Market magic
Preparing vegetables for sale. Picture: Niall McIlroy/The West Australian

A big scrum had formed in the mud. The contest? Not a Six Nations or trans-Tasman battle. Instead, the disagreement at Thanh Toan market in Central Vietnam was about who would bring home the bacon.

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The combatants were two little woman dressed in conical non la hats and silk pyjamas who were pulling and pushing each other and shouting at the tops of their voices. As the scrum tried to ease them apart, they would grapple, dragging the circle back together.

Well out of the way, a muddy motorbike rested on its stand. And wrapped up in chicken wire on the back, six piglets snorted and panted while the price of pork caused a commotion. Business was smoother for a woman who was doing a roaring trade selling little yellow ducklings which she piled into plastic bags.

I felt a sorry for the confused balls of fluff but knew they had a longer life expectancy than an eel that was splashing about in a saucepan lid.

A roofed stone and wood bridge built in 1776 is the only way for the villagers of Thanh Toan to cross the River Vida, which separates their temple from the market. Just over the bridge, the diminutive Mrs Hua maintains the folk museum where she shows visitors the traditions of the farming village.

Mrs Hua at the folk museum. Picture: Niall McIlroy/The West Australian
At first I felt her age-old demonstrations of rice cutting, threshing and sorting were a little twee on the neatly tiled floor of the six-year-old building.

But she broke into a robust folk song, voice rising and falling, and I was swept up by the energy of the 75-year-old as she danced between a pedal-operated irrigating machine and a palm cradle where she then pretended to sing a blonde doll to sleep with a more wistful tune.

Chicks are bought by the bag. Niall McIlroy/The West Australian
She finished at a desk where she stripped betel nut and stuffed it in her mouth, all in the name of dental care, of course. And she told us about life in her village with pride and only the slightest of help from our guide, although she spoke no English.

They could do with her communication skills on the other side of the bridge.

The West Australian

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