Pets, plants ’not just a hobby’ for Hanoians

May 08, 2016 - 09:00

Bonsai tree and parrot enthusiasts were among the most interesting attendees of Ha Noi’s first Ornamental Plant and Pet Festival. Minh Thu reports.

Branching out: Artisans prune leaves and branches to sculpt the tree to grow in a particular way. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Viet Nam News

By Minh Thu

A bonsai can be seen as a miniature world of a Vietnamese village. An old banyan tree shadows a replica of a temple while a tiny fisherman sits by a pond.

To make the beautiful scene, the artisan takes a lot of time and effort to prune the tree and turn it into an artwork using a combination of plants, stones, water and other decorative objects.

Nguyễn Trọng Thành in Hoàng Mai District, Hà Nội, said he had nurtured his passion for bonsai for 20 years. He owns Thành Công Kỳ Viên, a garden with 40 outstanding ornamental trees that have received many prizes in bonsai competitions. The species of trees are various, including guava, banyan, casuarinas and pine.

Thành was one of the many flora and fauna lovers who attended the capital’s first Ornamental Plant and Pet Festival, held from April 27 to May 9 in the Vinhomes Riverside ecological urban area on the outskirts of Hà Nội.

Thành has an old fig tree which he believes brings him luck. The previous owners of this tree didn’t see any fig fruit on the tree for over 100 years. But several years after Thành bought it, the tree yielded fruits, even though it is grown in a small plot with little soil.

Since he bought that tree, his business has developed strongly and his family is very happy. Thành said he would never sell this tree at any cost, because otherwise he might lose his luck.

“Once a man devotes his heart to a tree, it can understand his mind,” said Thành.

Whenever he is happy, the tree looks fresh and beautiful, and whenever he is sad, the tree will appear dejected, according to Thành. There are no scientific grounds for this, but experts of ornamental trees share Thành’s sentiment.

They love their trees as their flesh and blood, so whenever they prune just a branch or a leaf, they have to think carefully before choosing the right place to snip.

People who are interested in the qualities of morality and dignity may like trees in the postures of “huynh đệ” (brothers), “phụ tử” (father and son) and “mẫu tử” (mother and baby).

Those who like philosophy may choose trees with a “nghênh phong” (against wind) posture, which shows men’s strong will. Some may like the “quần tụ” (gathering) posture because it shows the national unity and profound cultural value of Việt Nam.

Thành has one bonsai of three banyans symbolising happiness, fortune and longevity. The work received a gold prize at the first national ornamental plants festival held in 2010.

Those who prefer a “folk style” often favour banyan trees, and those who like a “royal style” often choose pine, cinnamon or elm trees.

Thành said it requires the technique of an agricultural expert and feelings of an artist to create a beautiful bonsai.

“An ornamental plant needs three factors: old age, a master stroke and imposingness,” he said.    

Ruffling feathers

While ornamental plants help owners relax and find peace after hard work, pets bring exciting moments and fun.

A mischievous parrot on a pirate’s shoulder is a familiar sight in children’s movies and cartoons. Nowadays, exotic parrots, which originate from Africa and South America, are being raised as friendly and lovable pets by many people.

Businessman Nguyễn Việt Hoàng from Hà Nội has raised different kinds of pets such as fishes, dogs, cats and birds. He was one of the first people in Việt Nam to raise parrots.

“I have raised Asian birds which sing beautifully, but when I learned about African and South American parrots, I realised that they have the characteristics of both birds and dogs,” Hoàng said.

“I can teach them many tricks like I do with dogs. Parrots are boisterous, talkative and naughty. They are intelligent and cute.

“Last but not least, these kinds of parrots have a long life-span, from 50 to 70 years. They are loyal friends of humans, like dogs.”

Hoàng proudly brought a scarlet macaw parrot named Lucy to the Ornamental Plant and Pet Festival. Originally from the evergreen forests of tropical South America, Lucy is about 81cm long.

