The flora kingdom of China


Blooming business: Traders unloading a truck full of flowers at Dounan Flower Market in Yunnan. (Inset) The flowers to be auctioned at Kunming International Flora Auction Trading Center.

YUNNAN is well known as the kingdom of flowers, home to 1,500 species including roses, lilies, chrysanthemums, camellias, carnations and orchids.

Located on the highlands at an average of 2,000m above sea level with year-long temperature of around 23°C, adequate sunshine and rain have made it an ideal ground for flower farming.

About 70% of the fresh flowers sold nationwide come from this southwestern province of China, one of the eight main industries in the province.

The flowers are also exported to over 40 countries.

In the early millennium, the Dounan Flower Market was set up at the provincial capital of Kunming to facilitate the growing trade.

Today, it has developed into the biggest flora market in Asia, with thousands of local and overseas merchants flocking to the place daily.

At dawn, trucks loaded with fresh flowers from around the province began arriving in town.

All the flowers were sent to the Kunming International Flora Auction Trading Center (Kifa) within the market vicinity for the products to be examined, graded and packed in bundles before they were placed onto the racks.

After lunch, hundreds of wholesalers would arrive searching for flowers while preparing to join the auction which started at 3pm.

I was eager to see the process in action, but in the end, it was not what I had anticipated.

The 400 or so wholesalers were busy on their phones or chatting among themselves before giving their full attention to the computer screens in front of them.

I looked over and all I saw on the screen were words and figures.

The bidding process had begun, but the auctioneers and products were nowhere to be seen.

“It is done online. I have checked the flowers just now and jotted down the code numbers of those I’m interested to bid for.

“The name of the flower, and its details including grade, volume and price are all here, ” said a wholesaler, answering my query while pointing towards the screen.

The hall was more like a stock exchange centre.

Kifa is the world’s second largest flower auction place after the Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands.

Its general manager for investment and planning Wang Yang said that the centre had two auction halls capable of accommodating 900 people.

And they will be joined by more than 2,000 potential buyers online.

“We trade around 3.5 million buds of flowers daily, ” he said, adding those in popular demand included roses, baby’s breath and chrysanthemums.

“Our highest record was eight million a day, ” he revealed.

After the auction, wholesalers bring their flowers to the marketplace some 800m away where they trade them off to retailers and the public.

Yunnan’s flower industry was badly hit when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the country early last year.

It was closed for two weeks before reopening for online transactions only, and it took another two weeks for business to resume as usual.

“The lack of logistic services has made the situation worse in the first three months of 2020 because flowers could not be kept.

“But business started to pick up in April and the total trade transacted last year has exceeded the year before, ” Wang pointed out.

However, he could not provide the actual figure.

Yunnan, which borders three Asean nations – namely Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos – is a place that lives up to its tag line of “A Colourful Yunnan”.

Home to 29 ethnic minorities, the province is rich in culture and delicacies with guo qiao mi xian (crossing-the-bridge vermicelli) being its signature cuisine.

The dish is rice noodles with an egg, an assortment of vegetables and sliced meat or seafood in chicken broth. All the ingredients are served raw.

Consumers have to put them into the hot soup themselves with those that need a longer time to cook being placed first.

It tastes just like a bowl of lai fun soup (the noodles we eat with assam laksa) but the love story behind it is what made the food unique.

It was said that during the early Qing Dynasty, a man moved to stay alone in an isolated hut so that he could concentrate on his studies for the imperial examination.

Every day, his wife would cross a bridge to send him food but the meals turned cold when she arrived.

One day, she discovered that pouring a layer of oil in the broth could keep the heat while placing the ingredients later could prevent them from being overcooked.

Since then, she followed this method and carried on for years until her husband finally passed the exam and became an official.

The couple’s love story was widely circulated and the villagers named the dish after the wife’s act of sending food to her spouse.

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