Low finance II

Following up on the recent ‘low finance‘ adventures, more fun and games with gold dealers taught me two things.

Both have to do with the patience or otherwise of natives of North Nha Trang. First, they don’t stand for any nonsense, and second, they ( mostly ) don’t stand for any Russians.

The place is crawling with Russians. This partly because the Russkis had a military presence in Cam Ranh Bay , about 20 km south of Nha Trang, from 1979 til 2002. And, the Vietnamese continue to hire Russian consultants to direct the construction of ship-repair facilities.

On the ‘ground’ level, it’s most apparent in two things – 1) the Northern beaches are full of Russians, easily pegged by their excess flab and audio volume, and 2) business signs in Russian.

But while here they may be,  liked they maybe not.

A case in point – I went to a gold dealer recently, and asked for a price for a conversion USD -> VND.

I didn’t like the offer, so went down the road, to another Vietnamese gold dealer, where the offer was .. .worse!

When I trudged BACK to the first gold dealer, waving my USD$100 bill, I got the Royal Vietnamese Wave. It’s like the Royal English wave, except here it means piss off Noddy please go away.

When he wasn’t sure the message was received, I got shouted at – loudly.


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.