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Oh Eun-ju

Every girl has a dream to be a flower shop ownerand Oh Eun-ju is no exception.

The 31-year-old South Korean woman never thought that her dream would come true in Guangzhou, where she was offered a job at the Consulate Generalof the Republic of Korea in the city in 2007.

Majoring in Chinese at university, Eun-ju worked for a trading company in her home country before coming to Guangzhou. "It's easy to find a job with a Chinese language background," Eun-ju told a local newspaper ina previous interview.

Born and raised outside of Busan, South Korea's second largest metropolis after Seoul, Eun-ju became interested in floristry at a young age. When she came to Guangzhou, Eun-ju brought along her natural born talent, as well as her knowledge about floral art she had learned through an elective course, and sent the business connections and friends the floral works she made. "In Korea, sending flowers is quite common social or business etiquette. While in China, I noticed that flowers are only sent on some special days oroccasions," Eun-ju said.

Eun-ju's unique Korean-style flower artwork got much attention, partially because it is so rarely seen in Guangzhou. The florist relates, "I was happy they loved my work." And just out of such feeling of fulfillment and with a sensitive nose for business opportunity, Eun-ju quit her "iron rice bowl" job at the consulate in 2008 and went back to Korea to study full time at a floral designschool.

It was in 2010 when Eun-ju finished her studies and came back to Guangzhou, which was then welcoming guests from around the world to the Asian Games. "The city became much more beautiful and well-known due tothe games," Eun-ju recalls.

With her love of the city, passion for floral design, and over one year's preparation, in late 2011 Eun-ju's little dream blossomed into a 10-square-meter flower shop at Tianhe Road East – O'Keeffe, named after Georgia O'Keeffe, the 20th century American artist who made her name through her large-format paintings offlowers.

It's never an easy job to start up a business, and this is especially true for a young foreigner. Besides the weekly routine of traveling back and forth between her shop and the flower wholesale market in Guangzhou's Fangcun, Eun-ju would reach out to neighboring cities like Shenzhen and Hong Kong and even fly back to Korea for sourcing products, including flowers, plantsand materials for wrapping and decor.

Eun-ju's hardwork has paid off. Her shop became profitable in only six months and O'Keeffe's name has been spread by word of mouth with no spending onadvertisement.

When talking about flower symbolism, Eun-ju says it is similar in many cultures, "but for the weddings, Koreans prefer white color which is a taboo for Chinese celebrations." She adds. "For most of the occasions,the Chinese clients want something daqi (grand)." The floral designer says it's a good way to have a glimpseof the local culture through her clients.

With O'Keeffe, Eun-ju started up her own business here in China, but her ambition is bigger than that. She wants more people to know about floral art. So on weekends or quiet afternoons, maybe at an outdoor cafe or the meeting room of the Korea Tourism Organization's Guangzhou office, you may fi nd a pretty lady speaking in Mandarin with a foreign accent, with different blossoms and plants in front of her, instructingthe crowd on how to set up fl oral arrangements.

Floral design class in Taikoo Hui

To Eun-ju, the biggest satisfaction from O'Keeffe, or being a fl oral instructor, is the connection with people. She still remembers the fi rst couple that walked down the aisle with a bouquet sporting an O'Keeffe tag; she was impressed by the harmonious scene of a couple with their daughter cooperating with each other to finish the decorating of a Christmas tree. "We were strangers, but the flowers connected us together." Eun-ju relates.

To meet the need of a growing client base, inAugust 2013, O'Keeffe moved to an 80-square-meter office, offering classes at different levels as well as a special course for those who want to follow in Eunju's steps to become a fl orist. O'Keeffe's team also hasgrown from two to five staff members.

Oh Eun-ju and her colleagues

Step by step, with Eun-ju's courage, passion and perseverance, her dream buds, develops, blossoms, thrives and fi nally spreads its seeds into other fields.

It's no doubt that Guangzhou is the land of fortune for Eun-ju, where she has harvested not only her career, but also love. Ji Joung-kun, also from South Korea, is the man behind the self-made business woman. Eunju and Joung-kun were colleagues at the consulate, the two met and fell in love in the city, and they fi nally tied the knot in 2010. And to share Eun-ju's dream, Joungkun quit the consulate and joined O'Keeffe last year."It's a beautiful job," Joung-kun says with contentment.

Passing happiness, peace and love to others is what Eun-ju's job is about, but there is something that the florist felt regretful about her job. "My husband hasn't sent me any fl ower since we got married," Eunju murmurs. "I would make up in other ways." respondsJoung-kun, smiling.

Living in Guangzhou for seven years, Eun-ju admits she already regards this city as her second home. She obviously enjoys the life here, the weather is comfortable, the food (especially cha shao bao, the steamed bun stuffed with barbecued roast pork), is tastyand the people are always nice and peaceful.

"So besides kapok, what flower does she think couldbest represent the 'city of flowers?'"

"Sunflower!" the Korean floral artist answered without hesitation. "It's vibrant, energetic, and always shining, justlike the city," she explains.


(By Joyly Chen)
Editor:Lynus Tan
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