The Daily Lives of Penang's Flower Garland Makers

Operating since 1990, Bala is one of the owners of a flower stall along the Street of Harmony in George Town. With his great passion for flowers since young, Bala is extremely passionate about his business, selling a variety of fresh flowers and flower garlands. Having learnt the skills of flower making from his grandparents, Bala loves his job as he finds it stress-free and takes it as a very relaxing activity. Hefinds it calming to have a view of colourful flowers every day. As it is a religious tradition for Indian ladies to wear flower strands on their head to look beautiful, Bala is glad and happy that this can still very much be seen today, and he truly appreciates the times when these are seen. He enjoys having the chance to spark his own creativity making different kinds of flower garlands, from different types of flowers and of different lengths. It takes him around 5 minutes to complete a simple garland made from Jasmines and up to 20 minutes if he is making it using an assortment of flowers. There are different types of garlands used for different occasions. For example, garlands for weddings, funerals or garlands for prayers or even those used as a welcoming gift to highly honoured guests. The prices for Bala’s flower garlands varies depending on the size of each garland, ranging from RM5 to a high of RM500 each. The longest flower garland Bala has made is 50 feet long and the shortest being 8 inches. They believe that every flower has its own meaning, hence the strong tradition of ladies wearing flowers on their hair, bringing happiness to their household. One of the commonly used flowers is the Jasmine. It is believed that the Jasmine brings luck and prosperity.

On weekdays, business runs on a rather slow pace for Bala as there are less people performing prayers, but on weekends or the day of full moon and half-moon of each month, his flowers would sell out fast. During these auspicious days, many Buddhists and Hindus will perform prayers at home and at the temple, and fresh flowers are very much needed. Bala gets his flower supplies from suppliers within the country, locally in George Town, Butterworth to as far as Cameron Highlands. The flowers sold at his stalls are mainly Roses, Jasmine, Chrysanthemum, and Marigold. There are the times when the flowers will start to wilt. When this happens, Bala would top up the garlands with more flowers than he usually does, and he would sell it for the same price. And if these flowers are still unsold by the end of the day, he will give them to temples for their use. To further extend his service, Bala offers delivery services to as far as Alor Setar.

Bala is determined in practising a welcoming and responsive attitude towards his customers. He’s had many tourists who enjoyed having a chat at his stall. They are often impressed at how the flowers are gathered and designed into a garland, and they’ll eventually ask to have a go at making the garlands themselves. When this happens, Bala will be more than happy to agree, giving his customers the opportunity to try making their own garlands. One of Bala’s customer, Doris from Singapore, decorated her own flower basket for prayers at his stall, which she later on used for her prayers at the church. Doris was very pleased with the privilege and opportunity given, and she strongly recommends that this service be given at other stalls too.

As he spends most of his day at the stall, Bala maintains a very close relationship with his competitors who also operate their flower stalls next to his. They enjoy a healthy competition amongst each other and at the same time, they help each other out by doing flower exchanges when the need arises.