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In a tiny shop in Chinatown, a forest of luscious bamboo stands tall in ornamental pots. Among them, something doesn’t quite fit. On closer look, it’s Aaron Nola’s face, peeping out from between the stalks.
Along with a replica of the Phillie Phanatic, the ace pitcher’s bobblehead was placed in the plants just a few days ago. It’s a nod by the owner of Chinese Culture & Arts, located on 10th Street just below Cherry, to the baseball team’s recent adoption of the spiritual plant as their new lucky charm.
Even if you don’t believe in the power of talismans, the Phillies’ recent stunt might make you question your stance.
The Fightins recently endured a seven-game losing streak, which came on the heels of a dismal month that saw them drop from first in the NL East to a ballclub that might not even contend. Then the lucky bamboo came into the picture.
Monday morning, after another loss against the last-place Marlins, Brad Miller, the Phillies’ spunky new utility player, rushed to Chinatown in a fit of desperation. Keying off a trick that he said worked for him in the minors, he picked up a small lucky bamboo plant and tucked it in his locker.
That night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies finally conquered their opponents. Rituals are everything in sports, so the next day Miller reportedly returned to Chinatown, picked up the largest lucky bamboo plant he could find and displayed it proudly in the locker room. On Tuesday, they triumphed again against the Mets. Wednesday night? Same.
The connection might have been a coincidence, but either way, the Phillies now have an official new good luck charm.
A 5,000-year tradition
Generally speaking, the practice of using bamboo to transmit good luck and positive energy has been alive for over 5,000 years. It has always been a strong Chinese symbol in the movement of Feng Shui.
“Lucky bamboo,” which is the kind you see in spas and salons, is a cousin to true bamboo, with longer and thinner leaves. It’s said to deliver health, love and luck and enhance the flow of positive energy. The more stalks there are, the greater potential for good fortune — and as a good Phillies fan, I knew I had to get my hands on some.
I scoured the internet for nurseries and stores that sold the magical plant. I had almost no luck. Only one store that I called said yes: Plants Etc. on Fairmount Avenue.
Shop owner Dana Kalins told me she’s been carrying large lucky bamboo plants for years, but since the weekend, the demand has been overwhelming — albeit for the smaller version. “After the Phillies,” she said, “people seem to want a little sprig instead of the whole big plant”
Not being close to Fairmount, I decided to look where Brad Miller found his winning bamboo.
In the 91 degree heat, I headed to Chinatown. Encountering a miscellaneous shop on Arch Street with plants decorating the storefront, I walked in and saw a five story rack overflowing with bamboo of all different lengths. Towering stalks with leaves at the top, shorter and stubbier ones, and my favorites, bundles of mini stalks tied with ribbons that were planted in colorful pottery.
The women who worked at the store hadn’t heard of the Phillies connection. They did say that though they weren’t sure how to describe why, bamboo is an incredibly lucky plant. Simply planting it indoors brings luck to the house it resides in, they offered.
Strolling around some more, it became apparent that in Philly’s Chinatown, it’s almost unusual for stores not to have some lucky bamboo on hand. Most gift shops and convenience stores sell it, and many restaurants proudly display the sprigs to bring success to their establishment.
At Canto House, a restaurant at 10th and Race, the hostess stand displays a large leafy bundle tied with bows of red lucky ribbon in a pot decorated with cats. It was a gift from when the place opened eight months ago, according to hostess Judy Huang who said bamboo as a gift is common in Chinese culture, and noted the mixture of lucky bamboo with cats is thought to be extra good fortune.
For the owners of clothing store DIA Boutique, lucky bamboo is essential. Albert Tse and Lisa Lai sell the plant in addition to traditional Chinese clothing.
“For lucky!” Tse explained. “Easy to grow indoors and easy to handle. It’s green in color, that gives people energy.”