May 4, 2012

The Best of the Fest...and the Rest.

One of the great things about a short term intensive activity, be it a job or a weekend festival, or even one that involves both, is the looking back when the activity is over. The experiences of the event are wrapped up in a neat package for the memory to savour when life again resumes its normal pattern. The Tulips of the Valley seventh annual tulip festival wrapped up this past Sunday evening after two glorious weeks. The festival is put on by my friend Kate and takes place at the site where her husband's family grows the bulbs for their hothouse flower operation. For at least two weeks every April, Kate hires a group of us to help her with the festival. Some of us put up tents, fix fences, and make signs. Others handle the money and help people with their flower purchases and answer many questions. Others deal with parking and crowd control. My job is to assist Kate in managing the entrance gates, the staff and the store where we sell potted flowers and cut flowers, coffee and various local products such as candied hazelnuts and flavoured honey. I thorougly enjoy working at the festival, even when the weather is bad, because I enjoy the group of employees and the workplace is out of doors and full of the unfolding colour and beauty of early spring.

Another advantage of working at the tulip festival is that nearly every visitor who comes is happy to be there. They arrive with a smile on their face and exclaim over the wonder of those acres and acres of colour spread like a deep-hued rainbow on the gently rolling valley floor. Thousands and thousands of visitors came to the festival this year, mainly due to the beautiful weather on both weekends, and they, too were a rainbow of colours and cultures. We staff did a rough calculation and decided that, overall, about seventy-five percent of our visitors were of Asian descent. The other twenty-five percent were made up of those of Eastern European, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Anglo-Saxon, Dutch and other Western European nationalities. One gets used to interpreting the questions asked by those with strong accents or as is the case sometimes, those with no English at all.

The weekend lineups

photo-ops abound

Early on in the festival's history, Kate noted the great attraction the fields had for the Asian population and had a friend make up signs in Mandarin. Every second sign on the fields is in Mandarin and at the entrance gate we have a sign in Mandarin explaining the different levels of the entrance fee. One day during the first week of the festival, a group of seniors arrived to enjoy the sights. The women were friendly and interested in everything, and the group went for a walk down the path which heads the rows of tulips. When they returned the man in the party came up to me. "Why are all the signs in Chi-NESE?" - he said it like that, with the accent heavily on 'nese. He was not impressed.

"Why sir, all the signs are not in Chinese," I said.

"Every sign at the start of a row of tulips that tells what kind they are is in Chi-NESE," he said angrily, " and so we couldn't read them to find out what kind they were."

I supressed a smile. "Oh, I'm sorry sir, but we have no signs which tell the individual varieties. Those signs simply say what every other sign says in English, to keep out of the rows and not to pick the flowers."

"Oh..." he said, "but why the need for Chi-NESE signs at all?"

"Because a huge majority of our visitors speak the language and a great many of them speak no English at all. It is a courtesy to our visitors," I said.

"Harrumph," he uttered, and moved a bit away from me to look at something else. While one of the ladies of the party purchased flowers from me, the man in question noticed the sign in Mandarin, which was taped to the table we use as a till for the cash register. "See?" he pointed at the sign, "This is what I mean - all your signs are in Chi-NESE!"

I thought of telling him that there were about five signs posted around the place that said exactly the same thing in English, but I decided not to proceed. He was obviously determined to find fault with our efforts to make our Mandarin speaking customers feel welcome. For the rest of the day, I was particularly friendly to our Chi-NESE visitors.

