Shadows drift quietly through the market after nightfall.
They are burdened with large loads that hide them from the glare of street lights, and with the weariness of the day past.
Both loads are revealed as they glide past the lampposts, the earthly loads in colors much brighter than the immaterial ones. Bright yellow here, rich red there, have tinted forever their hands and their souls.
Where they lay their goods down on the pier, they stage them carefully. In the flicker of oil lamps, one can discern the main product of the village is rush mats. In another hour the market will be alive with buyers, on the road or even by boats, who wait til night to coast. Such is the quality of the mats of Định Yên.
Định Yên is a ghost village by daytime too: by the light of day, everyone in the families is inside, busy gathering, dyeing rush and sowing mats. It takes a day's hard labor to make one, maybe two mats. Some processes are too hard for one person alone, others involve noxious fumes.
But then, why would buyers come all the way to buy mats made in Định Yên? It is due to the alkaline soil: the rush grows thick and smooth and glossy here. It makes for durable mats in bright colors, an item of pride at a time past when floor mats used to be indispensable in people's homes. Thus was born a tradition.
We can visit the ghost market these days along a cruise with the Bassac from Cần Thơ to Châu Đốc.
Today, less people need a rush mat in their home, and their manufacturing is more mechanised than it used to be. The tradition will soon be a memory. But by day you still can see streets lined with colorful mats drying in the sun hear the rhythmic sound of the weaving and stitching.
And when the night comes, and the ghosts of tradesmen past are drifting between the lampposts, it is easy to get a chill.