“Popular parrots raised in Việt Nam also include the blue-and-gold macaw, yellow-headed amazon and cockatoo,” said Hoàng.

“Raising parrots brings me much fun and amazement. They act like kids sometimes. They love to be indulged and play with sparkling objects. They are attracted to toys with eye-catching colours and exciting music.”

Hoàng’s children also love to play with the parrots, even though his wife often complains that he raises too many parrots and other pets at the same time.

Because the birds are imported from foreign countries, they are quite expensive if the owners have authorised papers showing their origin and vaccination certificate. Hoàng’s two-year-old scarlet-chested parrot is worth about US$3,000.

Nguyễn Việt Hương, 50, said she bought an Amazon parrot at $1,500.

“I bought Cam (name of the parrot) from Thailand when it was three months old,” said Hương.

“Raising parrots when they are little makes them attached to us, and we also understand them clearly regarding their habits and characteristics.”

Cam is talkative and loud, sometimes uttering low-pitched, throaty squawks, squeaks and screams while Hương talks. While playing with Cam, it performs the impressive skill of using its beak to pick up coins.

Trần Mạnh Hoàng, a university lecturer, owns amazon, cockatoo and blue-and-gold parrots. The price of each parrot depends on its remarkable skill, he said.

For example, cockatoos can dance along to music well, amazon birds have a good singing voice and blue-and-gold macaws fly beautifully. However, he emphasised that all parrot species can perform these skills if they are taught well.

“You may be surprised to hear an amazon sing opera,” said Hoàng.

“Raising parrots brings me and my family much happiness. We will always remember the first word of our amazon parrot, Lemon - ‘mommy’, in the voice of our son.

“Now when we come home after work, the parrot always says, ‘hello, mommy’ or ‘hello, daddy’. Lemon even shouts ‘silent’ at my dog when it barks loudly.”

According to parrot owners it requires a great deal of patience to raise and train parrots, although they are highly trainable and want to please their human companions.

The boisterous birds tend to be loud. Screaming does become a problem, however, when the birds scream all day long because it means they’re bored due to inattentive owners.

Young birds make a "clucking" sound to indicate that they are hungry.

The owners have to find information from forums abroad, translate it into Vietnamese and share with each other to take care of the animals, especially when they are sick. The symptoms include low appetite, fluffed feathers and nasal discharge. 

“We seriously make friends with the birds, not enjoy them through a cage,” said Hoàng.

Cultural value

More than a hobby, ornamental plants and pets have a cultural value that enriches owners’ spiritual lives.

The Ornament Plant and Pet Festival aims to strengthen the connection between the research, production and purchase activities of the country’s ornament plants and pets business, which contributes to the new rural development programme and the reconstruction of the agricultural sector, according to head of the organising board Nguyễn Gia Thọ.

The festival features exhibitions and a creative competition on popular ornamental plants and pets such as trees, flowers, fishes and birds, and demonstrates successful production models and contract-signing ceremonies among entrepreneurs, producers and consumers.

The event comprises more than 400 booths, 7,500 exhibits and 11,600 commercial products, with the participation of more than 1,000 craftspeople and gardeners from all over the country.

“We honour the love for nature, trees and animals,” said Thọ. “It’s not just a hobby. When we take care of a tree or a pet, that’s the way we express our concern for nature and the environment. That’s the beauty of a cultured and civilised life.”

Thọ said the ornamental objects business aimed to expand as it would help develop the national agriculture sector.

"Above all, the business not only yields economic benefits, but also beautifies the ecological environment and connects the community," he added. VNS

Exotic pets: Owners release parrots to fly free at the Ornament Plant and Pet Festival. VNS Photo Trần Hoàng Nam
Stress relief: A piece ornamental plant artwork combines trees, stones and decorative objects. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Green thumb: Two qualities required for an ornamental plant are time and a master stroke. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Feathered friend: To train a parrot, owners must take time to make friends with them, not just look at them through the walls of a cage. VNS Photo Trần Hoàng Nam
Tiny town: A miniature model of a village in northern rural Việt Nam. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng