Flower power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:00am

With spring festival less than two weeks away, many Chinese are again searching for the perfect gift to win favours from a senior official or to promote good relations with business associates and avoid getting arrested for offering bribes.

Banned from giving cash or cash vouchers and luxury goods, people have resorted to offering food hampers, which are often not wanted by the recipients.

Over the past two years, the most popular gift in Guangzhou has been a pot of flowers. And as the market develops, the more expensive and exotic that pot of flowers, the greater the demand.

At the top of the range this year - presumably for those who are trying to win mega-dollar contracts - florists at Guangzhou's Fangcun flower market are offering pots of Chinese firethorn and miniature flowering Japanese crab apple at tens of thousands of yuan each. For those with down-to-earth budgets, a pot of birds of paradise goes for 3,880 yuan (HK$3,500), while a lohan pine costs 2,280 yuan. Those with even smaller budgets can pick up an orchid, last year's top seller, for a few hundred yuan.

The market for flower gifts has taken off as living conditions have improved and the finer things in life have become affordable. Moreover, an innocuous flower does not catch the graft-buster's eye as easily as a gold Rolex watch, and blooms give more pleasure to a teetotaller than an expensive bottle of cognac.

What makes flowers the perfect gift is that they allow recipients to flaunt their status by showing off their expensive pot plant gift.

Meanwhile, florists are capitalising on flower power by giving the plants auspicious names, such as 'golden ball' for the hedgehog cactus, or 'water entering the pig's cage' for the pitcher plant.

For those who love flowers but do not care to or cannot afford to butter up their bosses, florists have stocked thousands of camellias and pitcher plants. At 200 yuan a pot, pitcher plants with their cups filled with water are auspicious and cheap enough for white collar workers. The cups resemble pig cages, and the Cantonese idiom 'water entering the pig's cage' means 'abundant riches'.