by Luong Thu Huong
|Prisoner to his passion: Nguyen Thanh Tuan attends to a cymbdium orchid in his Ang Village garden. — Photos courtesy of hoacanhmocchau.vn
|Pretty in pink: A Guangzhou orchid in full bloom.
Charming natural beauty and a temperate year-round climate make Moc Chau Highlands a green gem of north-eastern Viet Nam. Located right in the centre of the highlands, Nguyen Thanh Tuan's orchid garden in Ang Village is an emblem of the region's mystery and poetic beauty.
Growing up in Moc Chau's spectacular mountain ranges and vast forests, Tuan and his four siblings developed a deep affection for nature.
From a young age, Tuan expressed a special interest in wild orchids. In those days, it was common for local people to freely gather the flowers that grew in the forest. In that fashion, Tuan ardently collected and took great care of wild orchids as a secondary school student.
As the number of wild orchid baskets that Tuan kept in his house increased over time, he started to look for other cymbidium orchids. Around this time, other members of his family started to feel that orchids had become part of their life. They would be surrounded by orchids while listening to music, drinking tea and holding heart-to-heart talks in their garden. Life seemed to be more beautiful and lovely thanks to the orchids.
After graduating from high school, Tuan said good-bye to his hometown to attend the Ha Noi Academy of Theatre and Cinema. His dream was not only to become an actor but also a journalist; therefore, he contributed to the Nguoi Cong Giao (Vietnamese Catholic) newspaper for two years.
"However, it is the career that chooses us, not vice versa," Tuan says. "Living for a while in Ha Noi, I realised that it was not the place for me to prosper. Therefore, I decided to return to Moc Chau."
While earning a living through his small household business, Tuan began to dream up an idea of collecting and planting an extensive orchid garden.
Motivated by his childhood passion, he spent a lot of time reading books as well as carefully studying the techniques of planting and caring for orchids. He also travelled to orchid gardens in Da Lat and even to Thailand and Taiwan, through which Tuan aimed to acquire advanced growing techniques.
"At first, I collected orchids just to satisfy my hobby. Then I realised that my hobby could turn into an additional source of income," Tuan says.
In 2008, Tuan rented a plot of land as vast as a stadium, just for his dear orchids. Determined to turn his dream into reality, he also called on his two nieces who had completed their Master's abroad to contribute money to building an orchid farm.
Since then, Tuan can be found at his plot from 8am every day, spending nearly his whole day in the garden. He considers himself as "an orchid prisoner".
He says that living among orchids is like a deep form of meditation, because it brings so much peace and relaxation. "Once you are deeply involved with orchids, it is impossible to get out."
In Tuan's 2 ha garden are countless orchids: dendrobium crystallinum, fox tail orchids, vandopsis and many other unclassified kinds on the ground or hanging on trees.
"I have never counted how many orchids I have in the garden, maybe there are about 7,000 orchid baskets and about 8,000 cymbidium orchids. I always try to bring new kinds into my garden," Tuan says.
An economist once visited Tuan's garden and estimated the total value of his orchids might be up to VND20 billion (US$1 million). "It is not the money that counts," Tuan says, "What's more important is the happiness that planting orchids brings."
In order to have a new orchid for his farm, Tuan travelled across forests throughout the north-eastern and north-western provinces. He even took trekking trips to the Central Highlands region in search of orchids.
Tuan has also purchased various kinds of foreign orchids to enrich his farm, such as those from Brazil, Japan and Korea. Whenever acquiring a new variety, he will mull over a suitable name, and then study up on how to care for them.
"In order to adapt a new kind of orchid to a new environment, one requires a proper understanding of its natural habitat. Fortunately, the climate of Moc Chau is quite similar to that of other temperate areas, so foreign orchids can develop in my garden," Tuan says.
On several occasions, Tuan spent about VND10 million ($500) on a new breed of orchid, only to have it die after one month due to his lack of experience. But Tuan simply considers such a loss as an inevitable fee for his experimentation.
The way Tuan takes care of his orchids is quite sophisticated and unlike any other. Besides minute multiplication and fertilisation, the water for orchids must be freshly taken from wells; clean tools are always used for trimming. From beginning to end, the whole process is executed by Tuan's own hands. This is the way, he says, that his orchids are protected from infection.
From a hobby, planting orchids has become Tuan's main source of income. In 2009, the Highland Flowers Joint-stock Company was established in Ang Village. At present, Tuan's company has 30 workers and serves as the reservation for many precious kinds of orchids as well as providing seeds and professional advice.
"In the years to come, my company will collect more precious wild orchids. Besides investing in orchids, I will operate a tourism business, inviting visitors to Moc Chau to go sightseeing around my farm," Tuan says.
As soon as his plan is put into action, his orchid garden will surely become an attractive destination where visitors can discover more about the natural beauty of this green gem in the north-eastern highlands. — VNS