Two subjects I prefer not to write about in this blog are my day job and artificial flowers. Today I make an exception, perhaps because it’s my final day working in China, or perhaps because I have been separated from real flowers for far too long. At this point in my travels I do tend to develop rather peculiar taste, but I hope you’ll agree today’s breach of house rules is justified.
By and large Chinese factories are debilitatingly dull, dirty places devoid of any frills or creature comforts: they all look very much the same, whether they are making fairy lights, ornaments or wreaths. Today I was visiting a Christmas tree showroom on the eighth floor of a new factory building in Shenzhen. Nothing unusual in that, so imagine my surprise when the lift doors opened on a faux floral fantasy fit for a Pierre et Gilles photoshoot.
At first I thought I’d arrived on the wrong floor, then quickly noticed the John Lewis logo picked out with pin-point precision in tiny plastic flowers. The walls of the lift lobby had sprouted meadows of plastic buttercups and chrysanthemums “grew” in jazzy Jacquard stripes. Overhead the ceiling was lavishly draped with pastel wisteria, reminding me of the set from The Secret Garden. Crowds of convincing anemones and hoards of brightly coloured begonia leaves jostled for position; everywhere I glanced another blooming detail. I don’t recall ever seeing a bee in China, but should one venture into this polyester paradise it would be very confused, and go very hungry.
I play a game with myself when I’m in China called “so bad it’s good”. This involves finding products, clothes, shop signs and menu items that are so awfully wrong that they are brilliantly right. This eccentric floral extravaganza defied any kind of classification, which is why I had to share it with you. If nothing else, I guess it confirms that plastic flowers are better than no flowers at all.
The flowers extended into the factory’s reception area, with a front desk clad in faux turf and purple and pink paphiopedilums projecting provocatively from the walls. Alas the killjoys at the local fire department are insisting that Leon, the cheerful Szechwanese factory owner, removes all the flowers because they represent a fire hazard. And there was me thinking such silly strictures were the preserve of the EU. Let’s hope that a modest bribe will allow the display to last a little longer.
Whilst I was not about to strip off like one of Pierre et Gilles’ male models – the stuff of nightmares after three weeks of waistband-busting dinners – I found myself appropriately attired in a floral shirt and was happy to crouch momentarily beneath my company logo for a cheesy snap.
I’ve been showered with rose petals, donned with garlands of marigolds and offered everything from packets of green tea to musical doormats on this trip, but this was definitely the best welcome of all.