“It would take the whole afternoon if we were going to talk about details,” Linh says, referring to her family’s lotus pond that hugs the shores by the Ferris wheel alongside West Lake. The 28-year-old flower farmer knows all the details, though, and it’s impossible to not go into them. What else would we talk about?
Lotus flowers are complex organisms. There are 12 petal flowers, and there are 100 petal flowers. The seeds, the stems, the roots, the leaves, the petals, the pollen, and that mystifyingly fragrant white part in the centre all serve a specific function. And all have their own kind of separate elegance as they populate the still water.
Linh’s real name is Do Hong Hoa, or Pink Rose. It’s a name that is too pretty, she claims, for the hard life she has, and so people call her by her nickname. Linh married young and is the mother of two children. One is seven years old and one is 15 months. She doesn’t say much more about them, but continues to offer up numbers. One thousand flowers make 1kg of tea. One flower at her family’s shop sells for VND7,000.
Also at her family’s tea and flower shop, next to the 12-petal loti that wait in bundles by the road, is a collection of loose petals that anyone wanting smoother and better smelling skin, or cockroach repellent, can take. Mats are laid out on the floor for those who want to stop for the family’s renowned tea. According to Linh, the soil of her family’s pond is more nutritious than those of her competitors, which makes the flowers’ perfume stronger and the tea taste, well, better.
Pause for Thought
The post-rain romance surrounding West Lake and the delicately sweet lotus tea at Linh’s shop produces an air of serenity that embraces all. Even the incredulously drunk post-lunch crowd of men cannot help but wax poetical in this place, spouting profundities on time and space while sipping their tea. This setting of calm and polite patience is where Linh has worked for the last 12 years, after her family decided to start farming flowers.
Before there were lotus, there were fish. For Linh’s family at least. The higher maintenance and lower benefits of farming fish fuelled the decision to transition to lotus. Linh also transitions to lotus when asked about her dreams of doing something other than farming.
“I’ve had dreams of doing something different,” she says, “but my educational background is not good and I don’t think that I can. My wish now is to be able to keep this pond so that everyone can enjoy the lotus.”
The lotus flowers can be enjoyed for about four months of the year. If you want help remembering, the season is from Ho Chi Minh’s birthday on May 19 to the day of his death on Sep. 2. This interesting fact about flowers makes up for the more routine facts of how and why to clear the pond of dead stems in the off-season, when to bail out the water, and when to reinforce the banks for best growing.
When starting out, Linh and her parents didn’t know much about lotus farming. They just did it to produce flowers for themselves and a few relatives. “Then many women started to come who were interested in buying lotus. They were people who were already making lotus tea so we picked up the tea making techniques from them.”
Best of the Bunch
Linh has come a long way since those early days, and thanks to her attention to detail, her family’s plot of pond land and tea stall are rumoured to be of the best around. Linh’s field of expertise would seem to reside within these pond waters, right down to the three kinds of small fish that are permitted to stay due to the size of their teeth.
And while these waters take up an impressive 2,000sqm, the distance is by no means as far as her international tea-drinking patrons have travelled. This modesty is palpable in the way that Linh brushes away compliments and perches on the balls of her feet during the interview, as if ready to rush away if she is needed for something more important than talking about herself.
However, as she holds one fully blossomed flower close to my face for a more intimate inspection, the miniature universe that unfolds from the centre of the lotus would seem to offer a different kind of exploration and travel. It is within this universe that Linh has learned to manoeuvre with fluency and grace. “People can’t imagine how you navigate throughout the pond. It looks [very dense], but actually there is a pathway to go on so that you don’t destroy the flowers.”
A trip to the lotus pond, particularly the one facing a giant wheel that carries people round and round, up and down, inevitably incites quiet reflective thoughts for those who stop for a cup of tea and a chat. For Linh, her work is wrapped up in providing this peace for others, though it’s not necessarily a peaceful job.
She describes her life as hard, but also feels that she is at least “doing something good for society”. And who would argue with that?