Flower grannies keep a fragrant tradition alive

Updated: 2013-08-13 14:04

By Wu Ni in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Flower grannies keep a fragrant tradition alive

An elderly woman sells ylang-ylang and jasmine at a Shanghai subway station. Gao ErQiang / China Daily

Sitting near the exit of People's Square station, one of Shanghai's busiest subway stations, 85-year-old Yang Guoying focuses on her handiwork - tying two Michelia alba (commonly known as ylang-ylang or cempaka, or miangui flower in Chinese) blossoms together with thin wires.

Yang has been selling ylang-ylang and jasmine at the same spot for five years. The floral fragrance fills the air, attracting bustling passers-by to stop and take a look or buy some of the flowers.

She was introduced to the trade by a friend 10 years ago. "At first I sold flowers on the streets. But my legs are weak these years. So I could only sell here," says the woman with a tanned, wrinkled face.

Every morning, Yang leaves her home at Hongkou district at 6 am, takes a bus for an hour to the subway exit and stays until about 5 pm. Lunch is usually leftover food from the night before.

The ylang-ylang can be preserved for about three days after Yang buy them from the flower market. To keep them from withering too fast in the summer heat, she put a sheet of ice, 4 cm thick, at the bottom of her basket.

She gets angry every time a passer-by stops by at her stall, picks up a pair of ylang-ylang, smells it, puts it back and walks way.

"The flower is very delicate. To breathe hot air on the petals is like pouring hot water on baby's skin. The petal will turn yellow fast and no one will buy it," she says.

Wearing scented flowers is a tradition in Jiangsu province, and it became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s, according to Xue Liyong, a folk custom expert in Shanghai History Museum.

Flower grannies keep a fragrant tradition alive

Flower grannies keep a fragrant tradition alive

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