Low finance

Here in Vietnam – as elsewhere – the US dollar is a kind of universal currency, and many foreigners travel with them as a kind of insurance.

Preparing to come here, more than one trusted source told me to cash all funds into USD, and carry and / or stash that.

So I ( mostly ) took their advice, leaving some money in Thai bank accounts I could access via debit cards.

I was relieved to find the cards worked, but also discovered a thriving black market is ready and willing to convert currency. They’re called ‘Gold Shops’, and you pick ’em by the rows of glittering jewellery, the queues of foreigners with outstretched dollar bills, and the hooked noses and keen eyes of the operators.

All of which is to explain that when my last US$100 bill lost its only friend the other week, it was cause for caution. Then, when I ripped that last $US100 a couple of days ago, it was cause for catastrophising.

These things are worth 2.3 million plus VND, more than half a monthly rental payment. I’d be a very sorry lad indeed if it was worthless ripped.

And, I didn’t want to risk waiting til I was in transit – and thus ( more ) helpless and desperate – to find out whether it was worthless.

But it only took me a couple of days’ plotting, and 10 minutes’ riding, to hatch a dastardly plan. No, not to foist it (-now cleverly sellotaped – onto the unsuspecting hotel receptionist, changing it for VND, and then later back to ( intact ) USD.

The Foist

That would be low and unconscionable. I would instead foist it instead on the bank.

Armed with Google Translate, and one of my few Vietnamese phrases, I confirmed that they do indeed change dollars into dong.

After sitting down and confidently handing over the note, the teller handed it back to me – “no” – two seconds after holding it up to light.

Uh-oh. Gold shop it was. Old guy. Damn, probably as wily as a … roadrunner. Holds it up to the light. Nods. Pulls out his calculator.

Types in 2,370,000 ! Better than the market rate ! Score one for the black market, to go with the other one for corruption.

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