not close until after midnight, most of the shopkeepers working long hours both during the week and on weekends.

But, just like flowers they sell, there is something tender, gentle, natural and polite about these shop attendants, who spend a large chunk of their lives surrounded by the city's most beautiful flowers.


Bundles of flowers for sale at the Ho Thi Ky flower market

"When I was born, the flower market was already here. Our shop offers orchids from gardens in Hoc Mon, Cu Chi, Long An, Da Lat and Thailand. Prices change a bit everyday," said Duong Thi Kim Thoa, 20, a shopkeeper at a small flower stall at Ho Thi Ky.

Thoa said because it was one day before first day of a new lunar month, prices were higher.

Whereas buying fresh flowers on a regular basis is more common in northern Vietnam, in HCMC most fresh flowers end up decorating events such as weddings and funerals.

"For wedding parties people choose vibrant colors, while for mourning white and purples are preferred," Thoa explained.

The shops also offer fresh flower arrangements in baskets, while some vendors sell ceramic vases and wrapping paper.

Most of the shopkeepers are young. "Each month we earn VND3,500,000 (around US$160). We work from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. So everyday, all we have time for is to work, eat and sleep," said a young girl who works at a shop which sells exclusively roses.

Though she was busy with her duties, the girl who wished to remain anonymous treated me very courteously, offering to take photos for me in front of her shop.

 On the way back to the main road, I stopped at a shop selling special Western flowers grown in the highland resort town Da Lat, sweet enough to attract a small swarm of bees which hovered overhead.

I spoke with Tuan, a young man who has been working long hours at the small flower shop for over a year.

 "This flower is from Da Lat. We offer wholesale prices so the price is cheaper: VND25,000," he said, pointing to a small bunch of purple flowers surrounded by bees.

I asked him if the flowers lasted a long time. "No, only around four days," he answered honestly. The man had bright eyes which revealed tenderness, a bit of sadness and more than a hint of dreaminess, but he could not talk for long as soon customers arrived, inquiring about prices.

On the way back, I reflected that although Ho Thi Ky's employees work long hours, they remain connected to nature within the big city of construction projects and traffic congestion, surrounded by the blossoming energy of people who care about beauty.

"At least at the end of the day these young people can bring flowers home to their families and loved ones. In the factories of China, people work the same long hours but could never dream of owning one of the iPods they make everyday," I said to myself.

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