Yellow fortune flowers are a must for families during Chinese New Year and for vendors selling the shrubs bearing them, it could be disaster if they do not blossom on time. Good Times2’s Say Tola tells why.
If you’ve strolled around Phnom Penh streets in the past weeks, you would not have missed the sight of hundreds of yellow flowers being displayed along the road. Many Cambodians, whether they are of Chinese ancestry or not, have seemingly made it a tradition to buy these yellow flowers, locally called Pka Angkea Sel, during the festivity, believing that they would bring good fortune and happiness to them and their families.
Vendors find this Chinese New Year’s Day practice as a huge opportunity to earn a living. They swarm into sidewalks to sell the potted plants to those who believe in this time-honored custom.
At the pavement near the Chroy Changva Bridge last week, Chon Sarin was watering his flower-bearing plants. He displayed dozens of pots of the Pka Angkea Sel for Chinese New Year revelers in Phnom Penh. He said he got the flowers from a mountain in Kratie province. His family started cutting down the yellow-flowering trees last month and made sure they still look beautiful and fresh for today’s celebration.
“My family and I went to the forest in early January. It is rare to find these trees now. My wife also came with us. In order to collect all the flower plants we need, we slept there for 15 days. It was hard to find a good place to rest because there were wild animals. There was no mobile network there, too. We even hired a guide to assist us in the wild forest,” said Sarin, adding that he also paid several people to help take the plants from the mountain.
Sarin added that gathering the Pka Angkea Sel, bringing them to Phnom Penh and preserving them to retain their freshness isn’t as easy as it seems.
“I spent $2000 to invest on these flowers. I hired people and rented a car to bring all these flowers here [Phnom Penh]. But that doesn’t end there. I had to find a space that I could rent and sell my flowers. I rented six metres in this area,” said Sarin.
He also emphasised that the plants need utmost care. The plants need to be watered at least three times a day.
But the real challenge is on the timing of the plants to bear flowers. According to Chinese beliefs, the plant’s flowers should blossom on Chinese New Year’s Day itself, not before or after.
“I lost lots of money last year because the flowers appeared before the New Year. When that happened, people didn’t buy the plant anymore. I decided to sell flowers this year and see if I will earn more. If this proves to be another failure, I might not sell flowers next year,” the vendor added.
Another vendor, Chem Touch, shared that this is her first time to join in on the trend of selling yellow flowers for Chinese New Year.
Touch, originally from Kandal province, travelled to Kratie forest to gather the plants. She prepared blankets, mosquito nets and food as she knew she will be staying up in the mountain for several days.
“We prepared some supplies in advance because we knew that it would be hard to live in the forest. I asked some villagers for water. We cooked in the morning and kept some food for dinner. We camped there, and it was really cold. I had fever after that,” said Touch.
Despite the hardships of going up in the mountain to get the plants and risking a hefty amount of money to a business that does not guarantee much profits, Touch said she remains hopeful that selling the yellow flowers will also bring her wealth.
“This is life. If we don’t try, what else can we do to support our children? So we have to struggle,” she said.
Sarin and Touch both expressed faith that the Year of the Earth Dog will bring more success, less troubles in their families and businesses.
“I hope these yellow flowers will also be good to me. I value the beliefs of the Chinese that these flowers can be a source of wealth and joy,” Touch said.