Photographs by Thao Duong and Scott Martell
My peaceful park, a tranquil setting for meditative walks, has exploded into yellows brighter than the sun. Yellow mums (daisy chrysanthemums) proliferate, peppered with wispy apricot trees and tanks of yellow fish. The cheery color adds to the festive mayhem of sales booths and food and drink carts. The ubiquitous hum of thousands of motorcycles punctures the air, as families (often four to a motorcycle) cruise through, looking for the perfect flower pot to decorate their holiday home.
The yellow flowers symbolize the spirit of Tet. During the past year—through a burning summer and an active typhoon season—farmers, and ordinary citizens, nurtured thousands of pots of mums throughout Quang Ngai Providence, particularly around the Ve River.
My friend Thao Duong visited this fertile, flower growing area before Tet. It seemed that every home grew pots of yellow mums for sale. They’ve become highly popular not just in Quang Ngai town, but throughout Central Vietnam.
Thao reports: “The people of Tu Nghia district have a passion for growing mums to decorate for Tet, similar to the enthusiasm the North has for cherry flowers, and the South for apricot flowers. In Central Vietnam, mums are the tradition.” She met Mrs. Hieu, 40, who has been planting the flowers the past five years has an enormous area full of mums surrounding her home. She plants the tinier “marigolds.” So much depends on the weather she told Thao. “You know, even just a heavy rain could damage all of them and leave us with nothing, no revenue earned at all. However, growing flowers is also fun, especially by the time of Tet as people come and shop for flowers.”
Meet the Mums Man!
“You have to meet Mr. Han–an expert of growing mums,” Mrs. Hieu insisted to Thao. Mr. Han has been growing mums for nearly 20 years, only on the occasion of Lunar New Year. Mums season starts from the 7th or 8th lunar month and ends by Tet. For the rest of the year, he looks for a job elsewhere. There are around 700 mums pots nicely arranged in his 1,000 square meter garden. Since the first day of growing, he has to light up the garden every evening. This is a commonly applied technique to force the flowers to bloom on an intended day. Then, about 55-60 days before Tet, he stops using evening lights.
The plants require regular water and fertilizer and checking for mold. Then, 60 days before Tet, the growers place a framework of sticks and spread a net over the tops of each pot—to ensure the flowers grow neatly. Thao remembers shaking her head in amazement: “Only imagining placing the sticks around the flowers of 700 pots sounds like a lot of work to me!”
This week, these hard-working experts are the ones responsible for the yellow explosion of light and cheerful that pervades my town, Quang Ngai.
Yellow apricots—a dainty dance of nature’s art
While the yellow mums overwhelmed the senses with their bright intensity, the apricot tree enchants with delicacy and exquisite art forms. No tree is exactly like another. They all twist and perform their own gnarly dance, ending with tiny yellow flowers that whisper “here I am!” Often the subject of poetry, apricot was considered a symbol of honesty, elegance and purity. It’s known for its strong vitality, even in harsh conditions. Along with cedar, bamboo and chrysanthemum, it’s considered one of the four noble plants in paintings.
Pham Van Hoanh wrote about the yellow apricot in the winter edition of the Ly Son-Sa Huynh GeoPark newsletter, which I’m blessed to serve as advisor. His words are mesmerizing, particularly when he tells the story of the tree’s importance in his grandfather’s life:
“Yellow apricot has played an important part in my grandfather’s life. It existed in his long happy marriage with my grandmother. Then came the war, and he headed to the battlefield. On the day of his departure, my grandmother gave him a branch of yellow apricot and told him to remember five words “humaneness, justice, proper rite, knowledge and integrity”—like the meaning of that apricot. That wisdom stayed with him through the war. When the war was over, he came back home but, unfortunately, my grandmother was no longer alive. But, standing there in the front yard, the apricots welcomed his return. That could be the reason my grandfather always decorated the altar with a branch of yellow apricot.
“Apricot blossom is considered a new year fortune for our family,” he said. “For him, apricot showed the spirit of Tet, hence, Tet could not be fulfilled in the absence of apricot. And for those living far away from home, apricot blossom could make them terribly homesick.”
Wish all a blessed New Year
Such a sentiment as expressed by Pham Van Hoanh is both heart-breaking and heart-warming. God’s creation serves to remind us time and time again of the things that are important and the possibilities that exist. From Quang Ngai, Vietnam, I wish all friends, family, readers, a blessed New Year.
Scott Douglas Martell is a writer, teacher and coach. His most recent novel is The Hyena Man, an African romantic suspense. His blogs often focus on Ethiopia and Vietnam, world traveling, and counseling for a more joyful life, with topics such as brain health and spiritual awareness. To learn more about the joyful Christian path, please check out The Jesus Workout.
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