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Jessi Park

Leaving the congestion of Teemall and taking a shortcut connecting the shopping mall and the Guangzhou Sheraton Hotel, one will discover – in a small artsy area – a flower shop. The name of the shop, La Fiora, means flower goodness in Italian. The shop offers a feeling of openness with no distinct barriers; an aisle runs between two walls that bloom with floral displays.

The Korean florist, Park Se-ju, who is well-known under her English name, Jessi, conceptualizes the tiny corner as a peaceful secret garden. Femininity emerges in details everywhere. Dried grass stalks hang from the ceiling in glass vials. When a gentle breeze blows and warm yellow lights glow, they are like wind chimes. Against the walls Jessi displays wood plates for books and magazines, along with flower arrangements and glass vases. Upon a long wooden desk sit boutique boxes, succulent plants and preserved flowers. Everything is exquisitely in order. The shop, which covers about ten square meters, accommodates many interesting and nostalgic items.

Jessi has observed the development of Guangzhou's Tianhe district – the city's fastest growing region – over the past decade. Shopping malls proliferate dramatically and the population of the district is booming. Guangzhou's commercial hub has shifted from the old town to the newly built Tianhe center.

In 2003 Jessi paid her first visit to China with her family, thanks to a friend of her father who taught at Guangzhou-based Jinan University. It also was her first visit to Guangzhou. Eight years later, she returned to Guangzhou, and during the interim, her role had changed from that of a student to a florist. She gradually developed her career in Guangzhou. She chose to settle in the city with her husband and baby. "I love the life in Guangzhou," she explains. "The people here are friendly and the environment is quite nice. I don't plan to go back to South Korea."

Influenced by her parents, who are keen on flowers, Jessi began dreaming of being a florist at a very early age. Rather than planning to gain a university degree, she opted to prepare for her professional practice through one-on-one learning and training under the tutelage of Ju Sun-ok, a floral designer in South Korea.

"I planned to be a professional florist long ago," she relates. "The classes take probably three or four years, and I considered it too long for me. Floral arrangement is a profession requiring talent and hard work. I already had talent in flower arrangement, so I finished the study within one year, including the knowledge of materials and color match for floral design. I was later introduced by my teacher to a shop, studying and working at the same time."

Dried grass stalks hang from the ceiling
in glass vials

A corner in the floral shop

Working in a floral shop was exhausting rather than romantic, Jessi recalls. In her early years, she says, "I needed to stand working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Cleaning the shop, cutting leaves and watering flowers occupied over 70 percent of my working time. I was very, very tired."
Like many expatriates, Jessi is used to the modern and convenient lifestyle available in the city's newly developed sectors, such as the Tianhe commercial region and Zhujiang New Town. Her personal and working hours are spent primarily in the Tianhe district.

Prior to having her own business, she held design classes in the Hi Café and the Friemily Dessert Restaurant in the Grandview Plaza. Most of the local customers know her via the classes and the internet. In 2011, Teemall invited Jessi to open her "floral shop," which actually is in an isolated corner on the first floor of the mall. Jessi adapted La Fiora to include a display shelf, a glass refrigerating box and a working area, rooting her real florist dream in Guangzhou. Her reputation drew in customers from across the city.

"Flower arrangement is a visual art. It can express your appreciation on beauty and make one's life better. I hope more and more local people get knowledge of the Korean style flower arrangement, feeling happy with their life," Jessi says.

Owning her business keeps Jessi busy at work. "The floral business is a luxurious operation as the fresh flowers are very expansive and fade only in a few days," she explains. "I usually buy flowers locally instead of the imported varieties. When the business began, I went to the Fangcun flower market for materials four times in one week. Life in Guangzhou makes my life easier and has given me more time to focus on design. Now I go to Fangcun flower market once a week. Now I can have more balanced time between working and being with my family." 

(By Jessie Huang)

Editor:Lynus Tan
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