Pushing Daisies

Stop and smell the roses at the city’s largest flower market.

Founded in 1987, Ho Thi Ky in District 10 is the largest and oldest night flower market in Ho Chi Minh City. It is here that flowers from Da Lat and the northern provinces of Vietnam converge before being shipped off to flower shops and retailers all over the city. It boasts flora of all kinds, from common daisies to rare foreign imports from Thailand, Japan and China. The locals say that if you can’t find a species in Ho Thi Ky, you probably won’t find it anywhere in Vietnam.

“This is going in a newspaper? Lilies are in season this time of the year. If I don’t work fast it’s going to be morning before I can clean my stock.”
“You don’t seem very busy at the moment.” “I’m not. I’m playing Candy Crush. The peak hours are over. Now I just need to stay awake until morning.”

Despite its size, Ho Thi Ky goes about its daily business quietly. A small shop with hyacinth branches hanging off its faded banner some 25 meters deep inside the market is the only indication of what it is. Go in further and the first shop will be followed by a bevy of stores selling orchids, wreaths and flower supply services for weddings and celebrations. Then the street branches off into Tran Binh Trong and a handful of alleyways and from then on flower shops after countless flower shops are nestled in a checkerboard pattern around the Le Hong Phong apartment block.

 Even in its most lively hours during peak trading time, there’s only a subdued buzz as sellers and buyers politely bargain.

“I sell flowers to everyone but pretty ladies are my preferred customers. Speaking of which, would you like some daisies?”
“I sell flowers to everyone but pretty ladies are my preferred customers. Speaking of which, would you like some daisies?”
“It’s not Women’s Day or Valentine’s Day, but roses are always popular.”

“The flower market is a different breed of market altogether,” says Lan Anh, whose family has run a store in the heart of the market since the ‘80s. “Seeing plenty of Vietnamese day markets is not the same as seeing Ho Thi Ky. We sell flowers so naturally we are quieter than the folks who sell fish and meat. And since it’s a supply point, the people who need to know about us already know and the people who don’t probably aren’t in the business anyway so there is no need for advertisement or attention seeking of any kind.”

“I’ve had a good turnout today. Very busy trading. Some of the flowers that came in the ice trucks got a bit of a bruising since the driver wasn’t properly monitoring the temperature, but luckily only a few of them so it’s not so bad. I’m holding one right now. It’s still cold. I think I can still sell it. Say, do you happen to have an empty vase back home?”

Ho Thi Ky initially started out as an ad hoc gathering place for farmers to wholesale their flowers. The cheap temporary accommodation provided by the Le Hong Phong apartment block provided the perfect place for trucks to come in and out. Eventually, it expanded and received official recognition by the government in 1987. The market opens 24/7 but it is from 11pm to 6am that the trading peaks.

“To arrange the petals of a pre-blooming Lily of the Nile is a delicate task. Please don’t break my concentration.”
“I’ve done this job for the last 20 years. It’s a little repetitive except for when tourists or press people like you come around with your flash. I can think of worse ways to spend 20 years than working with daisies though.”

Anh explains the market’s etiquette: “Do not ask the price if you do not intend to buy. If you already bought something then you can ask all you want. Sales are always in tens or bundles. We are not small time flower shops. We don’t sell less than 10 flowers at once. If you make the mistake of asking and the buyer does not reply – or replies by saying these aren’t for sale – then walk away. Do not bother them. You do not want to cause a scene. No trucks in the market; park your truck in the designated area. Within the market, try to walk. Bikes are only allowed if your shop is nearby and you do the transport yourself. If you need help with your buys, we have hand-pulled carts and a couple of boys you can hire by the hour. Flowers that have stayed in-shop for more than a night are called ‘hoa muoi.’ Always haggle hard if you want to buy those. As for tourists and passers-by, we really don’t mind the odd one as long as they do not intrude on our trade. And remember: do not ask if you do not intend to buy… in bulk.”

Images by Adam Robert Young

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