Market Forces

I am a devotee of the Central Market in my home city of Adelaide, and I can't resist the colour, the sounds, the smells and the movement of a real, well-worn, hard-working market, and markets like that don't come any better than in Vietnam.

The Xom Moi Market (pronounced like "Sa-Moy") is one of three such markets in Nha Trang. It is overcome with a cacophony of human voices, two-stroke engines and the clatter of tools, implements and utensils. It groans under the crush of harvests from land and sea that exude dazzling bursts of intense colours and aromas that tease the senses and offer a tantalising promise of tastes and flavours that would match – perhaps surpass – their visual temptations. Sometimes, I would spy a random "still life" of fish or fruits arranged on a tray of woven cane, seemingly waiting for an artist to stumble across it and immortalise it on paper or canvas. One could not plan such a spectacle.

The whole sound, light and colour performance unfolds under a rich, dense patina of time and memory that has been laid down here by the millions of anonymous people who have plied their trades and hawked their wares in this place over countless decades.

Here, there is no time for the planned photo composition or careful study: you grab what you can with your lens and you move on. The flow of people and activity and of a myriad little exchanges, stops for no-one and for nothing.

Occasionally, I saw an all too rare and fleeting moment of respite: a vendor stopping to catch a breath, frozen in a bent pose, pensively removed from the raging activity around him, another eating from a steaming bowl of noodles scented with amazing Vietnamese herbs, and another, still, who has sold her wares and lies sleeping on her cleaned little vendor's perch.

That night, at the home of new acquaintances, I shared in a meal that was prepared from the bounty that surrounded us earlier in the Xom Moi Market.

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