Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vietnam likes to keep its money in-house

English teachers are very privileged in Vietnam and it's incumbent upon those employed here to always acknowledge this. We make the equivalent of English teachers in Korea and sometimes even Japan, with a much lower cost of living. However, as the last week has taught me, Vietnam likes its money to remain in the country's banks and not shipped overseas.

Of course that's common sense, at least now. Vietnam is a developing country and truly needs every cent to remain within its borders. When I first arrived in Vietnam, I found it incredibly easy to get a bank account -- almost too easy. I remember feeling very surprised, especially after recalling the hour-long process of getting a bank account in the States. Now I understand why. Giving a foreigner a bank account makes it that much more likely that he'll keep his money local and in the Vietnamese currency (dong).

I made the mistake of buying a couple of plane tickets to Singapore on the Internet with my American credit card. So I need to send money to my bank account in San Diego to pay off the bill. First thing I tried was walking into my bank and simply requesting a transfer. The bank staff looked at me like I was an alien -- "you want to what?"

"I want to send money to America?"


"What's it matter?"

"Hold please." *ring* *ring*...."Please go upstairs."

I walked up upstairs and met even more resistance from one of the suits.

"I want to send money to America."

*looking very annoyed*..."Why?"

I gave him a blank stare.

"Sending money is very expensive and very difficult. I need to see your passport, labor contract, and visa."

I had none of that so I just left. I had seen Western Union signs EVERYWHERE in Ho Chi Minh City, so I assumed it would be a cinch sending that way. However, most of these locations only receive money, not send. In fact, there are only three locations in the entire city to send...a population of six million people and three locations.

Sending money via Western Union from Vietnam Chi Minh is akin to those incredibly annoying, time-consuming video game quests that has you running all around the map assembling some bullshit contraption, like the "magic sword" to defeat the "big boss" or the "special bomb" to blow up the enemy's headquarters. Of course video game developers insert these quests to add "length" and "bulk" to their games so that they can advertise it's a 15-hour playing experience and worth every penny of its $60 price-tag.

Let's stick with the "special bomb" and me as a video game character metaphor.

First thing I needed was obviously the most important -- the bomb casing (my passport). I walked into the bank with my bomb casing and explosives (money) and hoped everything was in order for me to assemble my kickass piece of destruction.

"I'm sorry sir, but these aren't the right kind of explosives. You need American explosives (dollars)"

*Changed my explosives at a different bank...came back*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a timer (my visa) for this bomb."

*Got a copy of my visa*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need some specialty wiring (labor contract) for this bomb."

*Had my company MAKE me a contract so I could satisfy this requirement*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a trigger mechanism (payslips)."

.................*blank stare*

And that's where we stand today...still no bomb.

Ahh, the video game of life.

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