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  Field Notes From
Flower Trade

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View Field Notes
From Author

Vivienne Walt

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From Photographer

Sisse Brimberg

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Sisse Brimberg

image: pencil
In the Blossom Business

Field Notes From Author
Vivienne Walt
I was in Bangkok for the birthday celebration of King Rama V, who ruled from 1868 to 1910. He was a Siam king who was infatuated with Europeans and had a reputation as somewhat of a dandy. He was also key in modernizing the country. The Thais regard him as the father of the modern nation and almost worship him. A large statue of the king stands in the square where the celebration was held. On his birthday the entire square fills up with people paying respect to the old dead king, and they do it with flowers. Everywhere I looked I saw huge sculptures created out of jasmine, orchids, and other tropical flowers. All of the sculptures are symbolic and every flower and color has a specific meaning. It was moving to witness the spiritual relationship these people have with flowers as they prayed among them. When we finally started putting the piece together for publishing, a number of the people I had interviewed had gone out of business or changed jobs. I hadn’t realized until then how quickly the business changes. It was illuminating, but it made it extremely difficult to edit the story because people just don’t stay put for long. The Research division had a hard time locating sources. It was tough in the end. I took a cargo flight for a 24-hour flower run from Miami, Florida, to Caracas, Venezuela then to Quito, Ecuador, Cali, Colombia and back to Florida. We happened to land in Quito early. That gave me a couple of hours to spend before the plane took off for Colombia, so I decided to do some interviews in the cargo area. Technically, walking through the gate to get there meant I had entered the country. Unfortunately, Ecuador had a coup about two hours before; the place was in complete turmoil. Once I finished the interviews and turned to go back to the plane, security police and the military had surrounded the whole area. I had no official permit to be in the country, so they arrested me. The Miami crew had no idea where I was. Finally, after about an hour in custody, I persuaded the officers to send someone to the airport for one of the crewmen, who could then explain what I was doing there. The crew came and got me released, but they had to do some serious talking to a number of officials. It was quite touch-and-go. After that, they wouldn’t let me out of their sight.

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