Not all flowers get cut and arranged in vases in Hanoi.
They occasionally crop up in the most unlikely places; in the middle of a choking moment of gridlock at an intersection, a flower vendor will be pushing for her piece of tarmac just like the rest of us but her flowers, pristine and bright in the dusty haze, will grab my attention. Or on the road to the airport, between the rectangular box landscape of the many industrial estates and Vietnam's famous green ricefields, a small plot of land with colour unimaginable will zip by.
Outside food markets, flowers are more clearly in evidence. Here, shopping for flowers is much like shopping for food. While in recent times there has been more attention to flowers as adornments for the home, their ritual function makes them more like a necessity. Small bunches of flowers are bought in odd numbers for placement in vases on ceremonial family or business altars on death anniversaries and auspicious days in the lunar calendar, both of which seem to occur on a more regular basis than one might expect. In fact, believe it or not, flowers go up and down in price according to the movement of the moon.
Food-lovers would know that flowers can be featured on a plate. The little yellow flowers of choy sum go into woks and the short-season hoa thiên lý (sky flowers) are sauteed with beef or offal. In Hanoi too, flowers are sometimes eaten.
But the most subtle floral experience I've had in Hanoi occurred at the chè stand.
I was taken by two little jasmine flowers.