Hanoi April Loa Ken

(No.2, Vol.8,Apr-May Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Walking Hanoi streets is always so blissful. And I have spotted here and there bicycles peddling white lilies. The snow-white color of the flowers again announces the arrival of April. White lilies’ pure elegance stands for feminine beauty. Introduced to Vietnam from abroad, called the western lily and adored by the pre-revolution youth, it became even more cherished after being painted by the artist To Ngoc Van in his renowned ‘Girl with a lily’. Later, to avoid confusing it with the tuberoses, which are used mostly for spiritual purposes, they began calling it the funnel flower. Knowing that white lilies only bloom in April, and then disappear just as inconspicuously as they appeared, the flower lovers dedicate the whole month to enjoying them.
The White lily is planted mostly in Quang An and Tay Tuu villages, North Tu Liem district of Hanoi. A long-time lily grower at Tay Tuu told me lily bulbs are planted in August and the flower is harvested in April. It’s an arduous process requiring constant attention and care. First of all, the bulbs must be good. This amounts to 50-70% chances of success. As the delicate buds appear they must be supported by strings. Furthermore they have to be covered at night because cold fog may cause black spots on the petals, making the flowers worthless. A good flower must be immaculate white, tall, and with lush green leaves. Lily growing is not a profitable business. A bulb costs VND400 a piece and takes 8 months of constant care to yield flowers which sell only for VND1,000-VND1,500 a piece.
Quang An and Tay Tuu women laboriously water, trim and take all sorts of care of the flowers to finally cutand sell them at Quang An flower wholesale night bazaar. From there, the flowers follow other women to wherever buyers can be found.
The white lilies have somehow become a part of Hanoi in spring. And the bicyclers peddling them around the city are now a very specific feature of April in Hanoi.

Text And Photos By Le Bich
A short while ago, I was asked if the Vietnamese fondness for eating snails were a consequence of the former French presence here.
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