Nguoi ban hoa or flower seller is a sensitive phrase in Vietnamese, as it has latterly become a slang term meaning a prostitute.
But its literal meaning is simply flower seller — a way of making a living which Ly has been pursuing over 20 years.
On a grey rainy afternoon, I meet her and her rusty old bicycle, with the flowers stored on the back seat. In Saigon these days, flower vendors are more commonly seen with three-wheeled carts, yet Hanoi shows a more charming side, with its florists pedaling their way around on two wheels.
Gone with a Dream
Originally from Bac Giang, 50km away from Hanoi, Ly heard spellbinding stories from former neighbours who had moved to the capital and worked as florists. So she also left with a dream of making a better life.
“My husband is lazy, he just stays at home drinking and gambling all day,” she says, wrapping two bunches of flowers for Julie, our photographer. “We didn’t have enough money to feed the kids. That was why I came here.”
Like all previous generations, this 50-year-old lady still sticks with the traditional idea that the marital relationship should be maintained no matter what. Part of this revolves around the children, as older Vietnamese still believe that children will suffer if they don’t have a family with their parents still together.
In order to buy top-quality flowers, Ly gets up early and cycles to Quang Ba Flower Market after getting everything prepared for that working day. She then spends the day pedaling around town selling her stock of flowers. Earning VND3 million per month, she shares a room with five other colleagues for VND400,000 per person and spends a small amount of money for her daily needs, with the rest sent back home, mainly for the kids.
“They are now grown-up and have married,” she says. “They have their own kids also. They are still in Bac Giang and have a stable life. I don’t need to worry about anything any more.”
“So why are you still in Hanoi?” I ask.
“Being a farmer is not an easy job,” she replies, smiling with all the charm of one of her flowers. “Although the kids have their own lives, I still want to sell flowers in Hanoi. And I will continue doing it as long as my health allows me.” — Vu Ha Kim Vy