My Life as… a Tet flower seller

Oi discovers the seasonal peaks and troughs of life as a Tet specialist florist…

My name is Vuong and I own Bao Anh Apricot Blossoms ( I’m gearing up for the busiest time of the year, the two weeks before and after Tet. I have more than 1000 trees spread across six nurseries in Thu Duc, just outside the city.

All year long, we take care of these trees to make sure they bloom just in time for the New Year. Vietnamese believe that when they blossom fully at Tet, it means your family will be joyous, prosperous and lucky in business.

Oi Vietnam - Feb 2015_apricot grower_DSC6378_NT* Images by Ngoc Tran

I remember as a kid, my mother put a few apricot branches in a vase. Somehow, on New Year’s Eve, the fan blew all the blossoms onto the floor. That year, our house got robbed so many times! I remember not even having clothes to wear to school. Then there was the time three years ago, when our apricot tree was stolen from right in front of our house.

I had an accident that year. Last year’s tree, though, bloomed from top to bottom. I never saw so many flowers! Am I superstitious? Maybe. But last year was my best year for business ever. I was able to buy four new trucks for my [year-round] transport business and two more are on the way.

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Around Tet, people sell these apricot trees everywhere. But most people who visit these pop-up places go only to look. Out of 100 people, maybe only one or two will buy. Serious buyers go to the apricot gardens. There, out of 100, maybe 98 or 99 will buy.

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I hear that in the West, some people might buy an ugly Christmas tree because they feel sorry for it. Not here. You can take pity on almost anything, but not a Tet tree. Because it represents someone’s fortune for the whole year, you have to pick a good one. People see a reflection of themselves in it – prosperous, vibrant, happy.

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Of course, you can’t always tell. Sometimes a tree looks great on the lot, but when someone takes it home, it may not blossom very much or the flowers aren’t pretty. Then there are others that surprise you. Sometimes my workers will ask if they can have one of the trees that doesn’t sell, an ugly one or a weak-looking one. But for some reason, on Tet, it takes on new life and becomes breathtakingly beautiful. What can you do?

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Then there are the renters. Most of my business comes from people who rent trees which means we’ll deliver these trees to their houses and go back to pick them up after Tet. It’s cheaper, about 30 percent of the cost of buying the tree outright. They might not have space in their house to keep the tree or they might not know how to take care of it. Other people buy the trees as an investment and after Tet, we’ll pick them up and take care of them for the whole year, just in time for the next Tet.

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There’s no money in being an apricot tree gardener, though. Yes, I have some valuable trees ― my most prized one being worth VND1 billion. A few years ago, someone offered me VND700 million for it, but I wouldn’t sell it. It’s now over 80 years old and it comes from strong stock. The roots are solid.

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We spend the year taking care of the trees very well: watering, pruning and fertilizing at the right times. Sometimes, though, trees die. It’s nature. But because customers only pay when they get the tree, that means all our efforts during the year will have gone down the drain if something happens to it. And we can’t switch them out because people have pictures of their tree from the year before, so they’ll know if it’s not theirs. Or sometimes, when they party, someone will pour beer or even discarded tea grounds into the pot and the trees will die. The trees are quite sensitive, you know.

Like I said, there’s not much profit in this business. I only do it because it reminds me of my childhood. It brings joy to both the buyer and the seller. It’s also tradition. It’s what our ancestors have left behind for us. The Japanese have their cherry blossoms. We have apricot blossoms. Even if your house is small and crowded, seeing a few branches of yellow blossoms at Tet brightens up the whole house.

It simply wouldn’t be Tet without them.

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