Like I said before, most of our visitors were lovely people who are enthusiastic, eager, friendly, and often jovial. Many of them come from Greater Vancouver, and many on bus tours. Although our website specifies the fact that the tulip festival takes place on a farm, and visitors should dress appropriately, many visitors wear the same outfit to the festival that they would wear downtown on Robson Street where there exist seven Starbucks and several high-end shops including Tiffany's. While we staff arm ourselves against the elements in jeans, gumboots, hats and coats, many of our visitors arrive in expensive shoes, delicate skirts and thin jackets. We had a few days of pouring rain during our second week and the fields became saturated and muddy in places. One bus tour arrived and the tourists wanted us to supply each of them with plastic bags to tie over their shoes. Another group asked if we supplied special shoes for all our visitors. I was tempted to tell them we were not, in fact, a bowling alley.

appropriate footwear

slightly inappropriate footwear, though not quite as inappropriate as the
high heels I saw sink into the mud but unfortunately was unable to photograph

leopard footwear
On my last day of work, which was Saturday, the weather was fine and the fields were full of people. Visitors can walk all the way around the tulip fields, just not through them. It is a job to keep all the photographers following the rules and I took my turn patrolling the path. I was returning from the end of the main path when a woman with an Eastern European accent called me over. "Exuse me," she said, "can I ask you a qvestion?"

"Certainly," I said.

"Vat's vis all the Asians?" She said it like she had a bad taste in her mouth.

"They love tulips, I suppose," I said cheerfully. And then I asked her where she was from.


"Yes, but before that? I detect an accent." I tried to be polite, and smiled.

"Poland," she said somewhat defiantly.

"Really? I've noticed a real increase in the number of Eastern Europeans visiting the fields this year," I said.

She paused. " love flowers, too but..." she said hestitatingly.

"We all do. That's why we're here," I said with a smile, and moved on. Often times, this kind of thing leaves me rather speechless and bumbling. However, after two weeks of playing the tulip hostess I was practised at quickly finding answers to all sorts of questions.

On Sunday, I did not have to work, so my husband and I decided to circle the whole field, which I had not yet had a chance to do. I stopped to take photos about every twenty steps, happy not to have to worry about getting back anytime soon. We passed groups of tourists speaking a myriad of languages as we made our way in the sunshine. I felt like the tulip fields were a microcosm of the whole world that day, and I smiled at the wonderful impossibility of it.

Festival tents

Peeking peak


  1. Such a powerful reflection.... Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lovely shots. It looks a bit damp. Has she thought on covering down one side with a tarp. Or even running a poly-tunnel down a hundred metres so she could lift one skirt to the field. I expect there's a good bit of cash to be made if it becomes more of a destination especially since early May isn't exactly awash with excused to venture out on a mission.
    I'll bet you're the legs in the pink wellies :-D.

    1. Thanks, although they do look better when you click on them and enjoy them in a larger format. It was only damp for a few days and Kate cannot run a tunnel unless it is easily removed for the sake of the tractors.
      It is quite the attraction on a weekend, that's for sure!
      Oh, and ha ha.

    2. I was actually thinking duck-boards. But then I thought a cover to keep the ground clear of water like at a flower show.
      It wouldn't be that much of an issue for the turning circle since the uprights would be set back from the plants

    3. We put down great truckloads of bark mulch on the paths, which keeps the mud down. People only get muddy if they insist on going in the mud to get closer to the flowers, which most of them do.

  3. I agree with Chris - I really enjoyed reading this.

    I think I agree with Vince, too. He sounds like he knows what he's talking about, even though it's beyond me. :)

    Too bad there are a few people who seem to have a problem with Chinese and Asian tourists. It would have been nice if they could have found complete pleasure seeing the tulips, and also, realized how tourism is vital for many economies.

    1. I agree with you about the few people, and about the importance of tourism to many economies...excellent point!

  4. ...those shoes have tails!!!!

    I enjoyed your summary and all the pictures. Isn't it funny what bothers people and just what people will say?

    1. I know! I had to ask him if I could please take a photo of his shoes, and he posed most willingly :)

      Thanks, and I'm glad you enjoyed the summary. It is funny, but fortunately, rare.

  5. smiles....very all the flowers...and all the color...they are beautiful...i love seeing all the people too and diversity...i agree it is sad the ones that let that get in the way of the beauty of it all..

  6. Oh what a BEAUTIFUL post Rebecca! I have to go back and pour over all your photos! Such a wonderful festival. I was captivated by candied hazelnuts too! YUM!

  7. So very beautiful scenery thanks you very much i like i wish that many more beautiful


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