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Doraville business rife with Asia luck - Jill Sabulis

Asian knickknacks are the featured items at a Doraville shop whose owner seeks to re-create the ambience of his native Taiwan.

(AJC article on March 10, 2004)



Anthony Lin calls himself an importer, a wholesaler, a businessman.  But he could just as accurately say he's a nostalgic horticulturist, recreating a swatch of his native Taiwan in a Doraville warehouse.


Buying from sources in Taiwan, China, Thailand, and Singapore, Lin supplies retailers, florists and restaurants throughout the Southeast with "lucky bamboo," those omnipresent green stalks so favored by interior designers of late.  His company, E.G. (East Garden) Wholesale, also sells complementary vases, bowls and fountains and a selection of gift shop trinkets.


In the warehouse behind his office and small showroom stand thickets of what East Asians call "lucky bamboo."  The stalks - which are actually a species of dracaena, not a bamboo - come thickly packed in white styrofoam boxes, the lids of which Lin pops off, exposing the spades of green leaves.  The carpet of green ranges from 4 inches tall to 4 feet.


As he works, Lin sometimes starts the water flowing in serveral fountain at once.  And between the verdant plants and the trickling water, this ardent outdoorsman says he's transported back to Taiwan, where nearly a third of the country is mountainous and dotted with waterfalls.  "I like hiking," he says.  "In my country...I would go to the mountains to hear the water."  These days, he hikes in the mountains of North Georgia.


The tremendous popularity of lucky bamboo in the United States in recent years can be traced in part to the growing use of feng shui, an Eastern understanding of how to create harmony in life through specified design principles.  Both true bamboo and dracaena have been used in the practice for thousands of years as a symbol of good luck.


In addition, Lin calls the dracaena "a lazy plant," requiring little sunlight and no soil - just a little water covering its fine, hairy roots.  Lin and his wife, Su hua, keep vases and pots of the plant throughout their Lilburn home, where for two years they ran their business out of the garage.  They opened the warehouse a year ago.


Besides the straight stalks, Lin carries lucky bamboo that has been manipulated into various shapes and forms - one is a heart, some are curly, others have been woven into latticed baskets and pineapple shapes.  The stalks do not grow taller once they are harvested, though they develop new leaf growth.


Shelves in his showroom hold tiny figurines used by bonsai hobbyists, tea sets, framed art, Buddha statues and about a dozen types of tabletop fountains featuring frogs perched on lily pads, a mermaid surrounded by porpoises and shells, a koi spouting water.  Smaller trinkets include tassels of braided red cord trimmed in charms of imitation jade, golden coins, Chinese characters - all symbolic, Lin says, of good luck.


And there is yet another plant for sale - also lucky, Lin says.  The money tree, a braided-trunk Pachira, is a must, he says, and is also used in feng shui.


The back room contains the ceramics display:  dozens of types of vases, pots and bowls, some whimsical with monkeys or pandas and others more straightforward and decorative - classic blue and white, rustic browns, celadon green.  Lin says his selection turns over rapidly, serving in particular the florists who are constanly looking for something new and different.


"In my opinion, this bamboo is Eastern and it needs an Eastern vase," he says.  "Same for the money tree.  But it's just my opinion."


While E.G. Wholesale is primarily a supplier to other dealers, Lin also sells to walk-in retail customers.  Lucky bamboo starts at 50 cents for a 4-inch piece to $4 to $6 for a 48-inch stalk.  Other items such as vases are marked, but always ask for the price (it's usually less than the sticker indicates).  And there is usually a shelf or two of clearance items that are half-price.


"People say, 'Look at how nice this [lucky bamboo] is,' and I'm so happy," he says.  "It's the same all year - nice and green....This keeps life a long time.  The green color, it means life."