For the past five years, Susan Jenkins hasn’t missed a chance to sell exotic plants at the annual Flora & Fauna Exhibition in Lapangan Banteng, Jakarta.
Jenkins, a retired marketing and public relations officer, helps her sister run the Citra Asri Nursery in East Java, where she also owns a textiles store called Tsamara.
We caught up with her on Monday, the last day of the exhibition. She dished the dirt on endangered species sold at the fair, how Jakarta has changed since the 1970s and why she loves watching her plants grow.
How long have you been taking part in this exhibition?
I started attending the fair and selling my plants in 2005. My nursery is actually in East Jakarta. It’s a great place to grow my stock.
What do you think about the endangered turtle species being sold at this exhibition?
They’re not just selling turtles. I also saw people selling a rare bird from Irian Jaya [now West Papua] and a big yellow python.
I guess people need money. You can make a lot of money by selling exotic species because there is a market for it.
Those animals can cause problems too. For example, the snake was out in the open. I think that’s very dangerous for kids.
I think they should only sell house pets instead, like cats, dogs and rabbits. On the positive side, the fauna section attracted a good crowd.
Will you attend the exhibition next year, even if people are still selling endangered species?
Well, it doesn’t effect me personally. I’ll still be here next year. But I think the event organizers should pay extra attention. They need to be more responsible.
Hopefully, they won’t have any more endangered or wild animals for sale. I just hope my booth isn’t as close to the animals as it was this year because I’m frightened by big snakes.
How many plants have you sold since the exhibition started?
Right now, I have probably brought in over 1,000 plants from my nursery already. I replenish my stock almost every day or whenever a certain plant species is sold out, like the Hot Lady [roses] that just ran out.
Could you tell us a bit more about the things you sell here?
Since it is, in reality, my sister’s business, she is the one who decides which plants we should sell here. Over there, the reddish-veined plant, is the Pride of Sumatra, or the Aglaonema.
Our most expensive plant is the Hot Lady, which has sold out. Also, we have a plant over there — the one that looks like a thinner aloe vera — called the Sansevieria. That plant is extremely good against pollution. It cleans the air.
How’s business this year?
We did much better last year than this year. Business has been a bit lax. In general, we don’t do nearly as well on weekdays as we do on weekends.
What did you do before you started selling plants?
This is only a side business that I help my sister run. My sister is often in the office, so I am more involved in the business than she is.
I used to work in an office. I was with the marketing and public relations department, but I retired. Now, I have a business making bed sheets, bed covers and other textile products. That’s my real business.
How long have you been in Jakarta? Are you from here?
No. I am originally from Palembang in [South] Sumatra. My family moved to Jakarta in 1971, so I’ve been here for about 40 years. And you know, I haven’t been back to Palembang since then. I mean, why should I, right?
All the members of my family are here already. My mother is 78 years old and she stays with me.
Wow, you’ve been here for 39 years! How has the city changed over the decades?
Oh my, it’s changed for the worse! There is all this traffic. And there are so many people, cars and even robbers and kidnappers!
Back in the 1970s, it was still safe for young girls and women to walk the streets alone. Also, you know, the economy is getting worse. The prices of goods are so much higher and there are so many more beggars.
Do you give money to beggars?
Well, it depends. I look at them first. You can judge whether these beggars will just use the money to buy cigarettes or alcohol.
If I think that they won’t waste the money, I always try to give them some, especially to the little kids. Sadly, nowadays, even the kids smoke.
Do you think gardening can be therapeutic?
Definitely. When I sell plants and run the nursery, I can truly feel the color of the plants. And I enjoy watching and helping them grow. I take good care of them and sustain them.
In a sense, the whole bit about helping them grow and taking care of them — that’s similar to raising kids, right?
Oh, of course not! Kids tend to be naughty but plants are never like that. It’s true that sometimes it doesn’t work out [with the plants]. But you know, plants can always be easily reproduced.
Also, I can sell the plants any time I want. In fact, the more plants I sell, the better. I can’t do that with kids [laughs].
Susan was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Picture by Iwan Putuhena