I have been wanting to plant and grow some culinary herbs since I tend to use a lot in my cooking. In America you can easily get herbs at reasonable prices fairly easily, but it’s not easy here for several reasons. The most obvious reason would be the language barrier, but the herbs I use are Western, which are not typical in Chinese cooking. With one exception, coriander (cilantro) are available anywhere there are vegetables being sold.
I had seen some dried herbs at a few stores that stock many import products; however I was not happy with those prices. Asking around to other expats and some Chinese friends didn’t yield much, but an acquaintance did suggest the Dutch Flower Town, though she was unsure of where it might be. So I did some research and found that there is a flower market a few blocks north of Micah’s work. We thought there was a good chance that it was the Dutch flower town. Our original plans got delayed when I came down sick, however we went the next weekend.
It was beyond hot and humid, almost oppressive, but the sky was beautiful. For a quick, easy, and cheap lunch we went to McDonald’s and then proceeded to walk the few blocks to the park where the flower town was at.
One Step Farther From Home
Once we passed the intersection right north of Micah’s work place, we reached the farthest point north I had ever been on foot. The fact that this “line” was at an intersection of major roads was actually inconsequential, based on functionality. North of the intersection the area didn’t seem to be particularly useful to me as it didn’t hold many shops or stores. It was really interesting to see the difference in our surroundings once we passed under the highway. The highway that crossed the northbound road went over creating an underpass covered in vines and a path for pedestrians to safely cross. It’s really interesting to live in a city that hasn’t been specifically designed for pedestrians, but still facilitates walkways and paths for safe and relatively easy commuting on foot or bike.
As we stood under the overpass, we couldn’t help notice that the intersection seemed to mark more then just the crossing of two roads—it also seemed to be the border between two distinct areas in the city. The difference between the two sides is fairly noticeable.
On the south side, you can see a very prominent bustling, urban center with skyscrapers on either side of the road held back by a row or two of trees and bushes. Nature still holds a huge part in the area’s atmosphere. However, on the north side it is less developed, I suppose, because of the park and similar areas which all create small wooded areas. On this side, it is rather cement and fences that seem to be holding back nature from overtaking the pedestrians.
On the way we pass some girls in short flowy skirts who are selling flower hair bands with long ribbon tails and some men wearing aprons selling street food. The whole sidewalk has been squished between overflowing nature on the left and the line of trees on the right (between us and the road); so when the sidewalk ended at a plaza our line of sight completely opened up revealing the plaza on the other side of a descending road into an underground garage. In the center of the plaza is a display of a Dutch wooden shoe and windmill letting us know that had arrived.
We crossed the plaza to look at a very unhelpful map—we couldn’t even find where we were and I’m pretty sure the roads weren’t even in a correct orientation. Behind the center piece stretched a gate with the sign which read “Dutch flower town”. The first thing I noticed as I approached was that we kept hearing a recording played repetitively in a short circuit. I’m always a little weary to approach recordings just because I can’t understand the Chinese on speakers and do not wish to go anywhere I shouldn’t. Though Micah figured out it was from the guard tower advising visitors to have good behavior. This seemed to be verified when we found a much more helpful map of the area with a long message about following the rules.
Running straight back from the arch was a strip of green, trees, benches, and décor running down the center of the main stretch. On the right and the left were two or three cafes interspersed with small shops jam-packed with curios, special succulent pots, various decorations, and several small plants. They were all cute, small and crowded. Chinese are great at making the most out of a space; it’s actually an incredible skill to see.
The place looked temporary almost like a fair or expo with huts and small buildings that are simple in their construction. Though you can tell it is more of a permanent place.
We started out by looking at the row to the right, but quickly saw these were more curios and gifts, which probably didn’t have what we wanted. However, a few yards down we saw several alleys running deeper between even more small buildings spilling over into the alley with flowers and plants.
There were shops with many of the same plants and planting supplies, however there were also several unique shops and plants. Somewhere in the middle of the town was a beautiful garden area with lattices overtaken with flowered vines. The roof was completely covered over which created shade for the interconnected maze of walls and scattered benches. I think it was more crowded inside the shade than outside. Most of the people were young Chinese people who, as a past time, love taking selfies in beautiful or unique areas.
Now for the Hunt
The more we walked the more we uncovered small alleys with crowded small buildings overflowing with flowers and even some trees spilling out into the walk ways. It was absolutely beautiful.
My plan of action was to take my list of desired herbs which I had written in Chinese and English and go from place to place asking if they had any of the listed plants. After about four or five places I found basil and rosemary. Feeling positive after finding these two plants, we continued on shop after shop after shop with no more luck. Along the way I did buy a few pots but didn’t even find any seeds.
There were quite a few shop owners that could speak English and towards the end there was several Chinese (and maybe a middle aged Japanese woman who spoke great Chinese and English) that tried to help me. They had a hard time trying to figure out what the remaining herbs I wanted was; but they couldn’t quite understand the difference between mint and basil and oregano. The Chinese for these were very similar which created even more confusion since they are from similar plant families. But they sure did try. It was an odd mixture of Chinese, English, and Chinglish. I really enjoyed the encounter, because the women were so upbeat and determined to solve this problem. We all had our phones out using the internet with translators and dictionaries and even some pictures. In the end, they concluded it was a lost cause to find them in the little flower town but wished me luck none the less.
Since there was really just one more alley we hadn’t gone down, we finished the remaining alley and headed out of the flower town to head back home. By the time we got home I was exhausted from the walking, the sun, the heat, and my burden of a few pots, two new plants and the first sunburn of the season. Though, despite not finding all the plants I wanted and being so tired it was a really good day at the Shenzhen Dutch Flower Town.